Image: Screenshot of the blog “trocando figurinhas” by Nicole Kouts and Gabriel Pessoto
With a shared interested in investigating the nature of images and their changing associations, artists Nicole Kouts and Gabriel Pessoto decided to collaborate. The result is the work “trocando figurinhas“, which was selected by curator Brunno Silva as one of two winning projects in our open call competition, “Correspondence”.
Gabriel Pessoto studied cinema and visual arts in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and his work has been featured in numerous exhibitions in Brazil and abroad. Nicole Kouts received a BA in visual arts from Centro Universitário Belas Artes de São Paulo (2018), where she is currently studying set and costume design as a postgraduate course. Her work has also been featured in a number of festivals and exhibitions in virtual and physical space. The two artists met during the residency program 2º Temos Vagas! at Ateliê 397 in São Paulo, Brazil, earlier this year.
In our recent open call, we wanted to showcase the power of collaboration. In their submitted project, “trocando figurinhas” (2020), Nicole and Gabriel build visual dialogues from a sequence of digital images, exchanged one at a time. Their performance can also be joined and participated in via a set of instructions created by the artists.
Stills from the video “trocando figurinhas: operação piloto”(2020). Courtesy Nicole Kouts and Gabriel Pessoto.
Congrats! How did it feel when you received the email notification that your project “trocando figurinhas” had been selected?
We received the news with joy and surprise. We had begun developing the project “trocando figurinhas” (swapping stickers) in a low-profile way, thinking that this silent daily visual correspondence could become something powerful and relevant to our practices. Our exchange on the blog began in May 2020, but we hadn’t publicized the project until now. We thought it would become more interesting in the future, since it’s growing slowly every day. Then, we came across the open call “Correspondence” and decided to think about ways to share a bit of our recent experiences with other people.
Beyond that, winning this open call gave us a chance to think deeper about something that is happening in the present moment. This process has allowed us to find a broader meaning within this project and to reflect on the multiple possibilities that can emerge from a simple but constant dialogue based on some rules and many images. The open call, and now the act of reflecting on the process, correlates to our research. We debated about our impressions over the course of this curious experience, about the moment and the context we’re living in. We also had a lot of discussions about some common interests we share in our personal artistic researches, which helped us to understand what we’re investigating. And we’re constantly thinking about future steps the project could take.
Screenshot of Nicole’s computer during the action “operação piloto”.
“Our slow exchange of images might be seen as an attempt to counteract the amount of visual stimuli that we are exposed to daily, the pace of content responses and messages dictated by these [digital] systems.”
Screenshot of Nicole’s computer during the action “operação piloto”.
What were your reflections on ‘Correspondence’ as both a topic and a mode of working?
We took the topic of “correspondence” to be related to the possibility of digressing together — being in touch with someone, sometimes in real time. We share a common interest in researching images and that’s why we decided to create the project. And we’re also interested in exploring a dialogue mediated by images, which are capable of causing interferences and stimuli. We wanted to consider communication in the digital context in contrast to obsolete media and the attribution of improbable meanings along this path.
As a mode of working, we realized that correspondence can flourish when there is an equivalence. So we established rules that govern the rhythm of this exchange. We also determined the platform where it would happen, the aspects of the message translated into this form, and a way to send it. From the beginning, we reflected on some aspects of physical distance and communication means — between analog and digital media. We decided to operate via digital means, since we are used to this virtual living space. Then, we thought about the common thread of “trocando figurinhas”: an image as a message, sending as an intention and the correspondence as a stimulus.
Screenshot of Gabriel’s computer during the action “operação piloto”.
As this was your first collaboration, what can you tell us about the process of developing the project — how it unfolded and the actual correspondence that took place between the two of you?
We first met in January during an art residency program, where all the residents had the opportunity to introduce their works to the group. Based on these meetings, we realized that, despite achieving very different visual results, our research had several points of contact and common interests. The premise behind the project “trocando figurinhas” is simple: to build up a visual dialogue that is developed daily in a pre-established form. We created a blog exclusively to host this dialogue and we chose to post one image per day, squared and numbered in sequence. Every image is incorporated into a visual archive from a previous stimulus, since it’s affected by the last post and proposes a new direction in the dialogue.
This system that we established creates new dynamics for both of us; it’s almost like a game. In other words, our individual researches and processes are not directly involved in the construction of this project. There’s no indication of which image was chosen by Gabriel or Nicole. We started from the same position. From an agreement — a mutual belief that we can establish meaningful correspondence by sharing only one image a day for an indefinite period. The consequences and repercussions are unpredictable. We didn’t think these dynamics would be a starting point to formalize other works (the set of instructions and the videos, for example). We also don’t know where this dialogue will go. But we carry on, fuelled by joy, curiosity and the will to talk about image. We’re not sure about the meanings the expression “swapping stickers” holds, but in Portuguese it’s also about exchanging information within a friendly relationship.
Screenshot of the blog “trocando figurinhas” by Nicole Kouts and Gabriel Pessoto.
As you mentioned, the project grew out of existing dialogues that you perceived between your individual creative processes. What were those dialogues, specifically?
The dialogues we perceived between our processes are closely related to the interest in the image as an object of discussion and storage of memories. We both work with appropriations and displacements, with editing images that already exist, observing new meanings that can occur when they are transported through different media, analog or digital. In addition, some previous artworks and procedures included the collaboration and participation of other people. There is also an interest in representing our images as beings that exist in a digital space. Which are also permeated by narratives and information related to our cultures and experiences in the world.
Correspondence doesn’t just take place between the two of you in “trocando figurinhas”. The collectively produced visual letter is also sent to a remote recipient, and others are invited to participate, as well. Why did you decide to open it up in this way?
By exchanging images daily, we noticed some unpredicted, subtle narratives being built up. These narratives might, to some extent, be inferred by those who look at the images. But they’re also related to the process of choosing each one. Because of the fissures resulting from a dialogue mediated by other tools, we decided to expand the project beyond the correspondence of images chosen by two people. Opening space for the multiplicity of connections that can happen when these images are received by remote recipients assigns another layer of meaning that attests to the power in the act of corresponding.
We don’t even reveal the authorship of the blog or present it as an artistic research project. So, “trocando figurinhas: operação piloto” (swapping stickers: pilot operation) shows us performing an action that is not subordinated to our private actions and can be reproduced by other players. In this way, the work points to the possibility of creating a visual glossary with a clear meaning for those who build it, and through which it is possible to encourage new people to experience it. ARTCONNECT’s open call gave us the chance to expand the action in this way. We created instructions to invite other people to a less conventional experience of dialogue through images.
Still from a visual correspondence and then the same image as a poster on the street. Gabriel Pessoto, variações sôbre contato: vistas (contact variations: views), 2016. video and urban intervention.
Can you tell us a bit about your individual creative processes and research outside of/in relation to this project?
Gabriel: Leading up to “trocando figurinhas”, the idea of visual correspondence had already materialized in my work “variações sôbre contato: vistas” (contact variations: views), from 2016. Developed in the art residency program of Casa13, in Córdoba/Argentina, the project consisted of exchanging images in 3 steps with 8 other artists who lived in different cities. The result of this process, including a video call that happened during that period, took the form of printed posters, which I glued on the streets. Although the work is related to Mail Art and had material ramifications, it was only possible thanks to the use of digital tools, such as video and sending files through the internet.
There are some other aspects of the project “trocando figurinhas” that I can relate to works developed in traditional media. For example, “repositório: um pouco por dia já é muito” (repository: a little a day is already a lot), from 2018. Although it’s a drawing project, it’s part of my research on editing images. Organizing fragments of memories into a grid composition, I relate the image repository to patchwork quilts, stitch cross embroidery and pixels. 54 squared drawings on paper were produced over a few months and grouped in a panel. The organization of this visual material taken from different sources, displaced from its original context, creates new relations between images. This repository also deals with the transfer of images through different media, both analog and digital. In this case, a lot of these drawings were made using screenshots, video stills and digital images as references. At the same time, some of them were inspired by old magazines or printed media.
"Organizing fragments of memories into a grid composition, I relate the image repository to patchwork quilts, stitch cross embroidery and pixels." - Gabriel
Gabriel Pessoto, repositório: um pouco por dia já é muito (repository: a little a day is already a lot), 2018. Crayon and colored pencil on paper. 267x178cm.
Nicole: I have a habit of storing many images, taken from different situations. I recover, archive, organize, transform and, from these processes, I create. I find, in these overlaps, possible and impossible dialogues between analogue and digital media. And through these paths, as an archeology of what is present, I place my research in the unstable contemporaneity of the senses and in their multiple and multiform narratives. I try to perceive the voids that exist in the perception of images, especially those that we see on luminous screens, where we deposit so many veiled beliefs and desires.
In my recent research I can identify several aspects that are also part of “trocando figurinhas”. An example of a process facilitated by correspondence is the happening “Dopplegängers” (2020). The artwork is a question, a request: “Have you ever seen someone who looks like me? Or do you think I look like someone? If you remember and/or find it by chance, could you please send me a photo?”. Like a “wanted” poster or sign, at the same time circulated as an image on the internet and by word-of-mouth. The project takes place indefinitely, and the intention is to collect photos of people who look like me, found and sent by other people.
Nicole Kouts, image that circulates in the happening Dopplegänger (2020), with the question “Have you ever seen someone who looks like me? Or do you think I look like someone? If you remember and/or find it by chance, could you please send me a photo?
Similarly, the installation “A Senda dos Olhos Entreabertos” (The Path of Half-Opened Eyes), from 2018, presents the ritualistic potential of past and present. As well as the places of memory in the contemplation of sacred images and in contemporary communication through images. The artwork is composed of xerographic images made with the overlapping of magazine clippings, using the narrative structure of Byzantine icons as a compositional guideline. Positioned in a corner with low-key lighting, it corresponds to domestic sanctuaries and intimate prayer spaces. The images, which are apparently hidden, are revealed by the continuous traversing of a narrow beam of light behind each of them.
"I try to perceive the voids that exist in the perception of images, especially those that we see on luminous screens, where we deposit so many veiled beliefs and desires." - Nicole
Nicole Kouts, A Senda dos Olhos Entreabertos (The Path of Half-opened Eyes), 2018. Installation and close.
What were your thoughts on digital forms of communication leading up to “trocando figurinhas”, particularly in light of the current pandemic?
Our motivation to create this project is directly linked to our questions about the forms of communication available and possible in the current context. We started an art residency in a physical space at the beginning of the year. As the pandemic developed, our processes were inevitably affected by the consequences of isolation and frustrated expectations. How could we create alternative means to keep in touch? How could we understand existing artistic researches in this new context? In addition to affinities in our artworks and the desire to keep in touch, it was also important for us to reflect on processes that were not associated with a pre-pandemic demand in the art circuit or an attempt to make a critical comment about the new scenario. Our desire was to create something that aligned with the present moment in a sincere way, from our personal experiences.
In this way, we wanted to create a project that was not simply a transposition of some analog procedure, nor related strictly to digital discussions and visuals. We started with the assumption that “trocando figurinhas” is not an artistic work; it is a research process under development. It’s the communication between two people, personal files and repertoires, but it’s done digitally. It included some structure, in order to enable our correspondence, but without a clear objective or desired outcome.
Video, “trocando figurinhas: operação piloto”(2020), by Nicole Kouts and Gabriel Pessoto.
We also had to work with existing digital tools — since we’re not able to program our own digital spaces — while thinking of ways to subvert forms of communication and the systematization of thoughts that we are all used to. Our slow exchange of images might be seen as an attempt to counteract the amount of visual stimuli that we are exposed to daily, the pace of content responses and messages dictated by these systems. At the same time, we explore the potential of these existing tools and their functionalities. In “trocando figurinhas: operação piloto”, some of our decisions were made by these digital/online tools. But at the same time, the action depends on our human presence — there is an affective dimension involved in the selection of each image.
And how has the project’s development influenced your thoughts on forms of communication (considering it dematerializes, in some ways, more tangible forms of letter/message correspondence)?
Following the premise of subversion, we think about what the dematerialization of more tangible means of correspondence can mean. How can we reconfigure expectations, attributions, features and applicability to which we are so accustomed? Our main reference was Mail Art, which started in the 20th century. It took as its premise the diffusion of artworks in an alternative circuit, understanding its transit as a fundamental component. And it included several performative actions guided by pre-established instructions. We think that, from a similar perspective, new practices are possible thanks to digital tools.
What were some of the unexpected outcomes that emerged?
The most unexpected result was realizing that, beyond the correspondence between two people, the visual archive created contains an inevitable interlocution between images. This includes narratives, conflicts, sequences, sets.
Screenshot of the blog “trocando figurinhas”. Courtesy Nicole Kouts and Gabriel Pessoto.
Do you have any ideas in mind for future directions this project might take, or further collaborations?
We agreed that the premise of “trocando figurinhas” is closer to a research project and artistic experimentation than to a defined work of art. We do not know how it will unfold in the future, or how long this project is going to last. If new issues and propitious moments arise (like the ‘Correspondence’ open call), we already have a number of ideas for new proposals. And we also like the idea of taking a flexible approach to exploring and expanding the project.
We believe other forms of activating collective visual archives might become one of the most important topics of research in the long term. Some possibilities that we discussed include organizing this material into a publication or even taking this project to an exhibition space — though these ideas are still in the early stages of development. We also thought about creating a collaborative platform where images could be sent and received by anyone who has access to it.
While we’re still developing these ideas, we would like to invite you to visit our blog (where the daily exchange of image takes place) and to correspond with us.