Natalia de Campos & Thiago Szmrecsányi

jr / This is an outstanding and extremely full introduction to you both. I love the richness in possibility and humility. Let’s continue with materials and ideas of making things — studio practice as material — as object, sound, performance, etc. You both come at this very differently. Natalia, you collect words, expressions, sounds — ideas that funnel themselves through you to develop some type of visual examination and expression. Thiago, your instinct initially stems toward the discarded — the forgotten. But from varied ways of thinking, you imagine something new. You offer a new glace at the world and ourselves.

I would love to know more about how and when the two of you come together during the studio practice/research phase. You’ve known each other for quite a while, so I am sure you’ve developed a short of short-hand to get through some of the gestational periods quicker? or at least more efficiently? I would love to know more about this process of back-and-forth and how the two of you have come to rely on that energy in the studio.

“As we evolved in our own practice, and in the collaborations, I think we ended up influencing each other too. I don’t know if I would have transformed some works into objects, and visual manifestations, if I hadn’t had this long time partnership with Thiago in so many areas of my existence as an artist..”

— Natalia de Campos

NdC / Through my process of generating written material (sometimes via collecting, or inspired by collected materials, but most often writing from scratch), I think some of my processes are similar to Thiago’s, from my perspective. I desiccate the words — that is, I think about them through the cognitive, meaning aspects but also how they look, sound, and their inherent additional qualities. My perception has been that Thiago does that with the materials he encounters and is curious about.

Natalia de Campos, to forget, 2013
Scrolling poem in video, for projecting, Variable dimensions
direct link

In practical terms, I think every project is different — we don’t have a systematic approach in terms of collaborating, even if we might have more systematic approaches (and not), individually.

There were projects that I initiated, invited Thiago to come along. Then he approached the theme or medium that I was proposing, when he did space or object designs for staged performances, such as Doppelganger, 2002, Platonicov, 2001, A Pretty Good Future, 2012. In that sense our skills are complementary, they get combined in the process of making the works, through discussion, research and presentation of ideas to each other, and sometimes to a whole team of people, etc.

Other projects, which he initiated, I lend my production eyes in how to help realize his ideas. Since I work creatively too, my input goes beyond just the practical aspects of producing. In insert, 2003-04, his curating was a creative proposal to the artists we invited. I facilitated the interaction with the Essex Street Market vendors, which was an integral part of the concept of the project. The Cuchifritos Gallery is located in the historic market north of Delancey St, which has now moved to the south of Delancey. insert stemmed out of a previous project, LOCAL, 2002, in which we invited the vendors to contribute their ideas of art themselves. The interaction and the final presentation was the performance. It was a time- and site-specific project, and it led to the relationships that made insert possible there a year later.

As we evolved in our own practice, and in the collaborations, I think we ended up influencing each other too. I don’t know if I would have transformed some works into objects, and visual manifestations, if I hadn’t had this long time partnership with Thiago in so many areas of my existence as an artist.

Even in my own natural, physical and ephemeral expressions, originally from a theatrical training, I have learned a lot from Thiago — as in interactions with the visual world and the physical materials that may not have been there, if we hadn’t observed, listened to, even absorbed (and opinionated in!) each other’s’ ideas for so long.

Examples are in word and Up & Down. I wrote word in 2011, then turned it into a performance, interactive with sound, in 2013; in 2015 it became a visual-poem, still ephemeral as a projection of white light on white; in 2016, it became an object, from a desire to give it some permanence. Up & Down, 2013 could not have existed if Thiago’s sculpture In Progress, 2011, hadn’t been installed in the middle of our shared studio for months. It was there while I was creating a performance-installation called BURN, 2013, with five other performers and collaborators.

In one late night of work in the studio, working with the violinist Felipe de Souza, I decided to climb that work In Progress [laughs] — not to mention that this sculpture has a long history in itself, on Thiago’s side, related to the scaffold around the building where we share the studio for very long. Thiago working to assemble its parts had already been part of a video I created in 2010, called 504(see)(through). Then another common long-time friend and collaborator, artist and  photographer Keka Marzagão, was doing a photoshoot with me and I asked her to document my physical exploration of his sculpture: Up & Down became a reality. 

I personally call it “a diptych made by a trio” (Thiago, Keka, Natalia), I think they now agree [laughs]. Therefore, in “regular”, capitalist interpretations, and in “copyright-world” terms, I don’t think only one of us “owns” it, even though I proposed it. When all interwoven aspects are combined like this…

Natalia de Campos (in collaboration with Thiago Szmrecsanyi & Keka Marzagão)
Up & Down, 2013 — Diptych
Performance on sculpture, photo on c-print, wood, Approx. 20 in x 28 in x 3 in
photo: Keka Marzagão
Thiago Szmrecsányi, In Progress, 2011
Wood, screws, Approx. 10 ft h x 9 ft w x 3 ft d
photo: Keka Marzagão

TS / We have been collaborating for 20 years, so things have evolved, changed and have taken different formats in this period. With time we have improved the labor division, with gains in productivity and in quality. Each one concentrates a little more in his or her preferred area. Yet, in other parts our work became entangled and mixed…

In general, I get started in a project by gathering information and materials, by listing things and ideas, and by creating roles and rules that may be changed and twisted. There is also a handling period, in which I improve my knowledge about my choices. I may also produce some sketches or take some pictures to record and to discuss the parts of the work being developed. Once I become more sure about the path that we might take, I may erase or discard the initial steps.

I believe Natalia is much more systematic in keeping all of these things together. She invests more time and focuses more in weaving and in conceptualizing the things that we are making.

Production time is also quite different for both of us. When I am handling and breaking things apart, I am no longer tuned into the environment. My quest then is to figure out a new form or structure that makes sense. Natalia remains aware of what is going on around us, and she always finds ways to interact with the people and the situations.

Yet, as partners, we also pay attention to each other’s work, and inspired by that, we may create our own modifications and variations. I think I only started working with words after seeing several poems and text pieces by Natalia. While designing sets and props for Natalia’s performance pieces, I was quite attracted to observing the actors’ interactions with the space and the objects. Now that I am taking on more performance roles in actions and protests, for instance, it seems strange to me to be a body, or even to embody somebody else. We are living, collaborating, and learning…