I make art about the links between language, knowledge, history, bureaucracy and identity, themes that stem from my interests in the book, the word and the library. To convey my ideas, I use a wide range of materials including books, handwriting, video, sound, furniture, office equipment and signwriter's vinyl. My work usually takes the form of installation, is often text-based and site-specific, and sometimes incorporates ritualistic writing or reading performances. increasingly, it involves working with other experts such as architects, builders, engineers, and video and sound artists.
My practice harks back to the conceptual art movement of the 1960s and has developed through an engagement with post-structural theory and literature. The key idea informing my work is that language is a powerful cultural and social tool that both shapes and restricts who and what we are and how we think. On the one hand, language enables us to share our ideas and perceptions about the world in which we live, but on the other, it is not an accurate reflection of reality. What I say to you may not necessarily reflect my true intentions (I may mean what I say but I may not necessarily say what I mean) and, of course, what I read in the newspaper or a history book may not necessarily tell me how it really was.
My fascination with language stems from the experience of growing up in a family where Latvian was spoken at home and English in public. From a very early age it seemed clear to me that each of these languages was accompanied by a different way of behaving and communicating in the world. My father's ever-expanding library, which contained books in Latvian, English, French, German and Ancient Greek, was also a constant source of inspiration - like Borges' Library of Babel, the universe itself seemed contained within his books. But over time, and as I began to access the secrets contained within those books, I became aware that language failed in some inexplicable way to capture what it is to be in the world. Foucault said that the being of man and the being of language have never, at any time, been able to co-exist and to articulate themselves. I agree with him - language is beautiful and mysterious and complex, but it does not mirror reality.
It is this inherently paradoxical aspect of language that I try to evoke through my art practice. One stream of work focuses on the aesthetics of the book and the ambiguity of the word; another reflects my interest in the way bureaucracy manages information and manipulates the individual, and more recently I have been exploring the connections between ancient forms of writing, cryptography and binary code, with a particular emphasis on the shift from analogue to digital systems of recording information. Alongside these explorations I also make work about lesser-known aspects of Tasmanian, Latvian and other histories.
Photography: Simon Harsent