The Swiss artist's first solo show in London is an immerse installation designed to give each visitor an unique experience
There’s a sticker on Maya Rochat’s laptop that reads ‘Neochamanism is not a crime’; this is also the title of one of her recent images, used in full on the flyer for her solo show at Seen Fifteen but cut into three separate panels in the gallery. It’s a jokey riff on the popular phrase, but when I ask her about it, she’s quite serious. She’s interested in the concept of Shamanism, she says, and the idea we’re all interconnected.
“If I have a good time when I’m making an image, I notice people react to it differently [when they see it],” she says. “If I’m stressed or upset, they get something else.”
This idea runs through her shows, which are layered, multi-dimensional installations designed to be fully immersive. When I arrive at Seen Fifteen, Rochat, her team, and gallery director Vivienne Gamble have already been at it for days preparing her latest, Give Me Space, sticking huge prints to the floor, attaching them to the windows, hanging them from the ceiling, and layering them next to, and in front of, each other. A video plays on one wall, music permeating the room; the finished result will be a kind of maze, through which visitors literally take a journey.
At the opening, Rochat will do live-painting on a projector, the ever-evolving images projected over the prints and the crowd. “Each person has an experience that’s unique – just by being there, you are activating the show,” she adds. “The light, the people, are changing – each moment is there just for you, and then it’s gone. You can’t really document it. It’s also a way of sharing what happens when you make an image – you have these apparitions that appear in the moment. If it’s too fixed, I feel a little bored. It’s not the end result, it’s the process.
“I’m passionate about photography, but I feel that when you visit shows you often see a book but bigger,” she continues. “When you visit my shows you have a different experience. I don’t want it to be too finished; I want it to be more like an atelier.”
Rochat experiments when she’s hanging a show – while she obviously plans in advance, she also waits until she’s putting the work up before making her final decisions. “In the room you find the right choice,” she says. “The emotions of the image, the light on the wall, changes everything… I’m sure the creativity from the cosmos is a lot wider than my mind, it’s about being open to solutions.”
This approach has informed how she presents her images – shots of water are displayed on translucent panels on the windows, so that the light can play through them, for example; panels are hung untethered, so that they move as people walk past. Elsewhere the process is part of the image and impossible to separate from it, with Rochat painting on paper before printing, allowing the wet inks and paint to mix up.
Rochat uses photography, scanning, painting and drawing, and makes analogue, inkjet and lithographic prints; everything for her is fair game, if she can play with the medium’s potential. The resulting images are layered and deliberately confusing, including happy accidents and what Rochat terms “lies”, in a bid to draw attention to the image and its materiality, and confuse the assumption it can document reality.
“I’m experimenting with the viewer, and I include myself in that,” she says. “How can you make an impact with images, when everyone sees so many? How can you defamiliarise images? I believe that the magic in the material is here, that it gives you the way to get closer to understanding. I hope to create an awareness.
“I also like to think about the collective imagery, the fact that all those other images [that have gone before] are compressed in the image [and how it’s read],” she adds. “A few years ago people felt like ‘Uh this is very heavy work, so layered and complicated’, but now I think the reception is easier, because everyone has seen so many more images.”
Give Me Space by Maya Rochat opens at the Seen Fifteen Gallery tonight and is open until 22 January. Seen Fifteen Gallery, Bussey Building Unit B1.1, Peckham, London SE15 3SN. seenfifteen.com
FEBRUARY 2017 ISSUE: Tales of the City: Richard Renaldi’s overture to New York is our February 2017 cover story. Skate photography legend French Fred provides a fresh take on urban form, Dayanitah Singh navigates India’s industrial legacy, and Mark Neville records children at play, from the East End of London to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Plus we speak to Richard Mosse about his large-scale work debuting at The Barbican, and we give our verdict on the Canon EOS 5D Mk IV. It’s available to order online now.