Pascal Ungerer: 'It is not just the Northern Irish border that has become contentious in recent
Pascal Ungerer is an artist specialising in lens based media working in South London.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and concerns behind your practice? It seems to me that the urban environment and the spaces we inhabit in general are recurring themes in your artwork, including from a social and geo-political point of view.
A lot of my work looks at spatial cultures and our relationship with the built environment. I am particularly interested in the 'peripheral' and have made several projects looking at borders and marginal topographies. I am interested in using peripheral landscapes as a metaphorical and metaphysical space as well as a site for collecting and experimenting. I come from a very rural and remote part of Ireland at the edge of the country so that is probably why I am drawn to these peripheral landscapes. I have also made work about social displacement, environmental ecology and the Anthropocene, so I guess what connects a lot of my thematic concerns is a more generalised interest in place and how we affect our lived environment in terms of the social, historical and ecological context of place. I often intertwine and overlap different ideas within my work to form layered narratives that are interconnected through my wider areas of concern such as place and the peripheral. I think making work that has multiple narratives and ideas working simultaneously can give it more depth in terms of the thinking behind the work and the work itself.
You work across various media such as photography, video and sound. How do you connect these different aspects of you practice together and why did you choose to explore them?
A lot of my work is put together as immersive installations which incorporate different aspects of sound, photography and video. I see all these elements as different components which work together to create an immersive environment in which to experience the work. My background is in photography, I worked as a press photographer for several years before I studied fine art so photography has always been an integral park of my art making process. I suppose that video is in a way an extension of that and seemed like a natural progression for me. I use a lot of sound in my work and most of my projects have some kind of sound component. When I was in my teens and early 20's I used to create a lot of electronic music so making my own sound pieces for my work is something I really enjoy doing and I feel that it is a really important part of how I work. I think artists often draw upon past experiences they have when making work so for me using some of the skills I have picked up over the years is like a way of referencing my own life experience.
One of your recent project is called ‘Vanishing Point’, what is the story behind this work?
Actually the back story to this work is interesting. For several years I have been collecting old photographs and films. I sometimes use this material as a source for making work. A friend of mine who knows of my interest in found film told me about an abandoned farm near his family home on the outskirts of Madrid where he had found a lot of discarded films in the past. I was fascinated by this and when I went to visit him we went to the farm and found a lot 8mm and 35mm films, many of which were very badly damaged and partly buried in the ground. The film I used for this project was excavated from abandoned waste ground, much like an archeological dig. The decay of site and material forms an unusual connection and this process of erasure and mutation has synthesised the materiality of the film with the geology of the site, creating a sort of sedimentation of the film material and I think that is apparent in a lot of the film material I used for this project. One of the things that I am really interested in with this material is the erosion of the original filmic narrative and how that degradation has created a thematic disjunction to the film and has altered the original narrative creating a new and independent work. For me the work touches on several themes, that I am interested in such as visibility, fragmentation, entropy and mutation. The work is also bound by my interest in decay and periphery and I think this project is very much framed within the context of that interest.
I was interested to see that you started your career as a press photographer. Do you think this has had an impact on your current work?
Yes, I worked for several year as a press photography both freelance and for newspapers and agencies. I think it definitely has had an impact on my current work. Not just because I use a lot of lens based media in my art making process but also because of my interest in social and political issues as well. I think it is really important to be able to draw on your own life experience when making work so for me press photography has been a big part of my past experience. I also think having worked freelance in a creative industry can definitely give you a very important skill set that is essential in contemporary art practice, not in terms of making work but rather in getting work, and developing contacts, proposals and funding applications.
You come from Cork, study in London and your work has included looking at the concept of European borders. Do you feel like commenting on the current political issues around Brexit and immigration in general through your art? Do you believe artists should get involved in these discourses?
One of my previous projects - Edge of Place - was a work which looked at the topography of borderland regions within Europe. I made this project in late 2015 early 2016 so when I started the project it was really before the Brexit discussion. A lot of the images and video material that I shot for this project was taken in Northern Ireland along the border regions there as well as at the Piece Wall in Belfast. One of the things that interested me when I was working on this project was how borders in Europe are cyclical places in flux, morphing from use to non-use and re-emerging as places of contention. It is not just the Northern Irish border that has become contentious in recent times, borders all over Europe have become places of political interest once more because of the refugee crisis that has seen an influx of people crossing through Europe. Many of these border regions still have the remnants of an infrastructure of division and control, lying idle and abandoned like a testament to the temporality of this topography and that was one of the things I tried to focus on in that project. I think one thing that contemporary art does really well is to generate discussion, so it is really important for artists to get involved in social and political debate or at least try and engender some sort of discussion around these issues through there work.
What are your plans for the future? What’s next for your practice?
It's been a really busy year for me so far, I was artist-in-residence at the Auxiliary in Stockton in the Spring and I have taken part in several shows in London as well this year. I am currently in the final year of the MFA course in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University London so I am really trying to focus on making work for that and finishing the course.
More information about Pascal's work can be found at www.pascalungerer.com and on Instagram - pascal.ungerer