German artist Boris Eldagsen's diverse background, with training in photography and visual arts, conceptual art, fine art and philosophy under his belt, has led him to develop what he describes as “visual poetry”. Using archetypes, dreams and symbolic acts, Eldagsen investigates the unconscious, attempting to take the viewers somewhere between the sublime and the uncanny, where the attributes of photography, painting, theatre and film melt into one. After traveling the world in his 25-year professional career, Eldagsen now finds himself in Bangladesh for the first time, with his solo exhibition being featured at Chobi Mela IX.
Why are you so interested in the subconscious?
It's like an iceberg, where the tip of the iceberg is the rational, analytical mind but what is under the water's surface is emotional and intuitive. As an artist, you can either come from a concept and execute it, or you can start with what grabs you and the concept develops later. I started with night photography in India when I was a student in Hyderabad in 1995 for a semester. I came from an art school, I was not a street photographer and I could not work on the street anyway because I was the centre of attention! So I started photographing at night and I was really drawn to it. After four years of night photography, I went to a Chinese botanical garden by chance that drew from Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang and had all the elements. There, I realised my pictures are full of Yin – the night, moon, female, water and so on, and I thought – how can it be? And what is Yin anyway? So I tried to research to better my understanding, and I ended up with Swiss psychologist Carl Jung who said that this is the symbol for the unconscious. It was this unconscious process that led me to the unconscious as a subject.
What do you want your viewers to see?
What I would like to create are images where you stand and think, I'm not sure what that is but it creates an effect on me, and it does not leave me. To achieve this, if I work with models, I have a mapping process to map the unconscious of the model and of myself, and from here I develop ideas for a photo shoot. If I'm out in the streets, I'm like a moth – I follow the lights and I work a bit like a street photographer but I have different interests. It's not the place, people or time, I try to transform it into something else. I want my work to be immersive and I'm straying more towards installations. You can try to depict reality, you can try to interpret reality and you can try to create reality, and my work is somewhere in between interpreting and creating reality. I'm not a photographer but an artist working with photography.
Is there one medium you feel most comfortable with?
What you're seeing here at Chobi Mela is my major solo work. I love collaborations with other artists – it's always a challenge to combine our skills to do something that none of us could do alone. I've done work in October that deconstructs populism with cat gifs, and I've done a mockumentary casting show on getting high with no drugs, called Super High. I want it to continue like this and get out of my own comfort zone.
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I have many inspirations – in the past they came from the history of painting and film. Later I realised that all the painters I have loved are somehow related to the subject of the unconscious. The most prominent are the surrealists, but you can go back to the symbolists of the 19th century, or or even to 16th century Dutch painting like those of Hieronymus Bosch. In film, Peter Greenaway from UK opened some doors for me; I love Alejandro Jodorowsky – he is for me the greatest source of inspiration as a human being. And in photography I love Roger Ballen, I think we have similar interests in what we are after, but of course he is much more experienced and has a different approach.
What's it like exhibiting in a completely new country?
I met Sarker Protick three years ago and he showed me the work of his students from Pathshala and I was wowed by the top-level quality of their work. This is how I became aware of the festival, and its great to be here at Chobi Mela. The quality of work, the displays, and the work that Pathshala does is world class. I've seen a lot of work internationally and it's really outstanding what is being done here. In fact, my approach actually feels quite close to that of a student of Pathshala here, Shadman Shahid. I really love the work he does, there is something we have in common and we can talk through images – that's a beautiful experience.
Any advice for aspiring artists?
The first thing is no fear. I've been teaching for 12 years now, and the first thing I have to do is take away the fear of not being good enough and open up the room for experimenting. It's important to have patience, because it takes time for the work to come together. Also, I think the journey is inside. German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich once said – if the painter is not able to paint what is inside him, he should not paint what is in front of him. You can transfer this to photography. We all have the task to become aware of who we are and what we are after, and as an artist, this is what you should do.