Unexpected Occurences. A Conversation with Peter Root

Interview by Sabin Bors

From a far it’s possible to see the sprawl of urban growth spreading across the natural landscape as if it were some kind of fungal infection.

Sabin BorsOne of the most interesting aspects of your work is that you always involve very meticulous constructions, regardless of the medium of expression – 60 kilograms of potatoes in Plot100.000 staples in Ephemicropolisthe hours you’ve spent for Digital Detritus Dover… Why do you pay so much attention to this time-intensive factor?

Peter Root: It takes time to become familiar with materials, to discover what they are capable of. The individual scale of the materials and components I use is often quite small. To disassociate the works from a very ‘desktop’ scale they need to be enlarged to more epic proportions. When the works are so intricate this up scaling takes time. It’s also incredibly satisfying to spend a great deal of time really immersed in creating something, intermittently taking a step back to watch the sprawl grow.

Sabin BorsHow would you define time in this equation?

Peter Root: Time affects the work initially with regards to the duration allocated to the creation process: dictating the scale and level of intricacy. Most of my work could evolve and grow indefinitely. There’s never really a time when I can step back from the work and honestly feel that I’m done, the piece is complete. Less is not more.

For many of the works, PlotEphemicropolis etc… time introduces change through decay and destruction, as well as growth (sprouting shoots on the potatoes). I used a range of varieties of potato to create Plot. Each variety aged at different speeds and in different ways. Some potatoes blackened and softened quickly, others began to rot and go furry whilst other gradually turned yellow. I wasn’t exactly sure how the work would react in the warm atmosphere of the gallery. Many of the potatoes had turned from a creamy yellow and sharply defined appearance to a shrunken, blackened, hardened appearance, as if developing into an ancient, fossilized relic of it’s two week old self. The work was complete because my allocated time had run out. I finished building Plot about an hour before the opening of the private view. I would love to keep working on a piece like this for a few years. Building over increasing layers of aged potatoes.

Plot, 2012, detail, on the occasion of the Spaceless Place exhibition, Studio 9 Istanbul, March 8 – April 12, 2012. Image © Peter Root. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Plot, 2012, detail, on the occasion of the Spaceless Place exhibition, Studio 9 Istanbul, March 8 – April 12, 2012. Image © Peter Root. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsYour work is not so much a composition but an assemblage. Even so, it still is very organic. It is almost like an endless field defined in relation to continuous vectors and singularities that depend on active and creative entities informing the reality. How do you understand the relation between reality and this intensity? In Digital Detritus for instance…

Peter Root: I’m cycle touring at the moment, with the aim to cycle around the World, as grandiose as that may sound. Throughout my trip so far I’ve been lucky enough to take in amazing views of huge cities like Istanbul. From a far it’s possible to see the sprawl of urban growth spreading across the natural landscape as if it were some kind of fungal infection. Perhaps the density and perpetually incomplete nature of my works are in some way a reflect that constant growth and inhabitation of space.

Sabin BorsDigital Detritus is part of the LIVELIVE Project in London. How was this work actually produced, and how did you relate to this project?

Peter Root: As it was a site specific work created for a site I’ve never been to, Digital Detritus Dover was particularly interesting to work on. To begin the work I began to familiarize myself with the location using only Internet based resources; Google Earth/ Maps/ Images, Wikipedia etc… all secondary sources of information. Perhaps the work should have been titled Google Detritus as it was pretty much entirely created using Google freeware. I built a small collection of models using Google SketchUp. These models where then packaged into KMZ files along with a KML (Keyhole Markup Language) document. The models were then called into and animated in Google Earth in different quantities, dimensions and locations as specified in the linked KML document. One of the really fun aspects of creating the Digital Detritus works is playing around with and exploiting the glitches that occur when the computer can’t display the Google Earth content at a sufficient speed, causing unexpected jittery effects that I’ve used to influence the accompanying sounds edits.

Digital Detritus Dover, 2011, still © Peter Root. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Digital Detritus Dover, 2011, still © Peter Root. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsThe laborious process of your work is based on the idea of repetition. There is rhythm, pattern, structure, and scale, but they always come under a sensible interpretation, that you find in some amazing details, especially in Plot and EphemicropolisHow does repetition relate to fragility and impermanence? How do patterns relate to sensibility?

Peter Root: Repetitive procedures are often associated with mechanical, industrial production; they are identical, un-faltering, and inhuman. It’s difficult, impossible (for me anyway) to repeat, repeat and repeat the same thing over and over without making and identifying mistakes as potential for unplanned avenues of exploration. I’m too clumsy and impatient to repeat exactly the same thing indefinitely. I think this is common in the approach of many artists. Being aware of the potential of new discoveries through unexpected occurrences. Otherwise this repetitive approach would be to blindly go on creating the same thing over and over… which could also be an interesting starting point for another project. Repetition results in use of time. Time is often associated with purpose and sense of worth. Without intending to sound cynical, everything is temporary, so does it really matter how long something exists for?

Sabin BorsThere is always density in your work, a material, physical consistency which you oppose to the micro-apocalyptic events that inform life itself. Why is that?

Peter Root: The conditions in which the works are exposed introduce a level of unpredictability to the works. The larger assemblage pieces are never permanently fixed, rendering them exposed to the elements of their surrounding space. This also introduces a challenge, a game-like element to the construction process as well as a purity within the work. In some of the works, specifically Ephemicropolis, I feel that if the components were permanently fixed it would remove that precarious edge to the piece and make it seem merely like a model of something more impressive.

Ephemicropolis, 2010, detail © Peter Root. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Ephemicropolis, 2010, detail © Peter Root. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

I like the idea that the facilities available to us: our senses, tools etc… dictate the level of detail we are able to perceive. The closer we are able to look, the more detail we can see.

Sabin BorsDo you believe in coincidence?

Peter Root: I’m not always sure what I believe in. At the moment I would say that I do believe in coincidence. I don’t believe there’s a plan. Things happen as a result of other things happening, a process. Then again I might change my mind tomorrow. As this is a conversation, can I ask you why you want to know?

Sabin BorsThe reason I asked you this is because your work is very meticulous and elaborate. There is a certain fragility to it, but it is always something that seems to fight and survive for its own chance. There might not always be a plan, but there certainly is a direction, and it never seems to be just an accident, it is also a strive for an end, whatever that may be.

Peter Root: It’s interesting to consider the works as entities fighting, in some cases against various odds, to exist. The outcome is unclear, undefined, but this is in someways insignificant as the aim is to grow, to establish itself, to develop, to exist.

Sabin BorsWhen looking at works such as Plot or Ephemicropolisthe details are very textural. They form a second layer of structures and interpretations. The power of the element and microscopic detail is that it translates a monumental scale. Is this an expression of the way you see art?

Peter Root: That’s sounds a like a “What is art?” question. No, I wouldn’t say that this is how I see art, but I do see this interpretation of scale as being an important theme within my work. The two works you referred to could be interpreted as scale models for larger reproductions. As if they were proposals for future developments. I like the idea that the facilities available to us: our senses, tools etc… dictate the level of detail we are able to perceive. The closer we are able to look, the more detail we can see.

Transformer Laminates / Transformer, 350 x 150 cm, 2000 © Peter Root. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Transformer Laminates / Transformer, 350 x 150 cm, 2000 © Peter Root. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsThough it is not narrative as such, your art is always in direct relation to your own experiences. I know you are traveling around the world. Always to the East, as you say. How does this influence your work? And which are the defining elements you try to involve in your art?

Peter Root: Immediate practicalities such as a limited budget, small workspace and limited toolkit were direct influences on my approach to creating Plot. Although I’ve worked with potatoes before, having spent a month or so in Istanbul before I began work on Plot, I knew I wanted to work with a material that was available in abundance and having spent a great deal of time exploring the local food markets, potatoes seemed to be a relevant choice. Although, having been living on a tight budget and eating cheap and simple food on my cycle trip through Europe, I initially felt a sense of unease, possibly even guilt, that I have chosen to use such an abundance of food-stuff in a way that might be perceived by some people as wasteful.

Istanbul is an incredibly dense and complex concoction of large-scale religious buildings, topped with complex systems of domes, minarets, and stunning architectural details. Half an hour walk from these majestic sites are areas of severely decaying urban housing, where roofs and facades crumble in-between other buildings like rotting teeth. In some way I wanted to incorporate these elements of ornate beauty and rotting decay within this work.

Sabin BorsWhere are you heading to right now?

Peter Root: We’ve spent the last five weeks cycling from Istanbul to Doğubeyazıt, a town near the border with Iran. Tomorrow we’ll be crossing into Iran and then heading East to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan with the aim to reach India by the end of the summer. I’m very excited about the prospects of creating new work along the way.

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