Discordant With: OPHER THOMSON

OPHER THOMSON returned to Vicenza
Wednesday, June 29 at 6 p.m.

at the inner courtyard of Palazzo da Schio, Ca’ D’Oro – Corso Palladio, 147 36100 Vicenza (VI)

OPHER THOMSON interprets geographical spaces and perceived places in an attempt to better understand their role in shaping social dynamics. He works with words, images, maps and sounds to translate these sites into spaces for reflection and discussion. His research is especially concerned with questions of periphery and new forms of centre, as well as reconsidering what home can mean in a globalised world.

His documentary films have been screened at important international film festivals such as Tallinn Black Nights, Torino Film Festival and Camerimage, and the feature length The New Wild: Life in the Abandoned Lands went on to be distributed theatrically throughout Italy before being published in book format. His other books include the novel Travels Through Absence and the photo book The Place Between. Increasingly however, new projects are seen less as productions of finished pieces and more as ongoing explorations, with greater emphasis on dialogue and collaboration, questions and plurality. His latest research Forrest has already taken loose form through photography exhibitions, installations, guided walks, public readings and sonic performances, which anticipate three photo essays and a collection of writings on belonging and longing — a kind of homeless book, Berth Songs.

Courtesy Image by Opher Thomson | ALLALDILA’DIQUA

Aside his own research, OPHER THOMSON is also involved in various social and community projects. Working alongside sociologists, geographers, architects, urban planners, social workers, volunteers, artists and locals, he offers seminars and workshops to help develop collective readings of space that can better inform projects and enrich participatory processes.

After building his career as a filmmaker and novelist, English-born Opher Thomson decided to follow an idea that led him to apply his knowledge in a different way to highlight a theme he holds dear: the concept of home.

His desire to discover in order to understand better has already manifested itself in his previous productions in which, through the exploration of environments on the margins of contemporary society, he has highlighted the relationship, or rather the lack thereof, between modern man and nature. The need to live firsthand the experiences that he then recounts in his art leads him to completely immerse himself in the environment that is the focus of his research. In all his many projects, the notion of home is placed at the center, not only as an exploration of the distance between the modern way of life and the rapid changes our world is experiencing, but also as an idea around which to weave a many-voiced dialogue recounting his own experience. This pluralistic narrative allows a discussion to evolve and find common ground in these distances that, seen from the outside, seem enormous.

DiscordArtE interview with Opher Thomson was written by Virna Manattini (V) and Sara Ghirelli (S).

Graphic Project by Michele Ricciardi

V- Opher, I must say that it is not easy to find information about you on the net, even though you are an established figure in your field. In a digital world where information is easy to find, for those who want to seek it out, why did you decide to remove your electronic tracks?

I didn’t decide to remove my digital traces, I simply don’t occupy myself with creating them anymore. It’s been a few years since I used social media and I’ve found more rewarding ways to use my time. I think perhaps we’ve bought into the spectacle of creating art, judging its worth through numerical “engagement” rather than by the deeper emotional ties of empathy the process can offer, and so I try to concentrate my involvement in the dirty old real world.
It’s harder to measure, but no less vital. I leave footprints in the dust and mud for anybody who wants to find them — there is no concealment.

Though I did change my name a couple of years ago which probably covered over a few tracks…

S- As we can read about you on your website: Opher “works with words, images, maps and sounds to translate these sites into spaces for reflection and discussion.” What motivated you to pursue these professions or these journeys? Why did you decide to engage in this change that led you to the production of this new, ever-evolving work of art?

In reality I didn’t set out with any particular dream to be a director or a writer, but I was always moved by words, by songs, by cinematic documentaries, by light, and I wanted to participate in some way. The world is very big and lots of things happen in it, and I have always needed ways to process both my own experiences and the experiences of others — their stories.

Art has given me a way to explore and digest these things, and the possibility to share them with others. It’s a curiosity, and a childlike desire to want to join in and play. Nouns can limit and pressure; verbs are open-ended and freeing. So I prefer to say “I write” rather than “I’m a writer.” Or, if we say I’m a writer because I write, then I should remind myself that I don’t write because I’m a writer but because I like to.

V- Your artistic production tends to emphasise the concept of home by exploring places on the margins of contemporary society. How did you place the concept of “home” at the centre of your reflections? How do you incorporate it into your artistic process? 

It’s rather the other way around, I think. My artistic research begins to take form when I realise people keep talking to me about the same thing. So it’s not a case of me inserting it into my process, but rather adapting my way of working to the research. I don’t normally know from the beginning which form it will take, and am often surprised myself. I see art as a translation of realities, and a way to cultivate empathy.

V- Why do you think it is important in today’s world to talk about the concept of home and to share this idea with others?

Our sense of home is changing fast and people need to process that, and once I became more aware of this ongoing, often silent, conversation, it was easier for me to participate in thinking about these things. As home is increasingly a fragmentary experience this has been reflected in the way I work.

V- How do you develop your artistic process?

My new project FORREST has already taken the form of a book, a photo essay, videos, workshops, exhibitions, presentations, guided walks and will no doubt continue to evolve. Going forwards I’m hoping to make it increasingly collaborative, both by inviting other artists to share in the research, and by organising events for the wider public.

Courtesy Image by Opher Thomson | F O R R E S T

S- How did the exhibition “Con la loro partenza nacque il sogno di un ritorno” (With their departure came the dream of a return), held in Vicenza’s Natural History and Archaeological Museum, come about?

I had already screened my first feature film THE NEW WILD: VITA NELLE TERRE ABBANDONATE at a previous edition of the festival Vicenza e la montagna, and last year they invited me back to create something new for their annual photography exhibition. As the festival encourages an urban relationship with the mountains, I decided to create a piece about the dichotomous dream of a new life in the pure nature of the mountains, as a kind of escape from the city — with all the inherent complications.

V- The project, which you exhibited at Santa Corona museum, was exciting for many people. We were the first ones to be amazed by it, so we wanted to better understand it. What does it mean to you? And how did you plan to communicate this? Where does this idea come from?

I’m pleased the work resonated. I didn’t attempt to obtain this reaction as such; it’s more a case of trusting in the sincerity of your own expression, I believe. If we create work that moves us, ourselves, it will probably communicate itself to others.

Perhaps the role of the artist is to be the first to take their clothes off. But there is a great deal of listening that must come first. If we listen to the hopes and fears of the people around us, as curious and empathetic human beings, I think that then comes through in the work we create.

V- We know from our previous chat that the photos and texts presented at this winter’s exhibition are part of a larger production of yours that has been consolidated into a pocket-sized booklet. What does this book represent for you? And how do you intend to make it known to people?

Yes, the work is part of the FORREST project, an artistic research reflecting on different forms of “homelessness”, and how they could perhaps bring us closer together. Within this body of research are different pieces in different forms. One of these, perhaps for me the most important, is a written piece, a description of a journey, BERTH SONGS (in Italian CANTI DEL PARTO; the work is currently being translated) and this will be shared in book form. The idea is that the more visual and phonic elements of the overall project will be the basis of events and meeting points with the public (exhibitions, screenings, workshops) and that the book can then be taken “home” for more intimate reflection.

S- Any curiosity to share about this little book? May I ask why there is a fake barcode on the back?

Each book is a combination of form and innovation: in terms of format, books have more or less followed the same basic principle for centuries, and yet we should ask ourselves each time what exactly we are attempting to communicate, and to whom.

In my case I originally imagined a book that would include everything, both the words and all the photography, but this would have produced a large, heavy and expensive object difficult to carry to events, and one which would have necessitated a price tag that rendered the project exclusive. As such I set myself the challenge of producing an elegant book which communicated the project in the right tone, but which was also as small and lightweight as possible, and at a low print cost that would allow the book to be a gift, rather than a “product”.

With this project I really wanted to experiment with our sense of value, and the barcode, which takes the form of a piano, is a playful way to underline that the book has a value but no price: it will be freely available at cultural events (for which I am normally paid) rather than sold. And it seemed apt, with the title BERTH SONGS (CANTI DEL PARTO), to design a book the size of a CD.

V- Starting with your past productions, I imagine you are already working on something new. Can we have a sneak peek?

I’m finding more and more expression in sound, which I’ve always played with somewhat for my films, especially for its emotive impact and universality, so I’m currently studying as much theory as possible while learning how to play a few electronic instruments. However the FORREST project is only just getting started, and having begun life as a response to various ongoing wars, it sadly remains horribly relevant, so I’ll be dedicating myself to this for some time yet.

V- At the end of this interview, I can’t help but ask why you wanted to talk about yourself and your work here, with us, at DiscordArtE?

Thank you for the invitation! It’s my pleasure to share some of the processes behind the work. Hopefully I’ll be back in Vicenza and the Veneto region soon to share something of the work itself.

S- One last question, what recommendations would you give to a person interested in joining this environment?

There are countless articles published every day on how to be successful as an artist, full of secret tips and tricks, but of course if we all follow them we’ll all disappear in the same crowd, and as I tried to explain above, I don’t find the notion of being an artist very helpful at all.

So rather than trying to be a director, why don’t we just make a film, however large or small, in whatever form? A few images, a few sounds: what happens when we put them together? Books happen when we start writing and don’t stop. A few notes, a poem: you accelerate when you realise you’re learning something.

Let’s start with what moves us, and see where it takes us… A young guy once helped me to understand this better when he told me, “I’d like to be a writer!” to which I could only reply, “Do you write?
Perhaps I’m over simplifying, but the simpler I keep life the more work and invitations seem to come my way. You have to ask yourself what your true priorities are. You have to let go of a lot to see what you have.

Courtesy Image by Opher Thomson | F O R R E S T

What do you think about that? Do you have any other curiosities?

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OPHER THOMSON returned to Vicenza
Wednesday, June 29 at 6 p.m.

at the inner courtyard of Palazzo da Schio, Ca’ D’Oro – Corso Palladio, 147 36100 Vicenza (VI)

Classificazione: 5 su 5.

READ ALSO >> Con la loro partenza nacque il sogno di un ritorno | With Their Departure, The Dream of a Return Was Born

Graphic Project by Michele Ricciardi

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