Draining Battery and Running Out of Memory | Dani Tagen
Dani Tagen is a visual artist based in London. She will graduate from an MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, UAL in 2020. She holds a Masters Degree in Contemporary Art and Teaching from Goldsmiths University. She was awarded the CAPES scholarship from the Brazilian Ministry of Education to study photography at City of Westminster College. She is currently living in Thamesmead, London, where she has her own radio program ‘Process in Focus’ at RTM Thamesmead Radio, in which Dani interviews artists. She works from a studio at her flat.
Currently she is working on a video-installation commissioned by Bow Arts & Arts Council England. Dani Tagen has exhibited in her native Sao Paulo as well as, London, Berlin and Vienna. Her work is held in private collections in Houston, Sao Paulo, London and Tokyo.
Dani Tagen and Dominika Kieruzel in Conversation
Yuka plant on the table, reminding me of home. Sitting at Dani's place. It is very clean, a lot of space. Dani takes honey out of her cupboard, for my espresso, I can see how scarce her stuff is - the cupboard is almost empty. She talks about how she needs gaps between things.
Dominika Kieruzel: The name of the piece is 'Draining Battery and Running Out of Memory'. What does it mean?
Dani Tagen: 'Draining Battery' was the first name because it started like that, totally by accident. And that's why I really like it. I bought a new computer, which doesn't have a camera. I've had an old iPhone... I really like hacking things so I tried to hack it to use the iPhone as a computer camera. I know it is possible, I've tried, but I was very busy with my MA, and I didn't have enough time to go through with it. In the process of trying I installed a lot of apps to jailbreak the iPhone. It's old and broken and it doesn't switch on or off. To instal things and jailbreak, you have to switch the phone on and off. 'How can I do this now? It's fully charged... I know - I'm just going to start filming - the thing that uses the most of the battery is video.' So I just put it on top of the table as I was working, I pointed to the place that I normally look at and I left it filming for an hour until the battery was drained.
A day later, I realised that I have a film I need to delete... But do I have to delete it?
I watched the film and I thought 'oh, I've got something'. The accident happened in a very funny way, because I normally watch the Sun move. I sit down and I like watching light, particularly around the time of seasonal change. The Sun shifts position and it brings new shapes to things I am aware of that movement of light. I watch that. So I pointed to something that I actually have been watching long before this film. I had this light bulb moment, where I said: 'I just did something...' I had a video of the light changing.
What is it about watching light that interests you?
First of all I really like the fact that we are not aware of the speed that we are travelling at all the time. The Earth is rotating very fast and so are we. And I am sitting still, watching it.
That brings me to another thing which is always on my mind: how the universe happens, whilst our tiny little lives happen. It's synchronicity, or even going into physics, Special Relativity: two things travel simultaneously but, depending on the point of view, they have different ideas of time. They each have a different sense of time.
A collusion of two realities... That's something that really moved me in the work - the idea that you've got your intimate surroundings and then there are the heavens. As a viewer, I watch the two be together.
Tell me about the intimacy. What is the importance of your domestic intimacy in this film? The sounds of you cooking, they bring us really close to you, there is a scene where you sit at a table, I think eating breakfast.
Yes, I can't say much... I'm really enjoying myself. I feel so fulfilled living on my own. I feel happy.
That's really wonderful. There is calm to the way you move and there is a sense that the world that you open up to the audience has a kind of peaceful fullness about it.
There are so many different domestic environments that are not like this. Something in your walking, cooking, sitting - the poise of that intimate world means that it does not appear insignificant in relation to the reality of the heavens, but together they create certain poetics, delicate, ethereal.
It's funny you said that, because I think I really believe in small gestures, and I think that life is about small gestures.
Because I feel fulfilled, every little gesture I direct at myself is meaningful.
You said to me once that you try not to buy things for art, you think about ways of making art with what you have. You consider whether you will be able to store your art and how. What is your approach to your materials and your objects of art?
Ok, so that's something.... Initially I didn't realise that I was doing it. I didn't realise that I was always paying attention to the life of the objects in the world.
Not in the sense of me being self-important, wanting the pieces to be in the museum... No, actually on a day to day basis, very mundane. I'm a very pragmatic person, very practical. For a long time, I actually didn't want to contemplate my approach to objects too much. I thought it was me making my life harder. And I thought I was making it harder, so that I could suffer for my art. Now that I've been doing my MA, in the past year, I've been looking deep into my practice and I realised that it's not that way.
Art is so much a part of my life - and I'm so practical - that I'm actually making art more a part of my life. If it's convoluted, if it's cluttered, I'm not gonna like it.
So I make art that I want to look at. My house is full of my art. That is a nice afterlife for an object.
It's not that I wouldn't make a piece out of plastic, but I would ask myself: is it the best solution?
I want it to be considered. I'm not going to buy a piece of perspex thinking: if it doesn't work, I can always paint over it. No.
You mention art around your house and it is really beautiful and it's everywhere, in your kitchen, corridor, living room... Whenever I come to your place my eyes wander to your pieces, your sense of aesthetics does something wonderful to the gaze. Some pieces are very present in 'Draining Battery'. I'd like to ask you about the golden plugs.
In the video, it is a domestic setting, and yet there is a museum style plinth with this enigmatic work of art locked in a clear perspex box. The plugs make me think of some kind of artefact from previous civilization. And then, you often speak of cave paintings and your fascination with the original artists...
It's funny because I think those things relate to each other... When Picasso said that he wanted to paint like a child... I want to make art like a caveman.
It's very hard because I'm not there yet. I think it is about not having an ego.
It's making for the sake of making. It's being happy in the making.
That plug, it's actually very interesting. It's a very important piece for me, for many reasons. In terms of the object itself - it is a great milestone in my art making.
About a year before I made this piece I managed to get a studio for the first time in my life. I'm not a trained artist, I didn't do a BA in art so I never worked that way. I remember going to this studio and I remember sitting down and saying: 'what do people do in studios?'
And then I was trying to make things, but really forcing myself to make. I was making lots of drawings on the walls, graffiti-like. I've always been interested in plugs and sockets.
At the same time I realised that inside our mobile phones we carry some amounts of gold. First of all gold is a finite metal in the world. There is actually a calculation you can do to come up with an approximate amount of gold that exists in the world. Second, it's a metal that is recyclable. So we might be carrying Egyptian gold, you know, or Aztec's gold, because the Spanish melted them all. We don't have a way to trace it back. For me, this is amazing because going back to the cave painting... Gold is this fascinating thing that every civilization loves. And we might be carrying things that were part of those civilizations and we are not aware of it.
Plugs and sockets are the essence of our contemporary living, we cannot live without them, yet we hide them. We don't care about them until we are desperate, until we are running out of juice. I wanted to elevate them to be visibly important in the world. So the sockets are actually gilded in gold, a gold leaf.
Developing this work was really difficult. It took two years to build, because it's plastic and gold. It never adhered. It's a very fragile object, if you touch it, the gold starts to flake. So it is an artefact now, because you cannot touch it, it has to sit in this perspex case on the plynth.
This is also the first piece that I sold to a collector. Right now I'm not an owner but a curator of the piece. It's not mine anymore. The collector is in Japan, and she bought it just before leaving London, and she said she thought she was going to come back to London and she'd pick it up. And it's been 2 years now. But we're in touch, we're friends. It is one of three actually, so when it goes away I'm gonna make another. It's a very important piece for me.
Time and physics probably appear in every other conversation we have. There is something to do with both of them in 'Draining Battery' because it is about electricity, about power, energy, space etc. And it is about time.
Tell me a little about time in your work.
I think time is everywhere in my work. Sometimes it is the main subject.
Sometimes it's hidden. Time is always there and it actually took me a long time to realise that my work is not only about time.
Up to about three months ago I thought exactly that, but now I realise that time is a layer of my work... It's almost the language that I speak...
Actually, I am communicating through looking at systems and time is a part of a system.
I know it sounds a bit weird, but I think somehow I feel time a bit differently.
I think that I feel time.
In what way?
If you tell me 'wait five minutes here' in exactly 5 minutes, I'm going to stand up and go. I can feel time passing. I have a very good idea and a sense of minutes, seconds, hours, days.
Does it have something to do with the way you live? You don't listen to music or watch tv, you spend a lot of time in silence, you also practice Kung Fu and meditation.
Yes, but that feeling came before, I think I've always been like that.
I learned to read analogue clock at five. Time has always been an obsession of mine, it's my own particular treasure. It's not something that you would notice, without me telling you.
I'm just aware of time.
Time and light. This thing of watching the light is something I've always done. I remember as a child sitting down, watching light.
Perhaps the watching of light links with the sense of time because when you watch the light you realise how time is passing - it's literally there.
We spoke about 'Draining Battery', what about 'Running Out of Memory?'
That's the sound. 'Draining battery' happened first. During filming I was working on Photoshop, and I started to listen to the sounds of my typing and writing and I thought: 'that's nice'. I became really aware of the sounds of this flat.
I liked the sounds, but the way they recorded on the iPhone was not good, it was too high pitched. The videos were warm, but the sounds weren't. After you saw the videos we spoke and you suggested I record the sounds again.
For me it was a bit weird - to force the sound. I didn't like that idea. But, at the same time I wanted some sound in the piece. So I thought: how can I make this work conceptually?
I remembered that I almost threw away some tiny flashcards. 64MB - that used to be amazing. Now my biggest one's 128GB. It's ridiculous right? Technology.... but the shape and the format are still the same. I put that flashcard in the zoom and I recorded until the memory was full...
It was just six minutes... I tried out a couple of bigger cards which allowed for longer sound pieces but after all i used the first one, from the 64MB card.
So I ran out of memory, that was it.
I think this is where the system comes. As an artist I like to create these mental systems to do with making. I created this system, and I didn't need to do it, at the same time I had to do it.
You're about to finish your MA, as you've mentioned it has been quite important for your practice. What direction do you think you're going now?
I think it's like Kung Fu. The more you practice and the closer you are, the more you realise how far you are. Because you realise how far one can go. The more you know, the more you realise that you don't know anything. That's where I am right now - I think I managed to open the door of knowing that I don't know anything.
It's a great place to be.
That's why I wanted to do the MA, I got to a point where it felt like I knew too much. I didn't like that. I knew that I don't know anything, but I wanted to actually face it, look at it and say: 'I don't know anything!'