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Provoking contemplation and transformation - An interview with Orsina Pasargiklian

Orsina Pasargiklian is a remarkable artist, whose canvas not only reflects the world's complexities but also strives to shape a more conscious and empathetic future through the lens of creativity. Join us as we delve into her artistic journey, inspirations, and unwavering commitment to socially and environmentally conscious art.

2023-09-06

Joana Alarcão


Welcome to today's interview with Orsina Pasargiklian, an artist originally from Italy who has chosen London, United Kingdom, as their creative base. From a young age, Pasargiklian developed a passion for both creating art and studying its rich history, which set the stage for her artistic career.


After obtaining her degree, Orsina participated in two residency programs—one immersed in the breathtaking landscapes of Beijing, China, and the other amidst the vibrant creativity of New York City, USA. These experiences not only enriched Orsina's perspective but also laid the groundwork for her diverse career.

 

The purpose of Pasargiklian practice is to address contemporary issues through the medium of art. Her artwork gives voice to exploring significant topics like migration and climate change and the intricate connections between them. Her mission is clear: to exhibit and provoke meaningful conversations, prioritizing the societal and environmental impact of their art over commercial pursuits.



Broken Sky by Orsina Pasargiklian. Image courtesy of Orsina Pasargiklian.

To begin, can you tell us a bit about your background and artistic practice

I was born in Milan, Italy, where I discovered a passion for drawing and painting at a very young age; being raised in a country so rich in history of art and architecture has helped develop my inquisitiveness for these subjects. After graduating high school, I moved to London, UK, where I continued my art studies, and completed a BA in Fine Art. Following university, I took some time to travel, and I started working as an art tutor. I continued teaching in London, where I run painting classes on a regular basis. I mainly work as a professional visual artist, steadily exhibiting in various art galleries, and in November 2022, I became a member of the artist network ArtCan.


My primary medium as an artist is oil paint, but I also work in digital medium, and recently I have been experimenting with ground and raw materials. 


With my artworks, I tackle issues that are relevant to today’s political and cultural landscape such as migration, climate change and the intersection between them. My goal as an artist is to exhibit rather than to create for commercial purposes, therefore I aim to collaborate with platforms that seek to showcase socially and environmentally conscious art.


Your fascination with the representation of cities in art is evident in your work. How do you see the representation of cityscapes in art evolving over time, and how does your art contribute to this narrative?

Because of their diverse spectrum, cities are easily a microcosm of society at large, consequently, urban landscape has served as a tool for art to comment on the social climate of a given place and/or moment in time. In Western art, we’ve seen this occurrence in Victorian representations of urban settings that were celebratory of the Industrial Revolution, and it is evident in the futurism movement where national strength was conveyed through the portrayal of the commanding architecture of the time.


In modern and contemporary art though and with more freedom of expression, artists have stepped away from the one-sided triumphal representation of urban landscape, towards a more nuanced and multifaceted approach to social critique. Whether is painting, photography or installation, there is so much that an artist can do to express their own voice through urban representation, and I wanted in on the discourse.


In my early days as an art student, when I had yet to find my footing, I started painting cityscapes of places that I visited in order to capture their identity, their “essence”. I was looking for what shapes the scenery we look at, I started thinking of the science, the history and the politics that lie within a given place, and I decided to introduce statistical data in my visual language. With my work, I propose these scientific and culturally relevant elements play a significant role in shaping the aesthetic of the contemporary cityscape as much as the architectural spectacle that accommodates it. 



Breathing Earth by Orsina Pasargiklian. Image courtesy of Orsina Pasargiklian.

Your practice encompasses a wide range of elements, from statistical data, cartography, and architecture to science and social science. How do you seamlessly blend these diverse elements into an aesthetic that draws from romantic art while reflecting on the current state of cityscapes?

When looking at a cityscape, we are overwhelmed by information that we often take for granted: its history, its cultural diversity, its geography, and its economic status are right there before our eyes; the data in question is already in our field of view, with my work, I intend to give it centre stage.

I consider all my works to be either landscapes or cityscapes regardless of what they may appear to be by the viewer, I think that helps me to not overthink and try to make the gathered data look like something else. The affinity to Romanticism is attempted through my painting process; I’ve always been mesmerized by Romantic artists from the 18th and 19th centuries, I am especially in love with J. M. W. Turner's work, his paintings for me are an homage to painting itself, the way colours beautifully transition to one another emotionally fuels the landscape. 

In my works, I play with the contradiction of using an “old-fashioned” medium like oil paint to depict a subject that would otherwise be seen on a computer screen, I want to create a mood and convey a spectrum of emotion through something that is often regarded as clinical.



Maps erased cropped by Orsina Pasargiklian. Image courtesy of Orsina Pasargiklian.

Geometry is a key feature in your work, capturing the essence of urban architecture. And you mentioned that your "geometric oil paintings are rendered with soft and earthy colours to draw a comparison to living organisms, suggesting that cities are evolving in time like they have an ecosystem of their own." Can you deconstruct this line of thought for us?

I have always been drawn to urban architecture, how different styles layer over time and seemingly blend together into one panoramic view, it narrates its own evolution to the viewer. With my paintings I am concerned with recreating the geometric jungle-like aspect of metropolises: I use vertiginous perspectives and complicated three-dimensional structures to convey that feel of walking around a city like New York, Beijing or London. But in contrast to the imposing geometry, the negative spaces recall earth’s fractures and the colour tones I use resemble the palette of a natural landscape. I then started thinking of parallelism between urban and natural design.


While researching, I came across the studies of physicist Geoffrey West which gave me a whole new perspective on urban development and consequently influenced my practice going forward. West theorised that a city’s sustainability can be predicted with mathematical equations and that its infrastructure’s growth parallels the biological system of a living organism. I find it fascinating, that a city is very much alive, and that it grows and multiplies, for better or for worse, just like we do. That is when geometric clusters and patterns started becoming very frequent in my work: I want to represent something artificial growing in a natural way. 


Your description of Fracture conveys a powerful image of human interference with the environment. Can you delve deeper into your exploration of the relationship between natural and urban elements within your artwork?

As climate change became a topic of interest in my practice, the natural environment has turned into a more prominent feature in my work.

During lockdown, when I didn’t have access to my studio, I started working in digital medium from home. I created the series Broken Landscapes, where photographs of natural landscapes have been fractured and broken into to portray a scenery that is precarious and uncertain. I then decided that I wanted to translate these works into paintings and to use my geometric aesthetic to represent the “precarious and uncertain”. One of the outcomes of this effort is my painting Fracture, where one can see a deserted land with a geometrized crack running through it, the unnatural looking fissure is intended to represent human interference. Just like in my other paintings, I represented “the essence of architecture”, it was important for me that the composition for this piece would be also “essential”. I love it when art can make a strong statement through simplicity, when it can say a lot with very little. 


One of my favourite artworks is Shibboleth by Doris Salcedo, it was a temporary installation that comprised of a crack dug throughout the floor of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London. The work represented borders through the experience of an immigrant, it was very powerful, and it didn’t need to handhold the audience with further imageries and gimmicks to convey a strong message. It struck me so deeply that it didn’t even occur to me until someone pointed out that my painting Fracture was very similar. I guess that imagery has been imprinted in me as the best way to represent something broken.



Fracture by Orsina Pasargiklian. Image courtesy of Orsina Pasargiklian.

Mood Chart presents an abstract representation of an urban skyline intertwined with public opinion data. How do you navigate translating complex issues like immigration and societal fear into visual representations?

When I first decided to introduce statistical data in my work, I noticed that a line graph visually recalls the outline of a skyline, and I thought that was an interesting connection between the cityscape and the science that informs it. The data I used for Mood Chart indicates the relevance of immigration as an issue among public opinion in the UK over time; in contrast to the other topics that have a more constant pattern, the immigration line goes up and down the scale almost hysterically, like a spiking heart monitor. The graph was part of an article discussing immigration rhetoric during the Brexit campaign in the UK; being a European national living in England, it was hard to think about anything else at the time, and impossible to not be enraged by it. I think that by isolating that data and making it the sole subject of a large-scale painting, I wanted to call out on people’s corruptible ideology and its consequential irrationality.



City Maps Cloud by Orsina Pasargiklian. Image courtesy of Orsina Pasargiklian.

Your City Maps Cloud project is an ambitious endeavour that captures urban growth history through a collection of over 60 oil paintings. What can you tell us about this project?

I became interested in cartography during my early research, as maps often serve as a visual aid in texts regarding migration and urbanisation, and I have been drawing and painting small-scale maps of cities since I was a student. There is an intimacy to my maps that I appreciate, and yet when assembled together they become pieces of a puzzle representing something grander: we can now see them in a global context, as part of a bigger picture.


I started the collection City Maps Cloud in 2018 and I have been adding to it ever since; it combines cities all over the world that have had a significant development in modern history. I painted an anthology of urban growth to emphasize the key role that migration has played in the foundation of societies and that is very much the heart of civilization.

What kept me engaged in this ever-growing project, is the fact that I can represent different data, therefore tell a different story, depending on which maps I select, which order I display them in, and/or which context they are exhibited in.


The climate crisis and its impact on the urban environment have emerged as a focus in your recent works. How does Maps Erased visually and emotionally address the impending effects of climate change on vulnerable cities, and what conversations do you hope it sparks?

Maps Erased is the most recent project born out of City Maps Cloud, I have selected the cities from the collection that have been or will be significantly affected by climate change and that are at high risk of becoming inhabitable due to flooding, sea level rising, pollution, high temperatures and the consequential economic unsustainability.

For each map, I painted a negative copy where the city is left blank, and the surroundings have been blocked in dark paint. The blank map, deprived of any detail, represents its disappearance.


People would usually recognise a representation of a city they know by images of its skyline, main square, or any iconic landmark, but maps draw attention back to the land the city is built on, rather than the city itself. As I started to exhibit my maps, I noticed that the viewer becomes curious about these places and tries to identify where they may have lived or visited, by looking for a familiar river or coastline. It becomes an interactive experience with the art. Maps Erased intends to put the land under the spotlight, which is what desperately needs our attention now, to then have the audience being faced with its absence. 



Mood Chart by Orsina Pasargiklian. Image courtesy of Orsina Pasargiklian.

In your opinion, how does art contribute to the current contemporary discourse around societal and political issues?

I see art as a form of education for both the artist and the recipient. As an artist, I learn through the process of making, and I learn from the viewer through the way they perceive and absorb my art, it’s a reciprocal transaction.


Art can serve as a window for us to start a conversation about any given topic and get us interested in subjects that we wouldn’t otherwise come across, that is why I think art is an essential addition to the more formal learning and social awareness that we get from school and watching the news. It’s a more democratised platform where everyone and everything has a voice.  


Moreover, a work of art narrates a story through a sensory experience, it can get our attention by awakening emotions in us, so we don’t feel too distant and detached from what we are seeing.

Art bridges the gap between knowledge and sentiment, which is an essential contribution to the growth of social awareness and sensitivity.


Broken Mountains by Orsina Pasargiklian. Image courtesy of Orsina Pasargiklian.
Lastly, are there any platforms, books, or podcasts you would recommend to our readers?

 

I research for my work through an infinite number of resources, and I came across so many interesting readings, that it’s hard to narrow it down!


A book that was very important for the foundation of practice was Planet of Slums by Mike Davis, it’s an in-depth exploration of the inequality and unsustainability caused by global urbanisation. Another book I can recommend is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, it’s about the fundamental role that geography plays in shaping global politics. 

Although not strictly related to my work, for anyone who is interested in the importance of data gathering and how it affects societies, I recommend reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez, an exposé on how gender bias has influenced data gathering into creating a world that is designed for men, it’s enlightening yet infuriating, nevertheless, a must read.  


As for my environment-related research, I am subscribed to the WWF, which comes with a quarterly magazine that, not only provides very important and interesting information, it has also been a great source of inspiration for my current and future projects.


Read more about the artist here.


Cover Image

Free Fall by Orsina Pasargiklian. Image courtesy of Orsina Pasargiklian.

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I am an Italian-born artist based in London, United Kingdom. I was born in Milan, Italy in 1987. I developed a passion for art practice and art history at a very young age, and after graduating from high school in my hometown, I moved to London to continue my art studies where I completed a BA in Fine Art at Middlesex University in 2012. Shortly after graduating from university, I attended two residency programs, one in Beijing, China and one in New York, USA. During my travels, I started working as an art tutor as a means to support myself, I have since developed a skill for teaching, and continued teaching in London, where I run adult painting classes on a regular basis. I mainly work as a professional visual artist steadily exhibiting in various art galleries and in November 2022, I became a member of the artist network ArtCan.


With my artworks, I tackle issues that are relevant to today’s political and cultural landscape such as migration, climate change and the intersection between them, therefore my goal as an artist is to exhibit rather than to create for commercial purposes, therefore I aim collaborate with platforms that seek to showcase socially and environmentally conscious art.

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