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In conversation: Désirée Jung

by Joana Alarcão

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In conversation: Désirée Jung
How would you describe your artistic practice?

I think I am primarily a dreamer or someone who draws most of her inspiration from unscientific, unconscious sources. I’m extremely sensitive, intuitive, a bit like a sponge, and emotions arrive in me before I can barely speak. For a long time, I tried to repress these aspects of my personality, but no longer. I think pure rationality hasn’t taken us very far as a community. I consider myself primarily a writer because language is already in me, even before I try to do anything “with it.” Moreover, and more practically, I guess if I had to choose between a good book and a movie, I would certainly choose the first one.

You are primarily a writer but you also create digital arts and film. How did you get interested in using these mediums?

Film has always captured my imagination, as though being hypnotized by passion. The image carries this fascinating, seductive, superficial aspect we dig so much as humans. When I started working on my video poems, however, I first wrote them as poems, on paper. I wasn’t thinking of making anything with them. Yet I always wanted to make poetry a more democratic form, or at least lessen its stigma as a difficult genre. So, when I began to work on the video poems, with the help of great people, we tried to engage with the images as allies to my words, rather than the other way around. Even so, most of my poetry addresses precisely what images hide and veil: the void, the solitude, the lack, and what is behind our existence: nothingness. So unconsciously, maybe, I was also trying to provoke my lack within images.

Can you tell us about your work entitled, Listen to what you see? What is the concept behind it? How did you reach the final visual aesthetics?

I was trying to use the image of a powerful feline with a human thought that destabilizes and triggers our certainty of “knowledge.” Stress and anxiety have become our main affects as a society, which is very poor and limited, considering our range of feelings. What I was trying to do in this piece was to challenge our reason as masters of our perceptions of the world. For even though we have five senses (I would bet there are plenty more, but I can’t prove!) we have basically overpowered one: the gaze.

You have several books published such as Desejos Submersos and The Immense Hour. What can you tell us about the experience of creating a book?

Desejos Submersos is a book I wrote in Portuguese and it was my first experience with writing and publishing it. In this particular case, it wasn’t that difficult to put the book together, but rather write the individual stories. It looks like maybe ten years! I have never been a fast writer, in the sense of getting books done. I did spend a lot of time editing, though, an extremely painful task for me. The Immense Hour is a book of poetry I translated from Portuguese into English by an amazing poet from Brazil, Iacyr Anderson Freitas. Even though translating is not something often recognized, it is for me one of the most arduous and beautiful crafts to date. Translation requires a type of alchemy, of pure transformation, of becoming another, that is very unique and singular.

Can you lead us through your day-to-day life? How do you manage your multiple projects?

I can be extremely organized, but that doesn’t often translate into productivity. I often can’t work on something one day long, so often on many things at the same time. I have the habit of writing lots of notes, dreams (I dream a lot, or maybe the dream dreams me, not sure), uncertain thoughts and eventually I do something with them – or not. I also love taking photos on my phone and later writing a poem on that image or drawing something inspired by it. Over the years I learned that even though I take my craft very seriously and professionally, I don’t think one needs to be rigid about routine. I’m not an obsessive writer. I think my life is more important than my work.

How do you reach the visual effect of your artworks? Do you have a specific process?

I love the contrast of colours. I love warmth but I also love coldness. I think my sensations inform the mood of paintings. I like to try different options together and see what pleases me the most. I think what is not in the painting is what makes the painting exist. Does that make sense?

A series of your video poems about memory and landscape has been screened at several film festivals around the world. What can you tell us about these experiences?

Even though I haven’t been physically present at any of these festivals, since the majority of them were happening online, due to the sanitary crisis, I was very proud to see poetry being taken to distant places around the world. I think a lot of these festivals are taking a risk to start something that hasn’t been done before, there weren’t many video poetry festivals in the past like there are today. Again, it is a democratic form of expression, so I was most surprised and happy to see how many people seemed to be interested in this “new” form.

In your artistic statement, you mentioned “My take as an artist is to engage with technology as a consensual and political act: respecting the rights of its users and offering vulnerability in a world full of absolutes, inventions that take into account our disorganized and unpredictable existence.” Can you elaborate?

Simply put: you can’t really decide on people’s desires. We can’t teach people how to desire. You can use technology as a machine programmed to cause and manipulate desire, but that is something else entirely. So what I meant to say is that I hope to be using these creative tools – which are great by the way – not as an attempt to manipulate anyone, but rather to challenge, question, and affirm my subjectivity and how I habit my body in an ongoing, incomplete, uncertain, and open form, never complete. Not as an absolute.

In our current global societal atmosphere do you believe art and artists are thriving or are creative freedom becoming a censored commodity?

I’m not sure if I understand your question properly, but what I think about art these days is that it has become a convenient commodity, an obsession with likes and dislikes, and not an ongoing, reflective process. There is an obsession with constant production, an excess of sorts. We are more interested in what requires the least possible effort. It has become our drug, the fix we go to relax. I often ask myself: how can you call yourself a writer if you don’t have the patience to read? Well, sometimes that is what happens when we are constantly bombarded by immediate fast information.

What's your biggest barrier to being an artist? How do you address it?

I think being an artist is very difficult and underpaid. I do not make my living fully as an artist or a writer, which I think is quite sad and unfair, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it. Yet it is an issue and addresses what we value as the value in our capitalist society. However, on the other hand, art has made my life possible, and my living, mental health and well-being depend on it. I have a family of poems, and that’s what allows me to exist.

Where do you see your art practice evolve in the future?

I have been asking myself the same question, but I would love to explore other ways of expressing sound as the original source of language, and how it relates to our first notions of images. It seems contradictory, but then again, that’s often the case with me.

Cover Image :  Pause by Désirée Jung. Image courtesy of Désirée Jung.

Image 1: Listen to what you see by Désirée Jung. Image courtesy of Désirée Jung.

Image 2: Investigating light by Désirée Jung. Image courtesy of Désirée Jung

Image 3: Dream Retold by Désirée  Jung. Image courtesy of Désirée Jung

Image 4: What we Plant, Grows by Désirée Jung. Image courtesy of Désirée Jung

Katerina Pravda contemporary visual artist.jpg

Désirée Jung is an artist born in Brazil, and adopted by Vancouver, Canada. She has published translations, poetry, and fiction in several magazines around the world. She has also participated in many artist residencies. Her education includes a film degree from Vancouver Film School, a BFA in Creative Writing, an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Comparative Literature, all from the University of British Columbia. Writing, for her, is a hopeless attempt to capture light. Her most recent work, a series of video poems about memory, landscape and what is not-all out there, has been screened in several film festivals around the world, and can be found in her website:


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