We are now introducing you to the fifth of the six resident artists who will be exhibiting in the March Mostra on Friday 18 March. Jonas St. Michael talks about his photographic practice over the past three months in Italy.
Jonas St. Michael (Québec Resident)
Jonas St. Michael has used the medium of photography as a strategy in either appropriating architectural space or creating his own ad hoc environments as the settings for both real and imagined narratives. His work examines the meaning of fiction as something more than simply the construction of an imaginary world, but rather a re-framing of the ‘real’. His research in Italy has primarily focused on the architecture and interior design of a particular 1930s-era mansion located in central Milan.
In your welcome week introductory lecture, you showed us some beautiful images you had taken of stately homes. Is this typical of your work?
I wouldn’t limit my work to simply being architectural. I work across many different lines of picture making. By default, photographs imply certain spatial relations within their frame or the illusion of depth. There’s often a setting that’s laid out within my pictures. That’s not to say architecture or interior design is not foregrounded.
It’s really about creating a kind of inner world within the frame. I would like to think my work deals mainly with narrative forms or the limits of storytelling through image production. I was always interested in photography because of what it failed to reveal. I use image as a way of interpreting architectural space as opposed to simply illustrating it. It’s also important for me to address the medium through the work.
So what was your plan and have you changed it?
For better or worse, I try to avoid having a plan. I find that when I do have to have a plan I tend to veer as far away from it as possible. Knowing where I’m going or where I’ll arrive bores me a little. Of course, I did have somewhat of an idea for potential work before arriving in Rome but that quickly unraveled as some elements were not as I had imagined them to be. Those challenges, of course, push you in unexpected directions.
One of the great things about being at the British School at Rome is that a wide range of people, including classicists and archaeologists, are exposed to your work. Someone here had suggested that I might be interested in seeing a particular mansion in Milan. I ended up going up there by train and visiting the house and was immediately inspired to make work there. This villa particularly intrigued me because not only did it point to the tastes and history of a particular social class in Milan high society, but also that the entire house was preserved from the 1930s.
So, the bulk of my work in Italy became quite specific, which I wasn’t expecting.
So what was it about the villa that struck a particular chord with you?
I found it unique because the house had only recently been acquired by a trust. And in that acquisition, the entire building became framed in such a way that it became an art object in itself rather than a home or a museum that was housing artworks and furniture. As you walk through it, you really get a sense of a beautiful, eccentric assembly of paintings, sculpture and decorative objects and textures. It felt very cinematic in the way that it obliterated any sense of an existing outside world and the way that it appeared almost like a set piece.
It was also significant that it was completely vacated which made it seem all the more mysterious. The estate remains in an ambiguous state of being both a private space and a kind of exhibition space or spectacle for the public. Yet there is something rather oddly voyeuristic about being there. I look at it – it doesn’t necessarily look back at me.
Has being here given you ideas for work that you want to continue?
It hasn’t changed the way I approach my work necessarily; my concerns as an artist remain the same. However, simply the experience of being here in Rome has opened up possibilities and lowered inhibitions about certain works that I’ve had in mind to explore in the near future.
For me, coming to Europe has always been about losing your way, so to speak – getting as far off track as you can – perhaps freeing yourself from your so-called everyday life. Personally, finding yourself in an unknown place is something that excites me and the same, I hope, goes for the work.
With the mostra coming up this Friday, have you picked which images you want to show?
No, not yet. I’ll likely show a few large-scale photographs that hopefully resonate with the cinematic and narrative qualities of the house. I also made a short film that should be finished in a few months.
Jonas’ work will be exhibited alongside that of the other five resident artists in the March Mostra: open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 19 March until Friday 25 March 2016 (closed Sunday).
Photo by Antonio Palmieri