Looking For U: In Conversation with Michael Staniak

Looking For U: In Conversation with Michael Staniak

Learn more about the artists in our upcoming show...

Michael Staniak's practice is entrenched in the current reality - that we exist both physically, and virtually, thanks to the internet. We spoke to the artist about his work, as well as his background and influences that have helped shape it.

UL: Having received your artistic training initially in Melbourne, and continuing to work there to this day, do you see your creative development and conceptual process as intertwined with your geography?
MS: There are advantages and disadvantages to being so far away from the major hubs of the art world. In that way, geography does play a part. I am connected to most international contemporary art via the screen and this can influence my aesthetic decisions when making work. 
UL: How large a role did technology play during your upbringing?
MS: My formative years and early adolescence occurred pre-Internet. I cannot comprehend the complexities of navigating both the digital and physical social worlds as a child. I don’t envy it. I was most influenced by technology when studying Digital Media Communications at University in the U.S. in the early 2000s, where my focus was surveying new media. This period of study was conducted pre-Facebook. The full gamut of social media was available during my time in art school. The reason I break the role of technology into these three periods of my life is that it seems to mark the most influential developments in digital communication at different levels of my education. It most likely contributes to my bi-polar relationship with technology; one that looks at its developments with optimistic trepidation.  
UL: As an artist, what do you think people’s biggest misconception of you is, and why?
MS: From experience, I have long stopped assuming what people think. 
UL: What single interaction or experience has most informed your artwork in the last year? What impact did it have?
MS:  I was invited by German über curator, Nicolaus Schafhausen, to create work on residency at Fogo Island, Newfoundland, in April this year. I specifically chose to do it at the tail end of winter during the pack ice and beginning of the iceberg seasons, in order to experience an environment extremely foreign to me living in Melbourne. I instantly felt a connection between the surface of my previous works and the almost extra-terrestrial landscape. I can see the documentation accumulated from the residency informing my practice going forward.  
UL: What does it mean to you to work ‘by hand’, in light of the fact that your work appears mechanically printed?
MS: For the works on display in Looking For U, I have not used one digital tool. The hand is crucial in my work, in particular the use of finger gestures. They allude to a consistency in using our fingers as a creative gesture; from the first human developments of drawing in sand or painting with ochre in caves, to early childhood expression with finger-painting and through to the navigation of touchscreen technology. 
UL: Does spontaneity play a significant role in your creative process? If so, to what extent do you change your mind or act on impulse?
MS: For me, spontaneity is crucial in the first half of my painting process, when I am creating an undulating surface with my casting compound. It is an exploration of chaotic, untapped potential. Like embarking on a completely foreign voyage, I try removing myself from preconception. The later slow and layered application of atomised acrylic colour is the orderly repetition that harmonises the otherwise happenstance compositions. The work freezes when I reach this carefully balanced tension. 
UL: Seriality is strong theme in your works, and there are distinct groupings in their appearance and their titles. How do you decide how many works belong in the same series, and do you produce each series simultaneously?
MS: I don’t predetermine how many works are made in a series. I make a certain series when I feel it is the right time to make it and I stop in a similar way. Some series are produced at the same time; others completely separately. Occasionally, an outside curatorial requirement can dictate which series I display for a show. 
UL: Many of your works are framed and hang on a wall like paintings, yet very deliberately occupy three-dimensional space in the manner of sculpture. Is this ambivalence something that you deliberately decided, or a natural outcome of your pursued process?
MS: In a way, every painting that hangs on a wall is an object. I don't think in these terms for my painting. I see a surface and I am conscious of its multiple states; flat or textured; online or offline. This is deliberately ambivalent. We see in constant mediated and unmediated duality. 
UL: You have stated previously that ‘everything will eventually end up on a screen or online’. Do you think this significantly impacts your work, either in a positive or a negative way?
MS: I can’t help but think about how something I make can translate to the screen. It’s inevitable that it will end up there. One cannot ignore the fact that the majority of the art audience sees most artwork in miniature form from behind backlit glass. 
UL: Is there anything that you most hope that viewers can take away from your work?
MS: There are two audiences - the physical and digital. Maybe that is why my work has that ambivalence you referred to earlier. I am not sure if I just make work for myself or if I have the audience in mind. I don’t know who will see my works in person or their digital simulations. These days the scope of reach for a reproduction of an artwork is endless. I cannot tell if the audience influences me or whether I influence an audience. The relationship is symbiotic, I guess. 
Want to learn more about the theme for our upcoming Summer Group Show? Read more here

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