London Art Spot: Orly Orbach

Dark washes and black pen and ink techniques lend a slightly haunting, mysterious atmosphere to a large part of Orly Orbach’s otherworldly portfolio. Her illustrations often tell a story and have been featured regularly in Ambit magazine among other publications. She has also produced work for theatre productions and album covers.

A Royal College of Art graduate, Orly has spent a great deal of her professional time with communities, allowing them to connect with and interact with her art. She has completed quite a few residencies in which she engaged with young people and encouraged them to embrace creativity as a form of self-expression.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Orly talks more about her residency experiences including time at Sceaux Gardens and why it was the most fulfilling, shares a list of authors that inspires her creativity, and tells us about her involvement in London’s theatre and film industry.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity and in what way?
OO: What I really love about london is the diverse communities and the freedom to be different. It is such a free thinking place where you don’t have to fit in; there are multitudes of dress codes and styles. And you get to meet such a broad range of people. That certainly has an influence on my work.

LLO: Give us a brief introduction to your technique, the materials you prefer to work with and your method of approach to an idea.
OO: I like to treat every project like a new learning experience, find subject matters that I can relate to, allow myself to engage with themes on a personal level, and be experimental and think openly about each project I take. I find it important to allow chance into my work, and this can happen by being playful with mark-making, and in cases of collaborative projects, to allow other voices and ideas to lead me to places I did not expect. I like working with inks because of the way the marks flow and seem to posses their own direction, which I only partially try to control and shape. I like the flexibility of inks, and the permanence of the mark once they dry.  And I also like crayons and chinagraphs, and any other drawing material.

LLO: Your art seems to tell stories and dig under the surface of things. Are you influenced by the written word? If so, which authors or stories are especially important to you?
OO: There are lots of authors that are important to me, some of which are anonymous. For instance I have a collection of folk stories from around the world that never seems to have authors, only translators. I like reading about myths and often browse anthropology books for inspiration. As much of my work is about the interpretation of experience, I find endless inspiration in these resources. I also like theatre technique books and find them relevant. When it comes to fiction, I have lots of favourite authors, especially Russian and Jewish authors, and women writers have helped me regain a sense of magic when I lose inspiration, in particular Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. I love good poetry, and get sent a lot of very visual and visceral poems by Ambit magazine to illustrate.

LLO: “Haunting”, “dark”, “moody”, “mysterious” and “otherworldly” are all words that have been used to describe your work. Would you agree? Where does this darkness stem from?
OO: I want my work to be ‘otherworldly’, simply because when I make work I am trying to connect to other worlds. I think of the history of stories and image-making and inevitably I make work that comes from somewhere deeper within myself. Perhaps I make work for the past rather than the present, which is why it seems haunting. I don’t wish to make ‘dark’ work intentionally, and in fact, I don’t like ‘dark’ work that sets out to be shocking or aims to provoke an audience. The work I make is about trying to connect with something authentic, and if it happens to be moody and haunting it probably just shows my aesthetic sensibility. I personally do like to be haunted by high-quality works and ideas, and hope my work has some kind of authentic presence.

LLO: You have also worked with children on positive community projects like the “Wishing Wall” after the fire at Sceaux Gardens in South London. What was the purpose of the wishing wall? How does your art help to build a stronger community?
OO: My idea for the Sceaux Gardens residency was to use storytelling activities as a way of bringing people together. The project was called Making Play, and I thought we could play with fiction to create new worlds and reimagine the local neighbourhood, through small interventions, art activities etc. The incident of the fire happened at the very beginning of the residency. It was impossible to switch off from reality and play with fiction under these circumstances, so eventually I found a way to address the issue by asking local residents to help me create a mural. It’s a complicated event, but in short, the idea was to make something collaborative that allows people to say what they think, discuss ideas they have about how to improve their neighbourhood, to open communication between them and the council, and very importantly- to note down and acknowledge every single idea, and to do all of this in a way that is visually presentable without being too ‘pretty’, as it did not feel right to make something that is too decorative for the site, as I did not wish the image to distract us from the reality of the situation. My role was to find means of expression, rather than directly make the artwork. The local children did that, and they are quite proud of their work.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your involvement in London’s theatre and film industries.
OO: I have always found the theatre to be a very creative environment, and have worked with script-writers, directors, performers and musicians since I was a student. I see the theatre as an open classroom, and have borrowed much from rehearsal techniques used by performers. One of the best things about rehearsal is that they allow the actor to not know, to take chances and follow their instincts. The visual art world suffers from having to know too much, and I think artists are constantly writing applications, blurbs, reading art theory books and are busy justifying themselves verbally. There is also a pressure to come up with a ‘final piece’ straight away. So I find it inspiring see actors dedicating time to rehearsals, improvising and playing. Most recently I worked on the film Island by Tailormade Productions, and was impressed by the research methods used by the creative team, and how they integrated art into the whole film making process.

LLO: Which image, project or moment of your artistic career are you most proud of so far and why?
OO: The last three residencies have been huge learning experiences, and I think i have achieved a lot through them (-the Making Play residency, the Creative-Partnership residency and the Museums Sheffield project). I felt a moment of achievement when i visited Museums Sheffield on the last week of the exhibition and chanced upon a group of young people playing the floor-vinyl game and using the artwork. I think I’ve found myself through the Sceaux Gardens Making Play residency, although I felt lost there most of the time. I’ve learned so much from that experience, and from the people and children I worked with, especially Lauren, the family officer, who taught me a lot about the importance of the social response to art, rather than the visual effect.

LLO: You’ve done quite a few site-specific projects. Which was the most fulfilling? Anywhere special in London that you’d love to design a piece for?
OO: I think the Sceaux Gardens project was the most fulfilling. It was a long-term project that allowed me to get to know people gradually and test ideas before making site-specific artwork with the local community. It was supported by the South London Gallery, that has a very forward thinking and socially minded education team. It’s not often you get to really make connections with people and make work on that level, and the project was challenging and for that reason fulfilling as well.

There are a few dream-locations I would like to make work for, and I would especially like to make work within my local borough at some point in the near future.

LLO: Other London-based artists you admire?
OO: Lots. I love Elly Thomas’s sculptures and ink drawings, and was especially inspired after a recent visit to her studio in North London.

LLO: What are you working on now?
OO: I am currently working on a commission for the London Transport Museum, collaborating with young people from West London to create artwork for a bus-shelter in South Kensington, themed around journeys. This should be really fun to do.

Thanks Orly!

For more from Orly, check out her website.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Maximiliano Braun

Meet Maximiliano. Born in 1983 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, he studied at the University of Utah and then in completed his MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in London where he now lives and works.

While I found his still life photography in the Elephant & Caste Community book published by the London College of Communication, his real interest lies in reportage photography. He is currently expanding on a project called Stay With Me, building a database of multimedia and photographic experiences from families and individuals who have been affected by brain injury.

Maximiliano has taken some time out to answer a few questions for this week’s London Art Spot. He talks about his experience working in the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle, lets us in on the expected outcome of his Stay With Me project and shares some of his wonderful photography.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your photography?
MB:
I think the fact your have so many galleries, awards and other contests based in London, and the UK as a whole, helps seeing the diversity of work coming up from the young emerging photographers to those who are more established and, in many cases (like the Barbican’s This is War and the travelling World Press Photo exhibitions) works that are seldom seen in other cities.

LLO: I first came across your work in the Community book put out by London College of Communication as part of the Elephant & Castle project, an area that is now being regenerated. Tell us a bit about your experience working on the book
MB:
The book was edited by Patrick Sutherland and promoted by the London College of Communication and Southwark Council. As the book mentions, Southwark Council and LCC’s MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography students are commissioned to produce a body of work about the Elephant and Castle area and the changes and life that develop there. The area, as you note, is being regenerated and the book helps keep record of the Elephant and Castle life, architecture and it’s citizens seen through the eyes of those attending the MA at LCC.

The idea from doing Cast Off came after a colleague of mine told me that apartments were being sealed permanently at the Heygate Estate. They do this to avoid squatters to populate the vacated apartments which, eventually, will be demolished to allow for new estate housing projects being developed. I always thought that objects possessed by people tell something about themselves. So I set out to document the objects left behind found in the vacated apartments to speculate about what kind of people lived there.

LLO: You said this still life work was a one off and you are now a reportage photographer. What have you gained both personally and professionally from switching your approach?
MB:
I began doing reportage, or trained for it, before the Elephant and Castle project. The idea of the work is not far, if at all, from the idea of producing a photographic reportage, though it does not contain the traditional approach to reportage. The viewer is welcome to assess the work however they want, but it would be misleading to imagine that I was not doing reportage before the Elephant and Castle project. There were other more traditional reportage ideas that I would have wanted to do during that term, but neither of them came to fruition.

LLO: Your most recent project is called Stay With Me, quite different from what you were doing in the Elephant. How did this project start?
MB:
Stay With Me has been a long running project that began during the MA at LCC. I would say Stay With Me, so far, and compared to my Dad series, is what I have always dreamt of developing since I began doing documentary photography. Roughly in 2004 I read an article in a newspaper about a mother who visited her child who was then, and maybe still is, in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). As my father is old (99 now),  I’ve had the experience of being in hospitals throughout my youth and I could clearly sympathise with the woman written about in the article. It struck me deeply and I never forgot about it. When, for our thesis project at LCC, I was given the chance to document whatever I was interested in, I remembered the article and I decided to find out what is life like for families who have a relative in a PVS. Stay With Me, since then, evolved into looking at family and brain injury as a whole and the way life goes on.

LLO: It’s a worldwide project. Where have been shooting and researching for it so far?
MB:
I have documented families in the US, England, Northern Ireland, South Africa and soon will do some work in Bolivia.

LLO: Tell us a bit about what you hope it will achieve and what will be the final result.
MB:
Stay With Me will, in time, become a segmented story of families around the globe and the lives they lead dealing with brain injury. Stay With Me’s own website will become more interactive not only for the viewers, but for the families that participated by allowing me to document their everyday. There will be a blog type page for every family for them to update the site and its viewers on the latest developments in their lives.

LLO: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far to get a shot you wanted?
MB:
I cannot recall specific shots I ‘wanted’. I pretty much go with the flow with everyone I document. Challenges come out every time when you are shooting. The real and constant challenge is to convey in a photograph what you see and make sure it is good enough the audience gets a hint of it.

LLO: Before completing your MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography, you studied Anthropology, Mathematics, French and Photography at the University of Utah and then Fashion Photography in London – an interesting mix. How does this background play into your interests and work today?
MB:
I think that all you do and have done in the past influences you in one way or another. Anthropology is useful in photojournalism, as well as speaking other languages. I did fashion photography because I like the idea of creating imagery from nothing. I liked the commercial aspect of it and thought of it as an interesting vessel to communicate ideas, dreams and lifestyles. I began doing documentary because I wanted a more interactive and investigative approach to things I was interested in. As you know and encounter several people around you during your life, you learn several things. All those I have know from the US and those I got to know in the UK and abroad have helped me in looking at things with a diversity of viewpoints. I think the most important aspect I have learnt is how to interact with different people when working.

LLO: You have some stunning and emotional images in a series called Dad on your website. Can you share one of your favourites and tell us a bit about this collection?
MB:
I just want to remember my father and my time with him. There really isn’t much to it beyond that.

LLO: Have you thought about other subjects you’d like to tackle photographically in the future?
MB:
I only tackle things photographically, I don’t know what else I can do, really. I have several subjects in my mind. I always run with at least 3 projects in my mind; the one I am shooting, one that I am about to shoot and one I am beginning to research into. Unfortunately some of these are time sensitive and I won’t be able to elaborate more on them.

Thanks Maximiliano!

For more about Maximiliano or Stay With Me:
http://www.maximilianobraun.net
http://www.staywithmeproject.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.