Studio Visit: David A. Rios

Photos: Tove Lise Mossestad and David A, Rios.

Interview: Nora Adwan

Q&A with David A. Rios: Artist living and working in Bergen, Norway

DAR: David, A+F: ART + FOLK



When we visit David in September, he has just returned to his studio in CS55 after a period of several months and it is spotless, organised and ready for new projects. There are small models, tests and work in progress everywhere.

 A+F: Tell me a little bit about your work, your studio is an interesting mix of plants and woodworking and machines.

DAR: I tend to talk about the nature of my work in terms of connections, systems and causality. We are surprisingly adept to finding patterns in our surroundings, sometimes to the point where we create or see patterns where there are none, like Jesus on my toast. I find this constant search for connection intriguing because there are so many ways to connect two dots, but we only chose from a few.

I often think about how I can move from one point to another; a straight line being the default setting, but still just one of many possibilities to achieve the same outcome. I create systems, semi-closed environments where I can study the many ways from A to B. the physical manifestation of a project comes second to the creation of this environment. My artworks become the output of the system. I guess it resembles the way scientific experiments are conducted. You start with a hypothesis, develop a series of tests to prove or disprove said hypothesis and end with a result that you may not welcome, but you still need to accept it. Being obsessed with details, the aesthetic value is important to my work and my self, but I try not to let my concept of beauty take rein over the project.

I have a BA in photography from KHiB and an MA in fine art from the same institution. For 5 years I worked almost exclusively with photography and video, but almost from the day after graduation I dropped my camera and decided to do something else. I went to Japan on a residency for almost 3 months after my MA. During that time, I was forced to use tools and machinery I was completely unfamiliar with to help our host in Japan finish some projects. On my return to Bergen I was offered work as a technician at Bergen Kunsthall. I felt quite useless in the beginning, almost having to ask which way to hold a hammer. But every new exhibition was a challenge I welcomed and eventually I started applying those skills to my own work. I don't feel I have really mastered anything but I'm getting better at working with different materials and pushing the boundaries of their use.

The nature of my work and projects is constantly teaching me about new techniques and materials. Even though I enjoy working with objects, sometimes the projects require works related to printmaking, drawing, sound, video and so on. When that happens I have to either learn or find someone to help me. I don't want to limit my work by what I can and cannot do myself.

 A+F: I´m interested in this abandonment of photography. You studied for five years, which is a big commitment. It seems radical to walk away from that.

DAR: I think I just got tired. Before I started my BA I photographed for joy and I guess that after 5 years of studying some of that joy just vanished, but also, I didn't have access to the facilities I needed to keep working with photography after graduation. This is almost 10 years ago and the field of digital photography was just starting, so I was working with analogue. On the other hand, even though I specialized in photography I was doing art, and that I can apply to whatever field I want. I found the change from 2D to 3D invigorating and that hunt for new perspectives hasn't left me.

Recently I have started working with photography again, along with other two-dimensional fields like printmaking and drawing, but now from a sculptural perspective. I'm developing a use of photographic techniques that I still find difficult to explain. I have been running mapping experiments using light. Some results can be seen at project space CM7 in Bergen at the moment and more will come next year.

CM7 verkene 2.jpg

Photos currently on view at CM7, documentation David A. Rios

A+F: How do you start a project? Do you start with sketching?

DAR: As with plants that start their lives from seeds, some ideas germinate quickly and others may need several winters to sprout. Even before art was something I cared about, I have been interested in taxonomy and patterns. My projects start without me noticing, sometimes: some of the sound-based works I’ve produced are the culmination of something I created by accident more than 20 years ago and had forgotten. However, once I'm aware I have a project going on, I start by breaking it into smaller pieces, trying to find elements or characteristics I can study by themselves. From here on I build models, draw sketches and write. The project I am working on now is for an exhibition at RAM Galleri in Oslo next year (23rd January 2020). Part of that will be shown here in Bergen as well. It started with that sound work I talked about. Through this work, with sound and mechanical waves, I started working with the erosion of landscape and topography and the medium of the map: how the map is an abstraction of an environment and the limitations of that.

I started working with the project before I got the exhibition, but an exhibition always helps to concretize things.

 My plan for this year was to do blue-sky research, to have a year to experiment and make mistakes, but new possibilities arrived, so I spent most of the year thinking and developing the theoretical framework of the exhibition instead of finding new ways to work. Now I have three months left to make the works for the exhibition. The drawings I am doing now are a test for some sculptures. Everything is taking shape but nothing has become real yet. 

Hz Atlas and On the Southern Edge of the Western Table -documentation David A. Rios

 A+F: You have had a studio at CS55 for some years, do the studios work as an art collective, do you ever collaborate with the other artists here?

DAR: There is some collaboration exhibition wise, but I haven't been part of that. There is a nice permeability between practices though. Originally, I worked on the 8th floor, I was there for 3 years. It was very nice to be part of a group of collective knowledge. There is always somebody who knows the answer if you get stuck with something. There is a diverse group in terms of materials, fields and ages, with a large range of skills, so there was always someone to go to and ask for input and it does feel nice to be asked for one’s opinion. I haven't been on this floor long, but my impression is the same. I've been away for some months now, normally my studio doesn't look this clean and organised! This is the first week that I've been back in the studio to work. Before, I have just been tending the plants and things like that. The idea has been to put together a studio that doubles as production space and a place where I can think and reflect.

 A+F: What have you been working on out of town?

DAR: I spent May and June in Berlin at the AIR apartment which Bergen Municipality has there together with my girlfriend and colleague Sarah Jost, doing research and producing some works. I was working for Bergen Assembly after that.

 A+F: How do you manage to support yourself as an artist?

DAR: I worked as a technician at different institutions for several years; Bergen kunsthall, KODE and VOLT among others. I have also worked for other artists, producing works and installing them. I have had some projects with Den Kulturelle Skolesekken and from August I started a 40% temporary position as assistant professor at KMD, which is very nice, but also challenging as it is my first time teaching in the art school.

Of course I have to mention what is probably the reason why I can work as an artist most of the time, working grants, stipends and project grants. An artist’s income can be volatile and unpredictable, so I'm often in a position where I can't say no to a job opportunity, but hopefully I have built and plastered my last wall.

End of Motion Documentation David A. Rios

A+F: How often do you manage to work in the studio? Do you have a routine or are you here periodically for intense work sessions?

DAR: That depends on my income. At times I manage to be here on a daily basis, working on projects or just tinkering, but some months I'm barely here twice a week. That's where my plants play an important role. They function as a safeguard mechanism; I can't go more than a few days without coming in to water them. I like them a lot and I don't want them to die, so I have to come in regularly.

That said, I do tend to have very intensive work sessions as a deadline approaches. For example, now when I need to be here as much as possible working on my exhibition for RAM and on a proposal for a public art commission.

 A+F: Have you been commissioned to do a work somewhere?

DAR: I haven't been commissioned yet, I've been invited to deliver a proposal by the first December. If it is accepted, I'll be working with that next year.

 A+F: Did you move into these studios directly after graduating your MA?

DAR: No, I graduated in 2009 . At that time, a group of colleagues founded Tag Team Studios at Damsgårds vei and I joined with them. When we had to move to where Tag Team is now located, two colleagues moved to Oslo and somehow I was the only one using the space as a studio, so we decided the gallery needed to grow and we put at end to the studio part of Tag Team. After that I managed to sublet a studio here and eventually took over the studio from the previous artist.

 A+F: Do you think most artists have to sublet before they find a permanent studio?

DAR: More and more artists are being educated and we have lost the rust belt in Laksevåg where a lot of people used to rent studios, so it is definitely becoming more difficult, but artists are good at self-organising and working something out.

A+F: Do you think the gentrification in Bergen will drive new artists out of the city? At the moment more MA graduates are choosing to stay in Bergen rather than move directly to Oslo or Berlin, do you think the studio situation will change that?

DAR: As long as people have the desire and means to be creative there will be studios in Bergen. We have some well-established studios that I really hope will endure and new initiatives are popping all the time that keep the art scene fresh. One can only hope that society will appreciate the importance of art a lot more and facilitate its creation. To some degree that happens here in Bergen and generally in Norway. A lot of artists, especially from abroad have chosen to stay, because there are better conditions here. In general, the conditions in Europe for artists are less favourable and that's keeping a lot of people here, but it comes and goes in waves, I guess. The year I graduated a lot of people stayed, it has to do with the dynamic of the group. It makes sense at least in the beginning to stay where you have built up networks and contacts.

 A+F: How long have you been in Bergen? Have you lived and worked as a professional artist anywhere else?

DAR: 16 years and counting. I've always been based here. I like the city and one must be somewhere. It’s nice to get out sometimes of course and not to feel like a prisoner of the mountains.

 A+F: Apart from the exhibition at RAM Galleri, any other openings coming up?

DAR: Next year I will be developing a project in conjunction with Trykkeriet, to be shown in September. I have started to work with printmaking, but I’m trying to work with that from a sculptural perspective. I have also made a work, a woodcut, based on a cryptographic machine, which can be rearranged and changes depending on how you code it.

I want to bring my 3D practice to printmaking. I have exhibited the woodcut as a sculpture with variants of the prints made from it. The idea is that they will complement each other, show the possibilities of change and challenge how we orient ourselves.

As you see here, this is a model of a cubical sculpture. The final work has a mechanical arm that lifts it up and puts it down again, every time it forms a new shape. There is the theoretical possibility that it will reform as a cube; such change and evolution are important elements to my work.

Thanks so much for your time!

Once a month, ART + FOLK will introduce someone from our local art community.  We will open the doors to their home or to their studio and have them tell us a bit about their everyday, their work and what they have on their own walls.

Interview by Nora Adwan; photos by Tove Lise Mossestad and David A Rios. 

This project is supported by the City of Bergen (Bergen Kommune) and Arts Council Norway (Norsk Kulturrådet) and Bildende Kunstneres Hjelpefond





Nora Adwan