DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY

Dominik Mersch Gallery | Dominik Mersch

During the challenging period of the last two years we have seen delays, cancellations and differing effects on individuals and the community. Art + Australia caught up with the Director of DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Dominik Mersch, and one of the gallery's artists' Giacomo Costa. Whilst Mersch has tousled with the upheavals and constant shifts over the past two years, Costa discusses the effects that restricted freedoms have on his studio production. 

The pandemic has been a challenging period for myself, the gallery team, and my artists. The artists really felt the impact of the lockdowns very hard as they weren't able to have an audience experience their exhibitions in the flesh. But, in saying that, we were well prepared. I started using virtual tour technology in 2018 which meant when the first lockdown hit we were still able to reach our collectors, curators and other stakeholders, locally and globally, without having to start from scratch. The gallery team worked from home and I have been in the gallery, which meant we were able to offer FaceTime and Zoom tours of the exhibitions, which from a transactional perspective was very successful.

We had to postpone our annual Curator Award until 2022 to international travel restrictions, which was really disappointing, but it is also became something to look forward to in the year ahead, and it was such a great show. 

Here at DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY we love to create and conduct events, all kinds of different things. From offsite events like Emma Fielden’s show in Sydney’s CBD to film screenings like Peter Weir’s Whatever happened to Green Valley? Obviously, we had to postpone a lot of planned events like the 100 year anniversary of Joseph Beuys, but we are planning to celebrate this landmark artist in November with a bit of delay.

It was a disappointment that the IRL Sydney Contemporary Art Fair did not go ahead again in 2021, especially for my interstate collectors as they were unable to see artworks in person. However, everyone adapted and made the best of the circumstances.

Technology has become so important now more than ever, as we have found new ways to be in contact and connect with one another. Because travel has been off the cards for the last 18 months there were more online sales. The main reason I started using virtual tour technology in 2018 was to reach a wider international audience, and that technology is making the world more accessible. It is connecting my gallery and artists to a world outside of Australia. We recently have sold works to New York, Scotland and Switzerland using this technology, which would have been a lot harder to achieve had we not had the resources to do so.

Some people have said that the pandemic will change the travel habits of collectors and less travel to international events like biennales and art fairs will result. I doubt that very much, everyone is hungry to see the world and the real artworks, installations and performances in the flesh.

For some of my artists, their practice has not changed, they have always enjoyed working in solitude. It has been difficult to watch as other artists have struggled with the lack of social interaction and stimulation, some artists have found the lack of travel challenging as they aren’t experiencing new places and situations.

It has been heartbreaking as their gallerist, their facilitator, to observe artists struggle with the lack of interaction from their peers and collectors as they set up their show knowing that no one is able to experience the exhibition in person. But on a positive note, we have had commercially successful shows virtually, so that makes me so happy for them.

Atmospheres | Giacomo Costa
 + atmosfera n.19’ Giacomo Costa, 2019. archival print on solve glaze satin photopaper mounted onto Aludibond. 70 x 70 cm, edition of 1.

Atmospheres

I spend a lot of time on my computer, up to twenty hours a day for roughly the past 25 years. When the pandemic came and we realised we were going to be locked in the house for a long time, I initially didn't think it was a big deal, it was what I have always done. However, when I found myself without the freedom to do what I wanted, I discovered how freedom is a fundamental value, even if we try to underestimate its importance in our day-to-day lives. The necessary restrictions were the hardest part of this experience for me, even much scarier than the fear of dying.

The difficulty in meeting each other and in being able to experience sociality, I believe, has been one of the most extreme things I have faced in my life. Although I have always lived a lot inside my studio, leaving little time for relationships, in these past eighteen months I realised that, although the time I dedicate to socialising is very little, it is fundamental.

I spent the pandemic in my home studio and that made everything much easier. When I think of those who lost their lives or their loved ones, those who were locked in cramped, crowded spaces, without outdoor space, those who could not do their work, I must say that I cannot complain in any way. The pandemic is not an individual phenomenon but a collective one and it is necessary to be able to go beyond one's own point of view and listen to others instead of just shouting out one's discomfort.

However, not being able to show my work, not being able to relate to the public, which is the main way to give life to my images, has completely changed the way I understand my life as an artist. In the first phase, like many, I took refuge in the virtual world of social media in the hope of being able to replace the physical and relational world with a sort of alternative space. It was an attempt, a way to say we're still here... but it was perhaps the most exhausting part of the pandemic for me. Nothing can replace interpersonal relationships and the physical dimension of art and after a while this absence became distressing.

In a way the pandemic, and being confined in the house without any external interaction, has made my work even more compulsive. I'm used to staying focused for very long periods of time, but in these eighteen months, it's as if time has been suspended. Losing a spatial-temporal dimension has literally projected me inside my images and my artistic world causing me a sense of vertigo that is necessarily reflected in my worldview and therefore in my artistic practice.

Italy was the second nation in the world to enter lockdown after China. In the first days of March 2020, I did an interview for CNN talking about my new book that had just been published and about my latest works. I started talking about the Atmospheres series, where gigantic cities are immersed in a fog that makes it impossible for the viewer to understand their size. Looking at the images you can sense that the gigantic buildings you see are densely inhabited by a hyper-connected humanity that lives reclusively inside the buildings, yet from the outside there is little trace of them. Then the journalist asked me what it was like to live in lockdown since we in Italy were already there while in America they were not yet. I replied that we were living in a suspended dimension, with the cities completely deserted and without any trace of life, despite the fact that we were all locked in our homes. And at that point she told me: 'It's practically like living in one of your latest works!'.

So, I would say that the Atmospheres series, made a few months before the pandemic, best describes what a few months later would become a global experience.

 + Resilient Community Giacomo Costa, 2021. Installation at 17th Venice Biennale of Architecture.

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