How it all began

The start of the project & the first picture

How did Katya and CJ meet?

CJ: Katya and I have both lived in the same town for sometime and we met on social media, via mutual friends. I already knew Katya’s early work from seeing it in a group exhibition that we were both in back in 2011. But we didn’t meet in person until we met by chance last year (2016), as we both happened to be sneaking in through the back door of church one morning, having arrived late. We arranged to meet up to see each other’s work, and that naturally evolved into a conversation about doing a project together.

Life imitating art: CJ’s photo of Katya’s painting

That summer, I took some pictures at an exhibition that Katya had. When I see art, and people looking at it, it makes me want to make more art — kind of like building up the layers of creativity — and I especially love those moments when life imitates art.

Meanwhile, Katya was thinking about painting one of my photos, and being a portrait painter, she was naturally drawn to my self-portraits.

Chinese Whispers #01: 5"x7" digital photographic print

Why did Katya choose to paint this particular image?

Katya: I think it was the first time that I visited CJ at home and we looked through some work, of various different types.

At the time I was making a lot of portrait sketches on paper. And of course I was drawn to the self portrait series, especially to three small size photos of CJ - so simple and raw. A lot of CJ’s self portraits are digitally manipulated and complicated, in a way that requires time to explore the image and think about it; but these three images had an immediacy — they were very clean and clear and SO emotionally charged! Especially the one that had an emphasis on the eyes. It felt like these eyes wanted to say something so badly but couldn’t…

I was taken aback — touched deeply, so I asked to borrow these images, saying I need them for my practice.

What is the story behind the first image?

CJ: I made this self-portrait back in 2012, at a time when I was experiencing heightened stress and anxiety. I was in the middle of a panic attack, and making pictures is one of the primary ways to calm myself — like a “grounding” or mindfulness exercise. Also, one of the principles of my work in general is that I never like waste an experience; wherever possible, I try to channel my emotions and life experiences — positive and negative — into my creative process.

For this self-portrait, I wanted to create a sense of visible, sweaty, wide-eyed terror. I put the camera in a waterproof case and ran myself a hot bath. The colour of the bathroom walls combined with the orientation of the window means that in the middle of the day, the light inside the bathroom is bright but with a colour tinge which has an eerie and unsettling quality. Holding the camera above my head and looking up into it created a very vulnerable perspective. I lay back in the water to submerge my face and then lifted my head up, clicking the shutter button just at the moment when I forced my eyes open, as my face came out of the water. This not only created a sweaty, clammy look but forcing my eyes open as the water ran down my face stung my eyes, which created the wide-eyed look which mirrored my internal state.

What are the key concepts behind Chinese Whispers?

Katya: The key element in the project is the “human factor”. We live in a time when it is easy to mass produce copies of an image, without affecting the quality of the initial image. This project explores what happens when the personal, human touch is introduced into the process of “copying”. Each image is “copied” from the previous one. The two artists taking it in turns to produce the next iteration, passing each next image to one another, “replying” to previous response. Through this process, the personal filters of both artists are intertwined and layered on one another. This piling up will most likely result in a loss of visible connection to the initial image, all we will be left with is the filters….

CJ: Everyone is familiar with the kids game “Chinese Whispers”. The message is whispered into the ear of one person, who then whispers it to the next person, who in turn whispers it to the next person…until finally, the last person shares the version of the message which they have heard.

And as we all know, whilst everyone does their best to pass the message on accurately, we don’t always hear or remember it accurately — maybe a word is mis-heard, or mis-remembered, or gets lost, or something gets added in. Maybe it’s a small error which actually causes a big change in meaning, or maybe the message just evolves little by little each time it is repeated.

We are doing this process with a picture. As Katya says, with each iteration of the picture, our own personal biases and interpretion will come into play. Sometimes this will be a result of deliberate, conscious decisions — maybe decisions about what aspects we want to emphasise because we feel that they are key to the image. But our unconscious processes will be at work too, and this is where it becomes interesting, because here we lose control! Neither of us know what the image at the end of the project will look like. All we know is what we can remember of the previous images, and what we see looking at the one “current” image which we have in front of us to work from as we produce the next image in the sequence.

We invite you to follow us as the story unfolds…

Text © Katya Kvasova & CJ Crosland, 2017. 
Images © CJ Crosland, 2017. All rights reserved.