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The Room: Walter & Zoniel

Posted 21.09.21

For the third exhibition in The Room, we have chosen to highlight the work of the multi-disciplinary artistic duo, Walter & Zoniel. Working together since 2014, their work often centres around the human relationship with the sublime. Creating in various artistic mediums, the duo's primary conceptual process is photography and large scale installation that often develops to include painting, sculpture and video. We caught up with them both ahead of their launch to discuss their practice, inspirations and more.

Turnbull: What are your earliest memories of craft, art, and design? Did you always know you wanted to pursue a creative career?

Walter: Possibly my earliest memory of creativity was being given a camera to use during my father’s wedding when I was about five. I was enthralled by the power of creation and the impact of interacting with the adults around me. Shortly after that, I was about eight or nine and my mother bought herself a camera while we were in America and gave it to me to use. I remember distinctly observing the world for the first time through a lens and the sudden awareness of my surroundings and the composition that it evoked.

Zoniel: I’ve always been surrounded by creativity. I remember family discussions from a very early point where everything was discussed philosophically and valued through its creative potential. I went to many museums and galleries as a child, but the one that I remember most was the Salvador Dali Museum; seeing his house covered in ‘bread rolls’ was just delightful and inspiring even as a child. Creativity is inherently part of my being, it’s how my mind works, but that equally can be applied to science, mathematics and daily life practice. Creating art is my daily existence; it wakes me up at night and eases me in its creation... Does that answer the question?

Yes, most definitely. How did you develop your creative style? And how did your two creative styles merge? 

It’s an ongoing process. We definitely have a shared aesthetic; we both respect the joys of wonder, surrealism and beauty, and that informs our work.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of working as a creative duo? 

It is our entire existence, and that can work both ways. It’s wonderful to expand ideas together to lengths one would possibly not achieve alone.

What are the main influences on your work?

Nature, connection, and philosophy. We are constantly learning, studying and, find inspiration in anything. This evokes expansion and the desire to connect with the intangible, the magic that binds everything together. Some call it science, others spirituality, but we use that magnificence, present in everything, from the everyday objects to the stars we look to at night. The nature of infinite possibility and oneness is fascinating to us.

You often develop new artistic processes to create your artwork, how do you approach this?

We approach everything from the perspective of inspiration. When we are inspired to create something new, we go to the furthest reaches of our imagination and then work out how to make it.

You have had performance installations at Tate Britain, Somerset House, Photo London, and site-specific public installations in Miami, San Francisco, London, Brighton, Liverpool, and Durham. How does your in-situ practice differ from your studio-made work?

Both parts of our practice are essentially about connection; creating works in the public domain requires a very different conceptuality and scale. We focus intensely on single elements, evoking uplifting emotions and, by layering these elements, we can explore what's underneath. People essentially become part of the artwork/installation, so exploration is powered from within. This journey echoes how we work with beauty and process in our studio practice; there must be a connection point. By utilising beauty, the multiple layers unfold as the viewer explores the process and detail further. Interactive public installations are also generally affected by time, whereas our studio works sit with people for years and have a very different way of connecting.

Do you think modern technology has changed the way creatives practise?

Absolutely. Creativity is by its very nature a movement forward and exploration into the unknown. Modern technology is part of our present moment and holds phenomenal potential for greater creative expression. We love utilising traditional and antique practices and modern technology alike; they are all creating tools. Artists have always used whatever they can to create, and we are celebrators of that. They aren’t mutually exclusive at all; one day technologies of this moment will be considered traditional. It is an artist's role to expand concepts and create afresh and embrace everything we have access to.

You will be the third creative exhibition installed at The Room, what have you chosen to design for this space?

We will be showing two series of works linked conceptually and practically. Both, we term photographic sculptures. One series, Portraits of Intimate Anonymity, are printed photographs that we have collected. The subjects were meditatively overpainted with impasto paint to create an entirely different dynamic to the original photographs. The individuals become like tiny sculptures giving the viewer space to explore the surroundings of the portrait as the story. The anonymity given to the subjects creates relaxation and tension as your eye is drawn back and forth between the painted and photographic elements. We see echoes of familiar shapes in each pose, and within each work lies the potential to recognise our assumptions about the living subject, such as their gender, age, race etc. They feel like an equation, where we have removed an element which then highlights another. What fills that space, is the question?

The second series we are exhibiting in the space is named SV (Lo' The Vision of Choice). These are our most recently made works. They are handmade paper discs, created from manure that we collected in central London, combined with our diaries and hair. We printed images that we photographed at dawn in the city upon one side, then painted – some are gilded with 24ct gold. Others have elements of spatial poetry on them and then suspended with horsehair. They are a deep meditation on our perception of the Buddhist study of attraction, aversion, and the essence of transformation. Our hair is deemed beautiful, but as soon as it leaves the body it is deemed repulsive. Excrement is viewed primarily as waste, but in the digestive process, a horse will do 90% of the job of a paper mill in breaking down natural fibers ready to become pulp and paper. Each work is immersed in resin, evoking a sense of glazing or fossilising these concepts. Are we elevating them or separating them from ourselves? This is the question we imbibe in the process. Woven into the body of work are multiple expressions that give each viewer different access points to form their relationships, journeys and personal stories.

We're very excited to show them and love that together, these two series show the potential in conceptual photography and look at our ideas of perception from very differing points.

What is in the diary for Walter & Zoniel going forward?

As always, we have multiple projects on the go. We were recently commissioned by ITV Creates, who currently have our installation airing every day before every program, which is wonderful for making art accessible. We have a public art piece about to go live in Piccadilly, London, and later in September, we have an exhibition with MTA agency. Then we’ll be exhibiting with CS&P in The Affordable Art Fair in October, with possibly one of our public camera installations too. We’re working on an exciting massive interactive public art installation in Paris for springtime. These projects take a lot of advance planning as you may expect. We’re collaborating with our friend – and best-selling author – Buddhist Monk, Gelong Thubten on an artwork celebrating wellness and compassion. The very next thing we’ll be working on is our residency at AN EFFORT. We were chosen as the inaugural artists for the Soho Square and Abu Dhabi based art residency. We’re super excited to start working on two new explorations of sculpture and conceptual photographic and light artworks. Yes, lots... And more to come.

And finally, art is...?


A selection of Walter & Zoniel's works will be on display and available for purchase at The Room, in Mayfair until the end of September.


Find out more about The Room.

Dan Choppen

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