N: Hello Marta! You are such a multi-faceted creative force that it's difficult to know where to begin our conversation. How have you been, and what exciting projects have been capturing your attention lately?
M: I have recently traveled around Japan where I had the great pleasure of witnessing the genius of true masters in the textile industry. These artisans, with decades upon decades of experience, had mastered the use of 19th-century looms and had, within their archives, samples from the most renowned fashion houses in the world.
And yet, they did not see themselves or their techniques as finished products, but rather as an ongoing process of refinement.
Their dedication to their craft was truly inspiring, and I found myself in awe of their unwavering curiosity and the alertness of their minds. On that note, I am now going through a phase where I am focusing on one medium, aiming to achieve a similar unwavering focus.
N: Much of your work is centered around spiritual mythologies and mysticism. You've previously mentioned working in a funeral home for a year as part of your extensive exploration into rites of passage. Can you tell me a bit more about that experience?
M: Rites of passage signify a transition to a new stage of life. Although an old-fashioned concept, it is fascinating to observe how it is evolving in modern times. One such rite is the funeral, an event steeped in tradition and cultural norms. In my homeland of Poland, the attachment to a "decent" burial is strong, and yet, there is also an industry that thrives on gaudy grave decorations. The beliefs surrounding death are polarized, with a multitude of opinions on the "right" way to handle it. However, in my opinion, there should be no rules on how we choose to depart this world, and there is a space where things can be redefined.
It was this realization that led me to work in a funeral home in London. It was a direct and visceral confrontation with the subject of life and death, an experience that was both challenging and enlightening.
I saw myself in the mirror of this unique and rare opportunity. My duties spanned performing makeup, assembling and carrying coffins during the ceremony, as well as interacting with bereaved families. As an artist, my work is a right-brained process based primarily on emotional connection. As a recipient, I do not want to read about a piece of art - I want to feel it. Therefore, my creations are rooted in my lived experiences. Each work is a reflection of the journey that led me to it. It is never boring.
N: What I find particularly likable about your approach is the sincerity with which you address these themes. Your work seems to stem from a place of profound fascination with the idea of transitioning into new forms of existence rather than some postmodern GenZ dark humor, if that makes sense. How do you view the way Western cultures approach death, which often emphasizes tragedy, as opposed to other cultures that celebrate the transformative aspect of this transition?
M: Change is the only constant, and everything is subject to transformation. I am fascinated by the evolution of matter and energy, from physical to digital, from solid to fluid.
Acknowledging the transient nature of life brings balance, empowering a coherence with the cycles of our environment. By accepting death as part of the natural cycle, we can expand our capacity for living.
As humans, we prepare for so many things in life. We prepare for the birth of a child, for a wedding, for a birthday party…but when it comes to death, we are woefully unprepared. I do not speak of the practical preparations one must make, such as drafting a will or arranging for the distribution of one's possessions. No, what I speak of is the acceptance of death as a natural transition and making a space for it to experience. For too long, we have viewed death as an enemy to be feared.
But what if we were to shift our perspective? What if, instead of fearing death, we saw it as a necessary and inevitable part of life? What if, instead of pushing it away until it is unavoidable, we accepted it and celebrated it as we would any other major life event? I know that generally there is a divide between the Western and Eastern cultures when it comes to their perspective on death. But I also observe a growing awareness around the world, a shifting of attitudes that will eventually bring us all together in our understanding of death. Perhaps, within our lifetimes, we will see a new kind of funeral (for lack of a better word), one that honours the life that was lived, emphasizes the individuality and celebration. My friends sometimes share really wild ideas with me for that "fun-real".
N: You've expressed that film is your preferred medium, as it enables you to amalgamate various creative elements, such as costuming and world-building through objects. To what extent do you feel your work is a reflection of your own identity, and to what extent is it a commentary on the society you inhabit?
M: Viewing the world through a multidisciplinary lens is akin to using all the senses as tools for commentary. I strive to be self-aware through my relationships with others. We discover ourselves not in isolation or withdrawal, but in relation to society, our partners, friends, and so on. Creating work in separation from myself or society has never really worked for me. However, society is a complex and multifaceted concept, and attempting to extract meaning from its entirety would lead to an expression devoid of substance. Therefore, I choose to be selective in my approach. I carefully sift through both myself and society, searching for singular threads that speak to me most strongly. I then recycle the chosen few into a work of art.
N: Recently, you've been incorporating AI into your projects. What are your thoughts on this emerging medium, and how do you envision it shaping your future works?
M: I like to use image generative models to capture abstract images from my dreams before I put them down on paper, it is like a quick note. I see AI as a powerful and transformative technology but approached with no consideration can lead to some dark alleys. The ongoing public discourse about AI is currently focused on Chat GPT. While knowledge is undoubtedly an important aspect of human existence, it is not the only defining characteristic of our species. Our capacity for empathy, emotions, and creativity is what makes us truly unique. AI may be able to accumulate knowledge at an unprecedented scale, but I think it will never be able to replicate the depth and complexity of human experiences and emotions. I cannot wait for a refined version of AI-generated videos. That is going to be a game changer in creating mood boards or trailers for projects.
N: Let's conclude this on a spiritual note, how do you imagine the afterlife?
M: For me, life in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We are part of a constant and interconnected cycle. Our bodies decay into the earth to bring forth new life. Our energetic mind is returned to the universe to be repurposed. Each ending invites a fresh beginning. While our goal is to find greatness it is also to move forward. In service to the next chapter we finish the current one. In service to the current one we finish it so it can be set free into the world.
As a person, I believe the so-called heaven (or hell) is now. It is very much what we will create for ourselves. There is no promised land or greener grass, and I do not count on a wishing star to fulfill my desires. As we were born with a blank slate I think we also pass away with a consciousness switched off. Nevertheless, as an artist, I am still fascinated by the idea of an afterlife, and my imagination can create many vivid images of what it could be like. Take a look at my last VR experience.
All images courtesy of Marta Klara.