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Miķelis Fišers

Either you go mad, or you surrender to it 0

A conversation with artist Miķelis Fišers

Helmuts Caune
21/11/2019

A winner of the Purvītis Prize and the face of Latvia at the 57th Venice Biennale, Miķelis Fišers (1970) currently finds himself in a period of great activity: he recently had an impressive solo exhibition, Vainavas un noplicinājumi (Blamescapes and Superflattenings), at Art Station "Dubulti" in Jūrmala, soon after which he created the set design for the Latvian National Opera production of Spēlēju, Dancoju (I Played, I Danced). At the moment, Fišers is working on the scenography for the play Zalkša Līgava (The Serpent’s Bride) at Jaunais Rīgas Teātris, and together with director Māris Kalvis, created an interactive light object for this year's Staro Rīga light festival which took place November 15-18. Fišers’ object, entitled Pieskaries savām bailēm (Touch Your Fears), was projected onto the wall of the Latvian National Museum of Art, and it was shortly before the festival began that our conversation took place.

One can sense that Fišers has other projects in the making or planning stages, but he chooses not to talk about them, noting that he follows the example of Castaneda’s don Juan, who told no one of his most important ideas because he believed that with each additional sharing, the idea would lose its strength.

Inga Šteimane once described Fišers’ strategy in art as an effort to ‘create structure that brings a message’. Although his profile and emphases have naturally changed since he entered the Latvian art scene in the 1990s, Fišers has always remained faithful to his original position of not being interested in formal art; a work of art must be a medium for conveying a certain message, story, and content. It is this content that is perhaps the most vivid characteristic of Fisher's identity: his series of images and stories intertwined with science fiction and conspiracy theories have both confused and delighted viewers, as well as made them laugh. Although sneaking suspicions may occasionally arise concerning how seriously or non-seriously he really believes everything he says and communicates, his views and opinions on issues both big and small often seem surprising and unusual to many. As a person accustomed to living in a relatively narrow and scientifically comprehensible world, talking to Fišers was, at times, a test of my openness to different ways of thinking. He is due special respect for his independent thoughts and his non-adherence to ready-made ideologies, instead putting his trust into what his own eyes and mind show him to be true.

Before we get into more specific things, I want to ask you one question that you have already been asked. On the way here, I was listening to Toms Treibergs’ radio interview with you about your recent Blamescapes and Superflattenings exhibition at Art Station "Dubulti". In it, he asked you if your dreams influence your art but you quickly shut it down, saying that they have nothing to do with art. Yet looking at your paintings, I find it very difficult to believe that they have nothing to do with dreams.

You know, I now wonder why I replied in the negative so strongly, because I wasn’t being exactly truthful. I have two paintings that have been directly influenced by dreams; moreover, in a broader sense, the images that I create are predominantly of the subconscious world. On the other hand, it’s not a straightforward transmission of images but more indirect in nature. Except for those two cases. In one of them, I was at the Intergalactic Art Fair at which I saw the central art object on display, which I then made into a painting. The other was a dream about a physical education class and high jumping. There were just two of us in the gym – the shortest boy in the class and I – and we have to do the high jump. He runs and jumps, then as I’m getting ready for my turn, I suddenly realise that I have regular trainers on my hind legs but shower slippers on my front legs! Well that’s dumb, right? – to go to PE class like that. Yes, I had four legs. And then I drew that quadruped. But for the most part, however, I see everyday situations in my dreams. It’s a rare occasion for me to get to go to the Intergalactic Art Fair.

But when it does happen – have you tried to figure out what triggers it?

No, I have no idea why they enter my dreams. They are so diverse and complex, and there are different categories. I wouldn't feel confident making any rationalisations about them at all. There are some dreams that I remember all my life, and then there are those that sometimes repeat.

But then, for example, all of those characters on display in Dubulti, all of those ‘meat-wing wrestlers’...

The ‘sinewy meat-wing’!

Yes, the ‘sinewy meat-wing’, and others. Do you have any idea where they come from?

These images have come into creation over the years as a result of working on new exhibition projects. For example, Trīns came from the time when I was thinking about Venice. Then they all came together in one world. It’s a bit based on the collage principle, frankly. I’d say that I didn’t do much work on it –  the piece created itself. I had to put it all together, and the accompanying texts simply came to me as I was painting.

If I understand correctly, the object that will be projected onto the Latvian National Museum of Art during the Staro Rīga festival will also be a collage of many things?

No, not quite. It's pretty easy to describe – it will be an animation of my wood carvings. (...) Specific carvings will be animated. Māris Kalve, along with me and the team, selected some seven characters that will take part in a large, interactive animation. See here. (Shows the images on the computer) Each stripe is one woodcarving, and they are divided into three storylines. I’ll show you the one I like best.


Visualization for the interactive light object "Touch Your Fears / Pieskaries savām bailēm"

What are these here?

These are Buddhist monks. It’s a woodcarving titled Buddhist Monks Train Reptilian-Renegades to Meditate. The reptilian-renegades appear here. Then…

What are they reneging against?

The rest of the reptilians. They’re learning to meditate; that’s why they’ve reneged.

They’ve reneged because they’re learning how to meditate, or are they learning meditation because they’ve reneged?

They’re renegades because they’re learning to meditate. Real reptilians are evil; they don’t meditate. There it is!

Nice!

That's how the storyline develops in all of them. My contribution is really nothing. The copyrights, and that’s it.

What should happen to a person as they are watching this object from the street? In your mind, is there an ideal scenario that would take place?

Well, the ideal scenario would be this: out of the absurdity and incomprehensibility of the story that they’ve just seen, the viewer could, for instance, google it, and then maybe they’ll comes across a quick explanation ... Like, I don't know – your article about this conversation. That would be a very good result. (Laughs)

But how did those woodcarvings come about?

I had a painting called Oficieru balle (The Officers’ Ball), which is my first serious work on conspiracy theories. I somehow started this theme on the subject of conspiracy theories with this painting, and I was painting whatever I wanted at the time. Then, one New Year's Eve, I went into some club and I saw what looked like a huge woodcarving on the wall, and I realised that I had to work on conspiracy theories in that technique because, well, it’s a perfect fit. You cutting into it as if it were stone – that’s the way it is, and there can be no other way. In principle, conspiracy theories are already quite unconditional. And then there's that black surface from which you raise the light of truth, you cut it out... There are a lot of cool moments in there. In addition, a little board like that can be found everywhere in the post-Soviet region as a kind of souvenir memento. Almost every home in the former USSR has little boards like that. Just not as polished and such.

Do you have any personal fears linked to this theme?

Conspiracy theories? I’d rather use the word ‘concerned’. My concerns appear in those woodcarvings.

What concerns, specifically?

Well, about our lovely humanity: how we’re evolving; are we even evolving?

Many have asked you this, but I have to get a feeling for the ground I’m walking on. How seriously do you take these conspiracy theories? Are they important to you in themselves, or do they just serve as a tool with which to say something else?

I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn't ask me this. (Laughs) Okay, I'll gladly explain! First of all, I think they are a wonderful source of inspiration. So, they are a tool as well. Esotericism and conspiracy theories, I believe, are terrific sources to draw from. Moreover, they’re not as worn as many other topics.


Painting “Evil Message or the Sinewy Meat-Wing's Last Sermon Ļaunā vēsts jeb Cīpslainā Gaļspārņa pēdējais sprediķis” at the exhibition Blamescapes and SuperflatteningsVainavas un noplicinājumi (photo Kristīne Madjare)

What do you mean by ‘worn’?

Worn down, overused over the centuries; everyone’s sick of them. The other half of the question is how much do I believe in them. Exactly 50 percent. Well, almost as much as I believe the news. But I take nothing seriously, neither the news nor these conspiracy theories.

When you make such a general statement, are you speaking of any particular theories?

Well, some of them are really crazy, of course, while some are very, very credible; and then there are those that are difficult to gauge. Of course, they vary wildly. That 50 percent is on average.

Which ones are the most believable, for example?

I don't know; I kind of really like the ones on the origins of humans. I am not an outright Darwinist, however, nor am I a Christian; I think those stories have big holes in them. And there are a whole lot of conspiracy theories that explain everything wonderfully – the history of the universe, the origin of mankind, and everything else.

For example, the theory that we came from somewhere else? We flew away from there and then forgot about it?

That’s one. Another one is that we were cloned from human-like monkeys.

Who did the cloning? Aliens?

Well, yes; or reptiloids. This is the theory of Nibiru, which is supposedly recorded in Sumerian cuneiform tablets.

Okay, I’ve heard something about that.

There are many beautiful ones, but they often border or overlap with a New Age-type of religion. I also like, let's say... Well, this one isn’t a conspiracy theory, but I like the view that the reason that our state of mind and our consciousness are so confused in this three-dimensional world is because we are all parts of one collective mind – but because we’ve entered the material world and there is such dense matter here, we have broken the link with the memory of who we really are, and so we have entered the so-called karmic cycle. You can only get out of the cycle when you have realised that you are in it.

But is this ‘one collective mind’ something in which we are all one?

Yes, yes; there's no time there, and also no matter. It is a completely different world. Many religious teachings speak of this.

Alright, but you said you were concerned about humanity.

Well, yes. I am really... concerned.

Which apocalyptic scenarios are the ones that worry you?

You see, here's the thing (Shows his notepad) I took this notepad precisely because I'm starting to think about these things now... I’ve come to this point. (Shows the pad) I've come up with terms like ‘apocalyptology’ and ‘armageddonism’, for example, to make it easier to think about. Well, this one may be off subject... (strikes out the word ‘SATAN’)

Okay...

I was simply on a roll (laughs).


Page in Miķeļis Fišers notepad

Yes, that always makes everything look better.

But what worries me at the moment is that we – I’m talking about humanity in general – have finally attained a state in which we refuse to accept reality as it is. We have created so many tools that allow us to perceive reality in a simplified way: from lifestyle to religion to virtual reality. And I think that now…

Wait, I’m sorry, but why do you say that these tools allow us to perceive reality in a simplified way? Aren’t they actually complicating reality?

No; reality cannot be complicated. Because we cannot even comprehend it in all of its complexity; we can only capture fragments.

Okay; continue.

We can only perceive some sort of projection of reality. That is what we see – the physical world – and then that’s what we believe. But we can no longer even objectively evaluate that because we are pretending that everything is in order and that we will be able to continue living as we have been. Although each one of us knows that in the next few decades, it will all be over.

We know this?

I am absolutely convinced of that.

What do you mean by ‘all of it’? The world, or…

Ecology, economics, demography. It doesn't really matter, but it will be the end.

Why do you say ‘each one of us knows’? I don’t know.

Because I believe that everyone really does know, but because we have these tools – like television, the internet, computer games – we do all we can to suppress this thought that already is in our subconscious. It's absolutely obvious that it is happening, but it’s being hidden and obscured with a good economy and everything else. Well, there are some people who are capable of... thinking about it! And talking about it. And among these people are scientists who have been talking about it for a long time, but no one is listening. It’s absurd. I'm talking about very specific things, about the climate summit where we were clearly and concisely told that if we don't stop this or that process in this many years – that’s it. The end. And people just laugh about it.

Awareness is growing, however. Protests are getting bigger, they’re happening more often...

It's too slow. Just think – what would have to happen for us to give up those things that are so precious to us but that ruin everything? Like oil, for example. Such scenarios are inconceivable. Okay. (Laughs) It's really hard for me to talk about this and that's why I'm a bit incoherent, but personally, I've come to accept it. It is as it is. And clearly nothing will change.

So you believe those scientists?

What reason is there not to believe them? Name one!

It just seemed like you didn't really believe anything, neither conspiracy theories nor the news…

But what the scientists are saying is consistent with everything that I see! Ah, there’s one other thing about humanity. Humanity no longer believes in what it sees and understands, but believes in what it is told – because it is more convenient that way. It increases one’s mental comfort. If Trump says that all scientists are idiots, then there are hundreds of thousands of people who will naturally agree with him. That there is no [global] warming. Life is better if we don’t have to think about things like that!

Of course; that is more convenient.

I just don't understand what Mr. Trump is thinking – he has kids! They will not survive.

I'm not sure that he thinks.

(Laughs) Yeah, okay. But there are thousands of such people with the power and the means to make a difference, but apparently they understand that they will never come to an agreement. All of this feeds my anxiety, as well as that of other people who see the situation for what it is. Of course, you cannot live in such a negative state for long. You have to either go to demonstrations that achieve nothing, or protest in some other way... But I've found one solution that slightly comforts me in this situation.

I'm listening.

Perhaps if we give up the theory of linear time, and imagine that in space... Well, not in space, but in reality, the event of the Earth dying due to such conditions is endlessly repeated. Humanity dies, Earth dies, everything dies. And we are put into this situation again and again for a period of time in order to gain experience, to solve something, to understand something. The situation is permanent, but it is we that change within it. This idea helps me a little. At least I feel a little better.

You could certainly be comforted by the multiverse theory, according to which in at least one of the parallel universes mankind could be acting much more responsibly.

Yes, the multiverse theory... It doesn't in any way conflict with mine, it seems. It would be cool if one could jump from one universe to another.

Yes; unfortunately, this theory does not foresee that.

(Laughs)

A similar but slightly more pessimistic scenario features in Nietzsche's version of the ‘eternal return’.

Yes. But you see, all of this... Of course, it’s based on various philosophical and religious teachings that say that we are here to learn, to gain experience... That this is the training ground where we, as spiritual beings, have entered the material world and gain various skills.

All right, but the comfort you have found for yourself would not help many people. They want something specific to this particular ‘phase of training’; something more down-to-earth.

You see, if I would just passively watch all of these people who are unawares and understand nothing, and who snigger with a sense of superiority, I would be back in that situation myself. Here I can only do what I do, in good conscience. Personally, it is important for me to do my job in as good conscience as possible and to treat my fellow human beings in the best possible way so that it somehow develops and does not return back to the beginning all the time.

And your job is...

Yes, you’re correct. (Sighs) That's not a job.

That which you want to do in your best conscience – what is this work called?

No, ‘work’ is a bad word because, according to the theory, ‘work’ was genetically inserted as a programme into people by reptiloids so that they would slave for them and collect the gold.

Okay…

But I can just try to convey to people in some associative way what I understand about this reality, and if it helps someone, I'm really happy. I hope it doesn’t hurt anyone. But if trauma helps, that's also okay.

You have probably heard of the curatorial concept of ‘reenchantment’ that Rebecca Lamarce-Vadel, the curator of the next Riga Biennale, has chosen for the event. The concept also somehow relates to the expectations that we all have. What do you think about that? Do you find it interesting?

It think it’s all fine and good; solutions for a rescue must be sought. Only I may have already become too pessimistic to find any joy in it. I really think we won't survive. I believe all signs point to that.

But if you are so sure of that, what point is there in doing what you are doing right now?

So that I don’t fall into this whole thing again. Well, I will anyway, but maybe I will have gotten a little farther…

Do you hope the message that you’re conveying will be preserved and handed down?

In some form, yes, that’s my hope. If at least some people change because of it, that would be ideal. We seem to have met at an opportune time; I'm not in the best of moods today, and this time of year is the most depressing, so I’m being very direct and just going all-out in saying my mind. On any other day I might be a little more optimistic.

Speaking of other days... If you can remember what you were like in the 90s, when you first really entered the Latvian art scene, and compare that to yourself now, what are the main ideals that you have either lost or gained?

That's really when I had no ideals at all. I've gained them somehow, I guess. I’ve gained a stronger sense of some other reality that is higher than this one.

But even back then you had, for example, pretty firm beliefs about art. You insisted that art should have content and carry a message.

I still do. But not all art has to be like that, just mine does. I think that paintings of flowers are also very necessary – just as absolutely necessary – they just have a different target audience. These paintings of flowers perhaps transform and make better the people whose television sets they hang next to, just as my ‘meat-wing sermon’ gave someone else the impulse to contemplate deeper. It doesn’t matter at what level this happens.


Miķeļis Fišers' installation at the Latvian Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale (photo Agnija Grigule)

Twenty years ago, when you first came up with the idea that you should travel a bit, why did Mexico spark your interest?

My first ‘exotic’ trip was to Mexico in 2000, I think. The trip itself was a spontaneous happenstance – there was no deep reason behind it. And something clicked for me there. The next time I returned to Mexico, I felt I was going home.

I'll try to explain. Maybe it can’t be said that we each generate our own reality one hundred percent, but we all generate our common reality in pretty much the same way. And where we were [in Mexico], I saw that the direct information that comes from the common reality is not as materialistic. Miracles exist in the human consciousness there – that which we call miracles. These are accepted as normal things for the people that we met there. I believe that this really changes the reality there and it becomes magical. It seems that a lot more is possible there; it feels like you’ve entered a completely different cosmos where reality is governed by different laws. And at incredible moments, it comes to light. It's just a fantastic feeling.

A simple example: It was the year 2000. Nowadays, everyone knows what aliens look like – those grey ones. Because of the film industry, everyone now knows what flying saucers are. But it wasn’t yet quite like that back then. We were visiting our honorary consular officer there, and since we were filming a movie about a fake alien documentary, we asked her if she knew any people or good places that we could use for that purpose. She introduced us to Mexico's chief ufologist, who ran a TV show and regularly flew a helicopter to places of UFO sightings or ’hot spots’; in any case, our reception was grand. (Laughs) But then these ufologists told us that we have to go to Popocatépetl volcano, because every year on Mexico's independence day, flying saucers sit in the crater and then fly out – everyone knows this, and no one is surprised by it. (Laughs) That's it! The fact that everyone knows, and no one bats an eye about it. So we went there, filmed them, it was effective. But the fact that they aren’t surprised by it! Now that's what I liked.

You went to Popocatépetl?

We couldn't find the mountain that time. I got to it on my next trip; I drove up it, hung out for a while and painted it, too. And it’s the place where I saw a UFO, the one and only time in my life.

Excuse me?

I saw an oval silver disk in clear daylight, flying over the mountains, stopping, and then flying away.

Hmm.

And then when it stopped, I had that… ‘critical moment’ for all ufologists.

A disc, right? Did it have any special features?

Well, it was a mirrored ellipse, shiny. It shone in the sun. It was clear daylight, noon. The car is parked maybe 50 metres away, and I see it flying and stopping, and I understand – this is the moment... It seems as if it’s thinking about flying towards me, because it seems like it could. I feel as if I've been noticed. And then there was that classic ufologist feeling of uncertainty – do I wait for them, or do I run to the car for the camera. I decided to wait. But they flew away.

And what did you do after that? Did you continued to paint, or did you take a breather? What does a person do after such an experience?

I think I kept on painting. Or maybe I made something to eat, made coffee, I don't really remember. I was up in the mountains for three days, over three kilometres above sea level. And I painted two paintings, so one painting in a day and a half. Most likely, I continued to paint.

Do you feel sorry for everyone who hasn't seen what you have?

Well, I don't really know what it was that I saw. It's accepted that we call it a UFO.

But you were in a clear state of mind, right?

Yes, completely. Well, I have also seen them when not in a clear state of mind – landing and taking off – but many could say the same thing about that...

Do such unique experiences make you feel a little out of place in this reality?

Frankly, I find it difficult to count myself as part of humanity because I no longer share the same ideals they do. Well, I understand them, but they are no longer my ideals that are taking place here.

What do you count yourself a part of? The common consciousness?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. What's left? Well, maybe I count myself along with these Cro-Magnons... This dead branch of our evolutionary tree...

Neanderthals?

Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, whatever. I don’t know. Well, I’m joking, of course. You see, what is interesting about humanity's enchantment, self-enchantment... I think that virtual reality in general is a wonderful example. There's a lot of material there to discuss about people not being able to cope with existent reality, which is why they create one in which they can control everything. In that reality, they are actually a god. And they feel comfortable there. Accordingly, we can think about what our reality is and how it came about. Perhaps it was created and developed in the same way.

In principle, this can’t be ruled out.

Maybe then the next reality will emerge from that one.

Would you like to know the truth?

I really would!

But aren't you afraid it would be too scary for you to take in? What if you were abducted by aliens and they told you how everything came to be, and it turned out to be unbearably horrible?

I think the situation we’re in is already unpleasant enough. (Laughs) But I don't think it would turn out to be anything too horrid. And I would be at peace, no matter what it would be. It reminds me of something... There’s a moment in the psychedelic experience when something that is happening around you is so terrible that you have one of two options – either you go mad, or you surrender to it. There’s the answer.

Have you been in a situation where you had to choose surrender?

Uh-huh.

Cool. From ayahuasca?

No, the first time was from Mexican mushrooms. But I’ve also had some experience with ayahuasca. They’ve been extremely pleasant and visual, filled with an awful lot of information that cannot be translated in any way. The simplest thing you could compare it to is perhaps 3D fractals. But not regular ones – absolute ones, asymmetrical...

And you...saw them? Was it a visual experience?

You know, it's usually assumed that in one’s first experience with ayahuasca, you rarely have any visions. It was like that for me twenty years ago; there was nothing at all. But I had another one recently, and I specifically asked for the ayahuasca spirit to... Well, to show me everything! Specifically visually. What I saw was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Completely absolutely. There are no colours or shapes like that in this reality. Well, it was all constantly moving and evolving, and there was one moment when there was just too much information so that I had to say – please, enough, no more, my head will explode! (Both laugh) So, the experience was wonderfully beautiful, and there’s nothing more to say.

But if those colours and shapes don’t exist, you can't paint it.

That’s right.

But then how can you, with your personal memory that is of this reality, remember those fractals as visual images?

Well...if I saw it again, I'd definitely recognise it, but it's impossible to visualise it, not even in your memories of it. In this reality, we lack the means.

Okay, Miķelis. Thanks.