DISINI Discovers – Maya Rochat

Maya Rochat’s art is meant to be experienced, not just seen. In her work, she challenges the traditional notion and medium of photography by creating ephemeral, transient installations that come alive through the use of space and light. Nature is one of her main inspirations; she celebrates its fluidity and ever-changing states by playing with the chemical processes of image-making, taking a cue from the surroundings to create truly immersive pieces of art—pieces that can even be worn, as she demonstrates herself. We find out more about how she came to love photography, and later, completely reimagine it.


4/ Your work is quite site specific; you often decide where things go only when you’re in the space itself. How did this site for DISINI influence how everything came together?

To me, it’s not a toilet! I like the fact that you can walk around the block, and you have the holes in the walls, so you need something that’s translucent, otherwise you’ll erase the architectural qualities of the space. I also like the nature around the pavilion, and the walkway leading up to it, which I wanted to use as an amazing gallery space and part of the experience. As for the process, I asked for photos of the space and the measurements, then I used Photoshop to design it. On the ground, you always have to adapt, but this is one of the first shows I’ve done that’s actually quite similar to what I had in mind. Which is a good surprise, because usually when something doesn’t look the same it’s because something went wrong!

6/ How is this work different from previous versions of A Rock Is A River that you’ve done?

It’s always different. I never do the same show twice; some people say I’m a bit crazy. You’re going to recognise some images, of course, because I have a book of photos that I use almost like a dictionary and I choose the words depending on the space. I looked at which images would resonate with the space, the city, and the culture. Some decisions were made from the gut. I visited Singapore two years ago so I kind of knew what I was going into. In the end it’s all about the people and the world we live in, basically. What we think about this world, and what we could do better.

7/ You’ve said that your work is hard to document because it’s always changing. However, do you think popular art now tries to cater to the kind of person who would rather take a photo of the art, rather than understand or experience it?

I’m not sure. But I think the problem with social media and the digital age is that you get the sense that you’ve seen the images already, even though the reality is so much stronger. Even with 3D and VR experiences, you're still in this very cold environment and your heart isn’t activated. As long as technology isn’t able to do that, I think art is fine. When I first started studying photography everyone was like, “Wow, that’s amazing, it’s the best job ever!” but now anyone can be a ‘photographer’. It’s fine, it’s not a bad thing—I’m happy that everyone has a tool to be creative, you just have to be aware that you need to be creative with the tool and not have the tool use you.

8/ You’re also making clothes with your art—what was the idea behind expanding your photography to different objects?

Every object has its own story. Maybe you’re crazy about leggings, but someone else hates leggings—she might love toilets. For me it’s just about spreading the experience and it’s fun to see how an image reacts differently. I like working with objects you can have in everyday life, so it’s not just in a museum.

10/ Are you inspired by any artists at the moment?

I like Daisuke Yokota a lot. I’m actually doing a group show with him at the Tate Modern in London at the end of April. It’s called Shades Of Light, and it’s about abstraction in photography and painting since the 1900s. As a young artist it’s pretty amazing to be a part of some very good company. I also like maximalist works, and artists that consider space the same way I do. It could be just a frame on a white wall but if you don’t consider it as space, you’re stuck in your own mind. They’re also very free in their explorations; they take one image in a video and make it into a book, it’s not stuck in one genre.

13/ You mentioned you started experimenting with photos because you felt quite restricted by traditional photography.

I felt restricted by the frame and modernity of photography when I was studying. I started making black and white posters and putting them everywhere because I was broke as f*ck and I just needed to make it happen. I worked with what I had, and told my story with my tools. Now, there’s an option to use industrial printing techniques to make something that has more volume or space. When I’m super rich I’ll do golden prints. (laughs)

15/ Is that something you consider in the works that you create? Whether these pieces are going to sell?

That’s very dangerous. You can try to adapt, but it never works. It’s the gallery’s job to pick out the right pieces, and I make so many images, so I don’t need to adapt much because you can buy something for $100, or $15,000. If you can’t find something you like, then I’m not the artist you should be looking for.

16/ What was your first memory of art?

I really liked Gustav Klimt. I was so fascinated by his paintings. I had a book of his work and I looked at it for years as a young girl. There was Egon Schiele, too, and his freeform drawings—always women, a bit sensual. I liked those details. I think if you look at my work now, there’s still some excitement about the quantity of information that each image has. If my work did say something, maybe it would be “look twice”.

1/ Can you tell us a little bit about your journey? What did you study in school and how did you first get interested in art or photography?

I was interested in drawing and fashion at first. I wasn’t really the perfect schoolgirl; I was more interested in playing football or being in nature, so when I said that I wanted to study fashion, people just laughed at me. But my mother was like, “Don't care about what other people say; you’re gonna do whatever you want.” A few years later, I applied for arts school, and I got into the photography faculty. I was very naïve then; I thought photography was more of a job, and when I started it was like the first time I held a camera in my hands. I loved it though—taking a picture is like drawing, very quickly, but with light and the moment. It was like the cable connected for me, and I became super passionate.

2/ You have a lot of nature in your work. Is it something you’re personally drawn to?

For 10 years, I grew up almost solely surrounded by nature. I liked to go into the forest, and speak to myself and all the people I imagined that were there. Two of the photographs for my work for DISINI were taken when I was doing a residency in Switzerland last year. I was living in Berlin at the time—this big, super cool city—and I was invited back to my native country, to the mountains, to this little place with 200 people living there. I thought I was going to die of boredom, so I started going around taking photos. That, for me, was a life-changing moment because nature was so strong and beautiful, and I was overwhelmed. For years I hadn’t really been taking photos but after that, I went back to photography.

3/ How do you think your style of work has changed over the years?

I think at first I was very direct with my work. It had worked for me for so long, but you know, when you’re direct you only touch the people who want to be touched by your ideas. In a way, you’re convincing someone who’s already convinced, so what’s the point? So I started moving towards something less figurative, more open, and more physical, so it’s less in your head; the art is more with your body. It’s something that people can experience and they have to decide what they want to see, and make their own story, which is probably more interesting than mine. I really love that moment that’s an interaction—it’s not me looking down on you or the other way round, it’s just an exchange.

5/ Some of your shows are incredibly immersive—you talk about how you don’t want things to be too fixed. Why do you think you’re drawn to this idea of change and things that are more temporal?

I think it's very human to want to fixate on things, even though life is always changing. My work for DISINI is a continuation of my series, A Rock Is A River. We see a mountain as something that’s very solid and fixed, but it's only in our perception of humanity and time on earth. The mountain is actually moving all the time. I wanted to address this fake idea of life that we have, and maybe if we accept that things are always moving and changing, there’d be less racism and things like that. The more energy flows, the more love there is for everybody.

9/ Do you have a favourite piece of work that you created?

It’s always the last thing I’ve done. Usually that’s what I’m preoccupied with, before I find a new thing that excites me. But one performance that I did recently, which I’m still smitten about, was at the Musée des Abattoirs in Toulouse. It’s a big museum, and they have a room, with a Picasso theatre curtain, that’s 15 metres high, and 15 metres wide, so it’s like a big cube. I did a performance with banners hanging from the ceiling to the floor, so you could literally walk on it. To the ordinary human, 15 meters is really, really big, and I had a painting screened via overhead projectors with sound effects, so it became like a big happening. It was very exciting for me, something I would actually do again.

11/ Is there something you wish you had more time to be doing, or something that you think you should be doing more of?

Yoga, and stress management. When you start your career, you think it’s going to be fine, that you can always do your painting and photography, but every day you have phone calls, and emails, and gallery problems. As a contemporary artist you’re also your own secretary and manager; it’s not only about creating art, but selling and managing it as well.

12/ Is there any advice that you’d like to give aspiring artists?

I think they need to learn to let go. The more you stop thinking of “Am I good? Am I bad?” the better it is. Of course, you need to have intellectual knowledge with your work, but if you’re thinking about that all the time you’ll end up repeating something that you think is good. I teach photography and a bit of fine arts, and I see that in many of my students’ works. So, when I start, I try to do something that’s bad. It’s easy to do that. When I get my students to try it, they get very excited because they’re free to do anything if they can defend it.

14/ As an artist, how would you measure success?

You measure it from the interest people have for your work, and I start with the technicians, who have seen a lot of work. If they like my work, it’s going to be good; if they don’t like it, something’s wrong. Then, there’s also how many venues I’m invited to show in, and how much work I can sell. If I can’t sell anything, it becomes problematic. I wouldn’t feel comfortable just living on residencies or support; I like that my work is also relevant in the capitalist system.