15 Seconds of Fame for a Blown Tyre
Brno-based street artist Timo is known for his subtly subversive interventions in the public space of the Moravian metropolis and beyond. I've always enjoyed his humour, his witty play with language and his voluntary distance from fame – which is why we're happy to display his ideas not only on the walls of our Betonarka, but also in this interview.
I love synergies, overlaps, cross-pollination with people outside of my field/country/culture/usual mind patterns. In fact, I make wine partly because it's a proven and user-friendly way to reach such people, and I enjoy this sprawling creative network and its exciting flow of new ideas and concepts. So much so that I wanted to share it with other people, too. So, Mycorrhiza* was born – a series of interviews with inspiring people across different industries, giving each other new impulses and "nutrients". I don't know who is the fungus and who is the plant in this metaphor, but I'm 100% positive that this symbiotic exchange is just as essential to our lives as the one taking place in the soil beneath our feet.
I've known Timo for a few years now – his "haiku" as well as two more inconspicuous works decorate the walls of our Betonarka, and we're also planning to upgrade one of our winery halls gate with his art. So I was quite pleased that Josef Rozehnal from Nahaku who we interviewed last month, picked Timo to be the next element of our Mycorrhiza.
Words by Milan Nestarec & Lucie Kohoutová / Pics courtesy of Timo and Milan Nestarec
How do you feel about the fact that some of your work in the public space has a limited shelf life because it disappears over time - whether at the request of companies that didn't like the fact that you've altered their logo, or simply because someone repaints it? Or do you actually enjoy this impermanence?
I don't quite have the zen attitude of painting poems on water, so it's not like I enjoy seeing my work disappear. But I also don't see them as a fetish that should be glass-protected. I simply enjoy painting directly onto the world because that changes it in a more tangible way than, say, a classic painting. It's kind of atavistic actually, like leaving an imprint of your hand on the wall of a cave back in the day. And when I take a picture of my work, I feel like I somehow got it. Plus, it often causes an echo on social media, which makes me feel like it's touched someone, that it's had some kind of impact. It's also important to me that even though it's actually an illegal and usually temporary kind of creative expression, I enjoy doing this punk thing seriously, i.e. using a stencil and in a neat typeface.
In your work, I notice a certain fascination not only with the visual side of text but also with the possibilities of (Czech) language – where did that come from, did you experience it since childhood?
My school, to be honest, was actually rather off-putting when it comes to literature, so my appreciacion for it actually came later, around the age of 18. I like how using just text allowed the viewer to paint the picture in their own head. Black text on white is a very pure thing – I actually make a lot of abstract work and other stuff, but this is kind of a river that keeps resurging to the surface, also because the Czech language can be very euphonic and fun.
What does your creative process actually look like? Does the idea for a new piece stem from the specific place, or is it the other way around, ie. you have an idea in your head, perhaps on a current social issue, and you're looking for a space to express it?
The general answer would be "it comes in different ways". I draw a lot, I have a battery of sketches that I'm searching for a place for, on the background. I've also noticed that certain environments help me, for example, lying in the bath or doing some rhythmic activity like riding a bike or looking at a passing landscape when on a train. This actually happened: I'm on a bus and I see trees being cut down, and then next to them manholes with big cast iron lids, and suddenly it connects in my head and then I'm looking for a way to carve the lid patterns into the stump.
I come up with a lot of text-based stuff when listening to the radio – I love clichés, and sometimes I hear something and make a sort of poem out of it. For example, when the live traffic update suddenly announces "On kilometre 134 of the D1 motorway, beware a torn tire lying in the left lane", that's such a nice moment when suddenly the whole country shares fifteen seconds of fame for a blown tire. I enjoy the gentle absurdity of the fact that a lot of people never get to be featured in the national media, but the torn tire made it!
An idea is like when the sun pierces the clouds, a ray of light that suddenly appears and shines on you. And then it lives in the back of your mind, and you're looking around for a place where this pebble would shine in the right way. Using public space can be challenging, however, as there are CCTV cameras everywhere nowadays. So I don't really go into the political, site-specific art much anymore, I'm too old for that.
You actually started in the graffiti scene.
Yeah, in the beginning I was imitating graffiti, I'd call it. The adventure of it, that kind of secret-society underground feeling, the feeling of aerosol in the air was exciting... But I think the graffiti scene sees me more as a guy talking to himself in a public space, I don't think they appreciate when somebody happens to call me a graffiti artist.
What do you mean?
I think graffiti is very much based on a certain insularity, it revels in being incomprehensible for the outsider. I think that they take their surroundings purely as a base on which their work can be seen, but the message is directed inwards, towards other members of the subculture. Whereas I want to have some kind of conversation with other people through my art, which is also why I try to use clear communication codes. Doing so means that I don't respect the unwritten rules of the graffiti culture, which probably gets rejected or dissed by the orthodox writers here.
Isn't this kinda true for the art scene as a whole? I like the work of (Czech artist) Kristof Kintera, also because he, just like you, deals with topics that are close to society, in a way that's accessible. But I often feel that some people see art as something that should be more esoteric, understandable only to a limited group of people. I think that's bullshit though.
I really like Kintera too, it's straightforward and yet not too pop and obvious... I do like addressing subtle issues in a subtle way, but the incomprehensibility of art that is deliberately made to be hard to understand if you're not an insider creates a bit of a greenhouse effect I think. It builds a community that communicates mainly within itself, maybe even afraid to do something that will talk to someone outside.
I remember, for example, how there was a debate in the art scene about whether Pavel Čech could paint on canvas since he's supposed to be an illustrator, or whether Anna Hulačová's sculptures were sculptural enough. Which I find all the funnier since the art scene likes to show-off the idea that everything is allowed, but then it still gets to the point where everyone at the opening is dressed alike, and the actual art should fit into certain clear and pre-set categories, otherwise the insiders get nervous. And the seemingly free artistic hivemind starts to tell you what is possible and what is not.
I like overlaps, it makes sense that "the most interesting ecosystem is the one at the edge of the forest", as they say. Creating cross-disciplinary platforms has become a bit of a cliché in recent years, but there's something about a sculptor taking his head out of the bag of plaster, looking next door and realising that they can combine their work with, let's say photography.
Do you think that using humour in art lets in a wider audience?
I don't know. I guess you laugh at the time, but I can't imagine that someone would become intensely interested in art after they spent most of their life ignoring it. I think it's more a question of age – people are open-minded up to a certain age, so there's that window of opportunity when you're young and the mental patterns in your head are still being created, when you can fall in love with a given field for the first time... That's where I see the possibility of the spark happening. Past that, I think you set into a kind of a rut. So for me, opening the doors to a wider audience should rather start with more art teachers in schools, animation in galleries, etc.
Do you think wine is art, and why?
I think that wine and art share that alchemical quality where a person transforms matter which simultaneously transforms the person back. On the other hand, I think that art, having gone through the avant-garde, can still appreciate something raw and hard that is actually ugly and bad in terms of aesthetic pleasure – an equivalent of really bad and cheap wine, if you will – if it has a strong story. Whereas with wine, I would assume there are more set boundaries and a clear set of things that the winemaker has to do at some point, in order to make a good wine... I understand that there is certainly room for creativity in wine, but I wonder if the winemaker is supposed to be more of a humble servant of its material, in contrast with an artist.
Does it bother you when someone compares you to Banksy?
It always reminds me of things like "Czech Switzerland" or "Czech Canada" [actual names of natural reserves in the Czech Republic]... it sounds like it's just a derivative of something else, you know. I understand that it helps people to categorise or describe my work, but it's funny.
In line with the metaphor of mycorrhiza that inspired us to start these conversations, is there someone you'd like to see continue this network? Nominate our next symbiont!
Hmm, who to pass the relay to... David Minařík has a start-up called Myco.cz – they are developing packaging made from funghi, so that fits your premise wonderfully, right?
*Mycorrhiza is a mutualistic association between fungi and plant roots that exists in almost all plants. The plant supports the fungus by providing carbohydrates needed for fungal growth, while the fungus helps the plant by increasing its root surface area The importance of mycorrhiza has long been underestimated, but recently it has been shown that 70-90% of all plants are mycorrhizal. Therefore, mycorrhiza has a very large impact on plant life.