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Eleanor Ekserdjian: A part of the process

Eleanor Ekserdjian, Woman in the Moon, 26.92 minutes, 2019, film still

The famous German choreographer, Pina Bausch once said, when asked what her work meant, “If I could explain it in words, why would I go to the effort of dancing it?”

In a similar manner, Ekserdjian believes her work should ‘speak for itself’, stating that the reason for creating is to express something that cannot necessarily be articulated with words.

Indeed, it seems to me that the very act of creating is, in a sense, the act of communicating since the work itself is what imprints the meaning upon us.

As such, I am enormously grateful to Ekserdjian for taking the time to reflect on and explain at least a part of her work.

Ekserdjian is keen to stress that her works are not pieces of self-exploration, as can sometimes be imagined by the audience.

Rather, she is concerned with the exploration of ideas and emotions, reflecting her engagement with academic concepts and questions, which she views, with a wry smile, as more interesting than herself.

She acknowledges that a part of the artist inevitably ends up in their work, however she does not believe that one would ever be able to quite capture the radical complexity of an individual.

This ambition to explore and uncover ideas and emotions is an ongoing project. Like many who are dedicated to their craft, Ekserdjian is never quite satisfied with the finished product and is always keen to experiment further.

In such a manner, then, she accepts that she may very well be grappling with these questions through her work for the rest of her life.

This might strike some as disheartening, however Ekserdjian does not embark upon her work with the idea of a finished product (at least in a conventional sense) in mind.

She stresses that she finds her process and the act of creation far more interesting than the ‘final product’.

Eleanor Ekserdjian, Woman in the Moon, 26.92 minutes, 2019, charcoal on paper, 1.47 x 1.51m

This interest in the process of creation stems, in part, from her passion for Renaissance sketching, where, she argues, the preparatory sketches for a work reveal the movements of the artist’s mind.

This is reflected in her work through the use of performative film, where the viewer is able to see the act of creation itself through the recordings of the drawings coming into being.

The usually unseen process of making and the rhythms of the artist’s mind become visible through her installations, and are an integral part of the subject matter.

Filming of these sketches brings her work to life, allowing the invisible to be made visible in a dynamic and visually pleasing manner.

This dynamism is what attracted Ekserdjian to this practice in the first place. Having initially begun her work creating figurative oil paintings, she became frustrated with the limitations of the medium to express her particular interests.

What appealed to her in silent cinema from the 1920s were the novel and exciting ways in which a director could visually explore complex narratives, ideas and emotions.

In sketching from these films, and filming herself at work, Ekserdjian gives a new physical dimension to the previously hidden and abstracted worlds of thought and feeling as well as bringing the act of creation to life on screen.

Most recently, this can be seen in her exploration of Victor Sjöström’s The Wind (1928), a film which is exceptional in its evocation of anxiety and terror.

In working with this material, Ekserdjian has been delving into that hidden human experience of anxiety so that it might be expressed and physically articulated in her work.

Rather than being specific to her own experience, Ekserdjian views this as descriptive of something universal - the anxiety that we have all experienced within our own lives.

Some of this work can be exceptionally gruelling. Not only is Ekserdjian working with complex emotions and ideas, but the very act of creation requires dedication.

For instance, Ekserdjian has continually returned to draw from Woman in the Moon, to refine her craft, a labour that represents hours of continuous work and experimentation.

Eleanor Ekserdjian, Woman in the Moon, 26.92 minutes, 2019, charcoal on paper, 1.47 x 1.51m

However, in this taxing exploration, she is able to create something truly extraordinary that excites and intrigues the mind.

What I have found most refreshing in talking to Ekserdjian is her commitment to her craft and willingness to deepen in her abilities.

With this sincerity, she is able to create works that are visually arresting, intellectually challenging and laudable in their originality.

- Claude Pink

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