A
CONVERSATION WITH
VIMALA GRACE HILE & BABY HAUPERT

INTRO BY KAITLYN D. HAMILTON



In Finland, the eighth month has become a signal of concession for me, the blunt end of a season. The summer that refuses to stick, a spell. This year August was unrecognizable – an outstretched flare of warm night and soft air, sun streaming through the windows or cracked boards of an old barn. In August the time stood still like a childhood from a movie. It felt like the month was shining down on all of us and there was an outpouring of gifts: fresh tears in the hallway, buried treasure, secret pathways, club houses, instant friendships, dried flowers and spontaneous games. We were a flock of birds, our choreography emergent and unrehearsed.

Watching Vim and Baby in August was a strong dose of affirmation: the initial potential we felt radiating from this place we call TUO TUO materialized through a duo, two artists that moved through the world like they were of the world, at once a creature and a god. It’s impossible not to project, but from where I sat it seemed like such an effortless stretch: they explored, they were curious, they prioritised rest, play and pleasure, they were open and vulnerable, they grieved with us out loud in clear-cut fields of forest, nothing was forced or fought, each day flew smoother than the next. There was an electricity in the air mixed with cricket sizzle, and everything these two touched turned to magic.

Although we never spoke in plans or promises, the month culminated in an off-site installation – the old barn that collapsed last winter drew them in. Vim and Baby’s artworks were sacred objects, collaborative gestures with plants, insects, man and machine. Before August I thought I’d given up on the material altogether. But I secretly believed their work might unlock some parallel dimension – that we would get sucked into this world forever. Now, I think they were just putting a seal on our time together. How else to describe what these two did here that month? With their presence as a practice, in a word: worlding.

Thank you Vim and Baby for making imagination collaborative and loud, thanks for making life feel like a dream.
 



VIEW VIM & BABY’S OFFSITE EXHIBITION




Kaitlyn: We see this place as a unique site within the field of ecological art, but maybe not even within, maybe hovering somewhere nearby. I think for us ecological art-making is not totally definable. For TUO TUO, ecological thinking and by extension: approach are aspirational and experimental, we make connections along the way. Sometimes there is a real spirit of innocence being channeled through the artists who are drawn to this place. This spirit is one I’m especially interested in, fond of – it’s one of the most exciting to witness – it is one I feel I know, but not necessarily one that I know how to articulate. But I see it articulated in your work and this leads me to why I find your touch so rapturous: there is an innocence, or like, the purest form of play that occurs when you both encounter these material(s) or objects. The play unfolds into something like reverse-scarcity; you also carve out a small jungle of weightlessness spun from history and future and machines and collapse and I want to keep coming back to this space you’ve created or channeled, to sink in deeper. Because what your work offers me is endless possibilities and a vast fantasy, a space within or hovering close by – where the denial of death feels distant, surpassed or forgotten.


Vimala: I definitely think that what you have said resonates with our mindset while creating, and the work itself. At least to me, my work has always been a mystery that reveals itself. I have, for some time, liked to think of my work as the invisible (I know that is vague, and means a multitude of varying notions to every individual) showing itself… Logic, and strategical planning feels distant, and this is where the idea of play becomes prevalent to the work. Play goes hand in hand with this sense of naivete or innocence. Exploration and discovery, oftentimes through the found materials in our environment(s) allows us both to create freely, in a state of play. If ecological art is that which is concerned with the environment, then I think that we have wholly fallen into that category, whether or not this said falling was intentional. During our time at TUO TUO, I was able to clearly see this tension between the natural environment around us, with machines and industry. Living in Chicago, we lose touch with our sense of the natural. That is, we see the directness of machines, industry, capitalism in our daily lives, almost so much that it becomes ordinary (perhaps a better word is desensitized), there isn’t this clearly abundant, vibrant and beautiful feeling of nature around us. And this isn’t to say that the natural isn’t steeped into everything, every crevice of the city. But to clearly see this battle between forestry and the forests in Joutsa, offers up a literal metaphor that is quite heartbreaking really. We can be aware of the realities of climate change, experiencing small moments such as the truckloads of trees passing by, drawing a clear picture easy to understand. An answer to this heartbreak, is perhaps an embrasure of the death. Embracing the decay, the fragments of a dead industrialization that has been replaced by its ever-evolving new forms becomes an alternative that we may in the coming years be forced to accept as spaces to occupy, build community within, or approach in new ways. Abandoned spaces, spaces that have seen the rise and fall of industries, spaces that have already played their hand in contributing to climate change but now lie desolate from human impact, retaken by nature, displaying this wyrd balance between human impact and nature’s everlasting force.

Baby: It's hard for me to understand the criteria that places a work into the ecological art category. The category alone surfaces much more than it could clarify, as it seems to have a sort of spectrum associated. A lot of what I do see, that self-labels as such, seems like a compromise between the natural and the gallery – where both are taken out of their element and the work stops right where the hand ends. This is where it loses me – when the environment/surroundings are extraneous and forgotten: where the work profiles an acquisition and a displacement. Although being an art-form based around the admiration for something as un-controlled as the natural world, it often seeks to sterilize nature into something digestible-through an “artist’s lens.” These things seem to be symptomatic of standards in the art world where work has to exist with purchasability and the artist needs to dominate in the collaboration with nature.

Overall, I’m hesitant with this label but some elements of my work maybe fall directly into some facets of a side of the ecological art spectrum. My intention through my practice is to create works that are contextualized by a space or rather exist in a state of play with the natural world. I often have a hard time with conceptualizing until finding a location that has poetry to develop a scene around. Sourcing is subject to a somewhat ecological point of view in my work as well and I often choose to work with weathered materials that have already been inflicted by natural forces of decay in some recognizable way. Perhaps to cut the corners of time and make a work that exists on an indiscernible timeline. I think that the reverse-scarcity with materials was something that transpired entirely based on what the nearby nature offered and the treasure hunting process provided momentum and play that materialized itself into what we created.

A lot of what attracted us to TUO TUO was this idea of an endless stage surrounding us. Which I think just based on the installations left by past residents along the perimeter of TUO TUO, it must have also been a drawing factor for others. I think this is where this spirit of innocence is captured when relating your work to something you can't fully understand, to something that has been and will be for much longer than you. This process of inserting art into an evolving backdrop feels much more spirited and child-like in a way and ultimately translates into an expression that’s much more dense than anything you could achieve in the void of a gallery.

K: Vim, your IG handle is @realityf4ntasy and because your art (as a duo) creates an entire world that is so dinstinct and layered – containing hidden elements. What you offer are clues or breadcrumbs, treasures and relics. So I guess what I’m trying to ask is… what is your reality like? How does it “work” and what is the dynamic like between you as a creative duo?

V: I’m not entirely sure what my reality looks like. Everything is disappearing and appearing again.

After leaving TUO TUO, this question has been running through my mind – “What will I do with this new bite of a different reality, what will I do with this taste?”

If we are always holding a mirror, our realities become further and further away. Layers of fantasy now define our realities. This makes things difficult, living within a realm of mediated fantasies. I saw an ad on a billboard, and I’ve probably seen many more of these ads, which I can’t remember what it was for: “Make your fantasy your reality!” Nothing that we haven’t heard before. This offer is so enticing, perhaps because our child selves remember the worlds that opened through play and pretend. The child-self version of fantasy feels more true than the promise of a mediated fantasy. Sort of living in a constant and overwhelming fluctuation between reality and fantasy, who is to say that it is all one or the other? The barrage of both, reality’s sharpness and fantasy’s lull, to be unsorted and sorted again fulfills an ever-constant buzzing. We have endless means to create intricate layers of fantasy, whether to lull our realities that feel harsh and cold or to seek reality in its fullness. Beyond fantasy, I am deeply invested in our collective capacity for imaginary and visionary thought.

The bits and pieces of some sort of larger being, entity or whatever that is unravelling itself, over again. What I’d like to envision as an apprehensive ouroboros. Maybe what (has always) intrigued me is trying to find this distant essence, the attempt holding the urgency. Alternatively, the attempt at holding urgency.



Joni: What you said reminds me of something that Byung-Chul Han writes about in his book Non-things: “What is problematic about today’s art is its inclination to communicate a preconceived opinion, a moral or political conviction: that is, its inclination to communicate information. [..] Art is no longer handwork that forms matter, without intention, into a thing, but thought work that communicates a prefabricated idea.” I wanted to ask you about your relationship with material(ity) and the role and relation of material in digital spaces.

B: There definitely is an abstraction of authenticity involved in the direct shaping of materials. For our work we definitely fall on a more detrivoristic approach when sourcing, using what is already in decay as a tool to materially step us out of the art world and into a more raw expression. In terms of history and societal emphasis on the artist, material doesn’t require context; it rather exists to display a proficiency or fluency in material interaction, and in my opinion shifts the purpose of creating a work from a display of expression to a display of a skill.

Political/moral convictions run through everything that we interact with; there is no way to escape this in both personal and other’s view. These associations – at least for me – are amplified when something is classified as art and perhaps this is what pushes artwork into a justification trap (where an artist's expression becomes inserted into a vacuum with the need to prove oneself). This method of practice becomes a tool for selfishness in the same ways achieved by attaching your self-image to anything exogenous to your flesh.

Although I’d agree that a major obstacle in prolific creation of works lies in adherence to associations, it would take a primordial or erased mind to not assess these aspects in a piece. Pointlessness – though superior to our attachment-riddled lens – is impossible to achieve now, perhaps due to our dependencies being placed so much in the material world.

With our specific processes we try to create a story – at least to ourselves – about why a piece is in the location, how it got there, and so on. This method of focusing our works to fit inside a story falls short when the piece has a visceral materiality that uncontrollably positions a piece into the world of commerciality.

The usual art/craft store materials typically achieve one of two different face values in art: decor or functionality. In both these instances expression is subject to a limited range of emotion where art is blended into our lives and usually does not warrant much beyond existing with us and for us. What I try to work towards in my art is as much separation from commerce as possible and to actively try and make work that doesn’t fit a real use for anyone – as an anti-entrepreneur – refusing to lend itself to the cop-out of aesthetic and day-to-day casual admiration.

With this emphasis active in my relation to materials, digital documentation places an amount of shoddiness to the process that I'm unsure how to substitute. I'm working on challenging my preconception that documentation is vital to a project's completion and closure, but I still have a hard time with justifying my own work without this logical conclusion. In this sense, accessibility seems to be the conflicting aspect to atmospheric installations.



V: Most of the time, letting intuition and inklings of what feels like the best option in terms of material and medium take over my artistic process. We are both influenced by the places we find ourselves in, and the process of collecting from the environment around us is a way to begin to understand where to position ourselves within a place through our work. The information I am trying to convey is, oftentimes, that of an emotional or feeling nature. There is both pleasure and pain found within the entire process of creating because I believe that doing the work brings out a response affecting the senses, and maybe what is inside, that I am not particularly ready to see or something that surprises or challenges the expectations of my self. The creating comes first, then, when I’m at a stopping point, I can piece together what if anything is being said. I really want to enjoy the entire process and be readily aware whilst in the moment of creating. The aspect of using my hands to create is extremely important to the work, and of course, I have a series of images, inspirations, and ideas floating around in my head, so I’m sure there is some sort of amalgamation of ideas accumulated and sorted through the pieces that are eventually formed. And I have thought that materials find their way to me quite a lot. Pondering and poking at an immeasurable substance, in its miraculousness and horridness, not necessarily “what will this say” but rather, a translation of the after-illumination.

For now, I think that I feel lucky to have found smaller publications and decentralized exhibition platforms, where artworks and projects are shared through digital spaces. The massive undertaking of archiving all of these projects onto one platform feels special and can be at once a resource as well as a capsule to look back on. Our main channel of connecting with others is reliant on digital spaces, and inspired platforms are critical atm. At the same time, I also entertain the idea of a more tangible, touchable experience for people, having witness(es) to a project is always so special. Sometimes I have fears about the internet’s constant churning, the next image set getting buried by the next wave or whatever, and the importance of interpersonal experiences with artwork will always be super vital to me. I think those “real-life” experiences definitely stay close and warm for, like, ever.




Vim and Baby live and work in Chicago, IL.
Kaitlyn and Joni are the co-founders & co-directors of TUO TUO; they live and work in Joutsa, Finland.

View Vim & Baby’s offsite exhibition installed @TUO TUO in August 2022︎︎︎