Rewind to a year ago when we could touch the people we love, go to galleries, experience one another as human beings. In Blake's hotel in London, I was lucky enough to be part of a select audience invited to witness menswear designer turned artist Carlo Brandelli and Ewa Wilczynski's first installation artwork, centred on ideas of energy. Such intimate performance art seems like a lifetime ago. Now, nearly twelve months later, they've unveiled their latest venture as part of their ongoing artistic partnership N + E.
The New Spirit Paintings follow in the footsteps of that first unique performance Bound 1 In A Liminal Possibility in a quest for exploring different levels of energy. Whilst this previous experience was rooted in the IRL visitor who was joined in a darkened room by the two artists, human connection remains at the forefront of the new artwork which is presented to an exclusively digital audience via film. Despite the absence of human meetings, the energies which bind us are by no means sacrificed.
Combining performance art, painting, sculpture, costume and sound, the New Spirit Paintings are part of an on-going series first begun in March 2020. Watching the film from their own home, the viewer finds themselves alone, but all at once joined by Wilczynski. With each deep exhale, the artist paints a line of gold paint in a single downward stroke. She later explained to me how moving the brush upwards just didn't work; that in all creative disciplines, materials have a natural way they want to go. When you think about it, she's right. Brandelli offers his own example: when cutting cloth for a Savile Row men's suit, one should never cut both up and down the material.
For Wilczynski, it's all about focusing the mind and the body. There's an appealing sense of ritual to how the artist has approached the work, returning each day to her canvas of Japanese paper. There's a deep rooted sense of devotion here. 'It also becomes about time' Wilczynski explains.
Over several months, Wilczynski painted a single, golden stroke each day. Painting with clear resin containing real gold leaf, the substance trickles down the paper like glistening lava in the film, which highlights the biggest work in the series whereby 1000 layers of gold paint have built up and hardened, evolved into something less transient and more permanent. The sculptural form which now exists is rooted in this idea of transformation, taking us right back to the breath which anchors the piece. One can't help but think about all this newfound time in lockdown, what it has left us with; ourselves and our breath. It's quite something how a few focused, deep breaths can feel transformative for the human body and mind. The potential for change is right under our noses.
'We're offering something really pure, it's a brushstroke on an exhale breath. The exhale of the breath is life force itself. That's when the creative process comes out' Carlo Brandelli.
The importance of the breath couldn't have become more pertinent to 2020. Brandelli and Wilczynski's project was begun in March; they were talking about shortness of breath, a tell-tale symptom of COVID-19. Breath is quite literally the soundtrack to New Spirit Paintings, it anchors the work. Then, on 31 May 2020, George Floyd was murdered and the words 'I can't breathe' echoed round the world.
'This is what we mean when we say "New Spirits". It sort of embodies humanity leaving the old way we were living behind' Brandelli tells me.
The world has in many ways slowed down as the external factors of everyday life have been taken away due to lockdowns. People from all industries are starting to think that maybe they don't want to go back to living like mad men, always rushing. There's been a noticeable shift in energy. Brandelli and Wilczynska responded to this by creating something they see as purer, that takes 'the buzz of the world' away. It's energy which brought the two creatives together in the first place; Brandelli mentions that it was the energy he had experienced in martial arts that allowed for him to tune in to what Wilczynski was putting out into the world when he first came across her art works. Together, their creative pursues are described by the pair as an '...intimate connection through a reality'.
Today, in the absence of touch, we find ourselves more connected than ever by our phones. We also find ourselves in a modern world obsessed by the zeitgeist.
'It's almost as if [people are] creating digital noise. What we do [in the New Spirit Paintings] is we isolate one thing, we slow it down and we make it pure, make it positive. This one single stroke, we think, is a symbol for something. It's a symbol for how everyone was before' Brandelli says.
A shift away from Wilczynski's figurative work, the New Spirit Paintings are gestural. Despite their abstract nature, which in the art world can often feel somewhat intimidating, here I found confidence in my own response; the response is intentionally subjective, there's no wrong or right way to understand the work. In fact, I was surprised Brandelli and Wilczynski were so forthcoming in discussing the project at all, as they're usually very reserved - they want you to make up your own mind, they're not here to tell you how to feel. Brandelli likens the ideas at play here with any other creative practice; his time designing radical men's suiting as a creative director on Savile Row for instance.
'When I was doing fittings, with Nick Knight for example, it was very intimate. Like any couturier when they work really well with someone, it's about connection. Ewa and I connect with people's energy, it's all about communication and connection.'
The pair tell me: 'It's our way of addressing all this chaos that is happening. It is anti-visual everything that's going on. Ours is slow, it's meditative, it's clear. You can interpret it in several ways and you can also interpret it in the way that we mean it. We didn't just do it because we were in isolation, it was the next progression of work from Bound Liminal.'
One of the strengths in Brandelli and Wilczynski's artistic partnership is this unspoken dialogue created between viewer and artist, viewer and artwork. Like any true piece of performance art, the viewer is the missing piece of the puzzle. In New Spirit Paintings the breath becomes ceremonial; in then out, in then out. The sound of the artist's breath seems to echo and bounce off the walls of their lungs as they expand and deflate. When I experienced their first artwork, I was forced to confront my own subconscious relationship to art, to other human beings as feelings of discomfort and uncertainty surfaced. The New Spirit Paintings feel similarly inward looking, but this has now become more prescient than ever - we're living in a time when we need to find new ways to connect. We, the viewers, subconsciously find a welcome release; we find in this artwork a transformation of our very own.