Swiss artist Douglas Mandry incorporates scientific curiosity, archeology, and history into his work to encourage a reflection on our connection with time, technology, and nature in the digital era.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in art?
My parents brought me to visit museums often when I was young. I remember being amazed by the immersive qualities of art, and the possibility to be transported into a different place within the walls of the museum. Art as an experience, a window to another world, has shaped my understanding of it. It is only later as a teenager that I realized I could become part of this experience. Not only as a visitor but also by being an artist. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. It is only later that I discovered video and photography, which lead me to a very broad approach to art.
When and how did you start to work with photography?
After painting and drawing, photography was always the most direct approach to the world for me. Like a more objective, immediate way to create. With time, when I started art school, photography became my main medium for quite some time. Quickly, I started spending more and more time experimenting in the dark room, which brought me back to a form of painting. You start with a blank canvas, and the work is so physical. The smell of chemicals, the performative aspect, and of course the uncertainty of what will come out of what you do. Those are all elements that became a part of my everyday life. The entwined forces of both objective and subjective, chaos and control, are what lead me from one project to another. This way, I can connect those notions to the world surrounding me as an artist, within a global, ever-changing ecosystem. A way to speak about the times I live in.
You use a variety of mediums in your work, including photography, sculpture, and installation.
How do you decide which medium to use for a particular project, and what are the challenges and rewards of working across different mediums?
What brings me to a medium is usually the elements I collect, as well as the preliminary research, whether it is on field outside or by reading. The core of each project needs to be connected with its end somehow. I have turned immaterial, invisible 3D scanned textures from under the ice of a glacier into massive glass sculptures, exhibited at high altitude. Of course, there are recurrences in the mediums and materials I use, but the power of a certain medium to express a certain message, a sort of self-reflective approach to the topic, is ultimately what will validate a project. Some of them are very immediate in providing results, but most of the time it is intensive labor that leads to an end. It is in my nature to explore and confront myself with new materials, and new elements, in order to create a certain vocabulary. Yet the underlining themes of my work seem to always persist.
Your work often explores themes of nature, climate, and the constant change of it. What draws you to these topics, and how do you approach them in your art?
In the times we live in, it is hard not to consider those topics. The world and its future are being looked at with an undeniable mix of hope and anxiety. My mission – and, at large, the mission of art is to process those feelings, using past and present knowledge, as well as the world that surrounds me, in order to consider a possible future. Art is fiction, but it does take its root in reality. The unknown is a source of curiosity, and also uncertainty. This is what connects art and science for me.
Can you tell us about your experience collaborating with scientists on your art projects? How did those collaborations come about, and what were the goals of the projects?
Whenever I start a project on a specific topic, it is almost a natural reflex of mine to get in contact with people who work on this topic on a daily basis. The idea is to create a synergy between different disciplines. It provides me with a deeper knowledge of what I am working on, and of course, helps me create a consistent soil for my work to develop. I am regularly in contact with experts in various fields, and it brings me an incredible background. Those people usually enjoy following the projects as well.
In what ways do you think art and science can complement each other, and how do you integrate scientific concepts and data into your artwork?
I am primarily interested in the world at the molecular level. My work is fed by existential questions, and those are rather related to science — where do we come from? Can we anticipate the future? What is left to discover? The main difference with art is that art is free of any exactitude, unlike science. Instead of answering those questions, I try to propose an open interpretation, on a more meta-level.
Which mediums would you still like to explore in the future and why?
I first start projects with ideas. The choice of mediums comes in a second step. In the past 3 years, I have been experimenting and building up a vocabulary, which includes a range of mediums. At the moment, I feel the need to deepen the dive into those mediums — lithography, and sculpture,… to sharpen my understanding of those processes, rather than trying them out just for the sake of it.
What projects are you currently working on, and what can we expect to see from you in the future?
I am currently experimenting with the boundaries of lithography based on a very unique set of photographic archives. I wish to extend the dichotomy between photography and painting, between what is handmade and what is mechanic, using a range of painting-related products and solvents.
You’ve exhibited your work in a variety of settings, from galleries to outdoor installations. How does the context of an exhibition affect the way you approach your art, and do you have a preference for certain types of exhibitions?
More and more, I want to propose an immersive setting and find this synergy between the experience of the work and the setting of it. Even if the walls of a museum seem like a constraint at first, I like to look for ways to work within this frame. An exhibition outdoors provides a completely different setting, but also involves more elements that run out of control – weather, light, and wind,… I feel like that exhibited projects should respond somehow to the place they’re shown in.
Color seems to play a significant role in your artwork. Do you experiment with different combinations and shades, or do you have a clear vision of the color scheme before you begin a piece? What are some of the factors that influence your choices?
In parallel to the rest of my work, which is rather research-driven, I have always kept a practice that involves painting on printed images and indeed, the use of color. In this part of my work, I let myself flow more intuitively with the raw material – usually printed photographs. In all aspects of it, it is more of a way to let spontaneous gestures and thoughts run onto the pictures. I re-think my own photographs and bring them to another place through those layers of colors. It is a studio-based routine and is quite immediate in results. My movements have direct consequences, unlike other projects that involve more complex productions. So I just kept on going.
What would you do in life if you weren’t an artist?
Tough question, I don’t see myself doing anything else!