November 2016_by Federica Tattoli
Before the questionnaire with the artists, we publish an excerpt from the essay by the American art critic and journalist Leah Ollman about the work on the mysterious Voynich Manuscript done by Heltoft and Ruperto.
"The strangeness and mystery of the Voynich Manuscript has inspired musicians and novelists.
Not surprisingly, the document has also proved a springboard for visual artists, but the remarkable thing about the body of work made by Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft is how it doesn’t just feed off the manuscript’s secrets and complications but builds upon them to become something odd, fantastic and mysterious in its own right.
The Voynich Manuscript, in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale, dates from the 15th or 16th century. At least the vellum does. Everything else about the modest-sized, 240-page volume is in dispute: its country of origin (though scholars narrow it down to Central Europe);
the undecipherable language of its text (possibly a code?); the purpose--scientific? artistic? both?-- of its botanical, astronomical, astrological, and biological illustrations. Some claim the manuscript is a hoax. Some say it was written by aliens. Some attribute curative powers to the pages and have attempted to lick or consume them.
Ruperto, based in L.A., and Heltoft, from Copenhagen, have produced a series of photographs based on the manuscript’s 100+ ink and colored wash botanical illustrations, which detail unidentifiable plant species. Using computer imaging software, they construct three-dimensional visualizations of the individual plants, make a negative from each digital file, and then silver gelatin prints, the traditional way, in the darkroom.
(...) Whatever the motivations behind the original Voynich illustrations, Ruperto and Heltoft’s pictures manifest a delicious paradox as photographic records of imaginary subjects, indexical traces of fictions. Their integration of analog and digital photo technologies further complicates the temporal weave upon which these images float: old yet new; hand-crafted but electronically-generated; historically grounded and also ephemerally ageless. Steeped in contradiction, they supply crisp evidence of a gauzy, existential indeterminacy. They are perfect relics of photography’s 21st-century era of exploration."
How would you present your work?
In oak frames under museum glass framed by a not-so-bright white matte.
How was born your artistic collaboration and in which ways it works?
Our artistic collaboration started with a work revolving around a casino. We’ve known each other for a while and so our collaboration works quite well.
Could you tell me something about Voynich Botanical Studies?
Nobody can. That’s why it’s interesting.
Where do you make your works?
Between Los Angeles and Copenhagen in a mix of computers and dark rooms.
What can’t be missing from your worktable? (can you send a photo?)
We don’t have work tables.
A collection you wish at least one work of yours was part of?
The Vatican Museum or the Bieneke Library at Yale University (where the Voynich Manuscript is located).
A museum where you’d like to have an exhibition?
The Vatican Museum. And, though not a museum, at the Bieneke Library at Yale University
The market or your need to express?
We don’t know.
Lightness or depth?
We are currently making a work that addresses this issue. So we’re still unsure.
A question you’ve never been asked but one you’ve always wanted to answer? Answer that question…
We don’t know.
Could you briefly describe one of your latest works?
We are working on a video about a man trapped in a well who eventually dies in the hole.
What are you reading?
Anything that has to do with the cosmos.
Where would you like to live?
We both like where we are presently living. Ulrik lives in Copenhagen and Miljohn lives in Los Angeles.
Do you have reference artists? Artists you’d like to work with?
Karl Blossfeldt for the Voynich Botanical Studies. We both work with other artists quite often.
A project, related to art, that you’d like to do?
A seven day long film shot in IMAX.
If you weren’t an artist, what job would you like?
Alchemist or monk for Ulrik. Steamroller operator for Miljohn.
Let’s imagine a group show. Who would you like to exhibit with?
Yes or no to curators? If yes, who would you choose?
Some of our best friends are curators.
A dream of yours?
The nightmare of being trapped in a well.
Miljohn Ruperto (b. 1971 Manila, the Philippines) received his M.F.A. from Yale University in 2002 and his B.A., Studio Art from University of California, Berkeley in 1999. His current work will be the subject of a solo exhibition at REDCAT opening in January, 2017. Recent exhibitions featuring his work include: Nervous Systems, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Afterwork, Para-Site, Hong Kong; The As-if Principle., Magazin4 Bregenzer Kunstverein, Austria; 2014 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Janus, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina Public Library, Saskatchewan, Canada; Ulrik Heltoft and Miljohn Ruperto, Voynich Botanical Studies, Thomas Solomon Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Made in L.A., The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; and Picture Industry (Goodbye to All That), organized by Walead Beshty, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, CA. Ruperto lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
Ulrik Heltoft (b. 1973 Svendborg, Denmark) received his M.F.A. in Sculpture from Yale University in 2001 and studied at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at: GI Holtegaard, Holte; Secession, Vienna; Aarhus Center for Contemporary Art, Aarhus; Raucci Santamaria, Naples; Willfried Lentz Gallery, Rotterdam; Andersen ́s Contemporary, Copenhagen; Kirkhoff, Copenhagen; and CPH Kunsthal, Copenhagen. Heltoft’s work has been featured in notable group exhibitions at: Whitechapel Project Space, London; Magazin4 Bregenzer Kunstverein, Austria; Whitney Museum for American Art, New York; Museum Kunst der Westküste, Alhersum/Föhr; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp; New Museum, New York; Murray Guy, New York; Binz39, Zürich; and participant inc, New York. Heltoft is currently an Associate Professor at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art, Laboratory for Photography. The artist lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark.
For all the images:
Courtesy the artists and Koenig & Clinton, New York
Photo: Ulrik Heltoft, Copenhagen
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 06r Leto, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 17v Zima, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 20v Zima, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 23r Zima, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 34v Zima, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 40v Jaro, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 55r Zima, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 46v Leto, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 55v Zima, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper
Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 56r Zima, 2016, silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper