By PHILO COHEN Illustration GINA GLENN
Who are you?
I’m a researcher and a transformer. Most of my time is dedicated to these two activities, to study and then to transform what the study has helped to clarify into something else: a tangible sign of the world, out of me.
Photography is your background. So how did you transfer from there to what you do now?
The first step -as for every self-respecting cosmology- was chaos. To create is always to chase and establish a new order of the world; I couldn’t escape the chaotic primordium. I was 16 and I was already drawing, starting exploring the photography sphere, beginning my theater class and collecting unusual objects from Neapolitan flea markets. Then, with the passing of time, I started to feel the urge for a specific language that could hold and lead to the synthesis the multitude I used to date.
Do you always work with ready-made objects or do you alter some of them sometimes?
Most of the time the selected objects constituent my work encounter an alteration process. They need to be perfectly expressive of the Invisible I try to translate. So, I intervene on those adding natural specimen, colors, even though my principal variations revolve around their mutual disposition in the space. The most talkative gesture in my work regards the space occupation by each element, they need to be placed with millimetric perfection since they work as my meaningful minimum units, the grammar for my stories.
Where do you usually feel the most creative?
I’m an estimator of Beauty (the same that “would save the world” or at least mine), so every time I’m exposed to it, I’m inspired to return it back, or maybe better: to put it in circulation again.
How does performance come into play with some of your pieces?
As an invitation to play (which is actually what happens): I invite the audience to play with me, to learn my grammar made of strange things, natural specimen, scaled animals or figures through an aesthetic exercise. We sit in front of each other, facing an empty table of work (the one I use for my compositions too) and choosing amongst a restricted number of elements, the game could begin. It’s a dialogue but made with objects instead of words. Since in our daily life we deal with things and shapes and colors and textures alongside the sensations emanated from them, it’s not an unfamiliar attempt the one I encourage people to undertake. It’s a way to help others to enter my world and also to understand how every little detail, considerations on space, matters.
On your website you explain that morphology is your obsession. How do miniature sculptures convey a sense of the body and shapes in the best possible way for you?
My first series, ‘Diorama’, is very representative of that. Dioramas, for instance, are scaled representation in three dimensions of a scene, mine are scaled representations in three dimensions of abstractions. To give expressions to such intangibility, the small scale was needed: it offers the possibility of control over forms from a bird’s eye view. The morphology passion is indeed revealed in the element’ choice: its exterior needs to depict what is closer to my interior.
I basically tend to re-propose the conditions for a cosmology, starting from the founding of its language whose grammar is very specific (in the drawings this aspect is very clear through almost cartographic representations).
Can you speak about your creative process and the different steps of it?
Waiting is fundamental. Unless there’s a need to drive me, I don’t dare to move. Once I waited for two years, which I spent in rigorous creative silence. So, I wait and wait until my need appear, until inspiration visits me again.
My last series ‘The Processions’ is about this theme. As a faithful servant of the Invisible, I start my Procession to gain favor with the Source of Images, the source of this wind I call Inspiration, so to be always its favorite, shrouded in its arms.
Once I feel empty enough to welcome this whimsical Wind, everything takes place in great solitude and usually by night.
I gather all the elements collected, arrange them on my table of work and start to compose as under dictation.
After this more instinctual moment, the intellect calls for its part too, and that’s when I start to draw. The drawings come always after the compositions, as an actual litmus test.
Who is your work for?
Primarily my work is just for me, my most intimate way to cope with the mystery of being born in a soul with resemblances of a body and in a body whose flip side is a soul. This immanent interconnection between Visible and Invisible is at the core of my need to translate from myself to myself, almost like in an alchemic process. When a process ends -when I finish a work- starts the moment when I think my outcome could inform others on the essence of this mystery we’re all in, and that’s how my work becomes for others too.
Your name is Theo Drebbel. Most people viewing your work without knowing you will think you are a man. The name Theo is neutral. It could indeed be a male name but also a shorten female one. Can you speak a bit about the choice of using a pseudonym and such a neutral, fluid one as an artist? How has it affected your career so far?
Working with themes like the Memory, the mysterious essence of the world, the Invisible, I felt the need to wear a sort of diving suit that would allow me to go deeper and deeper. That how it works for me to put on a pseudonym. Being a passionate parallel researcher on history of religions, Theologia was my choice. Also, I did like to play with the masculine ambiguity: I’m a woman and I wear what is recall to be a male’s name, this inspires me a very pleasant androgynous sense.
I would not say this name choice has really affected my career: the prize I won, the exhibitions I made, weren’t because of my sex but of my works, I really felt that. Usually my presence always comes after someone has seen, liked, decided to promote or invest in my production.
The case has wanted to be especially women so far.
Follow Theo’s work here.