J. Illa Bonany is a visual communicator who develops multidisciplinary projects linked to art and fashion. We met a few years ago in Barcelona at a photoshoot and soon after we became good friends. We have worked together several times and have shared various art projects, ideas, and trips. It’s very interesting to keep up with his progress, both aesthetically and conceptually, I’ve always thought he has very clear ideas of where he’s going. He has been living and working in Copenhagen for several years now.
Before we start to chat, I would first like to introduce Hartmut Rosa (Sociologist and Political Scientist from Germany) and his critical ideas on social acceleration, permanent growth, innovation, and the rise of goods to maintain the system in which we are immersed. Click this link of his talk at the CCCB in Barcelona, in which you can get a more detailed impression of his position (Catalan\English).
An understanding of his thoughts was very helpful to me in structuring today’s discussion.
ST – We have had unpleasant and troublesome experiences working in both artistic and fashion contexts, but we can’t, and we don’t want to, stop working on it. Bit by bit we have had to conform and get used to the pros and cons, and perhaps we have also adapted according to what we are interested in or not. We have adjusted the limits of the line that we don’t want to cross. Do you think your experiences have led you to look for an alternative, outside of what you disagree with within the industry, and has this been reflected in your daily life too?
IB – I guess in all disciplines, any bad experience brings us to reflection and therefore makes us wonder if it is really worth investing time and energy on them. I have had unpleasant professional experiences in all the different professional fields where I have worked. From every negative experience, I always get something to learn and something helpful for the future.
It makes me reflect on social values and always invites me to think about human rights. During the spring 2020 lockdown, I felt the need to do some graphic design projects on social activism. I have started, but I’m only halfway there.
ST – I would like you to ask you if the trips you have made, especially when you went to Asia by yourself, have something to do with the decision to consider a life freer of possessions and, perhaps, also to slow down the pace you were living at before.
IB – My trip to Asia gave me mainly two points to reflect on.
First, I realized that we really could live with very few possessions. For 2 months, I traveled only with a 50-liter backpack (smaller than the typical ones carried by “backpackers”). This backpack was my life, in which I had all my possessions: clothes for seven days, hygiene utensils, my mobile phone, laptop, compact digital camera, chargers, and a hard drive. I didn’t need anything else. I traveled around cities and countries with all these objects in a single backpack, which was not really heavy or bulky and offered me a lot of mobility and independence. It was so easy for me to improvise and adapt to any situation.
It took me weeks to realize that all the objects I needed to live that experience were inside my backpack. This made me reflect and recognize that aside from objects with emotional content, deep down, we need a few things to develop our day… What is the point of having seven jackets if actually we only wear one or two? What do we do if we save five that we don’t wear? Accumulate them in a closet where they only occupy space, making it difficult and slow to find other pieces? Having few possessions makes us feel more liberated and, therefore, we live under less pressure.
The second point was that of improvisation. I am a person obsessed with organization and control. I like to have everything under control and the possibility of not being able to control a situation causes me some anxiety. On this trip though, I learned to improvise without stress and feel free to make decisions at the last minute. I started the trip with only a hotel reservation for the first two nights. I reserved accommodation and transportation according to my needs, interests, and finances by improvising day by day. Sometimes I decided to sleep in one city or another depending on whether I could share transportation and thus be able to lower costs. This capacity for improvisation has made me now consider traveling in a more relaxed and pleasant way.
ST – On other occasions we have talked about the role that we would have to assume in social encounters related to art and fashion. Do you think this is also something that can be wrestled with from a more simple, conscious, honest, and transparent position? Or do you think you’re out of the game if you don’t fit with the image\idea that is expected?
IB – Yeah sure. You may want to be part of this scene or decide to be an “outsider” and keep yourself distant. Both positions have good and bad elements that can bring you positive or negative consequences. That is, in the end, dependent on your personal way of being and your interests.
ST – Before I ask you about your work, I would like to summarize a few features of minimalism and its influence. The first references to Minimal Art date back to the 1960s in the USA, as an alternative to Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. This trend was characterized, above all, by the use of elementary geometric shapes, serial constructions and production with industrial materials and techniques. The psychology of form and the concept of work as a whole, where shape and content are one, were the ideas to avoid metaphorical or symbolic interpretations. Most of the works considered within the Minimal Art belong to the sculptural and pictorial fields, however, their influence can be found in other artistic disciplines such as installation, architecture, music and photography. In today’s culture the idea of less is more can be found everywhere from graphic design to interiorism, and remains in visual art with artists such as Peter Halley or Richard Serra and Neo-Minimalism. In minimal photography, the reduction of the number of elements in the composition, colors, objects and textures is the defining characteristic. The aim is to raise a concept above an exclusive visual or emotional experience. In fashion, linear, symmetrical lines, reduced color selection and fewer pieces are some of the features.
I believe that now we have enough references and we are in context. I think the connection between your choices both in everyday life and your work is clear. I would like you to give us a reflection on the main concepts that are important to you in your photographs and why you think that minimalist aesthetics is the best way to communicate these ideas. I know that as the visual creatures that we are, it is very difficult to explain in words, but I would like you to try 🙂
IB – For whatever reason, my experience has led me to do minimalist landscape photography as personal work. I did not seek it out. I believe that as an artist or photographer, I make a lot of material, and, in the end, I end up selecting the ones that have the most coherence and to which I feel most connected. For some reason, it ends up being landscape photography. It’s curious because I don’t consider myself a person very connected to nature. Perhaps I feel a certain attraction for the sea, but not especially for the mountains… Instead, I find beauty in simple forms. I admire “violent” and harsh landscapes, such as volcanoes, snowy mountains, burned forests. I like to seek beauty in what most people consider “unpleasant spaces”. I think my personal work has a minimalist aesthetic because everything I do is minimalist. My commercial work as a graphic designer or photographer has always had minimalist references. My lifestyle, consumption habits, transport, and way of dressing is also quite minimalist… I guess, in the end, minimalism is a lifestyle.
ST – To conclude, I’d like to ask you about your personal project May’s Winter, which is very special for me. It is a project that started taking pictures in Iceland in 2015 and culminated in a great book in 2020. How was the whole process until you got the final result? And, do you plan to do a second edition of the same work or do you plan to do another book soon?
IB – It has been a very long process… five years! I took these photos during an artistic residency in Iceland in April 2015. This is a series of digital photos of snowy landscapes on the island of Hrísey in northern Iceland.
Once I had the pictures selected and finished (after a few months) I put them aside. I didn’t know how to formalize them: a conventional exhibition of photographs, a catalog, or something else. At a certain point, I met a multimedia designer and began to prepare an audiovisual installation with the pictures: with large-format projections and transformations of the images. But for no reason, this project just was never finished. After a year or so, I wanted to take up these photos and formalize something that was not just a photographic exhibition. I found it a pleasant practice to contemplate on these minimalist images. I wanted to do something that would offer a nice and relaxing experience. So, one day, for no purpose, I decided to make an artist’s book with the photographs.
This artist book is a self-publication, my first book about my work. I am very interested in self-publications and artists’ books. As in all the creative disciplines, I am especially interested in the most experimental and radical proposals, which open a dialogue and a reflection.
Right now, I find myself thinking about my next artist book self-publication. This time it will be a radical proposal! I want to do something very tremendous! It will be an edition of only 10 large-format copies and different materials, where I will show photographs of volcanoes in Indonesia that I took in February 2020.
ST – That’s all from my side. Thank you so much for being a part of this project and I’m looking forward to sharing and swapping more ideas with you. I wish you all the energy to keep going and creating.
IB – Thank you, it has been a pleasure.
ST – Take it easy and see you soon!
And to all of you readers, I would like to invite you to have a look on the works of J.Illa Bonany in the following links: