I worked next to Givan Lötz every day for about four months. I walked away intrigued, with no real insight into his insulated interior. I have no idea who he is. An artist, yes, and an intimidating one at that, but personally – I assumed and assume nothing. In the most accommodating way possible, Lötz is detached. Cocooned within himself, he uses his art to confront his thoughts, which seem rampant, encompassing and heavy. Thoughts on religion aggression freedom philosophy spirituality sex erotica death ecstasy destruction loss gain the negative the supernatural globalisation taboo digitisation pop culture complexity the abyss life.
Thoughts on why we all carry on carrying on. Thoughts on the erroneous beliefs that construct our modern lives. The falsities that we swallow willingly. Thoughts on what it means to be alive; to be here, to be now, to be human.
Lötz works both visually and musically, fluctuating between the mediums of oil, spray paint, collage, graphic design, digital painting, film, soundscapes, fashion design, sculpture, butoh dance, photography and music. He explains his art (on his website and in catalogues) with comprehensive, beautifully written paragraphs and often accompanies pieces with ordered and researched pieces of art, photography and objects which have served as inspiration and/or departure points. I enjoy this.
Lötz’s musical performances, always in small, secluded spaces of his choosing, are an experience. They are quiet and eerie, his involved soundscapes accompanied by large-scale photography and film washing over and through and behind him and the music.
“I am an artist because I am uncertain.”
Uncertain, perhaps… But if there is one word that radiates from Lötz it is conviction. If nothing else you may appreciate his own belief in his work, and his lack of love for the crowd. Lötz is doing it for himself.
Words: Amy Van Vuuren
You studied Information Design and worked in the design industry for about six years, only recently deciding to leave your design career to exclusively pursue art. Why design instead of art?
I think it was always the idea to get here at some point. I was making art when I was working, but it was difficult times you know. Initially when I studied design I saw it as a bridge to getting to art. I thought it was more valuable to have a design degree, using those tools to be able to package creative ideas. Fine Art felt a bit wishy-washy to me. I felt like if you have some sort of vision and authorship then those subjective influences don’t matter so much. It was more about learning technical skills and a proficiency. And the theory for both degrees were the same; Art History, Visual Communication. Design was just more practical.
How do you feel about working in South Africa? Do you find it restrictive? Or do you believe in this country and its cultural opportunities?
I like being here, physically. I think that you can have more of an effect being in South Africa and, this might be trite, by being proud of that and using that in your work. Instead of going over to Milan, New York or London trying to make it there because there… you’re no one. Also, it’s not necessarily better or worse as an artist anywhere else, in that the grass is not greener on the other side. You take your baggage and all your personal shit with you. So if you can’t work here, you surely can’t work anywhere else. I like it here. There isn’t a lot of support for music but it’s useful to work and find avenues for yourself. And art-wise I think it’s good. Many galleries, many curators, enough buyers.
You’ve worked in a variety of mediums. Do you have a preference for any?
No. Different mediums have different uses for me and it is all dependent on the concept that I am working on. I don’t have a problem with showing paintings alongside quite irreverent sculptural pieces alongside pristine print work alongside photographs alongside anecdotal objects. It all blends together to complete a show’s concept.
Is there a medium that you haven’t worked in that you’d like to? Or one that you’d like to explore more?
I haven’t really worked with photography because I feel as if I’m not very good at it. There’s one cyanotype from university still, from when I was forced to do a photographic project. I happened to make one photograph that I was happy with. But any other photograph I’ve ever taken was… not good. But I’d like to be able to because there are things that I can actualise in that way.
What about your series True Colours? Are those not your photographs?
No, those are found. The works are studies; looking at what modern pornography and erotica looks like but not trying to force it into anything. The found photographs are layered on top of one another. It is more a study of how other people, different authors, seem to converge on a type of pose or a type of style, rather than me contriving a style.
Do you have a favourite piece?
… I guess because I can’t answer immediately probably not. I think again, that image of the trees (the cyanotype) I tend to recreate quite often. The Still Lossless series of paintings are very much like it and the album cover is a rework of it. The vanishing point in the trees, the path opening, the tunnel effect, is recreated often in other works. So it’s maybe a type of work, an archetype, that I am fond of, rather than a particular work.
How do you feel about your art that you made in your past, from quite a few years ago?
At first I thought it was very naïve, not at the time obviously, but later on, as it really was working with nothing. I was trying to create formalist, almost geometric design. I was trying to create work without content. I was trying to represent nothing, which you can’t do obviously.
This work you’re speaking of would include the series Null, Void, Lossless etc? (The Null series holds some of my favourites.)
Yes. Very graphic, very plain, very stark. Recently – I’ve never really shown this work before as I just saw it as a stepping-stone – anyone who sees those works comments on them, even more than my more recent pieces. I feel like people really connect with them now. I should have done more with them then but I was sort of embarrassed by them, to be honest. (There is a lesson here.)
What state of mind do you enter whilst involving yourself in your works? Do you work clear-headed or altered?
There are different situations and there are different states that are helpful towards the work. Sometimes it involves objective, scientific, informed state of mind, when I’m reading and writing. Other times it involves more dream-like state, not physically induced in any way, but just that drowsiness before you go to bed or when you awake, when things connect in ways that are unexpected. I note and later shape them into something else.
What other visual artists do you feel influenced by?
The Romantics still have a pull on me. Things like Turner and Freidrich. Even though there may be a kitsch element to what it looks like now (in the same way that Pollock has a kitsch element, just because it’s so ubiquitous – a suburban housewife’s favourite painting could easily be a Rothko these days) there’s still something that draws me to those works.
Who makes you want to make music?
The most recent bands I can think of are Grizzly Bear, Grouper and Low. And earlier bands, My Bloody Valentine… I can’t think on the spot.
What music do you listen to whilst you draw/paint?
I generally listen to music that is instrumental, more ambient. It’s just like drone. Like drone-y, ghost music.
What is the point of an audience other than yourself?
What’s the point of having an audience? Hmm. Something that I have always been working with is that I am the most important audience member. So for me, strictly speaking, the audience isn’t really that important, or the audience’s opinion is not that important. When I play music for myself in my bedroom, no one else is listening, but I might do that for hours non-stop. And that catharsis or that austerity of it is much, much more important than any audience member’s reaction to what I’m doing.
With art it’s slightly different, because I am trying to get a point across. I am questioning certain beliefs that have been handed down, and to a certain extent I am denouncing them. I want people to ask, to question, to be just a little more sceptical. To not take everything in that their parents, their grandparents and society has been telling them about the belief system. To be aware of the fallacies. I’m trying to shake the audience loose of a certain reading of history, of art, of religion, of spirituality, of sexuality. Because some things are more real than other things. Some things are just correlations. Some things don’t have the causal link that we, up until now, thought they had – in the common folk psychology, in our living patterns.
And then there’s obviously making a living.
There is also making a living. But at this point it isn’t a priority. I believe if the work is right and I have confidence and I am doing these things not out of trying to make money, then it will resonate with the right people. I’m not trying to impress everyone. I am aware that there is a niche of people that will be interested in my work and hopefully those people will respond.
Are you your art?
I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that. I don’t know if that’s something I can judge or if there’s a blind spot. There might be. I might not see things that clearly. But, maybe this will give you something, I don’t like to wear my art on my sleeve so to speak. I despise when people look creative, oh they’re so fashionable, but when it comes to their work it lacks depth. It’s all just window dressing. And you’re wearing your art and you’re being ‘arty’ and ‘theatrical’ but your real work doesn’t do anything. So I don’t try to express my look or my style through how I look but through other things look that I make.
What have you stolen lately? Re: Jim Jarmusch – “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
Ooh… Um… Stolen? Uh… I don’t know. Where have I done that? See, I try for my work not to emulate in that direct sense, or be derivative of someone else’s work. It’s difficult, but it’s always been an issue for me. I look down on work that is an obvious copycat of someone else just because they think it’s hot. But to a very large extent, the work that I am doing now, visually at least, is informed by a certain aesthetic or by certain representations. But for me those representations are almost common, they’re unauthored. They’re the things, uh, the default ways that people look at things, the ruts they fall into. So I’m stealing from that; the common look, the kitsch look. It wouldn’t necessarily be from a certain artist that I’m stealing from, but I’m stealing from… ah… people. Haha I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.
If an artist tries to portray shit, and achieves it, is it shit or is it good? Similarly if an artist tries to portray greatness, and it is seen as great, is it great?
First of all I think the intention is important. Without the intention, it is not art. From another point of view, if you’re trying to be profound, you’re probably not going to be profound. If you’re trying to be cool, you’re probably not going to be cool. If you’re trying to be irreverent, you’re probably not going to hit the right note. So it’s much more complex. Again, if you have confidence and trust in your work it doesn’t really matter that much if the whole of South Africa or the whole world doesn’t like it. … Uh, what was the question again? Oh yes. Then again, it might be really contrived to make something shit, because we might just be over that, in a post-modern type of way… It’s tricky. I think if anything, I’m trying to incorporate both those things. Any time I find myself trying to be profound I want to rein it in a little bit, be a little more light-hearted or insincere. And then when I feel myself being too obnoxious, or too shit basically, then I try to bolster it again… there’s always a tension.
If none of your original emotions or messages are successfully portrayed in a piece, is it still yours or has it become theirs? Or does this happen anyway?
I think this happens anyway. I think as soon as something leaves your mouth and is seen by other people, a large part of it isn’t yours anymore. And even if you explain yourself very clearly you can’t stop people adding their own small interpretations, their meta-narratives, to things. And those personal experiences that they bring to the table might be the reason why they revere your art. Because of the link that they find with themselves, your work has resonance for them. There is an interrelationship. They are involved.
Do you think a certain suffering is necessary for good art?
As much as I hate the tortured Romantic ironic artist cliché, I can’t help but think that artists that don’t have a real agenda simply don’t make it. They’re just not relevant. I think if you want to have an effect, or some sort of influence, then you will need to have some sort of agenda, or some issue. And that issue might come from some personal or societal torture. But I don’t think it has to be the typical moody, despair, ‘I paint because I’m angry’ vibe. There are other ways to have an agenda.
What do you find ridiculous?
What do I find ridiculous? The way people delude themselves. The way people lie to themselves every day. I find that ridiculous. And how they cherish it. How if you take away that delusion, how much they hate you for it. I find that ridiculous. I find it ridiculous that people are more interested in who said what than what the truth is, of the matter, objectively.
Ask yourself a question you’ve always wanted to answer.
What inspires you? Haha no. People know they musn’t ask that question. Isn’t that the first question people ask?
Yeah that’s why I didn’t ask it.
How would you answer it then?
I don’t get inspired. I don’t feel that inspiration thing. I feel catharsis, I feel information. But I don’t feel this mystical cloud of inspiration sprinkling over me.
Your Black Coffee video piece that accompanied the fashion installation at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and subsequently travelled to the Iziko National Gallery of South Africa is a great piece of film. It explores a journey of mysticism and ritual as reflected within the Black Coffee collection. Your note on it says it ‘requires dedication in viewing’. Your phrasing is very interesting. I think that due to the internet and ubiquitous mediums that relay bite-sized information, as well as the general hastening of life and our need to keep up and keep going, our attentions have all become rather fleeting. Do you believe this is to our detriment? Do you try to resist the transience or do you think it is your challenge as an artist to adapt?
To a large extent I am reacting to a type of reading. The sort of advertising design world fast-paced reading oh I get it billboard on the side of the road quick witty commercials that you’re supposed to get in an instant. I’m reacting to that quite fervently, because I’ve seen it, because I’ve been involved in it for quite some time, and I dislike it. So I am deliberately working against it, making slower, more involved, perhaps initially trickier work. It’s not advertising, it’s not a billboard. You don’t have to get it immediately. You don’t have to buy it immediately. That’s quite deliberate, but I think it’s because of a personal insight because I’ve been there.
It also comes back to the performances I do, musically. I don’t think of myself as entertainment and I don’t think of myself as background music. So it requires, again, some sort of audience accommodation or dedication. Otherwise it’s not worth it for me. Otherwise I might as well not be there. So I’m picky of where I play and who I play to.
Do you think it’s benefiting you more than the audience when you perform?
Mm. Oh yeah. It’s all about me. What I’m saying is that the audience is there, yes, but if they want to view this they need to be quiet. If they don’t want to view it they must go away.
Please explain your Easy Now music video.
I basically treated, re-authored and edited found footage from a 1940s psych ward video. Documentary footage of people in a psychotic ward with various mental illnesses like schizophrenia and manic depression etc. The Easy Now track itself wasn’t about that at all, but it was a way to change the context of the music. Certain lyrics in the song, about my body being alive for example, found new meaning with the visuals. It was like giving that song new life, giving it extra layer of meaning.
If you had to choose between music and visual art?
Describe yourself in a haiku.
Test me I am here
To be heard to be dealt with
The rope is ready
What are you making for dinner? (I am invited. I have already eaten some crackers, figs and black peppered goats cheese that Givan put out for starters, and I’ve been sipping on some nice wine he offered me. I’m actually pretty drunk).
Soup. You have a choice, either vegetable or butternut with avocado and cream. And bread (ciabatta, not just bread).
Oh wow. It’s quite a spread. (I’m not lying. This is pretty tops.)
Really? This is how I live every day.