My first associations with Sophie Tiller’s “Parasite” series were stilllive/live; growing/decaying; spring/fall; plan/coincidence. Realising that my thoughts were more or less contradictions, I wanted to know more about the actual process of these “bookbouquets”, which I was to find out some weeks after I first saw Sophie’s works at an artfair. So when we met again to visit one of her friend’s finissages (actually it was Robert Bodnar’s), I was able to dig deeper into the idea behind her bookworks. Like Robert, Sophie has also studied photography at the Academy in Vienna and her works involve long processes which she cannot influence, leaving the outcome to nature and coincidence. I always find this conceptual approach towards art compelling and thrilling, as the artists only provide the idea and the technical knowledge, leaving the artwork to form itself. “The basic idea is to create something real out of our knowledge again, to morph its abstractness into a physical appearance.”
Sophie Tiller’s series of works called “The Parasite” is an ongoing project that started in 2008. It consists of various natural history books of the 20th century, like nature-lexicas or the book “Living Nature” by Gert Natzmer, in which she drills wholes, fills them with earth and inserts monks cress. This process of seeding a lifeform into books is planned beforehand, but over time plants – “parasites” – are settling in the books naturally, eliminating the cress step by step. Over time, the books also attract worms, snails and various microbes that are settling in their new found habitat, creating what she then documents in her photographies. Each of the images of her “Parasites” shows one transitional stage of the books with no documentary background, only presenting one state of becoming and decaying. “The books have their own shelf in my staircase the whole year round. They live with me and I take good care of them as they need a lot of attention. It’s especially hard for me to leave them in the hands of someone else while I’m gone. I treat them like a puppy in a way and as a thanks, I can shoot photos of them whenever I think the moment is right.”
The books come to life, create their own appearances and interact with life organisms, through parasites invading the host, soaking up its content and changing the materiality and the function of a book.“This stands for the chaotic and irrationality of life, showing its illogicality and randomness. It works as a metaphor for the human body and the knowledge we acquired over the past centuries that was transmitted through books and remains. They, and our corpses respectively, will decay eventually, but new seeds will always be spreading, creating the basis for life and knowledge anew.”
So, coming back to the contradictions in my head, I realize that they actually make sense. We can see a stilllife of life, one phase in the ongoing process of growing and decaying, which inevitably hints at spring and fall. Last but not least, plan versus coincidence, which is the contradiction I appreciate the most in her works. Even though Sophie is the provider of the idea, she leaves the outcome soleley to nature and chance, which will eventually find a form that she cannot influence.