To coincide with the launch of Biomes, we have interviewed the artist Costas Picadas about his bio-inspired art practice, his interest in immunology and the respiratory processes and restorative forces of nature that his art revolves around.
Sedition: In your video works, different layers of imagery from nature, forests, branches and blossoms often intertwine with each other. Where does this imagery originate from? And what kind of meaning do you intend to create by deconstructing and rearranging this imagery?
Costas Picadas: Recently, I’ve spent a lot of my time going on walks through forests, appreciating the beautiful biology and structures. And that’s where a lot of the images come from—just taking pictures of the things I find beautiful and inspiring. Just using your attention, you can notice a lot of similarities in the structures of certain plant life and I’m inspired by those similarities. It becomes apparent that everything is following a certain code, like the ‘Golden Ratio’ for example and I’m inspired to draw those comparisons to outline that common code.
Some of that great imagery I wasn’t able to capture myself—images of cell biology are the product of a wonderful collaboration between myself and the immunology department at Mount Sinai. Some great doctors like MD Paolo Cravesi and Dusan Bogunivic have been a great help on this end. Other images come from MD Volker and the Max Pratt Institute in Berlin.
I overlay natural imagery I take from forests with the cell imagery from those labs as a way of drawing the comparisons between those life forms. Every individual fauna and flora that exists within a forest exists as a part of a larger system, just like each individual cell in our body does. Spending time in nature, I’ve gotten the sense that every human body is a system like any natural ecological system, comprising trillions of cells that work in accordance with a natural harmony, very similar to the seven biomes that exist on this planet. The images I create are an exploration through a human body, like any walk I would take through the forest.
Could you tell us more about your interest in immunology ? How did it inspire your practice?
Immunology concerns the study of the immune system and how it functions. It’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I’ve been interested in human biology since I was very young, growing up within a family of doctors. I’ve always been interested in the regenerative effects of the body, which has been mythologized in many religious faiths. I also started a lot of this work just months before the pandemic changed our lives and that event really reinvigorated my interest and my work with a sense of purpose to do good. The immune system is a crucial component of our biology that allows us to navigate this world with health and without fear and I like to bring that to the forefront of our attention.
How does nature root in your practice? Is it connected to your personal history? Which angles do you examine in the relationship between humanity and nature in your work?
Growing up in a country like Greece, I’ve always been intimately connected to natural elements like the sea and forests. I’ve always had the feeling that a connection with nature is revitalizing and the greatest artistic inspiration because it produces a sense of wonder and awe—it’s the closest you can get to divinity.
I observe nature’s remarkable ability to heal itself and how nature’s ability reflects our ability. Nature on a larger scale goes through a cycle of death and rebirth every year which is exemplified through the seasons, and in a similar way we are going through that same cycle with all the cells in our body. Outlining the connections between human and nature is what I try to incorporate in my work. I thought maybe art could also aid this process of regrowth and repair by reminding us of that innate natural ability.
Could you tell us about the series Biophilia that is recently launched on Sedition? American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm describes the term biophilia as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive.” How is the series connected with the subject?
The Biophilia series is a meditation on all that is living, even down to the microscopic scale, and how all living things share a common reality. It’s easy to overlook the similarities between us and, say, a macrophage, but they are there and my work attempts to bridge that disconnect. That awareness, that conscious acknowledgement of even the smallest derivatives of life feels like love to me.
Do you have any research-based projects, based on biology or medical research? Or are there any specific research areas you’re interested in for your future work?
I would say all my work is, to an extent, based in real world research. It’s the research that inspires these perceptions into action. For example, I am greatly inspired by the research being done by USCD Jacobs Medical Center and Louie Schwartzberg—the Visual Healing. So far, they’ve been able to show how projecting natural imagery can help reduce patient anxiety, speed recovery and even minimize the duration of in-patient stays.
Similarly, there is an abundance of research that points to the positive benefits of controlled breathing—particularly its benefit to the immune system—which is a big inspiration for my work. It is the reason my works are a meditation, a cycle of expansion and contraction that mimics human breathing patterns.
I’m interested in my own work being used in research projects, to see the effect it can have on the individual who attempts to become rhythmically aligned with the respiratory processes that underpin all life—there is a natural life force that invigorates nature, and my art is an attempt to help us tap back in to that restorative force in the interest of our own health.
Is there any memorable trip that has had an impact on your practice? You mentioned that the Breath series was inspired by one of your journeys to Macchu Picchu.
My Macchu Picchu trip was a formative experience for my work as I really came to grips with the fundamental importance of breathing when I was struggling at those high altitudes. There I formed the idea that everything in nature, even lower energy entities, has some sort of life to it and in that sense I have the impression that everything goes through some cycle of respiration, even if we don’t acknowledge them yet.
In my youth I went on a lot of trips around the world to the supposed ‘healing centers’ present on this Earth—to Lourdes, for example, where there are 67 reported miraculous healings that are recognized. My trip to Dharamshala was also another one of those formative experiences. I am endlessly inspired by how the intention to create high energy and high consciousness areas has reportedly given many the ability to heal. In the Western world, we attribute these powers to ‘Saints,’ like Saint Paisos at Mount Athos who I was fortunate enough to meet before his death. Becoming in tune with the body is one of those healing, consciousness raising virtues. It was one of the virtues touted by Socrates who declared one must ‘know thyself.’
Today, every trip I take into nature serves as inspiration to me.
Apart from video, Is there any other medium that you work in?
Video is a relatively new medium for me to be working in. I started off painting on canvas, sculpting and doing photography. I still do a lot of drawing, painting and photography. Many of my drawings start as a still from my video projects—after a few hours using paints or oil pastels, they take on a life of their own.
You have lived in Greece, Paris and New York. How do you think the geography that you currently live in and the cities that you have lived so far had an impact on your work?
Growing up in Greece, I’ve always found a connection with nature. Paris started my art career—living there in itself is inspirational because it has been the breeding ground for so much remarkable culture and art. While living there I studied art history and that experience really communicated to me arts’ transformative effect on life. I guess New York is somewhat similar to Paris in that sense, but somewhat different. New York is the progenitor of many of the great works of our time, many of which are painting and literature, but the ones I’m talking about happen to be the scientific and technological works.
Could you tell us about your recent projects? Are there any exhibitions or projects that you’re excited about?
I recently started a collaboration that I’m really excited about with Frequency Mind, co-founded by Vivian Rosenthal. Frequency creates immersive art and healing experiences inside of geodesic domes where breathwork, music, and otherworldly imagery are woven together to create a deep journey of awakening, transformation and healing. People gather in these spaces, with the guidance of quantum breathing instructors, to essentially create an energy vortex that reduces anxiety and produces mystical feeling.
I was really impressed with Vivian’s vision and the way Frequency brings breathwork and mindfulness to the public. She is a great communicator, and her body of work is helping to uplift the collective consciousness. That’s why a collaboration between us felt natural. We are collaborating to use my video artwork in her domes to create immersive experiences that help facilitate healing.
Could you tell us about how you choose the music that relates to the imagery in your compositions? What kind of role does sound play in your work?
Sound plays an integral role in awareness and immersion, and I think importance should be placed accordingly. Sounds, music can carry emotional valence and for that reason it is important for your sounds to match the intention. I try to choose music that is calming, promotes a sense of focus and introspection and maybe can even be transcendental. Music that is focused and repetitive can often do this trick. And of course, incorporating softer tones serves this purpose.
Can you give us an overview of the development of your art practice over the years? Are there any memorable exhibitions, projects or festivals that you regard as a milestone in your artistic journey?
A milestone, I would say, came two years ago at one specific exhibition. I was collaborating with a lighting and staging studio in New York City called Lytehouse, for which we created a massive immersion room with my works projected onto the walls of the studio. It was at this event that my curator friend, Cecilia Dupire, realized the potential behind the experience and connected me with the director of the Immunology department at Mount Sinai, Dr. Miriam Merad. This was the event that really spurred the relationship between myself and the Immunology department at Mount Sinai. I was later invited to the Immunology retreat at the Lensfest Center for the Arts to become a member of the jury, judging images that came directly from the Immunology labs. When cells are studied, they are injected with Chlorophyll which colors them these beautifully vibrant colors as a means of studying their movements and interactions. The images taken from these studies are beautiful and have been the basis for many of my recent works.
Who inspires you? Are there any prominent figures in science or in arts who have inspired your practice?
I am primarily inspired by nature. That being said, I am also greatly inspired by artists imbued with purpose, like Louie Schwartzberg who, as previously mentioned, aims for his art to have a healing effect on its viewers. I am also inspired by the traditional greats, artists like Leonardo DaVinci who I think was revolutionary in all his attempts to bridge art and the discipline of science. I would say that the list of artists that I’m inspired by is almost endless. I like many expressions of art history, particularly cycladic art for its minimalism. More contemporaneously, I have respect for minimalist artists like Richard Serra and those with the confidence to embrace unique mediums like James Turell.