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“Reminiscence of the Present”

It is always difficult to capture the essence of an artist, to document what happens when inspiration takes over and the body gives in to the need for creativity. After watching ‘Reminiscence of the Present‘, however, we can say that Daniel Fazio has succeeded. 

A few years ago, Daniel Fazio, director and creative director of Loft Films, was not only impressed by Ilyas Kassam, a British-Indian artist and poet, but his work and the power of his art completely captivated him. It is from this admiration that “Reminiscence of the Present” was born, a 5-minute film that succeeds in transporting us inside Ilyas’ world, made up of action, movement, decisive brushstrokes, sudden jerks, but also of words, poetry and profound reflections. 

Daniel’s camera and Ilyas’s body intertwine in what seems to be a dance celebrating art in all its forms. We were lucky enough to be able to ask a few questions to both the director and the artist, so before you get carried away by the images, don’t miss their answers. 

Daniele Fazio

How did you get to know Ilyas Kassam and his work and how did the idea of making “Reminiscence of the Present” come about?

I met Ilyas in 2017 and was immediately fascinated with his work, which communicated a sense of delicate balance between visceral energy and cosmic harmony.
I then read his poetry and found a new admiration for his literary work as well. I appreciated the vision of a complete artist, expressing his creativity through different media.
It was when he invited me to his studio for the first time to see him paint that I discovered the final element of his art. His way of creating was so physical that it seemed to me like there was a performative aspect that made his process as fascinating as his output.
It was then that I proposed we make a film about it. He loved the idea and a few months later we got together to make the film.

For “Reminiscence of the Present” you had to capture Ilyas’ movements, the building of the work, but without taking away space from the artist’s voice. How did you create the balance between images and words?

I think the film captures the balance between the images and the words. The only reason it works is because Ilyas’ voice is so consistently articulated across his different forms of expression.  The poetry, the painting and his own movement through space all echo each other and interact in perfect harmony.

The most difficult aspect of making this kind of film? 

The most challenging but also enjoyable aspect of shooting a film like this is to carefully balance the desire to express myself as a filmmaker while honouring the identity of the artist. I always hope the outcome is an expression of the world of the artist and a personal impression of that same world, creating a third dimension of expression, which exists somewhere between the two. 

Ilyas Kassam

You are a writer and an artist. What aspect of these two artistic mediums and means of expression fascinates you the most?

I love the physicality of painting, and that it is a practice of the body. It can in a very direct way mimic a movement. A single brush stroke can tell you exactly how the painter moved in that moment: How fast they moved, which direction, and with what feeling. And through the viewing of this mark on a canvas you can almost experience that movement for yourself. But tied into this directness is something very mysterious – What makes someone choose (or not choose) to move in the way they do? Why do they give a primacy to some movements and not to others? And why are some movements recorded and others left to linger in space? I think this mystery is what I find fascinating and what continues to invite me back into the process each day. I never know how I will move, what will guide me to move, and what will be recorded in that moment. 

I love writing for almost the opposite reason. I love writing because of how trapped language is. It has such utility, and is used in such functional ways. I think this means people put so much pressure on any writing to be understood. But built into the language is a huge aesthetic landscape that derives its meaning from the sound or appearance of the words rather than purely from their definition. However, in our everyday lives, this facet of language remains mostly hidden. This creates a challenge to discover something in language and figure out how to release it; something that is deeply sensory and felt outside of the mind. I find this intriguing because it forces you to uncover new aspects of language that are built into their structure but have been concealed. The process of writing then becomes almost archeologically, grounded in the search for buried spirits. 

But what I find most interesting is how these two mediums interlace, and can become more of themselves by being in the presence of each other. Nearly all my paintings include some kind of text, and when they don’t they have a very apparent script like quality that often draws inspiration from ancient calligraphic or asemic (meaningless script) traditions. Similarly my poetry almost always integrates some visual component in the way it is presented; either as installations or how it is structured on a page. I like to see the interplay between these forms and how they respond to each other. Sometimes they reflect each other, other times they offer a counterpoint. But the aim is that they find some kind of symbiosis, in which the physical is released in the written and the lexemic buried within visual. The hope is that what is experienced is something more integrated – energetic in its immediacy and cerebral in its longevity. 

How do you prepare for the act of creating an artwork? 

Most of my work is done on the floor. I normally role out a canvas or a sheet of paper, and spend some time getting a sense of the specific sheet of canvas/paper – how it feels, how cold it is, what textures it holds, how it rests in this current space, and how it interacts with its environment. I usually do this by lying or sitting on the paper and moving around it, in a somewhat sprawling, poison ivy, fashion. Sometimes I will do a breathing exercise or just sit on it in silence for 20 minutes. This all helps to open up the body and release any rigidity it holds. But the main reason I do this is to dissolve any ideas I may have. Ideas of how I want this painting to look, what I want it to say or mean, and even dissolve the idea that a painting needs to be painted. The process is much more about listening rather than commanding or instructing, so this act of being with the materials before doing anything helps to forge this relationship. And then when I feel an urge to move, I reach for whatever pigment is screaming, and watch as the mess unfolds.

What was it like to watch your work and your creative process condensed into 5 minutes? 

It was kind of thrilling and simultaneously unnerving. There is something very exciting about only drinking the distillate, and not having to see myself occupied in the banal, or any clumsying around that is an unintended part of the process. But there is also a fluidity or natural progression between movements that is unavoidably lost, you don’t see the build up in real time, which for me is quite exciting in the moment of painting, especially as I never know what I’m about to do. 

But regardless of length there is always something incommunicable about any creative process that can never fully be translated. Maybe this is just that, now, watching it, I am seeing it from the outside as opposed to being inside it. And it’s a less known perspective for me, and so it can feel a little different from my personal experience of painting. Purely through the physics of it, the inner world of the artist can never be accessed. But I think Daniel acknowledges this, and does a brilliant job of trying to map out the inner experience through the use of sound, language and perspective. And in doing so, he really does find the essence of the process, in a way that illustrates the tension between the explosive and the meditative – and the calm that sits between them. It was a joy working with such a talented filmmaker. 

“Reminiscence of the Present”