It still remains unclear whether the road to art is through psychology or if art is indeed a way to endoscope our very existence. That is if ‘we’ really exists; a possibility that Erik Begrin, artist and costume designer with a degree in psychology is willing to argue. Chasseur got the opportunity to sit down with the artist and discuss about his art sensibilities, avant-garde projects and other philosophical thoughts.
You are very loyal to your work’s themes; did you always know what you wanted to focus on?
No, not really. It always evolves depending on what’s going on with me. Also, as I grow there are always new things I am learning and mostly make these things, because it’s really fun and I want to share these ideas I am learning. Sort of like, “See people, you don’t have to eat poison anymore, look at what you are putting yourself through”.
Is the environment around you sufficiently inspirational?
I am content in where I live, but really love to travel. I would love to have a studio in the faerie glens in the Isle of Skye in Scotland. That would be better, but this basement in Brooklyn will do.
Let’s talk a bit about the Cloak of Empty Experience. Were there any specific feelings you were trying to evoke from your audience?
Nothing from the audience. The idea behind the cloak starts when you first look at it. It has hundreds of slides on it, all lit up. The wearer puts on the mask with the opera glasses attached, steps inside the robe, puts their hands in the armholes, and sticks their head in the giant satellite dish. It has a feeling of bondage because of the restraint. There is a mini satellite dish that is on the ceiling a ways away. With the opera glasses you can see far into the other satellite and there is a single slide in there that is empty. Since the robe has these hundreds of pictures on it of traveling and art, there are expectations to see something grand through the satellite. That causes everything to make sense, but there is a disappointment when its realized its empty and you aren’t actually experiencing anything.
I have always loved to travel and live in many different places. I have this craft that I do and forced me to be stable in order to grow in it. It’s the idea of looking through image after image over and over of these grand places and never actually experiencing anything. That is why the tail of the robe is travel slides and the body is all art slides. The traveling is trailing behind. Although I am so in love with the process of creating, sometimes I get a feeling like I am experiencing nothing because I would like to see the world.
You emphasize a lot on masks and headpieces. Having a degree in psychology, how would you explain the theory that people tend to be more ‘themselves’ when they are protected behind a façade of any sort?
First off, I don’t believe that a person’s ‘self’ exists, because I don’t believe there is an inherent self. We are made up of thousands of tiny particles that are constantly moving, shifting, changing, birthing, dying, etc. To say we exist as and have an inherent, ‘self’ just seems foolish since everything is so impermanent. Nothing is stable and still enough to exist as a permanent self, so there really is no such thing as someone being ‘themselves’ when that doesn’t actually exist.
What we create as a sense of ‘self’, is made up and we feel we need to stick to that because it is comfortable. What I think you mean is not having our defense mechanisms up and wrapping ourselves in our comfort zone cocoon. When you are hiding behind something, you are less self-conscious from other people, and you might be able to lighten up a bit, however when you are hiding behind something you are also hiding there for a reason. If it does not involve other people, it involves yourself. Hiding in your cocoon involves some sort of self hatred. Flocking to your habitual patterns that are comfortable even if it might be the most painful thing you can do, is ultimately not good. Hiding behind a mask can be so painful for this reason.
I am not sure what will happen with the masses, however making clothing is a craft that you really need to concentrate in order to get right. There are tons of ideas and creativity that can go into design, thousands of rules to learn, bookloads of history, hundreds of techniques, etc. Like anything else, there is an endless amount to learn and explore that you can use to better yourself. Part of focusing on fashion and really letting it help yourself grow, would be to use it to strengthen and sharpen your mind. I think using it in this way, it can be just as valuable as learning any other subject. If it is used in a way to empower oneself, or to make money or become famous, this is aggressive and the wrong way to go about anything.
What do you think about today’s perception of art? Is it a luxury for the lovers of power status or is it a private satisfaction for the artistically insatiable souls?
Both. For art lovers and collectors it could be both and for the artists it could be both as well. It isn’t one thing nor the other. There are people who it is definitely a business only and other people make art only to satisfy themselves. There is a lot of B.s., however if you are open enough, it really doesn’t matter. You can learn and feel a ton from the B.s., but you can usually tell when there is no soul in it.
What is your dream collaboration?
My dream collaboration would be a big budget film, working with Eiko Ishioka, who died recently, so I guess that’s not happening. Also to work designing costumes for an off the wall show at the Metropolitan Opera.
What has the past taught you that you want to carry on to your future?
Oh dear, so much. But most, be present at every single moment with what you are doing. Concentration is so important. Consider the relationship with what you are doing at every second…and for the love of god avoid ayahuasca.