Environmental Graffiti Meets Artist Cristopher Cichocki

Cycle in Cycle (detail).

Karl Fabricius talks to artist Cristopher Cichocki about his life and works.

All images courtesy of Cristopher Cichocki

Where to place the work of artist Cristopher Cichocki? Living and working around California’s Salton Sea, Cichocki is an artist happy to locate himself below sea level, and to inhabit the desert while making occasional incursions into urban spaces.

Full Circle (Eruption), 2009
Location: Niland, CA
enamel on water and earth

From noise art to serene sculptures, this is a guy who works in a range of media that would put most arists out of joint, and deals with often disorientating themes. Easy to pin down, Cichocki is not. We talked to him about environmental entropy, ecological nightmares, eyeballs-as-planets and hyper-paced reality among other mind-bending topics.

Property Division (Root), 2009
Location: Sky Valley, CA
mason line and uprooted tree

EG: Your name, Cichocki, takes some pronunciation (chä-hä-skee) but somehow fits phonetically alongside the place where you live, the Coachella Valley desert in California. Tell us a bit about your background, why you chose to live where you do, and how these circumstances have affected your work.

CC: At age ten I moved from the icy cold winters of Wisconsin to the sweltering desert heat of the Coachella Valley. For the most part, I’ve lived in the Coachella Valley with a fling here and there in Los Angeles ever since.


Cristopher Cichocki: Desert Abyss 2009
Walter N. Marks Center For The Arts, Palm Desert, CA

CC: I’ve always been inspired by the vast landscape of the desert, especially areas off the beaten path. I’m always exploring random dirt roads leading to seemingly nowhere, seeking out new locations of abandonment and finding gems of sublime corrosion. I manipulate elements within these decayed sites and often bring back objects for future sculptures or installations. I love the idea that art can exist in the middle of the desert and be randomly discovered by someone.


Cristopher Cichocki: Desert Abyss 2009
Walter N. Marks Center For The Arts, Palm Desert, CA

EG: From urban exploration to repurposing old buildings, decay and abandonment are zeitgeist concepts today. Why do you think this is, and how do such ideas inform your work and your concern for the environments we live in?

CC: Everything is temporary, everything is shifting. My work is an environmental time-capsule of the past, present and future, amplifying ephemeral elements of nature and industry. I incorporate acidic fluorescent colors comprised of construction materials like: mason line, flagging tape, street marking paint, irrigation flags, and mason chalk. These materials literally construct the foundation within almost every man-made property and structure that is built. I like to leave this tension between organic and inorganic open to interpretation.

Property Division (Eight Point Nine), 2006
Location: Bakersfield, CA
Structure with mirror and flagging tape

EG: You’re interested in emphasising entropy within the environment – literal environmental graffiti as you pointed out. Can you expand a bit on this and explain your take on entropy (a complex concept from thermodynamics which has long baffled me)?

CC: I must admit that I’m also baffled by entropy. My interest in entropy is more about the distribution of energy when things decay. All matter emits energy that resonates into frequencies far beyond what we can fully perceive. That’s what I’m searching for: insights into this hyper-paced world of ever-changing activity.


Drift, 2006
Location: Riverside, CA
enamel on contaminated water

EG: Looking at some of your pieces – like the lurid day-glo fish of “Cycle in Cycle”, which looks like taxidermy that’s been dumped in toxic waste – there appears to be a strong ecological message in your work. How is the state of the earth reflected in your art?

CC: “Cycle in Cycle” is a piece that incorporates actual dead fish and barnacles found at the Salton Sea, a place I frequently visit and produce a lot of site-specific work at. The Salton Sea is an absolute ecological nightmare spewing an endless list of environmental problems. If major restorative action isn’t taken soon, the Salton Sea will become a dead sea destroying the air quality throughout the entire valley and other surrounding regions of Southern California, L.A. included.

Cycle in Cycle, 2009
Fish and barnacles collected from North Shore, Salton Sea, CA
day-glo paint, acrylic, enamel, varnish, fish, and barnacles on canvas stretched doorskin panel

CC: Aside from the specificity of the Salton Sea, the cyclical nature within water is a major theme in my work. All lifeforms share a symbiotic relationship to water. As much as water is essential to providing life, the absence or contamination of water can result in truly menacing outcomes.


Cycle in Cycle
(detail of day-glo paint viewed in darkness)

EG: In staring at some of your pieces, it’s true they lead us to “question whether we’re looking at an organism through a microscopic lens, or viewing the surface of another planet from a satellite.” How do you try to get to grips with this play between the very big and very small?

CC: The more I investigate micro/macro relationships, the more correlations begin to unfold between the two perspectives. The microscopic details seen in organisms inside of our bodies suggest an endless cosmic atmosphere. Looking into the design of an eyeball we can see the stunning resemblance it has to the exterior of a planet. Flying high in an airplane we see the strings of rivers, the crinkles in mountains, and passages of the “glowing ants” driving along the highway. Infinite traces of these topographical or satellite-view formations are evident within endless patterns found both microscopically and directly in front of us within nature.

Origin, 2006
Location: Los Angeles, CA
enamel on contaminated water, newspaper, and asphalt

EG: Your influences range from environmental and guerrilla art to DIY culture and experimental music. Which artists would you cite as providing inspiration?

CC: I have a massive list of artists that have inspired my work along the way. A few artists that have thrown a substantial amount of fuel onto my fire are: Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Smithson, Mark Bradford, Tim Hawkinson, Andy Goldsworthy, Gabriel Orozco, John Cage, Ernst Haeckel, Walter De Maria, Charles Fine, and many, many more.


Aquarium, 2008; Location: Salton City, CA
enamel on fish and fish bones

EG: While much of your work is visual – painting, photography, sculpture – sound is equally important in your video-, performance- and music-based output. Tell us about “video composition” and how do you feel sound/music interacts with and enhances your visual art?

CC: I perform my video compositions live and direct through a DVD turntable in the midst of a music venue, gallery, or public space projected huge and blasting loud. The imagery is primarily constructed from my photo stills flickering at a hyper-paced frame rate. Much of this work is an extension of my photography given the fact that I’m literally incorporating my own photo stills. However, many people point out how it’s very much like a kinetic painting. I create my audio through manipulated field recordings (found sounds) many of which are derived from nature and industry. It’s really the kind of thing that needs to be experienced at full throttle or else you won’t get the optimal effect. In my video composition performances I generate an environment that is simultaneously abrasive and beautiful….. similar to many of my other visual works.

Origins of The Desert Abyss, 2005-06
mixed media mural in private residence

EG: To people into melody, your music might sound somewhere between a space shuttle crash and a sensory overload nightmare – in fact all of your DVD releases have a disclaimer for epileptics. How do you characterise the relationship between noise and music?


L.A. 5023 A.D., 2005
enamel and acrylic on canvas

CC: Well….. strip away the visual aspect of my video work and you have yourself some extremely calculated and noisy compositions. Turn down the lights and add the visuals into the amplified mix and you’ll begin experience what some describe as an intense synesthesia. I’m not interested in making harsh noise. My focus is geared towards the synergy that is created between abstract sounds and subconscious visuals breaking into new, uncharted levels of sensory perception. You mentioned sensory overload. Many have described a turning point in my video compositions where this undoubted overload becomes very meditative. The LA based sight & sound label Table of Contents has released numerous video compositions of my work……..

EG: What are the challenges of working in such a range of media? Is there a risk of spreading yourself too thin, and do you think you might tighten your focus at any point in the future?

CC: I don’t like to limit myself and don’t see myself compromising anytime soon.

Explore more of Cristopher Cichocki’s work at his official website: http://cristophersea.com