2019 #21

Searching for Mu

by Paul Cupido

"My main impulse to create is a desire to capture moments of wonder, like a child enchanted by the world around them."

Unseen Platform: Could you introduce Searching for Mu?

Paul Cupido: Searching for Mu, is an exploration of the philosophical concept of absence, or Mu, and the fragile beauty found in the evanescence of life. Although at its root it’s an existential exploration, it’s all done through a childlike lens – a naive and playful study of our universal pursuit of happiness and the brevity of life.

Japan has provided a lot of inspiration for this project. How did you first discover the concept of Mu?

It all started with an invitation to come to Tokyo for a workshop. It was such an overwhelming and enriching experience that I just had to go back to Japan. During my second trip I knew I wanted to make a pilgrimage to think about life. This personal quest, for which I used a small camera as my instrument of exploration, very naturally became an ongoing project that has informed my work to this day. I am also very much attracted to the poetic elements of Japanese art, which reduce all the ‘noise’ to reach a place of simplicity and essence.

Can you explain the processes you use to create your artworks?

My main impulse to create is a desire to capture moments of wonder, like a child enchanted by the world around them. Beyond that, I have a few fundamental rules that shape my process: to always work in a playful state of mind, and to have real and deep emotion behind every photo. In my opinion, a photo without these things it is useless and empty.

It may come as a surprise to some people who see my work, but actually I don’t manipulate my photographs very much! Most of it is done in camera, for example playing with double exposure, or using physical distortions such as water droplets on the lens. I also like to experiment with simple household objects, like using a balloon as the moon. In my atelier I might also play with layering negatives on top of each other or punching holes in them with a needle. Whatever I do, I like to keep it simple.

When it comes to editing, time is a really important element in my working process. I like to play around with small contact prints, arranging them in a sequence and shuffling and rearranging them until I have something meaningful. Then I like to put them away and wait for a week or so to see if they still work. Once I’ve reached this point in the process, it’s important to me to invite fresh, objective eyes to help make a further selection.

Searching for Mu was published in 2017. How did the experience of creating a book compare to the process of making the images? And how has the project evolved since 2017?

Naturally, the act of taking the photo is very different from the process of making a book. I think a book is the best way to show photos, but only if it serves the project. The mutual interaction between book and viewer, together with the tactile experience, the sequence, and the way in which the different clues make a story mean you are able to create an experience on multiple levels. As for evolution in my work, I feel it’s becoming lighter and more poetic. I strive to reach a point of total tranquility, in the way of haiku: the gentle art of disappearing, work without pretension and ego.

Text by Jenny Willcock, Unseen Platform

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Paul Cupido

Amsterdam, NL

Paul Cupido

Paul Cupido

Amsterdam, NL

Paul Cupido’s (b. 1972, the Netherlands) art considers the transience of life and humanity’s search for happiness. Inspired by the Japanese principle of Mu (meaning “to not have”), for Cupido this concept encapsulates the existential void which he contemplates in his photography. Like the art of the Japanese haiku, Cupido’s works distill the simple and the beautiful. This philosophy is reflected in his artistic process: using uncomplicated physical techniques such as water droplets and light flares, Cupido is able to manipulate his images and create a variety of effects from within the darkroom. Searching for Mu is an ongoing project, and was published as a photobook in 2017.

Paul Cupido sketchbook 08
Paul Cupido sketchbook 09
Paul Cupido sketchbook 07
Paul Cupido sketchbook 06
Paul Cupido sketchbook 05
Paul Cupido sketchbook 04
Paul Cupido sketchbook 03
Paul Cupido portrait Kahmann Gallery

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