Visualizing what avoids visualization

Interview with Norman Leto

The first time I came across Norman Leto’s (b. 1980) works, I must have been around 16 years old. In 2014, two parts of the footage Leto was making as a part of his feature film Photon were shown in Warsaw’s Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Arts. I have seen those two clips multiple times, completely mesmerised and puzzled by what I was seeing – an intimate, inter-cellular animation describing the processes of mutations taking place in the human body. On the one hand, the clips felt incredibly scientific yet rather approachable, and on the other, I was confused why I was seeing them in a museum setting and what the finished project was yet to bring. Leto remains an interesting anomaly within the Polish art scene, the only artist working with data and various incarnations of its renderings. Leto is a self-taught artist, who started simultaneously working with computer-based programmes and oil paint when he early on befriended a Polish champion of dystopian surrealism, Zdzisław Beksiński.

Photon - Film Poster, 2017, Feature Film, 1h 40 Min, Netflix Distribution

Nina Ledwoch: What are you working on these days? Has your perspective on your past projects changed? Your portfolio covers a broad selection of media – from video art, 3-D renderings, paintings. Your feature-length films Sailor (2010) and Photon (2017) contributed to your classification as a new media artist, director, filmmaker. But you are also an active painter – one of your most recent works references the recent riots on the Capitol.

Norman Leto: I try to preserve the analogue mode of expression like painting so as not to limit myself solely to the digital realm. I believe that the human brain approaches the traditional, analogue forms and the digital ones differently. Working on Photon, on the animations of elementary particles, I fully realized how differently my brain functions in relation to making analogue and non-analogue art forms. The digital realm is very intellectually challenging, requiring constant concentration and losing it even for a moment can completely undermine hours of work. I want to take care of those two sides of my brain’s needs – the spontaneity that painting gives and the meticulous concentration needed for digital animations and renderings. From morning to early afternoon, I focus on easel painting and later in the days I dedicate my time to work requiring a computer. One of the projects I am currently working on is a video clip for composition by Krzysztof Penderecki (a Polish composer; 1933-2020). The piece is from the 1960s and includes a part on a string quartet. As it is rather unconventional and difficult to illustrate the piece, the task is to create an animation that will be complimentary but at the same time engaging to the viewer despite the challenging nature of the composition.

Paderewski's Nocturn, 2020, Digital Animation, 3:50 min

Another project I am working on is a feature film The Pilot about 9/11, an event which for me was the first one of this scale and obvious tragic dimension that I remember. For the generation born in the late 1990s, this pandemic would be the first comparable one. With this film, my focus is on what was happening in the sky, the F-15 pilots who were ordered to patrol the area once the first rumours about a possible hijacking were reported and how this line of defence ultimately failed due to mass panic and communication overload. I look into a psychological portrait of one of the pilots who took part in that mission, his unfairly guilty conscience as he was sent too late. My ai