During September 2005 Annika von Hausswolff was working as ”PIR-artist” with a three dimensional construction in the exhibition hall at BAC. The result was shown during October and November.
A conversation between Annika von Hausswolff and Johan Pousette during the production at BAC, Baltic Art Center in Visby, on the 23rd of September 2005.
JP: You are above all recognised in relation to your photographic work. For the first time, you are now working with a larger three-dimensional construction. How does it feel? Do you think the work is progressing in the right direction?
AvH: Yes, absolutely. It is a bit of shock to see it gradually developing. It is the first time I have ever worked with something like this. I have dealt with props before but never built such a heavy construction. It is very fascinating.
JP: When you say props, do you refer to something like the drape?
AvH: The first time I used props, including a carpet, a fire exstinguisher and some plants, was in the “SPÖKE” series that I exhibited at Magasin 3 five years ago. I used it to suggest another room within the room. I wanted a room that was more neutral, something in-between the space of the images and the exhibition space. The next time I explored this was at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen. One could say that there the props constituted independent pieces but might in that context also be part of a practical function. The beginning of this large drape, “The Memory of My Mother’s Underwear Transformed into a Flameproof Drape” was a very ugly emergency exit situated on a wall that I wanted to cover over. An independent piece was born out of this situation. I do not know what to call the drape, perhaps a form of sculpture, an object that also works very much as an image. I have a desire to go out of the image, out of the room, away from the walls. Yet when I try, I still end up with an image which is quite flat, and this has happened here too as my construction consists of different walls.
Photo: Raymond Hejdström
JP: But this is something that is being developed, walking out of the room, from Magasin 3 to your recent work here at BAC. Your first three-dimensional piece, the drape, was as you said fairly two-dimensional. Now when it becomes more three-dimensional you nevertheless claim that it remains an image?
AvH: In one way it is still an image. The first impulse for this piece was that I wanted to see the drape behind glass. I think this has a connection to a photograph that I took in 1999 titled “Now you see it, now you don’t”. The frontally shot image is of a very large window where the light that comes in from behind bleaches out the middle of the image. I consider this photograph to have caused a change of direction for me. In the early stages of my project here at BAC, I thought a lot about how the construction would act as a type of model for the way my photography works. I wanted to communicate how my images operate on different levels, reflective, a kind of concealment, a becoming, and so on. Yet the more I have thought about it, and now when I have seen the work emerge like this, then I see that it is something else too… I have always talked about this construction as a body. That in turn relates to the piece “The Memory of My Mother’s Underwear Transformed into a Flameproof Drape” and its direct reference to my mum and her body. So there is a reality there that I may have tried to ignore but which I believe is not possible to bypass.
JP: But which has also acted as a challenge?
AvH: Yes. The artistic work is both consciously and instinctively made, and I think this corporeality is impossible to get away from. As I now see it, I almost read this sculpture or whatever it is, as a form of portrait.
The meaning is slipping out of my hands all the time and I enjoy this. It is something that collapses. At the time when I wrote to you and described the project, I called it “A body with its organs on the outside” and I also mentioned “the potential space” that concerns psychoanalysis.
JP: You referred to the psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott’s theories about the relationship between mother and child?
AvH: Precisely, Winnicott speaks about transitional objects, those objects that a child may use in the process of becoming an individual. Also, “the potential space” which refers to the space between people and how relationships are initiated and created and the first relation which is (most often) formed between mother and child.
JP: When you say that the work is a portrait, is this to be understood in a wider sense or is it a specific portrait?
AvH: Portrait is not really the correct word either, however a portrait is… can be a face. In my photographic work I have, for different reasons, rarely wanted to portray faces. Perhaps I am here making an attempt at representing a face and then it is made in a totally abstract manner. The encounter with a face, possibly the mother’s face, can be inviting or experienced as distancing, be mirroring and so on. Also how one can be affected by this face and perhaps form one’s self-image based on the encounter with it. It is difficult to put this into words. There is something within images and my way of thinking about my art that is prelingual in some way, that is not possible to express in words. Take this door as an example, you can talk about a door and all the things it symbolises. Yet when you see the door it is different, you undergo the experience of the door and it is actually very difficult to pin down words in relation to the experience.
JP: Although, an important aspect of the fascination one feels in front of your images can be found here. The representation of this somebody or this something that turns away. As a viewer you encounter something concealed, some kind of mystique. The strength of your work resides in the way your images harbour such a quality that those who see them become afflicted. Through your way of working there is also a generous invitation to the individual viewer to become involved and be co-active with what they experience.
AvH: That is my intention, but also vulnerability. I can never know if somebody will connect or not. However, it is fantastic if it can work in that way… This is what it is, this thing, that turns away because it cannot immediately be grasped in its totality. It is impossible to apprehend the whole object from one position and it is very stimulating to explore this against the background of my concurrent two-dimensional photographic practice. I get confused too when I walk around in there…
JP: Is it architecture, or did it start as an object and then become architecture when you extended the construction and now relate it to its surroundings?
AvH: A carpet will reach all the way to the furthest located wall of the surrounding room. I want to establish a contact between the object and its environment. I definitely do not just want to have an object that just stands there. Solitarily. It feels incredibly important to have contact with the room. But if it is architecture… I don’t know. I am also inclined to see the room as a kind of state of existence.
JP: If we return to the large surfaces of glass that you use in the construction, you seem to be fascinated by glass?
AvH: Yes, my photographs exist behind that surface. It is completely apparent that there is some… It is a form of shopfront window-rhetoric, desire is emerging, behind the glass there is another world that opens up. Out of reach yet fully visible to the eye!
JP: This generates questions about the inside and outside?
AvH: Well, perhaps not so much the inside but rather what is beyond… Yet this is what I am a little anxious about in relation to this object, that the audience will ask themselves what there is inside?
JP: That question does arise. Is this a room? Is it a closed room? What is inside this closed room?
AvH: I have wanted to interrupt that question through making the structure irregular. It would have been easy to build a rectangle. As the structure now looks, it creates different rooms within the exhibition space. Because of this I hope that the emphasis on the inside will fade a little… At some point during the development of the project, although not initially, I added a video projection that would be visible on one of the interior walls of the construction. When I arrived in Visby I decided to remove it, partly because I felt a desire to exclude all photographic representation which is a major step for me. Where the projection would have been there will now be a scaffolding and inside “the body” there will be remains from the actual construction work such as wooden fragments, banished props, offcutpieces from the carpet and other debris. The viewer should, by making an effort, be able to see inside. I like the idea of leaving a part of the process within the space, some of the unarticulated material behind the articulated surface.
JP: Yes, it can also be an object that displays its surface. A skin…
AvH: There is a theory about the skin ego which is very exciting. Didier Anzieu, a disciple of Freud, argues that the skin is very important in relation to the constitution of the self. The stimulations of the skin, the skin as a boundary. All the time participating from the outside – inside. When I have selected materials I have been thinking about the ‘skinness’ and fleshiness of skin. Simultaneously some of the materials relate to different rooms during my upbringing, for example, I had a similar carpet in one of my bedrooms.
JP: You have put a door within the space, independently placed away from the construction. Where does the door come in?
AvH: (Laughter) From the side.
JP: A door as a potential opening?
AvH: There is a classic scene that I love. I saw it most recently in the Teletubbies series when a door-frame stood on a meadow and they unquestioningly walked through it.
JP: And where does one walk then?
AvH: Yes, where? To a child this is totally obvious. It is the whole Alice in Wonderland… I also had some thought about the mirrors, to put a doormat in front of the mirrors but that was a useless idea…
JP: When making the work in Copenhagen, you used the concept of a parallel reality. Naturally, one asks, where does the door lead?
AvH: Here it leads nowhere, the door leans against a wall. It is a little like my picture “To Carry One’s [JP1]Door Through The Room”…
JP: One carries a possibility?
AvH: The door will act as a potential within the room.
JP: In your working process, can you separate the intuitive and the articulated? Does it happen through a parallel mode?
AvH: Yes, it is a conversation, a conversation I have with my angst. That which is intuitive is very emotionally loaded. A part of myself holds a quite rational discussion with the more wordless self.
JP: Are you through the work formulating yourself on a personal level and in front of those who encounter the work?
AvH: It is very difficult to have an idea about those who encounter the work, in one way it is a terror. The thought of them… (Laughter). So it is mainly to myself that I formulate something. And this is also a very double feeling. To formulate oneself is both pleasurable and traumatic. It is about wanting to simultaneoulsy know and not know what it is that is happening.
JP: I would like to touch on your working process. You have previously said that; “The final image is what is crucial, how it arrived there is not so important to me”. In this case, have you emphasised the process instead?
AvH: Yes, my period at BAC will be a turning point! (Laughter) When I started to send material (sketches and ideas) to you, it was a way to force myself to look at the process. Before I have probably had an idea that I should not dig too much into the actual process as it may be disturbed or interrupted or if it becomes too difficult I may abandon the work.
JP: Is there something magic in what is not formulated?
AvH: Well, but everything must be articulated, at least if it is to be presented. Art is about articulating oneself. This time it has been interesting to focus upon the process, the ups and downs; “let’s call it a close…”, “this is very exciting!”, “what am I doing?”…
JP: When you began to send ideas and sketch material, it was a suggestion that you made? You identified an opportunity to reflect upon your own working process?
AvH: Yes, absolutely. I can still work in my usual way anytime. Here an opportunity was offered to change this.
JP: Do you feel that you are at a transition point in your practice?
AvH: You only know this in hindsight.
JP: Did you react very positively to the possibility of trying something new when receiving the invitation?
AvH: Yes I have felt this for a while and it has partly to do with the technological developments within photography. The traditional technology is about to vanish and be replaced by the digital. The ontology of photography, the light sensitive material, the dark-room, the liquids, an almost alchemical formula that results in an image. All this is lost in the digital process where everything takes place in daylight. I cannot relate to digital technology.
JP: If the technological developments had been different, would it not have been as important for you to change your approach?
AvH: I guess there is always a desire to continue and expand although it is sometimes difficult to know just how. In that context it has been liberating to work here in Visby. Not until we were forced to reprint the invitation card a few times, did I fully realise that I do not have to work as I usually do. I had great problems with deciding upon a title for this work but finally I understood that I do not have to, not yet at least, and that I can leave the backdoor open.
Translation: Åsa Andersson