Hi Saskia! Can you share your journey as an artist, from painting to photography to your current multimedia interests, and how this journey specifically relates to your interest n space/spaces/bodies/objects/etc.?
I did paint for a couple of years before going to art school. I didn’t had the right confidence to pursue working with painting when entering university, but I had a talent for photography, and I enjoyed working with that medium. My admiration for works of painters such as Josef Albers, Joan Mitchell, Yves Klein and Günther Förg informed my experimental photographic practice.
For some reason, I believe it had something to do with the way and circumstances I grew up, I didn’t really know that I could become an artist, but becoming a photographer seemed to be somewhat more applicable, realistic, something I could achieve. It took me years to actually define myself as an artist. My self-understanding changed when I went to Estonia to study at the Art Academy in Tallinn. I can’t really lay my finger at what in essence induced that shift in my practice and within myself. I spent most of my time there traveling through the country, the Baltic states, to Russia seeing how difficult and challenging art making can be elsewhere. It humbled the way I was looking at art and what it can do. Back in Germany I realized how much my time in Estonia had politicized my views on art, on life. To me photography wasn’t enough anymore. I no longer wanted to take or record images of spaces, but to create spaces, works that can offer volume, that are physically tangible, that seemed through the presence of their materiality to be more real.
Working sculpturally was incredibly satisfying, although it took me a really long and painful time to find myself as a sculptor, by going against what people would identify me with. It was overwhelming at times. To a lot of people this shift in my practice from photography to sculpture came as a surprise, but to me it had been a four year long steady process towards object making outside of a photographic context. It is now that I feel I can relate and react much clearer to the condition of our environment, of what surrounds us, to the power dynamics and aesthetics that inform our lives. This change had been tough but also cathartic, liberating and mostly empowering.
An eye opener to me was the reading of Lefebvre. The way I could conceive space through his writing strengthened me in my indeterminacy to stick to one specific medium. A friend suggested to call my practice post-medium sculpture. And it makes sense, though, if you google it, surprisingly you only get six results on post-medium sculpture. It might not really be a thing or maybe my friend just invented a new genre. But thinking about it and thinking of Rosalind Krauss’ text on the post-medium condition, this determinacy feels the closest to what I could identify with. Recently I told a friend, that I am considering starting to paint again for the sole purpose to feed my own curiosity to see how my painting today would look.
So your current work, such as escalators set on their sides, has something incredibly light and funny about it. Can you tell me about the role of humor in your work?
Since I live abroad it has been rather difficult and challenging for me to verbally express humor. It’s not because I don't have any, but because it requires a high set of linguistic skills and such a deep cultural knowledge not only to understand it, but also to place it right. Humor doesn't translate very well. When being a non-native speaker I've found myself a number of times in really awkward situations where I didn't come across the way I had intended to. Humor, or its absence, can be a gatekeeper. People bond over having fun together, they start finding themselves on the same page, to regard them as equal because they've been laughing over the same jokes; it’s what makes a person sympathetic and approachable. Humor also acts as a form of coping with situations that feel overwhelming. When dealing with political and social issues, may it be on a personal level or not, it helps even things out, to equate things onto a scale one can relate to. Just think of caricatures, funny protest placards, memes, or in case of my work: an escalator balancing on a giant wheel. I could notice that my work became more joyful and funny in recent years. Object making became in a way a substitute for my lack of making good jokes. In my work I pick up on juxtapositions and binaries manifested in particular objects and aesthetics. By bringing them together next to another, I don't intend to reinforce their supposed opposition, but to show how absurd this idea of a binary in reality is. This artistic wittiness opens way to a deeper reading of the work towards its political intentions without literally telling everyone how fucked and unequal this world is we live in – the viewer already knows that, and when talking about equality I would find it contradictory and patronizing to introduce my work by making such a claim. So in the end I feel confident presenting works that make people laugh, knowing that it could result in a more thorough and personal engagement with the issues addressed.
I would love to hear about how the materials you have chosen create and flattten dichotmies? Why have you chosen certain materials, how do your interests in modes of production lead you to these materials? And can you tell me more about how the dichotomies of the handmade vs industrial, masculine vs feminine inform your work?
It’s nearly three years now that I have lived in London. Never before have I spent so much time contemplating on architecture, on houses and streets and skylines and inequality since I have lived here. From this observation of the surrounding space and its condition I singled out specific architectural elements and domestic objects I started working with that reminded me of specific everyday life situations. Using different materials lead me to diverging approaches on the thematic of architecture and feminism. Every single object comes with its own connotations, qualities, functions and values that trigger memories or certain behaviors. Among the objects I selected were bricks and textiles, kitchen scales and plastic bottles, furniture, the escalator steps, the glass vases, the wheels and candles. It’s like an archive of materials that provided me with manifold opportunities to work with. For the sculptural group état I focused on a juxtaposition of objects that emerge from different modes of production and that have contradictory commodity aesthetics. I used escalator steps that I repurposed to plinths and combined them with massive hand made glass vases I had have made and huge industrial castors. The juxtapositions between the objects operate on multiple levels: there is the industrially made and the hand crafted unique object; there are masculine and feminine connotations that get unequally distributed to some of the objects; there are different value systems operating within the objects used, and there are incompatible functions that we locate to either a domestic setting or to a public and commercial space. As said before, my intention is not to reinforce these juxtapositions or binaries, but to show how absurd this supposed allocation of values connected to gender really is in order to get a clearer perspective on the aesthetics that surround us in our daily lives. I understand my works as a proposition for equality and art as a facilitator of a testing ground for speculation and utopia.
Right now I am working on the dichotomy of the natural and feminine in relation to urban space, which is an exploration of the traditionally segregated and problematic concepts of nature, the female and the city. Earlier you’ve asked me about my journey from painting to photography to my current interests. Actually, one of the things I like the most is traveling. Obviously through my journeys I get to see places I haven’t been to before, but also I get to learn about different cultural concepts of city and nature from another perspective than that of art theory and philosophy, which I find a valuable and necessary complement to my reading. Traveling feeds my curiosity. How do you say that in English again? To have itchy feet? That’s what I have. When being elsewhere, the easiest way of understanding something new is to compare it to something known. This method of equating things by putting them next to another to see whats gonna happen is simplified what my practice is about.