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Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger

Alexandra Larsson Jacobson is one of the 2020 graduates from the MFA-class at Konstfack and made what in our view was one of the strongest degree projects we caught this school year in Stockholm. The project 'Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger' both made its mark in so far the spatial conception on site and the centerpiece of a video which brought to mind the visionary feel of the likes of Brian de Palma. "For me it´s about balance of power, control, love and affection in a relationship. I gave them directions like; “grab her harder, mirror each other, you are dominant here, now take control". she says of directing her performers and an interest in the role of an artist as someone extending directions to her protagonists.

Alexandra Larsson Jacobson, Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger (still from video)

Your graduating class, given the times, was first seemingly resorted to adopting to a digital degree exhibition to present to an audience instead of the usual physical spring exhibition at Konstfack. Since, your class is now producing your own degree exhibition opening in June at Mint, which I think is commendable because personally I find digital exhibitions to be way too reductive in light of what's at stake for a graduation exhibition. What have been your thoughts about work presented in the digital realm during this very precarious recent period in time?

I am very happy that our class has the opportunity to have a final exhibition at Mint at ABF in Stockholm (opening June 5). It was nothing I expected but had hoped for. It feels like we will have a nice ending together and also a beginning of something new.

It's a crazy time after all. All plans were cancelled, it was hard to take that in knowing that it’s the grand finale that normally gets so much exposure from the outside which is important for a graduating art student. But in all of this, I have been working and trying to make use of my time as much as possible.

I have mixed feelings about artworks presented in a digital realm. Suddenly, I experienced the internet flooded with streaming and cultural offerings online. At first it was fun but after a while it became a bit too much and there was no time to take in everything I wanted to see. I think it´s important to meet the artwork physically and take it in with all of the senses. Some artworks work better in digital form than others.

I discovered when I was doing an online performance the other week that some people who don't usually check out art or who lives in a different place in the world, had contacted me after the streaming performance and thanked me for a strong experience. I think I've had over 300 views of the work and that’s a lot so It feels great. In some ways the digital realm opens up for good things too.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this time we are in now when it comes to the art world.

Installation view, Alexandra Larsson Jacobson, MFA-degree project, Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger, Galleri Konstfack, 2020

When we first met a few years ago we were speaking about a background of yours in dance. How has this found itself in your body of work over the years?

I started dancing when I was 3 and continued until I was 19. For some years I wanted do become a dancer. I grew up with MTV and loved the TV-show Fame. I could spend hours in front of the TV and the mirror and dance and dress up as Madonna and others. My mother’s friends gave me old makeup and clothes to dress up in. For me, dancing and dressing up was a way to escape into my fantasy world.

My background in dance has come to characterize my work in many ways. I like to collaborate with dancers and actors. Within my practice, meetings are created between human bodies, sculpture, movement, materiality and space. For example, at my first year at Konstfack I travelled back home to the west coast to work with my old dance teacher in a rehearsal room that I used to practice in as a child. I am interested in how we communicate through our bodies. What happens when we don’t use words and are reading each other silently. I read somewhere that when we communicate it is with 10 percent words, 30 percent voice and 60 percent body language. I think that says a lot.

Another thing that strikes me now is the memory of a photograph in which your hand is found next to your grandfather’s “aligned” with the same tattoo. I love art that has a timeline “angle” and highlights bloodline. That recalls the general notion of working as an artist with close kins and highly personal narratives. Rewarding but surely exhausting to be so introspective. What is your experience?

Yes, it can be exhausting sometimes, but I have begun to see it as one of my biggest strengths. It has become clear over the years that this is part of my work and method. Behind my graduation work Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger there is another work where I tried to work with my own mother and grandmother. This work will never be shown but has been important for me during my process. In my graduation work I had to work with other people than my own family because it gave me more freedom and gave me some distance to my own story, even though it rests here as a shadow.

Alexandra Larsson Jacobson

You previously studied at Umeå Academy of Fine Arts and are now completing your MFA at Konstfack in Stockholm. Reflecting on time at art school, having also unlike some others, taken time between school and stints, how do you sum your time of studies at Konstfack?

I got my Bachelor's degree at Umeå in 2012 and moved back to Stockholm. I had a studio and did different art projects and exhibitions and for that first year out of school I also worked for Tova Mozard. After some years outside school I felt that I wanted to do my Master's degree. The years outside school had given me an understanding that it wasn’t as easy as in school to experiment with some things. Everything took more time without spacious studios and different workshops, so in 2018 I began my studies at Konstfack, and I felt so privileged. For two years I have been surrounded with great classmates, professors and great discussions. And I feel that I have taken my work to a new level.

With your being a video artist, I’m curious of what inspirational figures you’ve had, to look up to in the past?

I don’t see myself as a video artist. I see myself more as an artist that create images and tell stories . It can be with video, photography, sculpture or performance. I have had different sources of inspiration over the years but some of them are filmmakers like Fassbinder and David Lynch, a writer like Margurite Duras and contemporary artists such as Tina Barney, Gillian Wearing, Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, Gunvor Nelson and the late dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch .

Installation view, Alexandra Larsson Jacobson, MFA-degree project, Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger, Galleri Konstfack, 2020

The moment I entered your MFA-degree exhibition ‘Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger’, there was an instant hunch about how great the spatial alignment was between the room in the room (the setting of the video) and the staging and decorative gestures brought forth inside what is Galleri Konstfack. It was truly a great installation.

I have to say that I am very satisfied with how the installation turned out. In my solo show I really wanted to take the opportunity to transform the space and connect it to the video work. I wanted to invite the audience to partake physically. There was movement in the video but also in the space where the glitter drapes were lit with pink and blue and the bodies in the gallery space also gave a certain movement to the drapes.

In the preparation for the show I worked with a model of the space to be able to try out different settings. This is often how I work. Both with space and with a sketch to sculpt.

The video; set inside a pink-tinted living room, casted in ethereal air which is stressed by a symbiotic and co-dependent choreography between two female bodies. They appear combative; to wrestle and fend each other off across the floor. There’s embrace and affection afforded the other, but as well constant renegotiation of their inherent boundaries and joint hurdles. ”We hug. You hug too hard. I resist. You push. I leave.”, you write in the project statement. Tell me more about the narrative.

For me it´s about balance of power, control, love and affection in a relationship. In this particular work I was interested in the role of an artist as someone who gives directions to the protagonists. I was observing what happened on the set with their own personal boundaries and continued to work with that sort of energy.

I gave them directions like “grab her harder, mirror each other, you are dominant here, now take control”.

Alexandra Larsson Jacobson, Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger (still from video)

The visionary captivating feel of directors like Nicolas Winding Refn and Brian de Palma comes to mind or the aestheticized imagery of a photographer like Petra Collins. It’s very compelling. The musical score by Mira Eklund sets a fitting tone. You’ve also collaborated with her on live performances with her, informed by your degree project. Most recently by a live stream with her and the performers of the video.

Yes I am very happy that to work with Mira Eklund in this project. We didn’t know each other but hade common friends. When I was searching for a musician for this project I got a tip that Mira could be the one. We met and we connected very well. Mira composed music for the video and also played live on the finissage pf the show

When Konstfack closed in March and I began to work from home, I started to realize that my graduation work had gotten a new meaning in relation to the current crisis. The idea came to me to direct and present a live stream with a performance by the two actors Ida and Frances Jagerfelt from Harder, Softer, Slower, Strongerand with Mira Eklund. I created a setting in an apartment in Stockholm, told the performers to act departing from the correlation of playfulness, violence and control. It was interesting to put them in the same room as the musician, different from the video work where there are only two bodies interacting. I wanted to investigate the interplay between the three present figures and how the music would be changed by the two bodies performing.

Alexandra Larsson Jacobson, Harder, Softer, Slower, Stronger (still from video)

Lastly, what’s next for you the rest of the year in 2020?

I'm preparing for two shows, the degree exhibition at Mint and the group show Isolering Komunikation at Färgfabriken which also opens in June. In July, together with Lotta Törnroth, Simon Blanck, Maria Kulikovska, I will create and present a show at my country house which is on an island in the Stockholm archipelago. I am also working on a new project and need time to research and plan for that.

Konstfack Master of Fine Arts at Mint opens at Mint (ABF-huset) June 5 (through June 16)

All images courtesy of the artist.


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