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Joanne, Cassandra, Gravity and Flight

It's always impressive with artists who have the artistic conviction to dedicate themselves so fully over time to a conceptual idea; more distinctively one of their own making. In Joanne Grüne-Yanoff’s case: a genderless character, being and entity by the name of Cassandra. In photographic lenticular prints on view at Galleri Duerr, iterations of Cassandra is found in what appears a gravity-defying eagerness; an apparent state pre-take off or in motion alluding to flight. But it’s not the flight or flying per se that makes the axis of the work but rather that liminal space where imagination isn’t bound by actual physical limitations; such as the force of gravity. Surveying Joanne Grüne-Yanoff’s work closer one realizes the actual breadth of the notion of flight and how that’s approached by her.

Installation view, Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "GRAVITY", Galleri Duerr, Stockholm. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

C-P: Your Stockholm-based studio makes part of Detroit; a studio and gallery platform that we enjoy in our team. I'd like to take a moment to shine light on Detroit and thought you could offer your perspective on it, and a take on the local art scene.

J.G-Y: Detroit is a wonderful space, which for me has been critical. The studio is necessarily a solitary space, and to maintain that creative solitude while others artists are working nearby is so energizing. Detroiters are from all over - Sweden, Thailand, Iran, Finland, USA, Mexico, Ireland, UK, to name a few. It’s a vibrant space in many ways. We also have guest artists we bring to Detroit for exhibitions, and it’s great to be able to provide a platform for artists who might not be part of the more mainstream gallery scene. There is a great non-profit local art scene in Stockholm that includes Detroit Stockholm, Flat Octopus, Candyland, ID:I, and Konsthall C among many others, all of which often have fantastic exhibitions. Unfortunately, the mainstream press doesn’t usually cover those, which is a pity for artists and potential visitors alike.

Installation view, Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "GRAVITY", Galleri Duerr, Stockholm. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

C-P: What fascinated me about your exhibition "Gravity" at Galleri Duerr is learning about your long-term dedication to this character, Cassandra, that is a genderless figure that sees iterations in various forms in your work, whether for instance an image or performance. What was the impetus of Cassandra? J.G-Y: Cassandra is a grounded being, looking up at the skies, thinking about flight. This embodies my work for as long as I can remember making things. But there is a story that brought that sentence into being. Several years ago I had some work at a museum, and a journalist called to interview me. We had a good conversation and suddenly she asked: “In one sentence, without thinking, tell me - what is your work?” I took a breath, and she said - “now no real thinking here, just a quick answer.” In that split second I had a vision of a blue sky, and a person looking up as a bird flew across, and I could feel the wings inside of my breath, and I could hear flapping along with my own heartbeat as I pictured the person standing there. The interviewer said “time!” and I said “My work is a grounded being, looking up at the sky, thinking about flight”. And that was a moment, because as soon as I said it I thought -That’s it! That’s exactly what I do and what I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember-. And I gave that grounded person a name: Cassandra. And - to be clear - Cassandra, this grounded being, looking up into the sky, thinking about flight, does not want to become a bird. Flight here is about the reach. It’s about the moment of anticipation, of longing, of possibility. Usually, once we grasp that thing we’re reaching toward, we quickly move on to the next . But that moment before; the one that contains the idea, the possibility, the longing, that is an extraordinary moment, breathtaking and potent; a vast space that I´m always trying to capture.

Installation view, Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "GRAVITY", Galleri Duerr, Stockholm. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

C-P: You approach the notion of "flight" in both direct ways and ways that might not be immediately visible in your work and yet is informed by the scope of your artistic practice. When I saw the exhibition there was a moment I thought; it almost sounds like two very disparate artistic practices joined into one; where one is not what would you expect seeing some of these ethereal images on display at the gallery. J.G-Y: By two disparate practices you mean that of my studio practice and also the workshops I lead with marginalised communities, some of which contain people who have been displaced. My work manifests in many different ways, including film, video, theatre pieces, sculpture, text, collage and workshops, to name a few. All of it interconnects, all of it is about finding and holding the space of that reach, and within that, connection. In my workshops I bring together people of different backgrounds and we share conversations on the topics of home, community, identity, flight, and how we each experience belonging. We exchange stories in a deceptively simple exchange that is nonetheless kind of radical - it connects us. There is no separation for me between life and work, and so those stories, each of those people I’ve workshopped with, they’re part of me, and therefore part of my work. Often enough, some of the words that are shared in these workshops are later threaded through my sculptures, sometimes as part of an object that wraps a Cassandra.

I like that Cassandra is sometimes wrapped in words about home and flight that someone, somewhere, reached deep inside to find, now acting as a talisman for this representative of all of us - Cassandra.

Installation view, Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "GRAVITY", Galleri Duerr, Stockholm. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

C-P: I love the use of lenticular prints. I've advised artists to work in this photographic form when it served the concept. With lenticular prints, that cliché of the audience physically interacting with an artwork is not just an arbitrary or routine saying; but it literally is just that. J.G-Y: My work and workshops are about finding ways to connect, and share an obsessive exploration of what makes us - our different sizes and ages and histories and skin tones and genders - human, and how we often have to cross borders to re-find ourselves and relate to others. That requires action. Within the videos that later become the lenticulars, Cassandra defies borders by flapping and jumping repeatedly into the skies. These small gestures of enacted imagination provide Cassandra with agency and strength; In the jumps she finds freedom. As gravity returns her home, she carries air, and flight. The Cassandras in the lenticulars are in their own meditative space until they are activated by me, by you. Whether the audience knows it or not, they are each already a Cassandra, and by engaging with the Cassandra in the lenticular and activating their movements, perhaps that connection becomes more clear and robust. The lenticulars also hold a nice mirror to the workshops. When we meet a stranger we have no idea what stories they hold, but if we’re willing to engage, we activate connection, and a world opens.

Installation view, Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "GRAVITY", Galleri Duerr, Stockholm. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

C-P: What were the rationales behind also presenting in one of the rooms a spatial setting of a workshop/studio? J.G-Y: In 2012, in Kassel, at Documenta, the curator Carolyn ChristovBakargiev brought the different conceptual strains that comprised the exhibition together in what was called the “brain” in the rotunda of the main exhibition space. I loved that idea, and the rotunda was so inspiring, and when I was putting together this exhibition at Galleri Duerr, I wanted to use this idea. So the exhibition unfolds into three parts. The first is “the brain” which is a pristine version of my studio. There, drawings and sounds and sculptures and materials I have collected for many years come together. These are the inner workings of Cassandra’s world. For years I have made eggshell helmets, feather shoes, shell glasses, wing spines, robes embroidered with words about what holds us together, headphones made of sculptures of birds and wings. Cassandra wears these in performances, videos, films and installations, and some of them are in this room. They are the jump-off point to everything.

Installation view, Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "GRAVITY", Galleri Duerr, Stockholm. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

C-P: Lastly, what awaits on your horizon in 2024? J.G-Y: I will be working with both the Free library of Philadelphia and the Woodmere Art Museum to create workshops and workshop-inspired exhibitions which will open in the spring (Woodmere) and fall of 2024 (FLP) and I will continue two long-term collaborations, one with the fantastic NYC-based artist Warren King, and the other with the wonderful New Mexico-based artist Meridel Rubenstein. I also plan to write the script and shoot the second film of the Cassandra Cycle, the first of which is currently screening at this exhibition at Galleri Duerr. Finally, among the many visitors that came to the exhibition at Galleri Duerr was a group of displaced Ukrainian women, who asked if I could do some workshops with them, along with other locals, and I plan to get that started here in Stockholm in the next months.

Ashik Zaman

Images courtesy of Galleri Duerr, photo credit: Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff's solo exhibition GRAVITY runs at Galleri Duerr in Stockholm through November 3


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