Keeping Up with Alberte
We met Alberte Skronski in her studio already in her first term at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and were intrigued by a rare quality of show(wo)manship that is currently unparalleled around our shores. Fast-forward three years and Alberte has been seeing a very busy exhibiting schedule leading up to the now ongoing BFA spring degree exhibition of said school at Marabouparken. Count on top of that a prior solo window exhibition with Galleri Toll and a solo booth with Detroit Stockholm at this year's Supermarket Art Fair, all within weeks from each other, and Alberte is having a very solid moment leaving art school.
C-P: I'm often fascinated by this certain synonymous quality that sometimes exists between authored artwork and the artist of its making; an artist, in the way they they present themelves being an embodiment of the art and vice versa. When art informs artist personas and the personhood of the artist to some obvious degree, I tend to react to how rare that currently feels.
A.S: It’s both a conscious thought and something that comes natural to me. Since making art I’ve always enjoyed dressing up and being part of the art. I’ve tried working with other people but what works best for me has been starting with, and from me. Not a single body in this world is neutral but the most neutral body I personally I can work with is my own because then it becomes a lack of choice in what another body looks like. I don’t have to choose if it’s a skinny or fat person, if it’s a man or a woman, a dark or light-skinned person and so forth. I only then choose that I put a costume on top of me and that’s the baseline throughout my work that unifies it. I describe it like; if I am myself 100 percent, then my art consequently becomes like myself a 150 percent. It’s where I can explore things even more and take my creativity where it’s not possible in everyday society and seek out those weird little crevices of my own mind. And again, I’ve always even before art enjoyed dressing up and being at the center of attention so it’s also a narcissistic kick.
C-P: I think with being able to command a room with your presence, in or outside of art, it's just one of those things that you either have or not. We've spoken about this before, about how your work easily gets missattributed as your being a performance artist, while in reality you have yet to ever do a public performance. Your work clearly is performative but performance serves more as a device to complete a work and is not the end itself. I also know you've arrived at a label which appears fitting to you and which definitely resonates with me when hearing it, in connection to your work; "Children's TV for adults".
A.S It’s funny, people in the last year they were like; you are a performance artist, right? My work is performative in the sense that there is a strong sense of characters and personas and that’s why people might perceive it as performance art. Because essentially even though you can see my body it’s also clear to the viewer that it’s not Alberte appering before the camera. I’ve only ever did videos and photographs for art projects. Also because how I am as a person; loud and have green hair and weird clothes. And talk and laugh a lot, people in their mind are like; "of course you do performance! You must do!"
Alberte Skronski, Galleri Toll, Stockholm. Photo: Maria Toll
As for "Children’s TV for adults"; I arrived at it because I had a hard time taking to labels of video artist, performance artist or a photographer. I didn’t feel any of it quite fit me. I work with all these mediums but if you take video as an example, it’s not the video medium itself per se that interests me. It’s just that video is the easiest way for me to record and grab the experience of an installation or the interaction between a character, the props and a physical space. I do very little editing. I don’t do any colour grading or experiment with artificial sound. It’s very much a point and shoot kind of a situation, so it becomes hard for me to relate to being a video artist, also because it implies a relationship to video being the most intrinsic part of my work when it's not.
So instead of what I do, it was like, why do I do what I do? It’s much about exploring this concept of radical happiness that I enjoy. I’ve found myself going back to these tropes that I would see in children’s cartoons and then thinking of this suspended sense of reality that you see in such cartoons. Like you don’t question if a cartoon character doesn’t immediately fall when running off the edge of a cliff. That sort of grotesque surreal take on real life has always been interesting to me. The root of what I do is conveying a naïve joy and offering relief from everyday life where you are not thinking of your chores and bills and hopefully instead can feel joyful distraction and that’s why I started calling it "Children's TV for adults". For some reason we have this inherent understanding of the sort of humor and aesthetical choices that “Children’s TV for adults” might imply which makes people “get” what I do better now, when attributing my work this way.
C-P: You are doing a solo booth for this year's Supermarket Art Fair, invited by Detroit Stockholm. It's funny because there is a such a meta quality about what you are presenting. A supermarket at an art fair called Supermarket and juxtaposing something so mundane as getting groceries at a site for purchasing art which generally represents a very different monetary reality. A clash of realms, all in good and wry humour.
A.S: It’s a piece I started making 2,5 years ago wich began with a video piece I made inside “this supermarket”. I like taking these very mundane experiences and giving them this almost magical realism twist and rendering them some grotesqueness. The idea here was to expand on those ideas and present a physical installation of a supermarket that would allow the viewer/visitor to interact and walk around inside it and around shelves of the characteristic sections of a supermarket; the meat area with the fish and sausages and the dry goods section and so on. There's also going to be a quintessential cashier space with a cash register. Additionally the installation will be fitted with a specially created 32 minutes soundtrack, a surrealist sound score that will be on loop, almost The Sims-like in sound, that I Danish musician made for me. The visitor will be able to touch the goods and also buy them; each item for the same price. Every day I will do a ca 30 minutes performance as the cashier of ths supermarket and interact with this scene.
C-P: I imagine this is the sort of work where people come to assume what statements you might be making and project certain stock conventions on how to read it, whether it's believed to be your saying something about consumer capitalism or possibly inequal distribution of goods. It's interesting how you can almost not make a work where cosmetics is the key visual icnonograpy todayy without it being read as a feminist statement or a comment on beauty standards.
A.S: In the begining of my process it’s very intution-based and aesthetically-driven and the more I work with a piece and the longer I am in that process, the more I start seeing how this is a reference to an earlier piece and it dawns on me how it fits into my broader body of work because what happens is that I keep coming back to certain themes, over and over again. Like the notion of these mundane everyday experiences with a twist, or I keep coming back to food or the hypersexualization of characters. I don’t make pieces with a specific intention to give them meaning, I find meaning while I'm working. I have no problem with people interpreting my works differently than I do. And I didn’t think of overconsumption or capitalism making this particular work. I was focusing on the notion of performing everyday mundane tasks and how to elevate something boring and fit and frame them into a magic sanctuary based on the materiality and the pronounced fakeness. I guess you could say an alternative reality where it’s so similar but then evidently still not; a glitch in reality. That I’ve been interested in exploring. As soon as you let a work out into the world, you lose all control because you can never quite know people will come to read it.
C.P: That’s also what makes art exciting in the first place, that art can be so multi-faceted, that there’s often a capacity to be read beyond what was initially intended in the making. Having conversed with you before there’s this deceptive discrepancy between what your art looks like at first glance and how cemented it actually might be in for instance art historical references. You as an artist are very difficult to read at face value based on your art alone. The moment you start talking you are so much intellectual about art than artists whose works might more blatantly appear the part. Your art functions on many levels. The more informed your viewer is on art history, the more they will be able to apply that on to your work and extract where you are coming from as an artist. I love deceptive qualities that challenge your prejudices about art; about what is good art, what high-brow or low-brow art. Your art has thought-provocative force this way.
A.S: I would like to help such distinctions collapse; what is high-brow or low-brow or distinctions between art and craft. That bothers me a lot, especially in relation to material use where certain materials have historically been connected to being produced by female bodies or lower class people as opposed to other materials that were connected to white males, and where the perception of materials was impacted by such conditions and treated different as a result. Materiality has often been used to ascribe importance to art. I think that’s why I like materials like cardboard and papier-maché that have not rendered particular value or importance. There’s again a certain pronounced fakeness when you build a whole room or set with such materials that I really enjoy and benefit from in my work.
C-P: On a final note, what are the ideas like for your participation in the BFA spring degree exhibition of Mejan (The Royal Institute of Art) at Marabouparken?
A.S: My work is called No Slaughter Without Laughter; it’s a play on words and a bit of tongue-twister. Because slaughter as word informs laughter, they are almost spelled the same, except for a S in the beginning of one of the words. In the past 1,5 years I’ve been working on integrating the video experience with a live sculptural installation experience so that the inner world of the video matches the outer world of the viewer/visitor. I’m building a sculptural installation of a slaughterhouse in different materials. There are flat paintings of these half pigs' carcasses that will be hanging on two metal rods and hooks. These paintings are life-size, and then I’ve created a life-size textile pig which you can fully take apart. You can remove the head, the skin and all the organs can actually be taken out. Then there is a connected video piece where I do a slaughtering of this textile pig and hang it next to the flat paintings on the metal rods. I also made a little booklet that goes in line with the exhibition presentation . Additionally there are posters made of a drawing of a half pig's carcass and I think it will be cut out in the shape of a pig and will be laying on a stack somewhere. The work alludes to the mass production of meat. It definitely is less fun and more of a serious topic than I usually work with.
What is primarily interesting here is walking a fine line between beauty and disgust. From afar it might appear disgusting because it’s meat and it informs death but up close when you look at the materials and the aesthetical qualities, it’s quite beautiful as a work. So the dichotomy between the experience of something from afar and from closer and within is a factor here. An exploration of how much a work changes depending on what materials it is comopsed of, too is at hand. Because there is a big diference between the pieces of pigs that are paintings on wood and the piece I've made out of textile. I like the grotesqueness of slaughtering a puppet. It looks like a violence piece but in essence it’s peaceful; no one is harmed, there is no actual meat, no actual slaughter; when I’m dislocating the pig’s head it’s me rather unbuttoning its head. Ultimtely, it’s really a vegan slaughter.
The Royal Institute of Art's Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition is on view at Marabouparken in Stockholm through June 12 (Wed–Sun 12–4 PM)