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The Spring Graduates 2020

What happens when your planned degree exhibition at a credible and well-cherished art venue is canned in a force majeur situation like the reality of the past months, and you are necessarily forced in short time to adapt and translate your work for an online platform instead? We speak to five highly talented 2020 graduates in Photography at HDK-Valand about their respective degree projects and aspirations. What could easily have been your run-off-the-mill interview instead turns into one of the most poignant exchanges altogether we've had with artists in a long time, with each of Matilde Søes Rasmussen, Hanna Antonsson, Monika Balu, Oskar Kardemark and Mathilda Frykberg, sharing thoughts and experiences that genuinely will leave a mark on your mind. "I like the idea of starting a simple life with maybe less money but more time. Now, when so much takes place online, maybe geographical distances are not creating the same gaps anymore", notes Mathilda Frykberg.

Still from 'Redeemed' by Kim Richard Adler Mejdahl (3 minutes, 50 seconds), in Matilde Søes Rasmussen's 'Unprofessional'

Matilde Søes Rasmussen

C-P: Your graduating class, given the times, have had to adapt to a digital degree exhibition, to present to an audience instead of the usual physical spring exhibition at Röda Sten in Gothenburg. What have your thoughts been like regarding this change and the experience of adapting and “translating” already prepared exhibitions for a digital realm and platform?

M.S.R: At first I was like, "Oh!", and then I was like, "Ok!". I am lucky, my work was easily adaptable to the this website. Having said that, I adore the Röda Sten building. We were going to build these very cool scaffolding boxes stacked on top of each other for this year's show where the 'Unprofessional' films (of my project) would have been screened. I still very much want to show the work physically. Now we're sort of fighting for the school to make up their mind about whether or not we will get a physical degree show; almost seems like they just want to get rid of us? We were the class of bad luck I guess, but it doesn’t really matter. We will just do it on our own.

C-P: What can be said of your overall practice and body of work to date?

M.S.R: It is about being submissive in some positions and dominant in others. I am not interested in being either, or rather, I am interested in being both. Like for example when I am modelling in front of a lens: I am completely submissive. I will do whatever you tell me to do. Sometimes it’s not even about the money, sometimes it just feels so good to be a fucking fool. At the same time, I am a model and (conventional) beauty is pure power in itself. Everything will come easier to you. And with every kind of power comes the possibility of exploiting it. When someone hires me for a job, I have no say in what the end result is going to be like. They are exercising control over my body, I am by definition objectified. By letting other people take control over my raw footage from China in 'Unprofessional' they had the power to create the artistic outcome, but at the same time it was me who invited them to take this control. Confusing, right? But you get it, it really is all just a power play.

Two days ago my mom called me to say that she had seen the films again. She remembered me talking about a particularly traumatizing model job I did in Hong Kong; the shoot which Kim has used in his video where I am squatting in this tank full of water. She especially enjoyed Kim’s video for its witty character, so I retold her the story of that day: me being put into a three sizes too small bathing suit with a bunch of these, like, medical tubes attached to it (dying-girl-fashion?), being asked to fully submerge my body and face into the water, open my eyes wide and blow sexy bubbles out of my mouth while staying underwater for as long as my lungs would possibly allow me to. The shoot was supposed to be two hours long but ended up being twelve. To top it all off they put two big-ass carps into the tank with me, these two big grey slippery bastards with beards, they had beards on their small, angry faces. One of them started nibbling on me. She was done with laughter over the phone, and frankly, so was I, even though at the time it was a total let-down towards myself.

That I, at age-27, hadn’t yet figured out how to set boundaries for myself and say stop. It is just so difficult when all attention is on you, it is ten o’clock in the night and there is, for some reason. dear god help me, 15 people who have been planning out a dying-girl-in-aquarium-with-carps-shoot for a month and it is all riding on YOU; whether or not you’re willing to drown yourself a bit more, just a little bit more, in a freezing aquarium to get the shot. If this is an analogy for what can be said of my overall practice and body of work to date, so let it be. Yes, I WILL do anything.

Still from 'You Really Like The Sun' by Eva Marie Rødbro (5 minutes, 44 seconds) in Matilde Søes Rasmussen's 'Unprofessional'

C-P: Two things in particular came to mind seeing your degree presentation ‘Unprofessional’; how interesting it is from a point of view of authorship and collaborative efforts and then as well to me the thought of Sophie Calle shot to mind. What are your thoughts and what can be said about the background of your work; the 25h worth of footage that lies at the very core?

M.S.R: Once I made the decision to hand over all my raw footage to others it was a relief to be honest. Your problem now, suckers! All these hours of wobbly, sloppy, shaking camera footage that was now someone else’s problem! But then slowly it dawned on me: Was I disrespecting my own material? Was the footage even good enough for others to work with? And in my most desperate hour: was I bypassing my chance to become famour for making a documentary no one had ever made before? In the end my ego had to chill for a collaborative project like this to start. I am beyond touched by all three films that were created.

All three collaborators said yes without having seen ANY of the material. I mean, how wild are they! Eva Marie Rødbro is this great Danish documentary director, she was teaching at the preparatory photography school I went to in Copenhagen. Fingle Lee is a commercial fashion photographer who hired me several times when I was working as a model in Guangzhou in Southern China. There is even footage from shoots with him in several of the films!

And lastly there's Kim Richard Adler Mejdahl, who is an amazing artist and musician who I didn't know at all when I handed over the footage to him. He replied to my email telling me how he was obsessed with ANTM (America’s Next Top Model) as a teenager, and that he used to force his little sister to model for him. From that moment on I knew he was the right person, and so I basically begged him to do the last film, even though he didn’t have the time. He ended up making a track and a music video from the material. If you pay close attention, you can hear the beeps from camera flashes in his music! We even decided to keep collaborating in the near future. (And just for the record, these people are not suckers, they are literally my heroes! True professionals!) But when it all got a little too emotional my roomie shot me down by telling me: well, you paid them. And I guess that taps perfectly into the core of the project; it is all about power and financial capitaö and who is looking at whom and who is obeying whom and who is paying whom and all of that.

C-P: What’s next for you in 2020 following your graduation?

M.S.R: I want to go to China. I want to do a really dramatic goodbye tour towards the modelling world. I just turned 30. One last trip. A thank you for having me, fuck you, how am I gonna survive without you, kind of a thing. Cry on top of some Chinese skyscrapers, then take the elevator all the way down to the ground floor, tape all the cash I made to my bony body with duct-tape and fly back to Europe knowing that this was what I got! On a less dramatic note, I am also publishing my first book of photography and text later this year on Disko Bay, a small wonderful photobook publisher in Copenhagen. The title of the book is 'Unprofessiona'l too. And then hopefully I will get a chance to physically show my graduation work in both Sweden and Denmark. I want to be the girl with the most cake, to quote miss Courtney Love.

Hanna Antonsson 'Car door — bird wing'

Hanna Antonsson

C-P: What have your thoughts been like regarding the necessity and experience of adapting and “translating” your degree project for a digital realm and online platform?

H.A: I knew right away that I wanted to make the most out of the digital platform and started to look for ways to convert the project to function online. The original version was supposed to be a spacial installation made up of grids with both physical objects and prints. In the process a new form emerged where the linking of the pictures found a more narrated structure; By letting one of the images stay in the frame to be matched with the next one as you click your way through a slideshow. 

Even though all our work eventually ends up online in portfolios, and for that reason is something we always bear in mind, it’s become very clear how important a physical space is. Depending on the nature of the work so many layers can go missing in a digital landscape.

C-P: What can be said of your overall practice and body of work to date?

H.A: I’m an old Tumblr girl and have worked with juxtaposing of images in collages and feeds a lot in my work. I find it fascinating how elastic the meaning of images can be depending on what’s next to it, and so I’ve experimented with slight distortions of meaning in symbols and objects a lot. I’ve always had a very visual approach to my work as well. It’s interesting to make things that doesn’t really fit together thematically find common ground in a pattern or texture. My work also seem to always have animals in it one way or the other.

Hanna Antonsson 'Car door — bird wing'

C-P: I love the way your presentation stems from working with your own image archives and revisiting images in the “making” of new images. Tell me more about ‘Car Door – bird wing’.

H.A: 'Car door — Bird wing' started with me browsing my archive after images of textures, colours and shapes that at some point had caught my attention and sorting them into different collections. I then tried to place them in a way so that they all connected to each other in one long sequence, like a visual metamorphosis. Since the images constantly need to relate to something new, their meaning also transforms, which makes the work into an exploration in how they can be understood in different contexts. Seen symbolically they don’t make much sense and it creates a space where the viewing of the pictures are more important than the semiotic reading of them. 

C-P: What’s next for you from here?

H.A: I have a couple of group shows coming up here in Gothenburg this summer; 'Ride or die 2.0', an offsite exhibition curated by Oda Haugerud and an exhibition at Göteborgs Konstförening. Other than that I’m looking to do some assisting work to gain more experience and knowledge in the field, I’m still looking for a good match!

Monika Balu ‘In Close Proximity (Alarms don’t bother me)’

Monika Balu

C-P: What were your thoughts about having to present your final project ultimately on an online platform?

M.B: At first, I was in denial. I felt like this does not fulfill my education expectations and takes away an opportunity to gain professional experience when working with an institution, as well as to connect with visitors by telling stories and fun facts about my project. Nevertheless, the online platform has given me a new challenge. I had to rethink my ideas and do it fast. I wanted to at least try and create something that would only exist digitally. I aimed to transform my work for viewing online rather than take documentation photographs and have an exhibition within an exhibition. This was the main task that I gave to myself. There was a lot of uncertainty and doubt but in the end, I believe I stayed true to my way of working and it turned out well. Generally speaking, I am not keen on art tourism, so the idea of nicely prepared interactive online exhibitions could be used more frequently in the future.

C-P: In your search to convey auditory perception and visualizing sound; what are some thoughts your have arrived at over time?

M.B: Simplicity! When I began thinking and writing about this project two years ago, I had no clue how it would turn out, as I have never really thought of sound visually and I do not have synaesthesia. Coming up with exciting ideas and visions is so much easier and joyful than making them work. Throughout my education at HDK-Valand, I tried a lot of different ways to visualize sound. Some of them, at first, I categorically denied, but later I had to go back and do it anyway, as for example, using a software to do the job for me. If I did not try something, I would not have known if it was indeed a good method to visualize sound. I aimed to be strict and direct in my translations. However, I learned that the power in sound perception is through tactility and sentiment. I often must remind myself that all sound depictions are fictitious, and my journey is just starting!

Monika Balu ‘In Close Proximity (Alarms don’t bother me)’

C-P: What can be specifically said about the execution of your degree presentation ‘In Close Proximity (Alarms don’t bother me)’?

M.B: The way I displayed my project for the UGot platform was rather an introduction to what I am concerned with, and what thoughts I collected regarding sound perception and auditory communication. 'In Close Proximity' stands for photographic and video works and takes a close-up perspective to investigate the haptic qualities of hearing, while '(Alarms don’t bother me)' is solely dedicated to the interviews that I conducted with people that hear differently. Excerpts from the interviews have been turned into poems and are read aloud. I am forever grateful to everyone who participated and gave me a sense of belonging! The audio is the first step into my work, as when we first hear, before we see, when waking up. The online presentation also functions as a map to find out how I work with sound and what elements I use. Particularly speaking about the choice to have a banana backdrop, it was to create a competition between the background and the photographs and video works. This is the same way sound operates in a crowded environment. We must put effort to filter it out so that we can understand what is being said.

C-P: What’s next for you in the rest of the year?

M.B: There are so many ideas that I want to work on in continuation of this project! It feels like a never-ending adventure. Of course, I wish to get my work out of the screen (and closet) and exhibit it. I have done a couple of pieces that were meant to be on display at Röda Sten, which I decided not to show for the online exhibition. Thus I am excited to work on the physical shows that are coming up in the end of summer and in autumn and give a voice to my works offline.

Mathilda Frykberg, ‘Kyrie Eleison’ (still from video 4.53 min)

Mathilda Frykberg

C-P: What were your thoughts about having to present your final project ultimately on an online platform?

M.F: I think this whole process made me realize how fast things can change and how much you can actually do in a very short time. I remember that we were joking about cancelling the physical exhibition because of Covid-19, but that it could actually happen did not even exist in our imagination. And then just two days later it was a reality. I guess, for many of us it has been a process of accepting the loss of all the possibilities that comes with working together with an established art institution such as Röda Sten Konsthall, but then also to find new energy, change direction and gather inspiration to see new possibilities in this digital format. For some the translation of their works in this sphere has been very natural and for others much harder. I guess you could say that some values have been lost and others added. For me personally I am very happy for the possibility to spread our works more widely online and to invite friends from far away to partake. C-P: What can be said of your overall practice and body of work to date? M.F: Even if I have studied photography for three years, I would say my practice is not really centered around photographs but rather in an interest in images and how they affects us. I am working with both text, video, installation and sound, and I am trying to expand the image into the room in different ways. I am also interested in involving other senses than just the gaze and have for example used scents of rosemary and tar in some earlier works. My practice revolves around very basic existential questions that I try to reflect upon through more specific narratives and imagery. 

Mathilda Frykberg, ‘Kyrie Eleison’ , soft pastel drawing

C-P: Something I loved about your presentation ‘Kyrie Eleison’ is the way it juxtaposes drawing and video together, using two elements that while connected (I’m thinking of how video and film often is preceded by sketches and drawings) rarely appear to be presented this way. I also found it timely and very relevant, your interest in prompting imagery that stress reflection in an existential direction and surveying humanity’s need for religious practice. M.F: Yes, this work began in a kind of mental picture that kept coming back to me. A dinner table that seems to have been abandoned. I decided to work with it to understand what it means. I spent a lot of time with this scenario by making many drawings and then filming a set of a table installation. While drawing I explored the different settings and interiors surrounding the table, and when making the video I discovered the relations between all these very tactile materials, the body and the room. I guess you could say that I contemplated on the image by working with it artistically in these different forms. I also believe  that by repeating it in two versions, a video and a drawing, I emphasize it’s importance, making it kind of an underlined statement. At the same time I like the openness and abstraction of the image and that each person can tell their own stories departing from it. 

And yes, I think many of my latest works have been focused on this need for existential reflection and religious practice. I am sometimes surprised that topics related to religion are not very often represented in art, and when it is, many times it is from a critical point of view. I always thought about the religious and the artistic experience as something deeply interconnected. Both are trying to give physical form to something abstract and both could be useful tools for us to navigate in life.

I made a project during my second year at HDK-Valand that highlighted connections between religion and electronic dance music. The project started from a couple of articles about a still thriving night life in places brutally affected by war. This made me think a lot about this very basic, human need for solace and existential contemplation. Places to both escape and contemplate the surrounding ongoing traumas. If we are no longer practicing these needs inside religious rooms, maybe there are other places that open up for the same kind of relief? For instance the dance floor or sometimes even the artistic experience. At the same time, even if Sweden is seen as one of the most secular countries, there are still a lot of religious people here, practicing their beliefs every day, alone or in communities. To me this is very inspiring. Living in a time where truth and purpose are mostly defined by capitalistic agendas, I believe that introverted existential contemplation and reflections upon your own morality and position in this world become essential to be able to act critically and ethically. C-P: What’s next for you in 2020 following your graduation? M.F: I still hope that I will get the chance to exhibit my degree project in a physical space somehow, but who knows… Except for this I am eager to try my wings! I want to make a book and would love to work more collectively together with other artists. I am also thinking a lot about the possibilities and challenges of working professionally with art, far away from the major cities. I grew up in Värmland and I like the idea of moving back, starting a simple life with maybe less money but more time… Now, when so much takes place online, maybe geographical distances are not creating the same gaps anymore…At least I hope so! 

Oskar Kardemark, 'Photographic Homecoming & Origins of Fathers' (1995/2020)

Oskar Kardemark

C-P: How did you find the idea of presenting your degree project online instead of in a physical setting?

O.K: Making work assigned for the web is an art practice in and of itself. As an artist who doesn’t normally make work for the web, transforming a piece to fit the online format in an innovative way, in no less than two months, felt foreign. I think these past months have shown in what areas online solutions fall short. Exhibitions are undoubtedly events that are difficult to replace. I build my own frames as part of my practice and the way that I present work. To get access to the wood workshop at school was my main objective in the weeks leading up to the show.

C-P: What can be said of your overall practice and body of work to date?

O.K: My practice is firmly rooted in the photographic tradition and craft. From this position I often venture into interdisciplinary collaborations, for example, with choreographers, costume designers and poets. Identity, interhuman relationships and masculinity are some of my recurring themes. I write, both as a method of mapping out my fields of interest and as an artistic outlet. As such, my writings often end up as essays that can explore an array of subjects. My visual language draws on a fascination for the staged and the performed. I have a great trust in photography’s ability to relay complex narratives and structures.

Oskar Kardemark, 'Photographic Homecoming & Origins of Fathers' (1995/2020)

C-P: There’s a beautiful timeline aspect in your degree presentation and an element of “slow art” that is bound to be touching. What are some epiphanies about time and bloodline on a humane level that might have struck you during this work?

O.K: I´ve been struck by photography’s ability to connect occurrences and individuals from different time periods. Through photography, I was able to place my father next to his father. A vulnerability emanates from these men as they try to connect with their past. In the photographs, they are nearly the same age, standing on the same spot, but with 25 years between them. Through photography they exist in the same way, both equally near and equally distant.

Borrowing an analogy from Norwegian writer Tor Ulven, the photographs are like antlers on a deer, visible, but connected to what he called history´s invisible skeleton.All houses eventually fall. Then there are things being passed down from generation to generation that don’t perish as easily. The work is situated in that gap between that which decays, and that which remains. In an essay written in connection with this work, I address the different notions of nostalgia operating in these images. The topic feels particularly relevant today when retrospection and nostalgia is on the rise.

C-P: What’s next for you in 2020?

O.K: I have just rented a studio together with a few of my former classmates. There I will continue to write, publish and turn out new work. I have also gotten a job with the department of public art at Region Västra Götaland. I work as team leader and curator of public art. The job primarily entails acquiring art and managing art collections within healthcare environment.


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