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The Bungalow, 2014

Anouk Kruithof Talks Books, Travel, Feminism & More

Anouk Kruithof is a Dutch artist currently based in New York City. She has been exploring and questioning the picture-plane, image, materiality, physicality and philosophy of the medium of photography for over a decade. Her multi­­-layered, interdisciplinary projects take the form of photographs, installations, artist books, text, sculpture, ephemera and performance. Kruithof was an Artist-in-Residence at Light Work in May 2013. Her new book, The Bungalow, was recently published by Onomatopee. She recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for her forthcoming book, AUTOMAGIC, which she worked on while in residence at Light Work.

Below, Kruithof and Light Work’s Jessica Posner engage in a conversation about The Bungalow, AUTOMAGIC, travel, feminism, and more.

Jessica Posner: Hello, Anouk! You were an Artist-in-Residence at Light Work in May 2013. Can you tell us a bit about what you worked on during that time, and what you have been up to since then?

Anouk Kruithof: During my Light Work residency, I spent the first week on my book Pixel Stress, which was published by RVB Books in September 2013. The other weeks I worked on my upcoming book, AUTOMAGIC. It is a very extensive project containing work from 2003 through 2015, which I started working on in May 2011. Readers can check out my Kickstarter to learn more about AUTOMAGIC.

In 2013, I made the solo show Everything is Wave in gallery Boetzelaer|Nispen in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In the Spring, my small solo exhibition Within Interpretations of a Wall opened at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. I did nine months as an artist-in-residence through ISCP in New York. This summer, I started my publishing platform, Stresspress.biz. I’ve published two more books: Untitled (I’ve taken too many photos / I’ve never taken a photo), self-published, and The Bungalow, published by Onomatopee. Shane Lavalette, the Director of Light Work, basically checked the first dummy of The Bungalow in May of 2013.

In the past year I’ve traveled a lot too: Jamaica, Mexico, LA, and Europe. I’m currently living in New York City, and I just found a new studio on the Lower East Side. I am crazy about it!

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

JP: It sounds like you’ve had an amazing two years. Congratulations! I’d like to start off a conversation about The Bungalow by asking you about a phrase that you use in the introduction of the book, “screen-reality.” Can you expand on that term?

AK: The world by now is dominated by photos. In this world, people function as processors of an ongoing stream of images. For many of us, it has become more normal to look at the world through a computer or iPhone screen, than seeing it in physical reality. We filter reality by means of a screen, and thus experience life in this way. That reality is limited to a rectangle, even though this screen-reality is ascribed a “full view.” But the real full view, the context, fades when we take in such large quantities of photos through a screen. Photos have become pieces of evidence of entities. By this I mean that a thing that has been recorded only exists because the photo shows us it’s there. For many, a photo is proof that what is depicted exists for real, even without physically or consciously having seen the object in reality. Seeing in the physical sense has been degraded because of this. Seeing is the only sensory process remaining, while the other sensory experiences—smelling, touching, tasting and hearing—have no role to play in screen-reality.

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

JP: In The Bungalow, it appears as though you are very assertively colliding a history of what appears to be manual collage with a much newer imagery/language of digital image editing softwares like Photoshop. Can you tell us about this?

AK: Instead of the physical environment, the computer screen provides the frame in which you play with objects. Within this screen-frame, you slide the new entities (the photos) into, behind, and/or across each other. We do so consciously in Photoshop, or unconsciously by opening multiple photos or windows simultaneously. By making a screenshot of this compilation, you create a digital still life. A new entity comes into being, with its own origin on the screen (versus originating in physical reality). “Screenshot-photography” is born. In my view, this is a way to record the screen-reality in which we live.

JP: I find myself lingering on the spreads in The Bungalow in which you are abstracting bodies engaged in what appears to be sexual or physical power play. Though you are abstracting specific content through the process of collage, the images of bodies performing through restraint, obfuscation, or other forms of manipulation persist.

AK: The bodies of those women are clearly acting some kind of scene between bondage and wrestling, and were literally cut out by my hand and a scissor. An empty void fills them up, their forms becoming sculptural. I find the forms more interesting. The imagination provides more to wonder about. Spectators are given space to visualize what they want to see or desire. I, for example see a white form vacuuming. But, actually, the vacuum was the body of a woman. To me this is funny and raises questions.

The white shapes let one focus more on the environment, the backdrops, and the furniture; rather than the acts those women are performing in the original photographs. Removing the women’s bodies also means relieving them from the previous situation. Maybe it was a power play before, but I don’t know. I wasn’t there when the pictures were taken. Neither do I know how those women felt when posing for those pictures. So I see it as a symbol of liberation.

There is so much female nudity in the history of photography, and often as a gesture of dedication and appreciation for beauty and female body. But to me it’s usually tiring, banal sexiness. Women are seen as objects to look at, and photos are sketches of surface.

This chapter does raises some questions about the position of women, the mystery, the funny side and the never ending intelligence, strength and power of women. At least that’s what my intentions and thoughts were.

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

JP: Your response makes me curious to ask if you consider yourself a feminist? Does that play any role in your art practice?

AK: Of course I am a feminist, which woman isn’t a feminist? Maybe the ones who don’t know what feminism means. Luckily, I am surrounded also by male friends who are feminist as well. I don’t necessarily manifest feminism through my art works directly, though, because I like to think about making work and striving towards a more holistic universe of equality. I feel that’s a huge task to think about. It’s what makes me depressed at times, like, “what to do?”

I have so much energy… what’s the richest and most valuable way to transition this energy for a bigger cause? But the thoughts are overwhelming and bring me in a deep dark black hole, because one can only do just a little. The best is to be honest to yourself. Do what you love and believe in this. Hopefully, it resonates when it’s truly sincere. Even if you don’t know what it actually is, you give what you can give. Bring it out there.

JP: Do you see the work you do as political? To me, presenting a critical, visual story divergent from more traditional or popular modes of presentation and representation (which you articulate above) could be interpreted as a political act. Was this ever your intention?

AK: My work is not political. Socially engaged, for sure. I strive to make rather layered work because I appreciate work which leaves space for people to engage with it by raising questions, leaving gaps, and intervening thoughts on different layers. It’s about respecting that people with different ages, cultural backgrounds, different emotions, and experiences will take something out of a work. What matters to them, what makes them wonder? My work isn’t a one way road with no space for u-turns.

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

JP: I realize I’ve gotten a little off track, and maybe this is as good a time as any to make a u-turn to return back to The Bungalow. There’s something really sweet and strange about this spread with the skeletons. Can you tell us about it?

AK: From what I know about the photos I chose, those skeletons are the ones used in hospitals or classrooms in biology or anatomy lessons. It looked to me as though some people are fooling around with them in a basement, treating them as a real persona. The old ladies are laughing, the man dancing with them could be a doctor or biology teacher. They are just dancing with the skeletons, carrying them around. I think the people in the pictures are drunk. Those photos were probably taken by amateurs, and made me laugh out loud. I could not quite get how this situation would appear.

Isn’t that not the most interesting thing when you look at photos? They should be like question marks. That’s almost the only way I get hot from a single photo, if its embedded with some question mark behind the surface of what we see. Evidence by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel is maybe the best example of what I’m trying to explain. Some of the images I chose from Brad Feuerhelm’s collection remind of, and relate to, that work by Sultan and Mandel.

JP: It’s almost as if the question mark, or that open ended unknowing, is your punctum which connects all of the images you choose to work with.

AK: If a photo does bounce this question mark towards me I have already passed by. There are too many photos. They are everywhere. One needs to develop a personal filter system to not drown in the image-ocean we’re living in.

JP: Are there any other chapters from The Bungalow that you’d like to tell us more about?

AK: Command Shift 3: New Photography is the chapter where you see some images opened in Photoshop and then re-photographed by making a screenshot. It’s a digital way of making a still life photo, screen-reality is a reality too. It’s like taking of a trip and stepping into some sort of parallel world. And like in a trip, I don’t want to see some images, while others enrich me.

I do not want an overdose of photos, and the abundance of photos must not make me forget the distinction between reality and screen-reality. Like a drug addict, I assume to have my photo-consumption under control.

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

JP: In looking at The Bungalow alongside your other books, it is easy to notice your incredibly vibrant and adventurous colors choices. Can you talk about how you arrive at specific palettes for each project or book, and what that decision making process is like?

AK: I filter life through color. Its broad pallet is brimming with strong mental qualities. This is most of all the case with indeterminate hues. While I mainly work with photography, I tend to manipulate, filter, order, and work with colour in ways that might seem to make more sense if I were painting or drawing. For example, Happy Birthday to You is printed on dirty mint-green paper because that is the colour I saw on most of the walls and in the isolation cells in the mental institution where I was doing the project. This color is supposed to have a calming effect on patients, although I think it might just be a placebo effect. When the institution was being set up, the powers-that-be decided to paint most of the walls this color. So, in this case, the specific color adds something to the project’s content. In Becoming Blue, I used blue because of its art historical and psychological meaning.

I deliberately remove color as well. The combination of black and white is a statement. Part of A Head with Wings is in black and white. A huge part of Happy Birthday to You is too, even though the images are printed on dirty mint-green paper. I also made a wallpaper diptych Der Ausbruch Einer Flexiblen Wand (hart/weich) in black and white.

I choose colors for specific reasons. Organizing things in color is a strategic way to create order within chaos, mostly because I’m always overwhelmed with material. I take too many photos and I’m an obsessive book collector. I always have too many things on hand. Working with color or non-color calms me somehow. It has a meditative effect on me and adds a specific aesthetic quality to the work. You might notice this more than I do, since for me it feels natural to work this way.

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

JP: Several times, you have used travel as a metaphor while talking about your work. It seems travel is a really important part of your life and art practice. How does travel feeds your practice as an artist?

AK: I love to be in the air, in the ocean, deep down under, or on the road. Movement is important. It’s what makes my life, and maybe my work, dynamic. My worst nightmare is to be a “real” studio-artist. I could never live/work within four walls, working only with materials and my own mind. That being said, I do need to work in a studio. Working with interventions on the street, traveling, interviewing people, and collaborating are important for my practice as well. Photography, video, and text make a connection with the outside world, which next to my digital persona, makes life interesting to me.

JP: If you could go anywhere in the world for any length of time, all expenses paid, where would you go, and for how long?

AK: What a question! I would love to be and work in New York, actually, this amazing place with people of all nationalities in it is unique. I feel it’s the place where this hunger for a more holistic universe of equality comes closest of all places in the world. The energy and drive this creates is fascinating and makes me not want to go anywhere else. But my visa expires mid-September, so maybe this plus my love (who lives in Europe) will make me move back. But I don’t need to think about this yet! I just moved into my new studio and have three interns coming to work with me until the end of June. I love being in New York. In this eccentric place, everyone is slightly insane.

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

The Bungalow, 2014

From The Bungalow, 2014

JP: I always felt at home in the city when I lived there as well. Although, I do find that as an artist eccentric contexts crop up no matter where you land. So, what’s up next for you?

AK: Finally publishing my AUTOMAGIC book! I’m also developing my photo-sculptural practice, which will be shown at Art Bruxelles at the end of April. In September, I have a solo show with my gallery, but I have no idea what I will show.

I’m also working on a project around surveillance, anonymity, the representation of the self in media networked realities, and indexing/anti-indexing. It’s a huge collaborative project where I make simple photos of the back of heads of people posing against a simple one-coloured wall or piece of paper. It’s sounds boring, but it’s going to be thousands and thousands of pictures—heads becoming pixels. Brains and thoughts of people of all nationalities will be captured in there. Maybe it’s going to be statement on the failure of human encyclopedic unity.

JP: Thanks so much Anouk! One final question: What’s your favorite cocktail?

AK: The “Angelita” from the Experimental Cocktail Club, which is super close to my studio!

One of the most remarkable experiences in my life was diving the Cenote Angelita (a sinkhole) in Tulum, Mexico. You dive through a gas cloud hanging between saltwater and freshwater. When you’re lost in this gas cloud, looking up to the sun, it’s as if being in cosmic energy, as if the whole spectrum of color surrounds you, as if you’re breathing the roots of the tree. Once you go deeper through the other side of this gas cloud (~150 ft. deep), you see this bizarre set with a tree and the edges of sinkhole. It’s like caves surrounding you. It’s an outrageous experience. You have to walk with your diving gear through the jungle quite a bit too before you arrive, and you have to love diving and not be afraid of depth and small spaces. After the dive, you’d better smoke a little to emphasize the experience. I did this dive with an independent, hippie instructor who holds his gear in a van on the beach and we had a super high time together! When drinking the Angelita cocktail, I dive back in this memory.

JP: Thanks, Anouk. I, of course, want to encourage our readers to buy all of your books and check out your Kickstarter for AUTOMAGIC. I’d also love to encourage them to check out the wonderful video documentation of your books online. I love watching the way you handle the books.

AK: For me a book is an experience, an intimate meeting as well. I like to walk through a book with my fingers the same as how I explore the world traveling.

To learn more or support the publication of Kruithof’s AUTOMAGIC, visit her Kickstarter page.

Anouk Kruithof‘s work has been exhibited extensively throughout New York, Europe, Asia, and Australia. She has published seven artistbooks. She is the recipient of the 2012 ICP Infinity Award from the International Center for Photography and the winner of the 2011 Grand Prix Jury and Photoglobal prize at Hyeres, festival international de mode et de photography. Her work is in the collections of FOAM Amsterdam, Het Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Fotomuseum Winterthur Switzerland and Museum Het Domein Sittard NL, MOMA library, ICP library, Pier 24 library, and the library of Het Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Jessica Posner is an artist, Communications Coordinator at Light Work, and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Transmedia at Syracuse University. You can contact her at jessica@lightwork.org.

On Being “The Photographer’s Wife,” an Interview With Laura Heyman

On Being “The Photographer’s Wife,” an Interview With Laura Heyman
Laura Heyman and Jessica Posner

Laura Heyman is a photographer, Light Work Lab member, and Associate Professor of Photography in the Department of Transmedia at Syracuse University. She’s been working in the Light Work Lab in recent months in preparation for her current exhibition, Render, at Artspace in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The exhibition features a collection of images from Heyman’s ongoing project, The Photographer’s Wife; and is on view from Sept. 2- Nov. 5. 2014.  Below, Jessica Posner (Light Work Communications Coordinator) interviews Heyman about her work, process, subjectivity, humor, and more.

Jessica Posner: You’ve been in the Light Work Lab a lot in recent weeks preparing for an exhibition. Can you tell us a little about the project you’ve been working on?

Laura Heyman: I’ve been printing images from The Photographer’s Wife, a project I began in 2003. The photographs present a female character as the central subject, often gazing intimately at the camera, suggesting an artist making images of their lover. The locations in the photographs vary, but many of them are domestic interiors, further adding to the feeling of intimacy – viewers get the sense they’re seeing something which is essentially private.

Untitled from The Photographer's Wife, 2006

Untitled from The Photographer’s Wife, 2006

JP: In these images, you are both subject and object; but not in the sense of a traditional self-portrait. You are mediated by a fictional character. Can you talk about how you play with the position of the subject/object in this body of work?

LH: The model/subject’s job is always performative — she must be able to portray both a true and idealized self. But in the case of these photographs, the problem is slightly more complicated. As the model/subject, I must convey not only this multiple subjectivity, but also reflect back to the viewer an imagined photographer husband.

JP: Would you care to go a little deeper into one of the images (your choice)?

LH: There’s an image I made in the bathroom of an apartment in Florence this summer. The location had a really strong pull for me – it’s a beautiful room, with amazing light that’s also kind of harsh. There’s a strong color scheme, and the space is a little strange, because the bathtub looks like it was made for a small child.

Untitled from The Photographer's Wife, 2014

Untitled from The Photographer’s Wife, 2014

I knew I wanted to make an image in the room, but wasn’t sure what exactly what to do with it. A week before returning to the States, I found a color photograph from a 1940’s magazine showing a woman sitting in a very similar bathtub. She had her back to the camera and was looking into a small hand mirror, hair piled on top of her head in a bun. As soon as I saw the image, I knew that was it.

I began imagining the conversation/negotiation between the artist and model that could have brought them to that pose, and other iterations they might have tried but ruled out.  I spent a couple of days looking for an appropriate hand mirror, observed the light in the room over another couple of days, and at the appointed hour, set up the shot. I filled the tub with water, approximating the pose from the magazine over two rolls of film, stepping in and out of the tub to set the self-timer and wipe the water off the floor in between shots. On the third roll of film, I changed the pose, leaning back against the wall to face the camera. I’d been up late the night before and it shows –  the light in the room accentuates the circles under my eyes and every crease on my body. It’s a strange picture. When I saw the contact sheets I almost didn’t recognize myself. There were only a few of the non-mirror images from the shoot, but these are the ones I was most drawn to, and what I ended up using for the exhibition.

JP: Can you give us a little insight into your working process? Both conceptual and technical?

LH:  On the technical side, I’m usually shooting medium or large format film. Up until a few years ago, this was true of both still and moving images – I shot 16mm film rather than video. Now I shoot mostly analogue large format film and video.

Conceptually some projects are very simple – there’s something happening that I feel should be recorded. This was the case of The Last Party, which documented the final days of Ocho Loco, a warehouse I occupied in San Francisco from 1990 – 2003. In 2003 the building was slated for demolition (to make way for live/work lofts). My roommates and I wanted to do something to commemorate the space before it disappeared. So every band that had ever played there was invited back for one last show, which lasted almost 24 hours. I drank a lot of coffee and photographed the party from beginning to end.

Bagdon (Left) and Maggie (Right) from  The Last Party , 2003

Bagdon (Left) and Maggie (Right) from The Last Party , 2003

With other projects, the process is a little more complicated – it may start with a question, something I’ve been turning over in my head for a while. The Photographer’s Wife was partially influenced by a story a friend told me about the wife of a well-known photographer in San Francisco. In college, I’d seen the requisite images of Eleanor Callahan, Edith Gowan and Bebe Nixon that were part of any photography student’s education, and I had always been fascinated by them. I wondered about their lives, wondered what they thought about the images we’re all so familiar with. Then I received this sort of inside story detailing what it was like to be a strong intelligent woman involved in the creative process in a very direct way, but without any of the rewards that artists normally expect or receive. I realized these women weren’t the romantic figures I had imagined them to be when I was younger, but they weren’t tragic or exploited either. I had been making some images of myself, not self-portraits, more like performance stills, and hearing this story made me see those images in a new light, moving the work in a very different direction. I began thinking about and researching performance, reading biographies of artists, and looking at a lot of work that explored questions similar to the ones this research produced for me.

JP: Is there a thread that flows through all of your work? What is it? Where do you think it comes from? How do you see it manifest in this body of work?

LH: I don’t know if I could say there’s a thread that runs through all of my work. It tends to change a great deal from project to project. But there are definitely themes I return to; one is an interest in narrative structure, and the ways that narrative can be transmitted to the viewer. The narrative form that drives a lot of my research is cinematic, in part because film has the ability to colonize human experience and memory in ways that are almost impossible to quantify. So some of my work borrows from cinema’s use of art direction, set design and location. The second constant in my work is performance, which is of course inherent to the medium of photography; any subject who stands before the camera is arranging and editing not just their appearance, but also their persona. But I’m concerned with the performance taking place on both sides of the camera, how power can shift between photographer and subject, whether the image resulting from this exchange is more a representation of one or the other, and to what degree.

Untitled from The Photographer's Wife, 2009

Untitled from The Photographer’s Wife, 2009

Part of this interest comes simply from being a female artist who, as a student, learned about art by looking at images of women created by men. I’ve always been interested in the lessons art history teaches women, specifically those regarding the female muse. I wonder if it’s possible to internalize these lessons, and if so, what effect does this have on one’s own production?

This question became really significant to The Photographer’s Wife, alongside the question of whom I was performing for when I stood in front of the camera. In performing for this imagined figure (behind the camera, operating the camera), I began to think about who that might be and how to conceptually occupy both of those spaces and perform both of those idealized roles at the same time.

JP: Does humor play a role in any of this current body of work?

LH: I think so, but maybe I have a strange sense of humor. I find the performance of frustration or exasperation that occurs at certain points in the work very funny. Likewise, moments where the attempt to portray a feminine ideal is problematized or falls short, where the model is not seen at her physical best, but projects awkwardness and exhaustion instead of the expected languor and appealing, flirtatious sexuality – people often laugh when they’re uncomfortable, and for me these images are like a joke the viewer isn’t sure they should be laughing at.

Untitled from The Photographer's Wife, 2007

Untitled from The Photographer’s Wife, 2007

JP: I recently had the opportunity to meet your son Ace, age 10, who told me that looking at a photograph is like looking at a past life version of himself. It made me wonder what life is like in your house. What books do you have lying around? On your bedside table? On the coffee table?

LH: We’re big readers, so there are books all over the house. Most photo books live in my office but there are a few at home, among them The Wedding by Nick Waplington, which has been a favorite of Ace’s since he was baby. On my bedside table at the moment are A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Changing My Mind, by Zadie Smith, The Testament Of Mary by Colm Tóibín, and My Teachings by Jaques Lacan. Although I have to confess that last one was purchased at the end of the summer when I was feeling particularly relaxed and ambitious – I have yet to crack the spine.

JP: What are you working on now/next?

LH: For the past several years I’ve been working on two long term projects – The Photographer’s Wife, and Pa Bouje Anko: Don’t Move Again, both of which are pretty intense. So I’ve been researching ideas for something different, and this summer started collaborating with an artist named Michel LaFleur, who’s based in Port-au-Prince. The project is just beginning, so it’s pretty loose at this point, but the main ideas are based around language; the power and play of language and the written word. Michel is a sign painter, and we’re working with lists, titles and translation, producing  videos and a series of small paintings. It’s been great to work with another artist, and in another medium.

JP: Details about the exhibition?

LH: The exhibition was the start of a season-long examination of the use of the figure in contemporary art. Curator Shana Dumont Garr wanted “to explore the iconic relationship between the depicted and the depictor…. the ways that staging and self-consciousness may affect viewing experiences.”

Exhibition Details: 
Render: Laura Heyman and Leah Colie Wight
September 5– November 2, 2014
Artspace
Raleigh, North Carolina

Untitled from The Photographer's Wife, 2005

Untitled from The Photographer’s Wife, 2005

 

Laura Heyman was born in Essex County, New Jersey and received her M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI.Solo exhibitions include Palitz Gallery, NY, NY, Silver Eye Center for Photography, Pittsburgh PA, Philadelphia Photographic Arts Center, Philadelphia, PA, Deutsches Polen Institute, Darmstadt, DE, Senko Studio, Viborg DK, and Light Work, Syracuse, NY. Group exhibitions include Laguna Art Museum, Laguna, CA, United Nations, New York, NY and National Portrait Gallery, London, UK. Heyman has received grants and fellowships from Light Work, The Silver Eye Center For Photography, Ragdale and NYFA, and her work has been reviewed and profiled in The New Yorker, Contact Sheet, and ARTnews. Heyman is an Associate Professor of photography in the Department of Transmedia at Syracuse University.

 

Jessica Posner is an artist, Communications Coordinator at Light Work, and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Transmedia at Syracuse University. You can contact her at jessica@lightwork.org.