by Ebba Webster
“When I went to the Arctic I felt a little nervous. Nervous that I might remember it more like something that never actually happened.”
Anne Kristin Kristiansen’s most recent exhibition, Folding, presents a collection of mediums and installations, with everything from sculpture, print, light and sound on display.
With a degree from the Art Academy in Essen and a bachelor in Philosophy and Culture already under her belt, she went on to complete her Master’s degree in June 2016 at the Royal Art academy in Copenhagen, where she is now based.
Calling Anne Kristin - or Stine, as she is known to most - a Copenhagen-based artist is , however, something of an understatement. Her search for new worlds of inspiration and taste for adventure has taken her across the globe. Most recently, she has taken up residency around the high-Arctic Svalbard Archipelago and Arctic Ocean. RAR recently caught up with her to hear more about working in the mystical snowscapes of the far North.
Your most recent exhibition is titled Folding. Can you briefly expand on the concept behind your works, and behind the name?
I work with translations — translations of certain situations, observations and phenomena into different materials and media. The single pieces combine in the installations to create certain contrasts and similarities. This can be, for instance, through their shape, colour, the characteristics of the material, etc. By placing the pieces within a certain context — in this case the exhibition space — they start referring to one another and build a unit through their relations. The installation is shaping something in itself — at the same time, it refers back to the combination of different aspects which it derives from, and reveals something about it. This is what the image, and the movement of the ‘fold’, represents. It shows how different aspects can fold into one another and what happens, if they do.
You recorded the audio for a sound installation in your exhibition during a recent residency on a boat in the Arctic! The Arctic is a place that most people are familiar with without ever having seen, which gives it a sort of abstract quality of surreality or mysticism… How was it to see, be and work in the Arctic?
Seeing the Arctic is an experience I would never want to miss. I remember the moment when I looked at the landscape and was so astonished by it that within the same instant, I felt a little nervous. Nervous that I might remember it more like something that never actually happened. Laughs. I think, on the one hand, it never totally lost that abstract quality of being too big and beautiful to be understood. On the other hand, it was very real, and I think one can’t fail to notice the forces of nature while sailing there, and to feel a little extradited at times.
When it comes to my work, I felt the difference much more clearly. I had thought carefully about what kind of projects I wanted to work on but, of course, unexpected situations will always arise. I had not thought about how little space there would be on the vessel — how there was no ‘redundant’ space to lay out bigger sheets of papers for drawings for instance — let alone of how seasickness could and would influence the working process. Though, even if considered beforehand, I guess one first understands the conditions when actually being in them. And even more so, when being out of them again. Smiles. But one finds solutions.
In another interview, you talk about your interest in silence and how it can be experienced differently; it is more noticeable when experienced through contrast (with “noise”), but experiencing it through some other way - like focus - might evoke a different kind of silence: a loud one for example. Could you expand upon your work with the idea of silence, and why you chose to work with this idea in the Arctic?
I’ve always been interested in sound and how it can influence atmospheres. I noticed that the sound in winter — especially when the degrees go below minus — changes. As if the sound bounces back differently from the material, whose density and materiality has changed due to the weather and the cold. Having had this experience I became interested in catching this sound, and translating it into a new context.
Snowscapes have, for me, always had a very silent and quiet quality about them. Ice and snow create different kinds of sounds — sounds that I think are often experienced as silence. The snow muffles sounds, swallows them, whereas ice evokes another quality. It bounces the sound back in what can be described as a hard way. Yet it also allows the experience of the environment more clearly, the wideness of the space for instance. Being able to hear ‘wideness’ through sound is a kind of silence. Or, it’s a kind of association. Not directly the experience of silence, but linked to it.
Then there is the sound of snow and ice itself. Listening to it, one might be surprised by how many different sounds there are, especially in ice – lots of cracking, bubbling and squeaking sounds. Unexpectedly loud, and constantly working. The snow-sound is, as mentioned, more muffled — it swallows the sounds, which makes it harder to record. Smirks. And then there is the wind — in the open spaces or between mountains and icescapes, and on the water. This gives an impression of quite a different kind.
Travelling and exploration seems to be central to your creativity and process. On the website for the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, your work is presented alongside a quote about “thick description” from ethnographer Clifford Geertz. How does it relate to your work? Do you see yourself as a form of ethnographer?
I would say there are many similarities in the way I work and the way Clifford Geertz talks about the work of ethnography. Clifford Geertz talks about ethnography as being a fiction — not in the sense of being fake, but in the original sense of the latin word fingere, as something which is formed or shaped. By doing so, he asks for a description that does not make the mistake of trying to appear objective, but which stays close to the construed observation and reflects the ethnographer’s own interest and role in their approach. This description, “thick description” as Geertz calls it, may then say something more generalizing about the culture in which it has been observed, but without being abstracted from the act of observation itself.
These moments can lead to another perspective in which one suddenly sees one’s own culture more clearly. They are not always pleasant - laughs – but I would say they are always enriching.
I vaguely remember one of Geertz’s examples that he wrote about. On one of his research journeys he encountered the concept of — and I can only translate it as I read the book in German — the ‘day serpent’. When Geertz asked a woman of the tribe what the day serpent looked like, he was told not to be foolish, and asked in return if he was able to describe what Tuesday looked like? That, he remarked, made him realize that evidence also depends on the point of view of the observer. Remembering this incident never fails to make me chuckle. It highlights the absurd feeling of how one’s own culture is ‘reality’ to oneself, only because it is familiar, the standard.
Both Gertz and I, I would say, translate observations — or phenomena or data for example — into another media, but with a certain awareness and reflection on our own role and interest in the process. But in order to convey the original observation, we choose a different media. What we both aim to do, I would argue, is to allow the observer to experience something of the ‘original’ observation but within a new context, thus allowing for another perspective.
Anne Kristin Kristiansen’s latest exhibition ‘Folding’ opened in November at Galerie Hovestadt in Nottuln, Germany. Ever the ethnographic explorer, she is now off on new adventures, travelling around Southern China. To learn more about her work visit her website, https://annekristinkristiansen.com/