"The past and present become very close in this moment but in another shapeAn Interview with Anne Kristin Kristiansen

An exhibition that translates the ineffable of the everyday.

Published: December 3, 2018
Words: Anne Kristin Kristiansen & Macon Holt
Website: annekristinkristiansen.com
Instagram: @anne_Kristin_Kristiansen

Central to the work of artist Anne Kristin Kristiansen is the notion of translation. And yet, if you look around a room in which her work has been installed, you won’t find a single letter, let alone a word in any recognizable language. Instead, you’ll find a spectacularly wizened branch juxtaposed against layered panes of transparent glass arranged like a deconstructed Mondrian set against a cast iron table atop which sits an object of utterly indeterminate identity comprised of expertly finished wood and what appears to be some kind of alien ceramic. The part of translation that Kristiansen is interested in is not the already overdetermined representations of daily language use, but rather the mechanism that underpins the very act of transforming expression from one coherent system to another; the strangeness that, in our minds, something that was once clearly one thing can become something very new and very different while remaining substantially related to where it started off. Kristiansen’s work is concerned with the relationships the act of translation reveals at both an abstract and material level.

Originally trained as a painter, Anne Kristin Kristiansen has an impressive resemé including stints at Freie Akademie der bildenden Künste in Essen, Ècole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris and The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and during which she also managed to squeeze in a BA in Philosophy and Culture. All this led her to the realization that she would have to follow her artistic interests off the page and into the physical spaces in which they were exhibited. Which is to say that it would be incorrect to consider her a sculptor in a strict sense because, while many of her pieces are sculptural and display a clear expertise in the practice, the focus is actually on how they relate to each other, how they occupy the space and how they are recontextualized by the space they are in.

What Kristiansen is translating in her work can be hard to point to directly. She says herself it can be something a little a gesture or a texture, or as grand as an idea contained in some great work of philosophy. But it is in the translation of these things into new objects composed particular materials and assembled particular constructions, new resonances emerge. And suddenly the connection between this tiny glance and that philosophical theory can become, if not entirely clear, at least comprehensible.

Kristiansen’s rapacious appetite for new material to translate recently led her to take a research trip the arctic to record the particular sound of near silence that is only possible when one is so far away. But just as John Cage discovered in the anechoic chamber, there is so much more to unfold in silence then might at first meet the ear.  Kristiansen’s opened her exhibition, Folding, in mid-November at Galerie Hovestadt in Nottuln, Germany, before heading off to China in search of even more ineffable things to translate with her unique methods. I recently caught up with Kristiansen while she was in the final stages of her preparations for her exhibition to find out more about her fascinating way of seeing the world and how she shares it with other people.

You trained, originally, as a painter, but have since moved into working with more diverse and sculptural materials. Why was it important for you to take your practice in that direction?

Specific aspects of spaces, their environment and context and the way they are perceived have motivated my recent works. To get there was a process, which started for me with painting and the medium still plays a role in my practice.

I often painted spaces that I tended to experience as geometrical or clear (but not necessarily clear in motif), wide, empty and silent. The emptiness and the silence seem to be very important here. Imagine a timeline on which you have a marked space; let’s call it the space of emptiness and silence. (There is not only one space of emptiness and silence, but let’s make it a specific one here and therefore call it ‘the space’). Before, and presumably after, the space “is” noise—the contrast between noise and silence or between noise and emptiness allows the perception of the space to be clear and strong. What interests me is what happens to the silence and emptiness after the noise—and how different the perceptions of the spaces can be. “The contrast” is just one way to experience a silence. There are many others. Another one is “focus”. Being in silence and focusing on silence can produce different turns and volumes. It can, for instance, become a very loud silence.

These aspects I picked up on in my paintings. With time, the question of perception gained more weight, which can be seen in that the formats and the display became a bigger part of the content. Perception is so interesting because it has these giant constructs of understanding and communication behind it. Constructs based on cultural and social codes. Looking back, it made sense to have slowly moved on to different media that would work more directly with the actual space and thereby get closer to the original environment again. Yet my ideas are still strongly influenced by the approach, which I had learned through painting.

A key theme in your work is translation, and yet your work is, aside from the occasional essay, decidedly non-textual. What is it that translation means to you and what facets of this process are you articulating through your practice?

When I talk of translation in my practice, I use it in a broader sense, believing that the mechanism, which we see in the process of translation, is happening all the time. [Laughs]—why did I formulate that passively?—It’s us translating, therefore it’s something we do all the time. Similar to perception, the kind of translation of which I’m talking about is a phenomenon, which has become so natural to us that we tend to forget about it. Because it is so familiar to us, it can act as a cloak of invisibility: I find this very interesting and therefore it became an important part of my artistic practice/research.

***I should get back to the mechanism shortly, and perhaps it would be good to use the textual translation as an example and to refer later on to the way I use it in my works. To give a fair warning: it will be a simplified example, focusing on certain aspects within the process.

In translating, for instance, a poem from one language to another, certain decision on aspects, which are important for the poem and need therefore to be kept and which should be sacrificed, have to be made. Aspects regarding motifs, phonetics, images, stylistics and so on. This decision will already set a frame for the possibilities the translator has and thus also be decisive in choosing a given focus on this or that aspect. The frame consists of those chosen aspects and the possibilities and demands of the language in which the poem is to be translated. Between the responsibility towards the poem and the language in which the poem will be translated into, the poem changes. On top, there is a change of cultural and social context happening, and that cultural and social context has certain discourses, which again, changes the perception. The translation becomes an entity, a work in itself, which allows for another perspective to which we otherwise would not have had any access. The process of translation repeats itself on different levels—by being read, the translation of the poem gets translated again, not into the language of another country, but into a personal one—which could also be called an understanding.

This is pretty much the basis for my artistic process. Only that instead of texts or poems, I work with moments, observations and phenomena. And the languages into which I translate these are different materials and media.

Beyond the individual objects themselves, there is an installation element to your work. What are you trying to bring out in the relationships between the objects and their arrangement in particular spaces?

I like the way that my works continue changing and can appear differently depending on their context. These changes happen within different layers of scales and influence the works. It’s an important aspect of my work.

To begin on a smaller scale, there are the single works ready to be exhibited, which often work with contrast within their shapes and materials, but just about holds together as a unit. The unit seems to become clearer because of the oscillating movement between unit and contrast. In an installation, this happens on a bigger scale. To give an example: I like to see how the material of one work connects with the material of another work, perhaps due to their similarity, but that contrast with each other in their shapes. It seems to be a movement of approaching and receding at the same time—a movement that happens throughout the process on different levels, in different paces. It’s like a net that is woven of the references that oscillate between the works with changing densities. To continue on another layer, I would say that even elements strongly represented in the city and the country one exhibits in can have a big influence on the work. One could fan out many more layers of context in different states of the process, but I’ll leave it here.

To sum up and answer your question: It’s the relation between them I like to bring out. How they respond and behave to one another. Ties, which are not directly visible.

There is a curious sense of temporality in your work. You have said elsewhere that each object you create refers to a concept with a particular history, and when translated, it produces something new. Could you say more about the role you understand time playing in your work?

It is something new, in so far as the initial point of the observation of a moment or phenomenon is always something that belongs to the past and refers back to this point through memory. Memory is always already a translation and one that keeps changing. Translating the memorized initial point then into another material and medium, furthermore placing it in another context with different reference, the initial point has undergone several changes. It becomes and continues to do so, something different and therefore new.

So yes, you’re right, there is a temporality there and on different levels.

You recently took a research trip to the Arctic to make audio field recordings. On the surface, this seems quite a long way from something that could be called research for your particular practice. What is it that you were after in the sounds of this far away place?

I wish I could go even further. Further and back and to the same places—every time is different of course. [Laughs]. Friends of mine were joking about outer space being my next destination.

The experience in the high Arctic was special. One has heard so much about it and seen images and documentation, but it’s nothing compared to finally being introduced to this giant beauty. Humans, I felt, are put into perspective by meeting this elemental/primal force—one that seems, to me, to be way more healthy and realistic.

The fascination I have for this part of the world is high, as is my respect. I always had respect for the strength and the forces of the sea and the ocean, I was never afraid of them – on the contrary, but I know their power exists. Even more so in the Arctic. It takes time to learn to read this nature as with every environment and it’s definitely worth it. I would go again anytime in order to get to know it better and work there some more.

But to answer your question: I was after the sound of silence in this particular environment and context. Snow, as well as the ice landscape, is to me very closely linked to silence. Therefore I went and tried to find out how silence and sound are affected by the materiality of ice and snow.

What I pretty soon noticed and which made me laugh was how simple my approach regarding silence had been at first. What happened, of course, is that different layers of silence unfolded. Every time I had zoomed in on one layer, it would unfold and become incredibly rich in noise and open up for several additional layers. There were so many different sounds that it became hard to find one sound that would translate the environment, as well as its materiality and how the cold felt to the listener. Instead of one sound, I found many, interacting and unfolding in ever so many ways.

The title of your upcoming exhibition is Folding. This is a concept with a rich philosophical and artistic history. What is that you are pointing to with the use of this conceptual frame?

What I like about the term ‘folding’, is how it links an image, the image of a fold, to a movement, the one of folding and catches a complex concept within an image that includes continuous movement and change. And I like the idea of something that folds. If I argue along my concept, I could say, that the work ready to be exhibited belongs to a present and folds back to a past. Therefore, the past and present become very close in this moment but in another shape. The image of folding acts on a linearity or plane surface at first, to then suspend it in the movement of folding and changing, and it continues to do so.

Deleuze is concerned with the concept of the fold and mentions the aspect that the outside of the fold shapes the inside and the inside becomes the inside of the outside. There is a paradox in this image. The inside is a double of the outside but remains as its own entity. How can it remain something different/independent, if it becomes ‘the same’? Foucault refers to the question of power relations. Power exists as relations of power. The possibility of resistance is based within those relations of power themselves; it is thus in resistance that one can continue to distance and thereby define and “free oneself”. The outside and the inside need each other in order to exist, but it is also in their dependency that they manage to define themselves and build up an independence/independent self. In reference to my work, one might say that the installation is an inside.

I’m curious about the way Deleuze and Foucault use the term “diagram”. I used to describe my installation as a diagram, but I’m not sure how it relates to their usage. I’m looking forward to finding out and to see where the definitions correlate or differ. The next exhibition will then be called ‘diagram’.– I’m kidding

What new adventures are on the horizon? Where should people be looking to see more from Anne Kristin Kristiansen?

The next exhibition is just ahead, opening on the 18th of November in the great Gallery run by Frau Dr. Hovestadt. This would be where you could find my work until 12th January. From December on, I’ll be in the south of China for a couple of months. I’ve always been interested in China, its culture and tradition. I prefer to live in places for a while in order to get a daily and a routine, which allows me to see the change of places that depend on the contexts and situations over a duration of time. It lets me get a little bit closer to the place and allow the place to get closer to me.

Kristiansen in the Arctic