Anna Kleberg in conversation with Emelie Persson, arts editor
on the installation “Back and Forth”
On my bedroom wall hangs one of Anna Kleberg’s earliest images. It shows a red room with dollhouse furniture, a table and four chairs, perhaps waiting for the nuclear family to sit down to dinner. Or perhaps they have just left. One of the four chairs has tipped over. In an otherwise quiet and still photograph, the overturned chair creates a dissonance so powerful that my husband has long felt ill at ease looking at the image. One night last spring, while we were excepting the fourth member of our family, he sleepwalked. He removed the photograph from the wall, turned it round, and placed it on the floor leaning against the wall.
Some months later, one day in August, I’m walking down the stairs to Anna Kleberg’s studio. It is dark and chilly on the way down to the old windowless subterranean storage space. A heavy door opens automatically and closes shut with a bang, followed by dead silence.
Our conversation can begin.
EP: I called you some time ago while I was working on a feature on how dollhouses are used in contemporary art. You invited me to your studio to look at your new images. You said that the work you’re doing at the moment also references dollhouses.
AK: Yes, the reference to dollhouses in these images is the fact that it is a closed space with well-defined architectural shapes. I use light to create some kind of atmosphere. That’s maybe something that everyone doesn’t do with dollhouses but I have always done it with mine. It has something to do with playfulness, too. Just as in my earlier works I have aimed for a playful relationship to the creative process.
EP: The starting point for this work is this very space. How has it influenced you, being here?
AK: Only for the better, I think. I try to think of various ways of using the space. On the one hand I can take photographs and make films here. I would also like to present other things, invite people to do things here. And it’s a storage space, which is reflected in the rent. I get a lot for my money, which is good.
The most important thing was that I decided to do the exhibition here in Stockholm and in this studio. Previously I have worked a lot while travelling, so I felt that I should try to be here all the time. The point of departure was to try to make my everyday life and my work function together. It may sound boring but I really needed proper everyday routines and I wanted to be able to enjoy them.
Another new thing is that I work with figures or humans, for which the studio is also suitable.
EP: It’s the first time you depict people in your images. How has it been?
AK: I have always wanted to do it but I never found a way of doing it. I touched upon it when I photographed the offices for Inc, but in that series humans were more like a part of the fixtures. Here it’s a person who acts, obviously on instruction. It’s not at all documentary.
EP: What made you do these works at this time?
AK: I really wanted to work with people. I started by using various photographic techniques. It’s a kind of reaction. Today, with mobile cameras and so on, photography has taken on a whole new meaning. A lot of the photography you see today looks the same because of digital technology. I wanted go back, not for nostalgic reasons but I wanted to work photographically to a greater extent than I have perhaps done before.
I started by disassembling double-exposures. I was gripped by a desire to make the images three-dimensional. First I thought about making 3D printouts. Then I realised you could keep them two-dimensional and take them apart and make an object out of them. Making 3D images is about separating the colour fields but I wanted to do it rather more analogically. The result was these figures, which I will print directly onto raw MDF board. It was more like an experiment, which I enjoyed playing around with. They are not ready, so I don’t really know what they will look like. I think they will go well with the boxes, too.
EP: These images are powerful. It’s a bit like you’re pointing a finger at the static images and the modernist architecture that you have depicted before.
AK: There are references to happenings and actions. And the fact that there is a person there, that’s something new.
In the works you refer to, I thought that my photographs would lead to a discussion about this type of architecture, perhaps a critique of it. But it’s probably difficult. I reached a point where I felt I had to do something else. I felt I was suffocating. I was also afraid of being pigeonholed. Your work takes you places and suddenly you’re not sure if it was you who made the choices. I wanted to regain control.
It was good fun and very liberating to smash all the boxes. But we have toned it down a bit. We ended up realising that it’s more about balancing and holding together than destroying. The work has kind of changed directions.
EP: You went from destroying to holding together. What happened?
AK: For me, these images were more interesting when it wasn’t so obvious what’s going on in them. Something is happening and it’s quite tough. And then there are references to the kind of pictures where you let go and smash things. That was my point of departure rather than I wanted the result to be too punkish.
EP: Did you start out punkish in order to break with your earlier images and then you toned it down to be able to approach them again?
AK: Yes, I guess so.
EP: The process has been the important thing in this work. In what way?
AK: I thought about what it means to create an artwork. I’m more interested in the photograph in and of itself and the creative process than the end result. The way I see it, a lot of the stuff today is very well packaged. We have become experts in packaging things. It looks very nice. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
I will probably include that container in the exhibition. That’s where I will throw surplus props and things that have been rejected, so it will represent the process.
EP: Here is an inspiration picture for the container.
AK: It’s a performance group from the ’60s. A happening, the Grand Union II performance in 1971 at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Some images just stick in your mind. First it inspired me to do the film, but then it turned into a model for the container.
EP: When I visited you the first time, there was a bunch of colour photos here. Now they are gone. You have previously made series both in colour and black-and-white. Why did you reject the colour photographs this time?
AK: I wanted to work with analogue photography because I like it and you can do much more with a black-and-white image than with a colour image. And, of course, there are references to happenings and the ‘60s.
EP: But you tried colour as well.
AK: Yes, I did. But then the graphic elements disappear. The architectural component also disappears completely in colour. It’s interesting with colour and black-and-white. A colour photo is much more commercial because it’s easier for people to relate to. You have to test your ideas. That’s why I like this process so much. I have given myself more time with this work. I use sheet film and it’s really expensive. This is where you have an advantage with digital photography – you can really test a lot. So I use digital technology for tests, etc. Shall we go and have something to eat?
AK: Let’s go to Gruvan on Djurgården. This is where I run. My friends and I run around the Djurgården Canal a couple of times a week. It’s a nice way of seeing your friends.
EP: Do you talk while you run? It sounds incredibly sporty.
AK: Yes, but we’re getting really fit actually. Sometimes I run on my own. That’s when I do my best work. You come up with all these ingenious ideas. Not always, but…
EP: Do you run with music?
AK: Without, actually, just to be able to work at the same time. And to do something completely different I also ride twice a week. When you’re riding you have to be completely focused so you can’t think about anything else. How about Quinoa salad with Parma cheese and walnuts?
EP: Sounds great.
AK: I’m really looking forward to Monday when we’ll shoot the film.
EP: What’s the difference, do you think, working with still images compared to moving images?
AK: There’s no big difference. I work with film in the same way as I work with still images. Of course, shooting a film automatically includes more people. And I find moving images fascinating. So, it’s good fun trying to find new ways of working.
EP: Why have you focused so much on buildings in your photographs? What is it with architecture that interests you?
AK: It’s interesting to look at architecture, whatever it conveys. It’s not so much about whether it’s good or bad architecture; I see it more like objects. I am interested in people and what has happened in the places but my imagination is fired up when there are no people there. I use architecture in a rather ruthless way; it doesn’t have to look good or be functional. In the new work there’s a graphic shape that becomes interesting visually.
EP: Your new images make me think of Louise Bourgeois and Laurie Simmons. Explicitly feminist works with women’s legs and buildings. Woman carrying the home etc. Do you find that in your pictures, do you think?
AK: I read in the paper yesterday that only 21 percent of men use their parental leave. If you live in a family with children as I do, feminism and gender issues are inescapable questions. Vigorous political efforts are required to improve things on that front, which is also true outside the family. I haven’t thought consciously about feminism while working on the images but I leave it open to the viewer to produce their own readings.
We have cleared our plates and finished our coffee. Lunch is over. Anna will return to the studio to prepare for Monday’s shooting. Before she goes I have to ask her:
EP: How do you react to hearing about someone sleepwalking and removing your work from the wall?
AK: It’s fascinating! I have heard of people being sick, panicking or experiencing powerful emotions from art. But to sleepwalk and remove a picture from the wall and turn it round, that is really a quiet subconscious demonstration. It’s very interesting and somehow I’m flattered that one of my works can provoke such powerful emotions and at the same time a little distressed that the photo has been hanging on the same wall for close to ten years. Are you going to move it now?
EP: We may move it out of the bedroom …