Through my practice I explore relationships between fantasy, technology and ecology. I do this by arranging excursions to landscapes, which in unintended ways have been transformed by humans via tourism, financial speculation, infrastructural breakdowns and technological interventions into nature. My working method is characterized by a high degree of active exploration of virtual and real landscapes. As humans, we have developed technologies, which enable us to transform the world around us, so that it resembles our fantasies and culturally produced urges. However, often the transformation of imaginations into real world infrastructures fail to become as originally intended and new types of realities and landscapes come into existence- producing a semi-constructed reality around us.
FIELDWORK Q&A – March 2016
How is fieldwork part of your practice?
Field work is part of my practice because I explore landscapes as well as natural history collections and virtual worlds. I do work in the field, which I then later process and develop into material for public display. Topic wise, I think there are interesting relationships between how we archive animals, and how we transform entire ecological habitats and landscapes to resemble particular ideas about what that landscape should consist of.
I try to continuously challenge and experiment with my practice. Fieldwork to me implies a sense of active exploration by the artist, where the practice is not focused on developing a unique piece of art, but used as a way of examining something; be it a landscape, social, cultural and other ‘issues’. I think you could say all art is in a way examining things in the world, but I fell you can think about relative degrees of direct engagement with something ‘other’ than the art work itself. My work is always firstly developed in the field – I go somewhere and use my practice to ‘research’. Perhaps ‘examine’ is a better word to use. Field work to me, in my artistic practice, implies that I engage with material in ways that are also emotional and appealing to the senses, as well as comment on wider socio-cultural issues. I do not think about field work in my art as a form of science. Instead, I see it as a way people can explore multi modal ways of learning about things in the real world.
Field however, is a much more complex term to me when thinking about my own art. In my work A Cartography of Fantasia for example, I observe plant and animal life at abandoned tourist infrastructures in a desert of Spain. However, while filming I also spent two months in relative solitude while developing this work, and I would often sleep overnight at abandoned tourist resorts as to be able to fully immerse myself and record two days in a row non-stop. I slowly developed thoughts on how we live in a society that favor storytelling and images over ways of sensing and becoming aware of our immediate physical and biological surroundings. So while I explored the landscape in the field, I was also exploring how human fantasies about the tropical had converted an entire region of Spain into something totally unexpected – a new form of post-human ecological habitat. You could say that I was trying to use my art to explore a mental as well as a physical field, a landscape outside of us, and a landscape within our imagination.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
My field work activities are based on my interactions with landscapes and archives. I first research an area online, find historical material about a landscape and why it has become transformed because of financial speculations or related activities. I then go to Google Street view where I have a look at what is around. I then go and physically scout the area to look for interesting objects, locations and other things that may convey some deeper stories about current culture and society. I look for physical and organic clues of how humans have unintentionally transformed an entire landscape. While doing this, I take notes and I try to be in absolute solitude, as to be able to immerse myself and develop some unique points of view. When I explore an area I look for physical signs in the landscape, how trees are planted, how humans have built, and how animals have changed behavior in accordance with human interactions. From these traces I extract material in video and collected objects, which I then later use to talk about wider societal topics.
A part of my field activity is my own imagination, and how it corresponds to my surroundings. If I see something that captures me, I start to get some ideas for scenes and for interactions. I write down my ideas, then make a list and reflect a second time on why I got certain imaginations when exploring a location. I then think about how that imagination may reflect some deeper and wider tendencies in my own culture, that I can then draw on and use to develop something meaningful to others.
I spend extensive periods of time just recording, thinking and reflecting. It is important to me, that I am actively engaging in a conversation with the landscape and its histories. For my work A Cartography of Fantasia I have 16 hours of film, and the final work is 15 minutes. So that is less than 1% of the total footage used. That way of working is very different from wanting to go somewhere to set up a scene as part of an existing storyboard.
To give another example: I just finished an artist residency at Studios at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, assets for artists program. While scouting for interesting locations in the mountains, I came about one of those yellow school buses they have in the states. The bus was flipped over, its windows smashed and wheels torn off. The bus was at a small scrapyard owned by an individual in a snowy mountain-scape. When I saw the bus, I immediately got out of the car and took some pictures. I am now exploring the history of that place more, who owns it, was the bus a crash or just an old bus that someone bought to scrap for metal and sell? I then got the idea to use this bus as a scene, where a form of futuristic sci- fi shaman will perform rituals that summon images of past imaginations of alternative utopian futures. So somehow, by interacting with the landscape up here physically, I start to develop ideas about how I can interpret what I see and use that to develop something meaningful that examines wider societal issues right now. This may sound like a ‘crazy’ idea right now, but my work A Cartography of Fantasia started out much the same way. When I planned my trip to the abandoned tourist infrastructures, I did not intend to create exactly the video I made. My work develops as a direct response to the locations I visit.
Without working in the field, I cannot make my work. It is developed on the go and in conversation with the places I interact with. I also engage with local experts on the history of the places I visit. I get their point of view, and by doing so, it changes my own and how I intend to film the locations I visit and interact with my surroundings.
For my next work that I will develop, I want to combine my recordings made of metal scrapyards while I was a resident at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and combine this material with material from collections of world fair items. So in that way, I have thought of merging two otherwise ‘unrelated’ fields, and somehow fuse them together. This work will ultimately explore objects from the past then, that were created in the image of some alternative high technological utopian futures, compared with a reality where local economies have started to suffer from extreme centralisation – recycling material from the past. This idea is still being developed, but it is what I am working on now.
I am also inspired by 19th century art and science excursions, where artists and scientists joined to explore particular areas. I think these forms of excursions are not only about finding some form of scientific truth about what is observed on location, but also ways of telling stories about distant locations and organic life that somehow remind us of something within ourselves.
How are you currently sharing your fieldwork?
In my work I am currently working on building dioramas that includes specimens I collected in the field; rusty soda-cans, insects dried in the sun, stones and building materials. Material that summarizes the landscape I visited in A Cartography of Fantasia. Some of the material I draw, some I 3D scan and some I video record. I then juxtapose these different ways of representing the landscape I visited. Since I also use natural scientific ways of drawing in ink, methods developed in the 1800, I try to paraphrase different ways of looking at nature and how technology and the tools we use to visualize what we find in the field have changed over time; from observation drawings to satellite recordings and camera footage.
I am planning to find ways of sharing my work in other formats, such as texts with images. Because I do extensive research in terms of reading about the locations I film and talk with people locally about the areas I visit, I am very open to develop new formats in the future. Since I have developed work with natural history collections also, and because I will be making work with archives on world fair items later this year, I want to develop a more interdisciplinary and collaborative practice. I would love to make larger excursions with other artists and different professionals, and ultimately develop some form of large-scale installation and publication. For that I will need funding and external partners, but that is not something I am unfamiliar with.
A Cartography of Fantasia