LONDON / COPENHAGEN OCTOBER 2009
ANABELLE DE GERSIGNY / MIE OLISE
Where does your name come from?
Olise I made up myself as a child, as my Dad’s name is Ole and my mums name is Lise. Mie is a common name in Denmark.
Do you come from an artistic background?
Not really. But my background is the source of my art anyway. My dad was a boatbuilder and we sailed for 10 years in the Scandinavian seas. I used to walk around huge docked-up industrial ships by myself at every harbour in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. At one point we had a sawmill, which we abandoned, as we went bankrupt.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on the Island of Mors in Denmark. Actually the first few years of my life were spent living in a police station, where the jails were all empty, and they became the backdrop of many of my doll plays. I really liked the very pretty pink carpet in the staircase to the jails. The Island of Mors, is also the home of the writer Axel Sande- mose, whose story I am going to work with in my next project.
I want to start with the process of making art for you – your work has a very tactile aesthetic, something rough, touchable – you aren’t precious with your media. The detail is in the accumulation of media, in the elaborate imaginings that inject the work with life. The climax is a culmination of a new world from an abandoned one, with the many elements playing against each other in one space.
Are your different media different worlds for you or do you simultaneously work on separate aspects of one project/installation?
I think about my projects as simultaneous parallel systems. But I use myself very differently in the different processes. In the studio, I am a painter, and work the paintings up over time. There is the conceptual idea behind the work, but as a painting develops it becomes alive and in that way, has its own life and decisions. It takes over for a long while, until I step back and take distance and start to analyze and control the process again – I continue balancing those two processes, until I think the work is finished.
My videos on the other hand, are planned from beginning to end, and the nature of film, together with the fact that I am not a trained filmmaker, turns this process into something collaborative. I have photographers, editors and sound experts to help me, and it becomes very much a process of expressing and understanding the images and feelings that I would like to evoke. The process is much more complex and I really enjoy managing all these different aspects of filmmaking because I am so often alone in the studio.
Building large scale constructions only happens in the very last minute of installation, on-site, in the exhibition space and you never really know the end of the story until you stand there underneath the structure. I build small models of the space and based on my analyses of the specific space, I discuss the architectural problems or features in these models. In the end, it becomes clear that there is one idea/model that is better than the others, and problem-solving starts: materials, “how-to” and assistants/experts come into the project and we build it bit by bit.
How does a day in the studio unfold?
A day in the studio starts a little late. I normally start with a break. I always have many things to do, and I start with the fun things first. Sometimes I think that my biggest motivation is laziness, and I have to trick myself into working. Yet, I think that the studio-days are the main reason that I am an artist. I love being in the studio. So I read, drink coffee and at a certain point something already on the canvas is not good enough and I have to go and work on it. As I am working in so many different geographic places, and it is always not really my place, I need some things there that are constant. I have a suitcase with inspirational clippings, my brushes always travel with me and my chair and blanket for relaxing are also very important.
The journey back and forward to the canvas is a route I have known now for 20 years, so that is also a place I really relate to and feel comfortable in. I climb out on the roof outside the window to look at the paintings and get new perspectives.
At the end of the day, I have to do all the boring things, build new canvasses, clean brushes, carry heavy materials – all the things I postponed.
When you paint there is a fluid series of instinctive events that culminate in the paintings – you have said that the action of painting is a bit like the action of building for you – of layering strokes of wood/paint. Would you say that the structures are the sketches for your paintings or the paintings the sketches for your structures or neither?
When I “build” my paintings, I am thinking about them very much like paintings, the image between the four pieces of wood on the canvas. I am thinking about contrasts in colour, strokes, structures, layers and lines within the frame. And then there is a thing I can ́t really explain that is the gut-feeling of the painting. Paintings – in my view – can not only be conceptual, because the brushstrokes and the layers of paint will always be in the way, to me that is the greatest thing about painting!
In the structures I am doing a bit of the same, just in the space; but on the other hand, the gut-feeling is often conquered by the conceptual. Not that they are opposed, because I feel that I always work poetically with my concepts. I can´t explain my concepts in one sen-
tence, it is more complex, both the structures, films and especially the paintings; and that is why I need to make them visually! They are not really sketches for each other, but two different ways of approaching the same narrative.
Similarly, are the paintings an extension of the sculpture or the sculptures and extension of the paintings or neither?
Talking into particular consideration for example your exhibition at the Barbara Davis Gallery where the painting and structure seemed to be linked with steps.
As I work with projects and a narrative idea of a story, I feel that the different medias definitely speak about it differently and from different angles, at the same time they overlap, because they are a product of me and my eternal discussion. The different medias can do different things, and that is why I want to work in them. In this exhibition the body stands under 180 kg wood, that is hanging from a hook with a bag of 180 kg coffee. How the body relates to this weight and smell is important, and it interacts with the body on a different level than the paintings do.
Is each media a separate line of enquiry or are they reliant on each other?
I think they could each stand alone and tell a part of the story and when they come together, they unfold sometimes overlapping and other times with a space between them. I have no intention of telling a full and finished story, so it is not because I want to tell the whole and true story through the use of different medias, maybe I want to contradict myself or open up for more interpretations.
You often use the twist of a bright sharp colour in your paintings – why is that?
In my mind, I have “true and untrue” colours (and sounds and songs), which I have had since I was a little child. Things I like by heart and things I don ́t like. And when I have used all my favourite colours (or sounds or materials), I just need to ruin it a bit. I don ́t love the bright colours, but somehow I think they bring a dynamism and contrast to the paintings and to the story about the abandon- ment. Like small lights in the darkness. Modern things in the old and wornout.
Can you tell me a little more about the recurrence of boats in the paintings?
The boats are the most literal image in my works in that this is what I have seen. It is my language, I just know it. I can ́t imagine abandoning this visual image, as for me this subject matter is a language I feel I can use most fluently, and capture it. In that way it also becomes the least literal because it can mean so many different things.
You create maquettes of your structures – are these to ensure they are structurally sound or are they sketches? Do you ever create a maquette that never becomes an installation? They discuss the space and my ideas. And from those, I can discuss and talk with other people, so they know what I have in my mind. They are working conceptually with the space, and not so much as constructions in an engineering sense. When I did my architectural degree, I often pretended that gravity didn ́t exist. That is a concern that comes after the idea! A lot of the maquettes never go up as they were only investigations.
Where do you find the materials for your installations?
When I did the reclaimed wood installations it was always a struggle, and I have relied a lot on luck. Renting a car and driving around to find a house being torn down. I was lucky with that in London and Houston, Texas. With the structure COLLAPSING / RISING at SNYK Skive Ny Kunstmuseum I have used new wood. I wanted to copy the ceiling of the museum room and old wood would pose unnecessary questions. With the pink and dark purple colours the narrative about the amusement park has evoked quite a new language, but the deconstructivist lines are recognizable from the former structures, it talks about the collapsing roof or the growing of the roof.
In recycling materials, are you interested in the environmental issues surrounding the places you use as the source for your work?
Yes I am – not so much as a source of materials as a concern for the accumulation of things and the layers of materials in the city. Reusing the places that are abandoned, but I am not suggesting how, I am focusing on these empty shells as something valuable and important, to use somehow.
In what ways would you like your work to alter the viewers perception of the world we live in?
I am primarily working in a psychological sphere combined with spatial perception: shared and personal memory, loss of time and childhood and poetic consideration of what once was, utopias and how ideas fell to the ground. I hope to evoke both a melancholic and romantic sense.
I believe that art can hit the individual person in the stomach in a very special way. That art is the only thing in the world that does not have to have a linear road to a specific result – understood by the brain immediately. It might take a while, it might take years, and sometimes it doesn ́t happen. But I believe that art has the possibility to make you wonder, ask questions, induce a gut-feeling or just remember something you forgot, or come up with a new thought about life.
I am interested in Freud’s studies of the Uncanny (das unheimliche/ unhomely), which is a term often being used when something dead shows signs of being alive, for example – if a doll suddenly blinks its eyes. That feeling of being afraid of the dead thing, expecting it to somehow become an unpleasant surprise, and the curiosity of exploring new territory to me is the step backwards and the step forward that can hold you in a psychological limbo that I find interesting and nerve-racking when I approach a new abandoned structure.
At the same time my interest in abandoned places and societies also carries a will to point out layers of history and where we are adding layers all the time. In a way I would like us to stand still for a second and rethink the speed and accumulation of our capitalistic society.Why didn ́t this work? What can we learn from it? How can this become of new use and create new foundations for ideas and thoughts? I also have a problem with how age is seen in our society, old people are not respected, the young don ́t want to learn from them. I have the deepest respect for my grandparents, they lived through the 2nd world war with very little trying to give us everything they could. In our society old is ‘uncool’ and people have a crisis when they turn 30!
What do you call your installations – structures, sculptures or something else?
I call them mostly constructions (sometimes structures) because for me everything is a construction or a system. The way society works and the way an artist works. The layers and timelines of the world.
As a viewer, we are kept out of your installations – often we can look in but we cannot explore the world inside – is there any particular reason for this? Would you say that Inside/Outside is a motif in your work?
Sometimes there is a way in. At the Barbara Davis Gallery PENETRATING PORES OF CONSTRUCTIONS show, there was a hidden way in, and a little poem inside. At Istanbul Biennale there was a video inside, and in Skive you could walk inside the structure. There is definitely a big difference between the inside and outside of the constructions. And I feel it is always like that. That there is a big difference between being inside and outside, and how you want to break out or get in. And I try to capture people inside or outside, to see what it makes them think about and want to do.
You studied architecture before becoming an artist – are you now more influenced by the architecture of a space or by art?
I am influenced by a lot of things, psychology and society in general. How we live amongst eachother, how we grow as human beings, emotionally and intellectually. Aesthecially I am very influenced by sound. I think my language and how I chose to express my ideas, is somewhere between architecture and art. I guess I can ́t help thinking in structures, but having painted since I was 15, it is difficult to separate the two for me.
With regards to your influences – we talked once about contemporary artists from Copenhagen. Would you say there was any element in your work which you would credit to being routed in something Danish?
I think the Danish school of “thick paint”, which is actually more a German school, has influenced my work. When I was 13, I saw Kiefer and Baselitz, and I just knew I wanted to be a painter. I am inflenced by a lot of people today, because I enjoy painting, and simply can get high on a section of a painting that I think works.
Would you say you are more influenced by European or American art?
I used to be mostly inspired by European art, because my origins are European, and that is what I grew up with. I can´t run away from that. But the American expressionists have also influenced me a lot and today I find it difficult to make a choice – we all build onto the same history.
If you mix Mike Kelley with Guston, Saville and the music of the musician Beirut it talks to me a lot. At the same time, I can imagine thousands of different expressions within that broad spectrum. I for sure would not come up with a combination like that, before I started working, it is just people I like for different reasons. I might build onto their work, but I’m not sure if it is visible.
Your work in some ways conjures up stories, narratives of the lives of the ghosts and creatures of your abandoned spaces – are there any authors that you have a special connection to, that have influenced this direction? What are you reading at the moment?
Paul Auster. I like his way of writing and exploring other people’s lives like a detective. I like how the cityscape is used in the writing. It is very much how I approach my abandoned places for the first time. Making up rules about how I can travel around them and what I am investigating. I am re-reading the Danish/Norwegian writer Axel Sandemoses novels about the fugitive “Esben Arnakke”, who fled my Island, Mors, by ship in 1916 and went to Newfoundland. This summer I went in his tracks up there. My dad named our wooden ship after this character, and I am working with the tracking down of “Esben Arnakke”, both the sailor and our ship, which we lost in ́86. The last thing we know about it is that it is in Holland. I am also reading Kafka’s Slow for a group show I am co-curating and Poetics of Space is always on my table.
Your work inhabits the boundary between figuration and abstraction, reality and the imaginary. Is it important that it belongs to all four of these worlds both practically and psychologically?
I like my work to be able to be read at different levels. As I also see my work as “a construction” with many layers; within this construction the works are plotted in different places. Some people might see the figurative reality, others see the abstract and imaginary, I like that a lot. It is not so clear, maybe it can even come across as a mess, I work with many medias and I am far away from minimalism. That´s intentionally.
ANABELLE DE GERSIGNY
Lives and works in London. Following studies in Fine Art, Anabelle started working for Phaidon Press in the contemporary art department, she then went on to set up the Tram Depot Gallery, London. From 2006-8 she managed and curated the Alexia Goethe Gallery before starting in her present position at Hauser & Wirth, London.