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Interview, September 4th, 2015 on the Occasion of the Exhibition "Dialogue - Anna Gaskell and Mia Unverzagt", Städtische Galerie Bremen 


• INGMAR: You have chosen a special form of cooperation. Mia, how difficult was it to give an essential part of your existing series away without knowing the outcome? Anna, how hard was it to be visually dependent on a colleague´s existing work which you knew well?

• MIA: We had already worked together on TELLING STORIES and I KNOW WHAT BOYS LIKE before we agreed to do this project. We had already spoken a lot about our ideas, and that, together with the fact that I have known Anna´s work for a long time and appreciate it, made it almost easy to hand over my photos and send the dresses to her.

• ANNA: It’s funny that you use the word cooperation. It felt more like a dare. It was easy enough for me to distance myself from the style of Mia’s work because I think there is a way of using the camera, less as an intruder and more as a participant, that seems to have been important to Mia’s practice for these particular photographs. I wanted to use the camera differently, as an illustrator, cataloging movement. I kept thinking of Mia’s title Holding, Protecting, Clinging…which sounds terrifyingly needy to me, I wanted to apply these words in a more methodical manner to inspire what I would make.

• INGMAR: Anna, did you have a work like this in mind before seeing Mia´s photo series and getting the clothes from her?

• ANNA: Bending my work around someone else´s ideas of how to make art immediately made me think of a dancer and their medium, their body. There is a film called “The Children of Theatre Street”, 1977, about the Kirov Ballet School, which is narrated by Princess Grace of Monaco. In this film a group of judges sit and watch as the young children audition for the ballet school (which is now called the Mariinskiy). Instructors stand before the judges with the pupils, and hold their limbs, pushing, forcing, and bending their little bodies in a strange inspection of how far they can push. I’ve been carrying the images from this film around in my head for the last 13 years waiting for an opportunity to try and explain my fascination with how the genesis of a dancer is created.

• INGMAR: Would you agree that both series are typical of your different way of working with people in your artworks? Even the titles seem to refer to this difference between the two of you.

• MIA: For HOLDING PROTECTING CLINGING I worked with people as I ususaly do. It is a process in which I provide the frame. I choose the setting and decide what the framework should look like. Then I invite others to come into that setting and do what they want to do / what they can imagine within the given situation. I am very curious about the choices they make and how they move and interact and accompany them with the camera. There is a lot of experimentation in my way of working.

• ANNA: Artists work with people differently depending on where they live. In the past when I worked in Des Moines, Iowa, where I am from, people would be insulted if I offered to pay them for their time. With the cost of living in NYC I must insist on paying people (and most people insist on being paid). “Invisible Storytellers” by Sarah Kozloff was the inspiration for the title VOICE OVER. I thought of the woman guiding the models (my downstairs neighbor Anne) as a ventriloquist.

• INGMAR: Neither of you worked with professional actors/actresses, nevertheless there is a strong touch of acting in both series. Why is it different, easier, better to work with ordinary people? And how hard is it to put people you know personally in the roles they take for your photos?

• ANNA: It depends on the project. I’d rather work with actors that are being paid than asking friends for favors. Getting a large group of my very busy friends together to help me with a shoot on a Saturday afternoon is a drag. But it was important for “Voice Over” to have all different kinds of women as every part in these photographs, the model, the instructor, and the judges. In a strange ‘Jungian’ way I thought of all of the roles as being played by me. And who better to have as stand-ins than the women I love the most.

• MIA: The point is: I do not put people in roles. I invite them into situations. It is about a social space in which we move, and this space changes if money comes into it because money changes the reasons why people do things, thus I never work with actors or actresses.

• INGMAR: You both chose a mixture of artistic media, with an art action first (performance doesn´t seem like a proper characterization for your series) and a photo series as the visual outcome for display. How important is the action in the first place and why is it more than some tableau vivants, but still not as important to let us participate in the performance?

• ANNA:I would never consider the photographs in “Voice Over” to be a performance. I’d like the production that is happening, to be outside of the image to stay outside of the image. The images are illustrations of instructions. I think of them as photographs in a medical book on C.P.R. (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation). They might be an image of one person pumping another´s chest, or pinching their nose, but I would never think of those depictions as a performance.

• MIA: The people I invite are working for hours on these performances. It usually takes a whole day and it is about being in a situation together. The photos are an extract, they are chosen by formal criteria. In my work formal questions are vital.

• INGMAR: Flashy textiles are the significant link between both of your works. How far did these strange elements limit, how far did they encourage the specific series?

• ANNA: Costume, lighting, and location is important, it doesn’t matter if one is directing real actors or friends, or if it’s in a gym or a field of flowers. I think Mia would agree that all of these elements are paramount to building a world that is believable to the viewer.

• MIA: As the clothes are clearly from a time long ago and the way they are used is contemporary to use them opens a gap, an interspace. And I love gaps.

• INGMAR: From the starting point of the textiles you get to very different settings (outdoor, romantic, expressionist versus indoor, renaissance, New Objectivity). Is this a personal artistic interpretation of the textiles or how important are they for the special setting of the photos?

• ANNA: The costumes that Mia chose were very 1970’s housecoat lady-wear and I was a little freaked out about how to fit this specific time-trap into my work. I always try to create costumes with a timeless quality in mind. I don’t want the viewer to be able to pin down the decade by what the actors are wearing…they may be able to by the way the photograph is constructed, but I try hard to avoid this factor in costumes. We ended up chopping Mia’s dresses up and altering the collars and buttons to make their period a little more open-ended.

• MIA: I am interested in how bodies move and how this movement depends on the surrounding. The physical as well as the social surrounding. Clothes, architecture, furniture, social conventions, personal preferences and possibilities of choices.

• INGMAR: There is a surreal touch to your photos. Was the absurd difference between the artificial postures and the natural settings intended (the flower field as well as the gym) ?

• ANNA: The activity between the actors and Anne is instructional; I needed an environment that would encourage a disciplined and systematic corporeal vocabulary. The gymnasium at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York also has a performance area with a tiny platform built into the auditorium. The photographs in Voice Over are framed with the platform at the back of the space with the grand drape pulled closed. For these images it was perfect to have a theatre with the house curtain down indicating the fact that this is not a performance

• MIA: For my work, I would neither talk about poses nor about artificiality. If you are working in the present societal situation however, there is no way to avoid absurdity, I just believe in HOLDING PROTECTING CLINGING, it comes from other sources.

• INGMAR: Your photo series trigger narrative perceptions. What role did narration play in the conception of your works?

• MIA: Susan Sontag said: “Only narration allows us to understand.” I hope my narration is dowdy and fragmented enough to avoid a clear understanding and I believe that this applies to Anna´s work also.

• INGMAR: Both photo series obviously stand for themselves as art works. Where are the strong links between both works that we will miss in future exhibitions? Or, what is gained by the direct comparison that visitors can experience in the exhibition at the Städtische Galerie Bremen and in this catalogue?

• MIA: I believe that objects accumulate stories (which is why I like to work with heavily used items, clothes and rooms). I am sure that some of the links you can see here will cling to the works even if they are not shown together.

• ANNA: The strong links that continue to run throughout my work play with the ideas of the original and the fake, the real and the copy. A year ago last September Douglas Gordon and I made an exhibition where we played with related themes. I really enjoyed working off of another artist’s work, and when Mia spoke of doing this exhibition together I thought it would be challenging to create a visual component that would always keep the work related to one another. The thought of the works from the Städtische Galerie Bremen being connected wherever they went, even after the exhibition, was appealing to me. I am definitely more romantic about my relationships with my female friends than with any man/boyfriend/husband.