Excited to catch up with Kristin Austreid, whose work I shared on the site back in June of 2014 when she had just finished her MFA in Bergen, Norway. I’m excited to catch up with her and share some of her recent work here!
It’s been over four years since your work was shared on Young Space, and at the time even the format of the website was different! We’ve never done an interview, so I thought it would be really cool to follow up with some questions about how your practice has evolved. At the time, you had just earned an MFA from Bergen National Academy of Arts. Are you still in Bergen?
Still in Bergen!
A lot can happen in four years, artistically! I’ve noticed that your recent work does not contain the human figure, though perhaps still hinting at the notion of the body, while the figure was very much a presence in your earlier work. How do you feel like your work has evolved since 2014?
A project can sometimes start as a necessity out of previous work, like one project makes the next one possible. Were you leave a project and were you pic up the process, can be a key moment not to overlook. I came to a point in my practice were I really wanted, and also needed to develop. Somehow the work I was making and the process of making them wasn’t in tune with me, in a way. So I started focusing on the moment in between my projects, and waiting for a good timing to «start from scratch». It came after spending over a year working on a commission with a specific plan. At that time I had a strong need to experiment without knowing what it would lead to, and by opening up the process it became more evident what my interests was really about. In that way I didn’t actually start from scratch, but by giving myself the freedom to do so, my method started changing.
During the MA and the first years after, my work was more about psychological themes concerning the body and tensions between an inner and outer self. But something happened when I got my own studio, it became easier to listen to the materials and my self. Stepping away from the human figure was a way to turn my focus outwards instead of inwards. Basic themes in painting like perception and representation, composition, color and texture has always been a big motivation, but now I treat it with more weight. I think the woks I’m doing now are more open, and at the same time more precise.
Are there any new themes or ideas you have been exploring? Or is there anything that has been a consistent thread in your work over time?
Ever since I started studying art I’ve treated painting as a space for placing elements together, like a concentrated area to look at relations; how two objects can transform in company of each other. It’s a poetic approach, but I’ve always had an analytic interest as well, understanding cognition and how we process sensory input. For me, learning about the brains function is also a way to understand the one-on-one meeting between the viewer and the work. In this context I’ve become more interested in the relation between the painting as an object and the idea of depth in a painting. I try to address both aspects in my work.
In my latest project I used a camera as a distorting optical device to study different materials through, and the painting is where this is interpreted and materialized into detailed studies. The camera becomes a tool to create a distance between what I am looking at and me.
When I started this process I began taking pictures of objects and surfaces. And then I processed the printed images in different ways and arranged them together with objects. This combination of the flat photo and the three dimensional object has again been photographed. For each round shifting between analog and digital processing, the motive is gradually transformed, affected by light and what the lens captures. Each step is increasing the distance from the starting point. This is where the painting process begins, which in a way is bringing it closer to the feeling of materiality and closer to the starting point, but from a new and distanced perspective.
To me it’s about pushing familiar objects out of the mundane, to observe them from a distance and to look for qualities and potential beyond the original context. I try to emphasize formal aspects like color, shape and composition, without loosing the object itself out of sight and all the things they imply without being that thing. I think about the moment an object goes from being random to become a specific object, this change in value, like evidence material, and how to visualize this change.
I guess it all comes down to the act of looking. How observing something can be a way to extend or reach out, both in the actual process of painting and also when looking at a painting.
Are there any exhibitions or progress that you’ve made in the past few years that really stand out as moments of success?
Success can be measured in different ways; for instance, getting my fist studio with a door I could open and close had a drastic impact on my work, and in that way a success.
Receiving a working grant from the Art Council Norway felt like a huge accomplishment, also getting bought into collections and selected for the Annual Art Exhibition of Norway, the «outside stuff» you know is important for your career and gives you a push to keep on going.
I painted a tennis ball on top of a painted mattress some years ago. This small mattress painting had been lying in my studio for a long time without me knowing where to go with it, but with the tennis ball floating above it, something really interesting happened. I couldn’t fully grasp what the tension was about, but it gave me a strong intuitive feeling of substance. It started the process that eventually led to my latest exhibition in Oslo.
In 2016 I got this funny prize from The P:I:G Foundation founded by Henrik Vibskov. I was not in any way expecting to get it, but I applied because I find Vibskovs practice, with his way of juggling between different genres, so inspiring. Even though my work can be seen as «art-art» – I mean, I work with realistic painting, I find it useful not to think that I’m making art while in a process, it could really be anything. I like to see myself as a «maker». That resonates with the 6 year old me, the teenager in me, the 25 year old and who I am today. But the P:I:G prize, when I went to Copenhagen to meet him and receive the prize, I was so nervous that I must have left such a boring impression. I had my presentation as planed and there was a party, but I never managed to really talk to the guy, ask him about his practice, get some advise. That felt like a failure. So when talking about success, failure is never far away.
Did it take some time to adjust to pursuing an art practice outside of the art school world, or did you find it to be a natural transition?
I’m very self-driven, so ending education and continuing my practice on my own was deliberating in every aspect. When I finishing my degree, Statoil’s (now Equinor) Art Collection bought my MA project, I had two solo exhibitions coming up and a contract for a commission for the Port Authority. I was able to live from my work, and that felt like a huge relief. Over the last three years I’ve received a working grant, which has been amazing. I try not to take this for granted though, sometimes it feels like I’m in a bubble that’s about to burst at any time.
What is your studio like?
It’s a very plain studio with a big ceiling-to-floor window by the harbor in the center of Bergen. It’s a part of Aldea, which also runs a gallery and a workshop for wood, metal and digital fabrication. I’ve been here since beginning of 2018, so it is still not completely «worked in».
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode to make work?
I need to feel that I’m on my own. I don’t like hearing people talk, or anything that gives me the feeling of people being near by, so I listen to music. Brian Eno often gets me into the mode. During the last year, Apollo has been my go-to album when I need to focus. I really love the strange blend of Daniel Lanois’ pedal steel and the atmospheric 80s synths. But if I’m already in a flow I also listen to podcasts and sound books. I find that I work better if one part of my brain is occupied with something else. In periods I’ve started each day with writing. And I practice meditation, that’s a very useful tool.
What do you do if a piece you’re in the process of making is just not working, or you feel you are in a creative rut?
I’ve made a lot of stuff that just feels wrong in the end, and if I have a bad feeling already in the proses I just leave it. But if I’m lacking motivation, it usually helps to get more input. I’ve been close to obsessed with reading, listening and looking at interviews with writers. They talk about their process in a different way than artist I think, they tend to be more open. Looking at interviews with creative people in general usually puts things in perspective. If the problem is more existential it helps to get some distance to the art scene. Sometimes I dream about being a beekeeper.
What was the last thing you read, watched, or listened to that had an impact on you?
While working on my latest project I came across Aldus Huxley’s «The Doors of Perception», the essay on his experiment with the drug mescaline. I found it unexpectedly relevant to my work.
I should also mention Tor Ulven, one of the major post-war writers in Norway. His work has made a strong impact on me.
Can you share any pieces of advice that have been particularly useful?
This is maybe not like an advice to pass on to others, but I’ll share some things that have stuck with me. My professor during the MA often talked about how a work can be closed or open, and in pre art school they encouraging our process to be intuitive at first and intellectual after. How this translates into a process differs from person to person, of course. To me it’s about the idea of finding instead of coming up with. To be observational, listen and catch what comes along. What’s already out there surrounding me is not constrained by my own limits, and that’s a deliberating thought. This has made me more aware of my process, to value uncertainty and not fully understanding what I do while I’m doing it.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you’re working toward currently?
My next solo show is in 2019 at Entrée in Bergen, an independent non-profit gallery run by Randi Grov Berger. I have great respect for her work, so I really look forward to working with her.