Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Conversation with Sara Applegren

Candace and I were introduced to the work of Sara Applegren when we were invited by Tema Stauffer and David Andrew Frey to guest curate an issue of Culturehall; for that feature - titled Framed- we included images from Sara's series View of a Passing Landscape.
Sara's work is a fresh and modern as her name and we are delighted to present this conversation today.

© Sara Appelgren

NP: Tell us a little about yourself.

SA: I was born in 1975, in Nyköping, Sweden, and now I'm living and working in Stockholm, Sweden. I got my Master of Arts at Konstfack (Stockholm University College of Arts Crafts and Design) in 2004 and since then I have been freelancing as an artist and photographer.

© Sara Appelgren

NP: How did you discover photography?

SA: I started taking lots of personal pictures of myself and my friends during my teens, so I actually started learning photography and darkroom techniques fairly early on, yet during my first three or four years of art studies I focused almost entirely on sculpture and drawing. It wasn't until my studies at Konstfack (1999–2004) that I started to seriously incorporate photography in my art. There I learned more about lighting and advanced camera techniques, and how to use it all in a more controlled and conscious way. So ultimately it took me several years of art studies to kind of shift into photography, and to this day I suppose I approach my work in a kind of sculptural manner.

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

AG: I'm very interested in how experiences are created; and I'm easily inspired by situations where experiences are the main focus, for example concerts, shows, movies, stories, sporting events and so on. I find it really interesting to contemplate all the parts that are in play in these kinds of situations, and especially all those things that aren't in the spotlight but still has such a great impact on our experiences. I've been focusing on the spectator for quite some time now, and I find that solely contemplating any given audience often give birth to new ideas. I also find it interesting how we position ourselves against others at social events, how we communicate (or not) and how we approach others in various situations – myself included, naturally. Pictures from outside the arts and culture scene might also inspire, like news photos or instructional pictures. One of my first photo projects “Scenes” 2002–2003 is based on pictures from self defense books.

© Sara Appelgren

Pictures meant to communicate one particular thing or point of view have always fascinated me, everything from religious icons to illustrations in classical fairy tales, and lately all sorts of propaganda. I find propaganda's extreme simplification of complex issues interesting, as well as how it uses such overblown drama and black and white thinking to reinforce it's message. It could be argued that propaganda is a kind of aggressive extension of the essence of scenography – influencing and persuasive, a one way communication.

© Sara Appelgren

NP: How do your projects come about?

SA: Timewise, the actual photo shoot is a fairly minor part of my work process even though I usually end up taking a huge amount of pictures to achieve the end result of any art project. I typically lose myself in a subject doing some form of research for an extensive period of time, like collecting pictures and texts related to any particular subject. I often begin a process without a clear idea of what the end result will be, and I seldom fit an entire concept in one single image. I have a spatial approach to my ideas and I always take the viewer into consideration early on in the process. Nearly all of my work revolve around various aspects of scenography and experiences, particularly from the spectators point of view. I often set out from one specific situation or occurrence to provide some sort of frame for a project to make it easier to handle, but the point of origin isn't always relevant to the end result as I often strip so much out of the pictures that they end up approaching something else entirely or at the very least become quite ambivalent. I'm not interested in telling a story that can be read in one way only. There is no definitive key, I feel more like I'm providing the viewer with a space to project onto.

© Sara Appelgren

Most of my works are closely related conceptually; one work often leads to another. In “Portraits” you can see an audience's fascination and presence, and the following work “Settings” focuses on the space of expectation: the foyer – the space we're in before and after a show. In “Mingle” we meet the spectator as a social and mingling being that's both watching others and being watched. The environmental depictions of fairy tales play an integral part of “Telling Stories”. The first part of the ongoing project “Stage” shows the stage prepared for a concert. I suppose it's all some form of deconstruction, disassembling a greater whole into it's elemental parts and giving all the parts the same significance.

© Sara Appelgren

When I've worked on public commissions I've based them both spatially and conceptually on the specific places for the final works and created a sort of scenographic photo installation for them. With “View of a Passing Landscape”, a commission for a long corridor in a psych ward in Stockholm, I created a condensed train trip in the form of a number of train windows with various views from actual train rides. Each view can be seen as scenography for widely different moods. The choice of depicting views from a trip also emanates from the idea of how traveling relates to longing, searching and expectations. A trip is always a forward motion, regardless of whether the destination matches our expectations or not. We leave something behind to meet something new. It's like life itself – a trip with a variable view.

NP: What’s next?

SA: I've just started working on a new series of portraits based on rituals in front of a mirror in preparation for a night out, or before a show or concert. I am interested in the preparations themselves in combination with the expectations for the evening, but I'm perhaps even more interested in the rituals moments of introspective concentration where we meet our own gaze in the mirror – unavailable for anyone else. I'm providing some samples of the first few photos in the series.

© Sara Appelgren

N: Thank you so much!

To see more of Sara's work please visit:

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