Anneè Olofsson receives us in an apartment bathed in light, on the seventh floor. Everything is in a mess, she says – the family is in the middle of moving – and her exhibition, covering the last two years of her work, just opened at the Stockholm-based Galleri Andersson / Sandström. To-do lists, memos and agendas lie strewn across the dining table where the artist has set up a make-shift office after leaving her studio during the move. A mish-mash of family life and work. Still, there is a relative sense of order to it all, which suggests some self-restraint.
»I am hard on myself when it comes to my work. It’s all a little bit obsessive; I think about art around the clock. The only things that consume my mind are my daughter and art. I do not let go of anything if I do not believe in it fully. The idea itself – that I have to think about and brood over for ages. I can twist and turn an idea around in my mind for years on end, but once my vision has become clear, if the idea holds water, then it is ready to be produced. I need time. I have worked on this new exhibition for two years. When I first heard the date I thought: “Oh my god, by then I will have forgotten it all!” But now, when I look back, I realize that the timing was just perfect – it was just the amount of time I needed to make the exhibition flawless. And the exhibition had also changed a lot in the meantime.«
»This is how I function. I have ten thousand ideas – but really, it’s just one thing I have in my mind, and I approach it in many different ways.«
So far, you and your loved ones have almost always been the subject of your works. Why?
»Yes, often it has been me and my parents. This has been a condition for things to work out. Only then does it become real; razor sharp. It has been difficult at times, but that is what makes it all so exciting.«
»But my photographs are not self-portraits. I was happy as a child and all that. What you read into my work, that is what interests me. This is how I step in and speak about existing phenomena. What I am questioning and putting on display is universal, and I use myself as an instrument to show just that. Many of my works suggest a darkness that I have not experienced myself.«
»This doesn’t mean that the situations themselves are faked. In the series Skinned, for example, you can see me from behind with a pair of hands inside my top. They are my father’s hands, and it is for real – no digital doctoring. I would never have been able to fake the stiffness of my back if I had not put myself in that position – actually having my father’s hands inside my top. I have to do all this because I believe so intensely in what I’m doing. It simply has to be done – at any expense. Though I have got us into a lot of unpleasant situations over the years, no doubt about that.«
Your series Unforgivable from 2001 depicts among other things how your father undresses you. Your father was not an artist – but he must have had faith in art in order to participate?
»No, I don’t think that it was faith in art as much as feeling that he had not been there for me when I was younger. He felt that it was time to pay me back; so he has always agreed to do what I’ve asked. When I exhibited in Kristianstad konsthall, in the town where he lived, I remember that he was very anxious and tried to censor the exhibition. It all came
too close, and he panicked. But I had hired a curator and told my father that I could not possibly interfere with the work being done. Later on, when the exhibition was hung, people came by my father’s workplace, wondering if I was his daughter, everyone telling him how great my work was. And my goodness, how this made him grow! He had lunch at the gallery throughout the exhibition. When all the pieces were taken down, he almost started to suffer from depression, just as artists can do after an exhibition is over.«
"Death is certainly a recurring theme in my artistry. Death and ageing, all the things that make life difficult."
One of your images from that series is now part of the collection of MoMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York City).
»It was the most peculiar thing – MoMA received exactly that picture only one month before my father passed away. It felt like one of the pinnacles of my career – that MoMA actually possesses that print.«
The series that Anneè Olofsson created after her father passed away – “Until tomorrow doesn’t always come” – contains the first works she has created without people in them. The photographs have been taken out of windows where you can only sense the room with its black windowframes and the silhouettes of window ledges with shrivelling plants. Outside you
see lush greenery. All the works were made at a time of year held dear in Sweden, when nature shows itself at its best, and perhaps most delicate. Hence the name: “In-between the bird-cherry and the lilac”. This is also what Swedes like to call these few weeks of late spring, early summer. The windows through which the beholder gazes are located at Ersta Children’s
Hospice, Hinseberg Women’s Prison and the house of Olofsson’s father in Vä, outside Kristianstad.
These images lack a human presence. Why is that?
»My father died very suddenly and too young; we were not prepared at all. We had to face his death and just move on. Nothing else. But I sense that something changed inside me. I cannot put my finger on it, but somehow I have become someone else. There is a sense that something has changed completely, a new beginning has emerged. All this is mirrored in my work, this event has opened new doors. In my images the self is gone; the people have gone, because my father has gone. That is the way I feel now, of course that can change with time.«
In this particular series there are pictures taken through the windows of Hinseberg Women’s Prison and Ersta Children’s Hospice. This feeling of confinement goes through your work, and it shows in the pictures, especially those taken at Hinseberg.
»Earlier I merely explored the feeling of confinement, not actually being locked up. Working at Hinseberg was something else. Just going there was extremely unpleasant. The cell doors were closed shut and locked behind me. More people should go inside one of those cells just to experience this feeling. To be watched over by a guard sitting inside a glass box, observing you. My god! But in one of those pictures there is a little glade that I actually first saw after developing the prints. It became beautiful – somehow it symbolizes the way out, the thought of freedom existing out there somewhere. They say that every prison should at least have a hypothetical chance of escape, or else the inmates would go insane. This glade could be that very chance. But of course, everyone still knows that there are fences in-between.«
In spite of all the gloom that – without exception – is an integral part your work, there is beauty in your pictures.
»In order to conceal the evil in my pictures, I normally make the motif more beautiful than it really is. That way it is easier to digest the nastiness. And, that way you can fool the beholder for a minute, and then the message will creep up on you.«
“Mourning” is a new piece that was shown at the Market art fair in Stockholm, it was highly acclaimed in the press. Tell me about it.
»In “Mourning” I find myself surrounded by water, trying to keep afloat. The photograph is taken from below, so what you see is my body under water, my face is not showing. I wanted to get at that feeling of grief, the feeling of entering a vacuum in mourning, not knowing where you are, feeling suffocated; you are seconds from sinking. Yet you choose life. Standing on the threshold of the moment when you go down. It felt as if this is where mourning actually is.«
Mourning is related to a piece from 2002 called “Ai”.
»Yes – both pieces recount what it means to be exposed to grief or pain. In “Ai” I try to contort my body in two different ways at once, the way you wring out a cloth. It was painstaking work I tell you. I think that perhaps this is my best piece. I made it coming home from New York after that the World Trade Center had fallen, it was therapy of sorts.«
Mourning, as well as death – a recurring theme.
»Death is certainly a recurring theme in my artistry. Death and ageing, all the things that make life difficult. Even though I did not work physically with myself or my family in the last suite, it is exactly the same. The only difference is my point of view, I look out – it is my fathers’ window you look out of – people are still present in a way, behind the camera. My work circles around the final countdown, the non-negotiable, the definitive essence of the end. Trying to comprehend the meaning of it all in a way. I believe that is what my work is about, trying to figure it out for myself – as well as getting others to see it my way. And if only just one person is moved, it has been worth it all.«
Have you got any closer to life’s questions?
»I believe I have! But at the same time I felt that when I got closer to the answers, I had a child and with that comes a sense of unease I had never experienced before. Now I can get panicky about certain things, flying for instance, I can hardly do that anymore. There is both a feeling of anxiety for my own demise – not being there for my daughter – and
the fear that something might happen to her. So now I panic in ways that were completely unknown to me before.«
Anneè Christel Louise Olofsson
Exhibiting at Galleri Andersson / Sandström
Born: Hässleholm, 1966
Family: Husband and child, mother, brother and husband’s children from an earlier marriage.