Meet Rebecka Bebben Andersson and Jakob Ojanen: two compelling artists with disparate practices whose bodies of work notably derive from their experience of the city.
Rebecka Bebben Andersson
In today’s contemporary art, we are always speaking of interdisciplinary artists, and in your case this couldn’t be more accurate. You’ve studied architecture, scenography and then fine art.
“I’ve always been very interested in new subjects and techniques, which essentially I think is because I’m rather restless. I constantly corner myself into situations beyond my command to see how it will play out. When I’m interested in something, I really devour it, which naturally impacts on what I do and comes through in my art.”
I first learnt of your work with NOLLI STHLM, a project where you examine your perceived freedom of movement and restrictions, and how this changes over the course of 24 hours, which is presented in 24 city maps of Stockholm. One for each hour. What prompted this work?
“I was first exposed to Nolli maps while studying architecture. They are a form of maps that describe the public and private spheres as black and white. I started reflecting about how I carry myself in the city and sensed that perhaps, rather than real obstacles, it might primarily be intrinsic feelings and perceptions that keep me out of certain spaces in the city.
“I thought of how a Nolli map could be made true of my own experience and about how I perceive Stockholm. Why am I choosing this street to go home? Would I still choose it two hours later in the day? And why am I heading home at this particular hour? The more I thought of it, the more restricted I felt.”
One of your recurring performances, Dygnsteckning, also uses the city as a clear point of departure. You basically draw nonstop over 24 hours from behind a window in a public place that looks out into the city. What have been your discoveries?
“The most obvious thing is that I end up doing drawings I would never do otherwise. I just let go of self-censoring and a sense of control. The most important thing is that I want to experience the city. In a way, it’s an act to defy myself and the conclusions I arrived at with NOLLI STHLM. Exposing myself to my own fears by sitting somewhere alone at night, which I normally wouldn’t dare to do. To know what room a woman can actually command if she wants.
“The drawings then beome a side effect of the performance itself. I’m scared as I sit there drawing. I feel like prey. Men yell at me, which just affirms what I already thought, even if it caught me by surprise when four guys were trying to get inside via the ceiling of a pavilion where I was drawing. It’s apparently incredibly provoking that women do things that have not been sanctioned by men.”
Your graduate project at Mejan is composed of a large-scale installation of a set decor depicting woods, a play on light and shadow, which allude to the fear and menace you might feel in the city at dark, perhaps often as a woman. I was bowled over by this work.
“I focused on the feeling that the public domain doesn’t really exist. That perhaps it’s partly just decor. Take a park as an example. If you’re scared to spend time there, then the park doesn’t quite exist as a choice of somewhere to go. It’s merely there as a backdrop. Something pretty to look at from the outside. If you were never to find yourself inside it at a given point in time, then in essence it doesn’t exist. Supported with a textual work about my experiences as a girl growing up in relation to men, the exhibition became much clearer – I’ve felt the freedom [Jag har känt på friheten]. And then the added subheading – But there was always someone else there.”
Jag har känt på friheten is currently on view at the subway station Odenplan in Stockholm until December 6
Your body of work sees works depicting exteriors and facades from the urban cityscape. I enjoy how it intersects painting and photography so seamlessly.
“Painting constitutes my body of work. Or perhaps rather the core of my practice is the search for painting for which I’ve worked with a diverse
material and technical approach, which perhaps doesn’t strike everybody as painting. For example, iPad drawings or the use of found objects. In paintings that incorporate photographic prints of urban surroundings and facades where graffiti had been removed, I saw a close but random kinship between the artistic, painterly practice in the studio and the work applied in society to remove and alter painted city surfaces. Those are two aspects I’ve tried to depict in my paintings. Maybe that’s why it’s worked so well with a hybrid technique.”
To me, I feel there’s something faintly melancholic about them, as though they say something about time and the perishability of all things.
“I myself don’t see them as melancholic but, rather, as an attempt to point at the time aspect in painting. For me, painting is timeless, in so far that everything happens at the same time. It makes for a documentation of events, brushstrokes of other doings that happened in the studio. There’s also time as a narrative itself and, moreover, the composition of an image is also conditioned by time. Lastly, there’s the time aspect of the viewer seeing the work.”
You’ve also worked on sculptural assemblage installations that strongly allude to the city with components such as grids and bricks.
“Yes, it’s grown on me a bit modestly, but essentially traces of it date back to my years as an art student, when I was trying to work more spatially and with an installation approach. With these new works I think there was a subconscious wish to put painting against something new in my practice. Essentially, a wish away from photographs.”
So if I were to ask you whether what you do is urban art, what would you say?
“I weigh against the urban. It is, after all, in the city that I live and work. Had I lived in the woods I would have been painting trees. The big narrative continues to be painting.”
Interview by Ashik Zaman
Artwork by Rebecka Bebben Andersson & Jakob Ojanen