COFFEE & COOKIES:
An intimate interview & preview to Polish photographer Anna Orlowska’s upcoming exhibit at Fotgrafins Hus
Story & Images (of the artist) by daniela trujillo evb
Other images: Courtesy of the artist and Polska Institutet
Anna Orlowska- the name alone has an exotic and melodic yet seriousness to it, magnetic even.
This was the name I had been repeating and being mindful to spell correctly in the days following my invitation to the opening of her photography exhibit, “Läckage och andra arbeten”.
Anna Orlowska, Anna Orlowska … who is this woman? What can be said or felt of her work? And moreover, what would a woman with that name, that name which continued to interest me since I first voiced it aloud, what would she have to say about art and in particular, her own art?
Orlowska’s biography, CV and website immediately and simultaneously impressed and intimidated me. I took this to be a good sign and felt evermore compelled to get an interview and end this seemingly bewitched curiosity.
In an attempt to gain access to the inner workings of her mind and how they- being birthed there- have become stunning, dark and romantically peculiar images and how they came to have arrived in Stockholm, I contacted the Polish Institute/ Polska Institute and requested an interview.
I was told that Anna would arrive on Tuesday and that with the opening of her exhibit being Thursday afternoon, she would be rather busy preparing and perfecting the curated images at Fotografins Hus. However, the woman I met and shook hands with came off as completely calm. If anything, her aura could have been perceived as being a little tired or in the worst case, wholly apathetic to our arranged meeting. I soon came to discover that serene Anna is and indifferent she is not.
With a complete educational background in the arts since high school, Anna was either born or somewhere along the line, became a skeptic. She admits that while she could do with a bit more discipline in order to further fuel her career, questioning life, pre-determined social roles and art of various forms is the sole quality which has perhaps had the strongest positive impact on her life and work.
“I have always had a sense of distance. I question things. I very often ask ‘why’.” says Orlowska.
Perhaps it was that exact skepticism that led her to choose photography as her main artistic focus from the early age of 16, and while enrolled in a fine arts academy high school in her native Poland.
“At that time, photography felt like the newest art medium. It felt like it still had so much to be explored and discovered. And not knowing what the rest of the world was doing in terms of photography was really good. It meant we were really seeking to create, without outside contemporary photographic influences,” explains Anna.
For her high school final project, Orlowska created a photographic exhibit with images she had taken in the apartment where she had been living. She remembers having incorporated audio recordings in her graduation project and even included a wooden table, which declared that it encapsulated all of what that apartment- with it’s seven female inhabitants- had ever experienced.
“I had to move away to attend that school and I was only fifteen. I went from having no sisters to being surrounded by young women. I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me, moving away from my village and into this new place.”
I burn with a very basic question and eventually, I give in. I ask Anna to search for her first memory of a camera, of the photographic image and how she ever even came to know of it, let alone dedicate herself to the medium. She takes a moment, bites her lower lip and I can see via her facial expression that she is really scouting the cabinets of her memory.
“My father”, she says.
“My father had a camera and was always taking pictures. I remember thinking that it seemed complicated and so I wanted to learn to do it.”
I found this fundamental detail most interesting. Wanting to learn something as a teenager because it seemed difficult? Immediately I adopt the belief that this is a courageous woman; calm and collected yet courageous.
We continue with the timeline of her education and in particular, her experience from attending an art-oriented high school. Favorite subjects, favorite teachers, other areas of artistic talents and personal anecdotes all arise, as we sit in the middle of her half prepared exhibit- in the middle room of Fotografins Hus.
She confesses that there was a time when she questioned creating art as a contribution to society or as a role for a person to play in life and informs me that she nearly abandoned pursuing her education in art, for journalism.
In what I interpreted to be a natural moment of existential self-inquiry post high school, Anna explains that she wanted to feel “purpose” with what she dedicated herself and her studies to.
“I struggled. I felt that… that creating art wasn’t changing the world or something, you know? Not doing much for humanity.”
And while many could disagree on principle alone, it ended up being a strange twist in the Polish educational system and it’s introduction of standardized testing that genuinely paved the way for her application and acceptance to the Institute of Creative Photography in the Czech Republic and later, her acquisition of an MFA from the Photography Department at the National Film School in Lodz, Poland.
Throughout the interview, Anna presents examples by pointing to some of her works, which are already hanging and it isn’t long before I ask her to tell me a bit about “Läckage och andra arbeten”- the images that will remain on display through April 25th.
There hangs a variety of work from several of Orlowska’s projects, as I calculate based on the time I had spent trolling her website, and indeed this is correct and later, verified. I open-endly ask the artist to tell me a bit about these images and her response is unexpected and intriguing.
“These are all older projects, or at least not my most recent or current work so it feels a bit strange to be displaying them. I don’t feel them as much as I did back in 2011 when ‘Private Maps’ for example, was my latest project.”
‘Private Maps’, included in this installation, was a collection of Orlowska’s images from a relationship with none other than a Swedish ex-boyfriend back in 2011. At the time, the project displayed in collaboration with another artist whom was married, aimed to capture and display the communication problems of romantic relationships.
I wondered what you yourself may be asking thinking and ask Anna if her ex knows of this vernissage and if he has been invited or is expected to attend. She tells me she sent him an invite on Facebook but beyond that, her guess is as good as mine.
“When I display work like this- I feel like I can’t answer questions well, or that I am not entirely consumed with the emotion it originally evoked in me.”
I encourage Anna to share that precise thought with any inquiries made on opening night and find the emotional, time-lapsed detachment of her own creations fascinating and accurately reminiscent of the evolution of expression and even that of romantic love. I also find her perspective on this topic to be a testament to how her work is influenced by her current engagements and struggles.
“Recently I haven’t had too much time to develop current projects. I just moved into a new apartment and I literally don’t even have a bed.”
That seems to be a reasonable response when I ask her about what she is currently working on or what we can expect in the near future, although she does mention wanting to expand her ‘Invisibility’ project and eventually, publish a book of said project.
Our conversation continues and I come to learn that Orlowska, like many of us, is no super natural creature. She too drinks sociably, can be lazy and dreams of being able to afford things; currently, the perfect refrigerator for her new flat.
I ask her what her interests outside of art/photography are and she surprises me with responses like “gardening” and “hiking”.
We discuss what gear she shoots with, her artistic influences and her opinion on one of her latest endeavors, teaching photography.
Somewhere in the midst of so much information, exchange and reflection she shares something very distinctive with me:
“Photography and the way it is exhibited is changing. What used to be classically displayed as a one dimensional art form can now be shown in ways which break that conventional platform.”
Pushing the physical boundaries and meaning of photography is a common theme in a lot of what she has expressed thus far.
“Photography is complicated. A photo can be a shitty image in a magazine or it can be ‘art’. The context in which an image is taken or created allows for anything to be possible and I find that very appealing.”
Ultimately free of further questions, I look at Anna and ask her if she would like to get lunch, an entire day of work on her opening awaiting her. She looks at me, smiles softly with a hint of exhaustion and says, “No, it’s okay. I am full now from all of the coffee and cookies.”
It was a most subtle observation, innocent confession and such a simple ending to our interview. Then suddenly I realized that in that one statement, she expressed what it had taken me our entire exchange to conclude: Anna Orlowska- and her work- is sweet, unpretentiously philosophical, unassuming yet calculated and one-of-a-kind.
She is undoubtedly an artist and an intellect and perhaps now it makes sense why her name- and my perception of a force of magnetism behind it- ever occurred.
‘Läckage och andra arbeten’ / ‘Leakage and other works’, tomorrow March 12 at Pan Option- Fotografins Hus.
Anna Orlowska’s work will be displayed March 12 through April 25th. The opening event begins at 1700 and will conclude with a guest lecture.
For more information please visit the Facebook invite.
Anna Orlowska’s website