Frame 61

Sessa Englund

Frame 61
Sessa Englund

Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did it all begin? 

I grew up in a household where the people around me worked professionally with fine arts, textile works or architectural design, so the idea of art being a viable career choice was present from an early age. I also saw how difficult it could be raising a family with these careers though. 

I think that kind of put a slightly cynical outlook of art in my mind, so it wasn't until my college years that I actually started to consider really committing to working with art as a long-term career. I’ve always been making things however, so that was always something that I spent a lot of time doing, but it took me a while to kind of build the courage and confidence, and identity as an artist separate from my family to actually consider it as something I would really allow myself to commit to. 

Accessorized Performance Peak 2015

Come See Me 2015

You talk about your use of materials associated with the “masculine” through the lense of traditionally feminine labour, could you talk about this and the reasons behind it?

Most of my work comes from a very personal place, and a lot of it comes directly from my upbringing, and the traditions that were taught to me through the home. I started wanting to make pieces that spoke towards my identity, and the assumptions and gendered traditions of artistic work as a “masculine labor” (versus creative labor viewed as domestic work) through an art historical context. I started thinking about the connections of taking certain signifiers and putting that through a traditional process that wasn't considered conceptual, or intellectual in order to attempt to invert that hierarchical structure.

That drove me into sculptural work, which drove me towards textile arts as an entry point, with techniques that had been taught to me outside of an academic setting. Working with denim became a very direct entry point because of its historical connection with masculine labor, the macho, “Americana” and masculine sexual availability. By putting this through the process of ripping, tearing, dying and crocheting I hoped to create something that was highly specific in execution and style, but still direct enough in signaling that it did speak toward to limited dichotomy of the feme/masc ideals. This then extended to becoming the entry point into exploring the ideals of emotional labor, and how that enacts certain assumptions in an art-world and art-market. 

A True Promise 2015

Relax 2015

You mentioned your interest in the relationship between creativity and commerce, could you explain what this means exactly?

My interest in creativity and commerce is quite direct, and goes back into my interest in emotional labor as connected to the art-market and “femininity”. Working in NYC you do see a lot of spaces and resources go directly towards the art-market versus less commercialized spaces, which takes something that is for me very personal and very removed from a commercial setting (such as working in the studio) and places that every concretely in a commercial setting. At the same time as there is a lot of language around that trying to mask that relationship between the sales and the artistic practice. Seeing how this relationship is propped up by this language of the artist persona being of this great monetary value, I wanted to see how direct and absurd I could make this connection. This is where my pieces such as the “Sad Mug, $12.99” series and “@sessasessasessa” keyring projects come from. I believe that there’s humour in making that connection very direct in that way, to see how much of my vulnerability I can put on sale and how fast and how cheap. 

What is your process, how do you start a new piece of work?

In the past years I’ve found myself very interested in the ideas that I just spoke towards, and these interests have crystallized in the past years. Once I get into a new piece of work it’s still this ghost of this older piece of work, so it’s usually just a process of jumping into it and I know what I need to do and produce. I enjoy being in that place at this moment, eventually I do expect this this to merge into something else, or to fall out of that space, but I do enjoy being in this place at the moment where I do have quite a clear idea of what I want to do and to go about making that. Usually new piece start with sketching, to some degree, I don't spend  lot of time on that, and then my time goes towards producing these pieces. My work is pretty slow and labor intensive, I don't really get to see the results until a month later, which is why I enjoy having a lot of pieces going at the same time. I also spend time trying things that I don't really have a clear plan for the outcome, I find this important to do as a way of working through new ideas. My work usually takes a lot of twists and turns anyway while working on it, so it's more the idea of just getting started on it, and then the work will tell you what it needs as you’re progressing with it. 

@sessasessasessa 2016

@sessasessasessa 2016

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine?

My days to just be in the studio I usually have a schedule written down before the day starts so I know what to do. I wake up at 9.00 am, drink coffee answer emails, go start on the first thing on my list of things to do. That could be whatever piece I'm trying to finish, or a meeting. I usually try to toggle between working on pieces where I have a clear idea of what I'm working towards, with piece where I am more feeling things out so that i don’t get too caught up in any particular piece. I also find that switching between pieces ia  good way for me to solve for certain issues as I'm going about my day. I’ll either be in my home studio or my out of home studio, depending on what kind of materials I’m work with that day. Then towards the end of the day I will usually try to do some reading and some writing, then around 7pm there are usually art openings which is a good way to get me out of the studio. Usually by 8pm I feel like I'm out of my studio mode, unless there is a deadline I’m working towards or if I get caught up in something that I want to finish. 

What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?

I hope they find something in it that hold their interest, more than just a visual play. I hope that it's a level of being uncomfortable around my work. I do enjoy that and I do enjoy that as a viewer of other people’s work, a certain push and pull of being attracted by the piece and also being pushed away by it. I do hope that people pick up on the humor in my work. When people pick up on the humor and the aggression in my work I get excited. 

How do you go about naming your work?

If the work brings about certain aspects that could benefit from a name then I will title it. However I don't always feel like this is necessary. Usually if there is something personal which is connected to the visual narrative that I’d like to share with the viewer then that will grow out of the piece quite organically. I think it is also a space where I am able to bring some of my writing into my visual work, which is quite fun so usually I try to be quite fluid in it and let my mind kind of go where it wants to go. 

Sad Mugs,  2009 - 2016 on going series

Presence 2014

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

I recently saw a group show at Off Vendome gallery in the city, it had some pieces by Rochelle Goldberg in it that really resonated with me. She is also showing at the Whitney Museum right now, another artist Elizabeth Jaeger, whose work I love, is also showing in that same show. I’m always really excited about seeing Elizabeth's work: her take on vulnerability, aggression and humour really resonates with me and it is something that I look to exploring in my own work. Her work is really great. I also saw a solo show by artist Xinran Yuan at Roomservice Gallery in Brooklyn a few months back that really spoke to me. I really enjoyed how she had the confidence in her work to let moments take their time to rest. Christopher Thompson is an artists working in London who I’ve been seeing some really interesting work come through recently. I really resonate with how form is allowed to take center stage in a vulnerable sense in his recent sculptural pieces.

What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about? 

Yes this summer/fall seems like it’s shaping up to be quite busy. Alongside planning for the third iteration for a curatorial project titled “Cura” that I’ve been working on for a long time, I also recently started working with “Disclaimer Gallery” as a curator. We have an opening for Salome Asega June 14th, who is a great artists who I’m very excited to be working with. I’m also part of an upcoming performance series called “Haunted Matter” curated by Gabrielle Jensen and Helen Hazelwood opening June 30th, they have a great line up with myself, Bunny Michael, Dorothy Lam, Laura Cadena, and Rin Johnson, and I think Andrea Crespo. I am leaving next week to spend some time in Sweden to work on a project connected to this, so that is exciting. Then July 7th a group show curated by Marie Tomanova titled “Youth Explosion” is opening at the Czech Center up in UES with Michael Bailey-Gates, Claire Christerson, Maya

Fuhr, Ethan James Green, Maria Jose, Alexandra Marzella, India Salvor Menuez, Grace Miceli, Nicky Ottav, Go!Push Pops and Rafia Santana. Rafia is also part of a project of mine which was just launched called “Worse 4 Wear” @worsefourwear, shot by Elizabeth Renstrom which I am very excited to see launched. Then I’m also working on a show for Miami art Basel with Sarah Wang, Shaina Yang and Dava Wing, which I can't say too much about at the moment but I am very happy to be working with Sarah, Shaina and Dava on this, so I am looking forward to seeing that realized this winter. Outside of that I am looking forward to finishing some new work and spending more time in the studio. 

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Publishing date of this interview 24/06/16