'Video allows me the time to tell a story.' An interview with Sophie Krambrich
Sophie Krambrich studied Time-Based Media with Professor Jeanne Faust at HFBK Hamburg and finished her Master's degree in July 2017. She lives and works in Berlin. Art Springboard's interview with Sophie was conducted by Wolfram Schnelle in August 2017.
Wolfram Schnelle: You presented two different media in your degree show. On one hand you work with watercolour and on the other hand you work with film. Tell me about your choice of media and why or when you use one or the other.
Sophie Krambrich: Primarily I would see myself as a video artist but it’s turned out that watercolour is something that is becoming more and more important and it starts creeping into my work. The watercolours started appearing in the video works at first, and now I’ve started to show them on their own. I wouldn’t want to see those practices as separate though.
WS: Why did you choose the medium of video to start with? And stepping back a bit more, why did you study art?
SK: It’s something that happened in the first year of my studies when I happened to be part of the time-based media class. I was confronted more and more with the medium and wanted to try it myself.
As far as studying art, my mother is a sculptress, so I grew up in an artist family. As a small child I was riding through the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf on my tricycle. This is the way I experienced the world and it became a natural way to go for me.
WS: What do you like about film? What can you say with film that you might not be able to say with other media?
SK: On one hand it’s a new medium and in my view it’s the best medium to deal with themes in terms of a story. Video allows me the time to tell a story.
WS: How do you use the medium to tell stories?
SK: I guess I see it less as telling a story and more taking a certain situation as a point of departure. With Fünf Tollkirschen für meine Schwester, I was told a story by a friend of mine that as a child she was poisoned with deadly nightshade by her siblings. I’m not interested in recounting that story, but in my video the story happens more in the head of the viewer – through the title and what you see you start creating your own story. That happens in a very easy way with video because you can work with sound, or no sound, a title, and moving images that are presented in a specific order.
WS: There was another work called Mangel that you presented at your degree show. Can you say something about that work?
SK: There as well, you have a story as the starting point. A woman wanted to do a trial day in a laundry and she was learning how to use a mangle to iron tablecloths. When she was asked to use the mangle on duvet covers, the buttons got stuck and the cloth got all mixed up. I was first interested in this image of the two women sitting on the mangle. That was my starting point for making a movie. We see a fabric where the natural creases of the fabric are drawn with watercolour pens and through the process of mangling, with the heat and the steam, the colour is supposed to run, bleed on the fabric. And we can see how the fabric comes out of the mangle, but in the end the colours didn’t bleed but they created an imprint on the drum that was then creating a print on the fabric in turn.
Through subtitles that appear throughout the video, I give a hint at how the film could be viewed or what you could pay attention to. These are the colours, the folds, the newly created folds, and the imprint on the fabric. This is probably my most abstract video – in regards to the images I show but also in regards to the story that’s behind it. The story of departure of those two women is no longer visible but it’s still present. There has to be a person, probably a woman, sitting behind the machine, feeding the fabric. We don’t see her, it’s as if she’s behind a curtain and there is another woman, the artist behind the curtain of the camera.
WS: Your works all seem to somehow deal with illnesses, possible cures, and similar things. Based on the works in your final presentation, can you tell me what’s important for you about health?
SK: Healing methods, illness, health, and how these things can be interpreted are indeed something I deal with a lot. In the posters, you can see all the illnesses that I’ve had within a year and tried to heal with the help of Google. Each illness is illustrated together with the natural remedy that I used to heal that illness. There wasn’t a doctor who diagnosed each illness – just me, together with Google, determining that I might have this illness and that I wanted to heal it in this natural way. I’m interested in the belief in or promise of the power of healing that on one hand the internet provides but that is also provided in those natural or spiritual methods of healing.
Something similar happens in the video Fünf Tollkirschen für meine Schwester where it remains unclear whether the girl lying on the bed wants to poison her sister – and for that reason informs herself about the effects of various berries – or if a sister, maybe the narrator, tries to poison this young girl.
WS: Tell me about your process of working. From the idea to the finished film. How do you work? Are there any parts that you prefer over others?
SK: Often there is a story behind a work that serves as a motivation or point of departure. You don’t necessarily see that story in the work. It could be an observation or something that was told to me, like my friend who was poisoned by her sisters. With that work [Fünf Tollkirschen für meine Schwester], I was curious to see what deadly nightshades look like, and what their effects are. I found a video on Google where various fruits and berries were presented and their potential to poison or heal was explained. I then made watercolours of the berries as a way to keep the thinking process going. I cut out the berries, glued them onto the display, and started filming the display. Like another transformation. Then I observed my sister through the camera. She’s an important element in a lot of my works. We’re very close, she trusts me and that means that she’ll always be completely herself even when I’m in the room with her and filming. So, I combined my sister and the deadly nightshade and the question arises of who might be killed here with these deadly nightshades. I would say that’s a typical process for me.
It was similar with the illnesses on the poster. I didn’t have a poster in mind, it was more that I googled these symptoms and then treated the symptoms. I was just drawing the symptoms and the remedies to see if something happened and it turned out to be this diary. It made sense to put it on a poster, almost like an educational poster. That’s where a very personal element comes in. It’s always centred around me personally. These are my illnesses, this is my sister. Illnesses are really something very personal and it’s quite intimate to reveal these details that are often uncomfortable. But at the same time, I think that because certain elements recur in my work those elements start being removed from myself and become more general.
WS: Why illnesses?
SK: I’m interested in physicality. I’m a very physical person – for example I do martial arts very intensively and that’s what I deal with a lot: Me and my body and the functioning of the body. On one hand it’s about the illness, and on the other hand it’s about optimizing the body’s functioning through superfoods that you can eat.
WS: This is probably where the watercolours of fruits come in. Can you tell me something about them?
SK: These are all fruits that have been important to me at some point in time. Currently it’s the lemon. I eat entire lemons, including their skins, because it’s supposed to strengthen your will power. While I was in school it was very important to bring an apple every day. Or the raspberry is a fruit that I always fought over with my sister, similar to how other children might fight over sweets. My grandmother always said kiwis are very healthy but I don’t think many people eat them today. Kakis are sort of replacing the apple in Berlin.
WS: Tell me about the unusual paper you use for these drawings.
SK: Discovering so-called stone paper was great for me. I used to work on hand-made paper but I didn’t like that the paper would have such a strong presence in the work. With stone paper, the colour stays on the surface – it has a very nice way of running on the surface. Originally I wanted to print the poster with the illnesses on stone paper but no printing shop would do it since it doesn’t stick!
WS: Earlier you talked about observing and that seems to be a very relevant word for your work.
SK: Observation is certainly a very important element of my work. Even more so in my older works. For example, one work called She is very much about observing and being observed. A fictitious person behind a window observes another person over the course of a year. Choosing the image of the window is almost like an extension of the camera or making the camera visible. It also has something voyeuristic. I often turn on the camera and then leave because it makes me feel uncomfortable to be behind the camera. I let the camera observe rather than doing it myself but of course I chose the position of the camera and know roughly what happens.
WS: How do you use the editing process in the creation of your work?
SK: It’s an essential element of making the work. For example, in Four Shots Dedicated to Summertime Boredom I chose very long sequences of still camera shots. With this work, which in large part is about boredom, it was very important for me to find the right balance in regards to the length of a shot. On one hand, I wanted the viewer to experience this sense of boredom, on the other hand, I needed to make sure to keep it short enough to not overwhelm the viewer. It’s a process of trying it out and seeing what works best.
WS: When do you know a work is finished? When does the moment come when you say you’re happy with the work?
SK: There’s no specific script for the films, they come into being while I’m in the editing process. I have an idea and I film something but I also use found material from the internet and mix it. Then it’s a trial-and-error process during editing. At the end, it just has to work but how that ‘works’ exactly can be something difficult to say. Sometimes it goes very quickly, sometimes it’s a long drawn out process and some films are never finished because it never works out.
It’s often a conversation with other artists or other people and for me it’s important that the viewer starts thinking about concepts and themes and if I find that these concepts and themes that appear in discussions afterwards are the right ones for me, then the work is finished and works.
WS: That means that the viewer plays an important part in this process.
SK: Yes, that’s the case for art in general. Of course you do a lot of things for yourself but it’s definitely the case that you also need the conversation and the viewer to see it as a finished work of art.
WS: Tell me about your experience at HFBK.
SK: The most important aspect was to build that network among likeminded people. These people will continue to play an important part in my life when all the structures that I had when studying, such as a workplace or feedback from professors, aren’t there anymore.
WS: Is there a specific moment or experience that’s stayed with you from your time at HFBK?
SK: Towards the end of my first year, my professor said: ‘Remember well what you were dealing with in this first year. You will notice that the same things will still occupy your mind at the end of your studies.’ That’s something I think about a lot. In the course of my studies it all became more precise. You’re able to formulate your thoughts in a more precise way and translate them into your work. One concept that came back to me at the end of my studies is the idea of the curtain. I made large abstract drawings that are very similar to what happens in the work Mangel. It’s like a big curtain that constitutes the image. The curtain that acts as a division with something in front and something behind it. That’s a concept that I’m thinking about at the moment.
There’s another thing that I’m planning to do now. It’s an alphabetical list of the concepts that I’m interested in. It would be something like A for Alchemy, B for Befindlichkeit (mental state). I’m not sure what will become of it but it will start as a text. Almost like an archive or maybe it will become an addition to another work, something to be read in the form of a book or a sheet of paper…
WS: How do you usually present your work? What’s important for you when it comes to presentation?
SK: Some works that I make are best in a black box but in general I’m not a big fan of the black box. I prefer it when videos are presented more openly in an exhibition space. I prefer projection as the light that travels through the room adds a sculptural element and includes more of the environment in the work. I like the dust that can be seen in the light, but so far I haven’t been able to create an open, light room where projections function. That’s why I chose monitors for my final presentation. I like that the viewer could freely move from one film to the other or just turn and look at a different work while standing in the same spot. It really depends on what works best for the work.
WS: You mentioned that you’re planning a screenplay as one of your next projects.
SK: Yes, that’s something I would like to try out. I would like to use a camera man. But I think the main difference with how I work now would be that some parts of a screenplay will have to exist before the filming. The works I’ve done so far are not thought out beforehand, they only come into existence in the editing process. With this new work, the idea has to be there before I start. Especially since it would also entail a journey to Russia it’s important to try and formulate beforehand what I want to do. I have a theme but I don’t know what the final outcome will be.
To see all works by Sophie Krambrich click here
To read more about the artist click here