A Conversation with Artist Eleni Ieremia

Amanda Winberg, 2021

“To me, the lamp became a window to an artificial exterior, and I hoped to challenge and redefine what we see, erasing a well-defined function in space, a liable object in the room. I have the impression that we usually do not look up at the ceiling when entering an exhibition space. Modernism neglected ceilings.” 

In this issue of Differens Magazine, many of the displayed artworks are made by artist and master student of Fine Arts at KMD in Bergen, Eleni Ieremia. Ieremia’s works often touch upon topics of space, work and invisibility as they explore characteristic features of materials and objects by redefining their contexts. With an academic degree in Art History behind her and a dedicated interest in the broader field of art leading the way, Ieremia’s art practices often take their point of departure in reflections on the social and material orders of the art world that surrounds her.

She has previously been shown in group exhibitions at Hordaland Kunstsenter, Kode 4 and Galleri FI4E. We at Differens Magazine are happy to have been given the opportunity to present Eleni Ieremia’s works here for our readers and wish, through their implied notions of spatiality and spatial construction, to explore the theme of different spaces / spaces of difference in relation to some of Ieremia’s thoughts and visual reflections. The interview with the artist that follows here will hopefully kick off this exploration.  

2nd – 14th of September 2021, Hotmail

Hi Eleni! First, I just wanted to say that we at Differens Magazine are very grateful for the opportunity to exhibit your works in our upcoming issue and to explore their themes together with you in this interview. Second, how are you today? And what are you working on right now?  

Pleasure! I am good, feeling rested! Have been cooking a lot and chatting a lot with friends and family, which I am incredibly grateful for! 

In this very moment, I am doing a lot of research for a short film about the glass house effect (GHE). I think my interest in GHE started at my former workplace where the office walls were made of transparent glass, which gave me and a few of my co-workers a feeling of unease when working in this environment. The glass house effect is the feeling that you are under constant watch or observation. Glass buildings are used more commonly as university facilities, and they are also more common in corporate environments. The transparency of the glass could be the result of good intentions, creating openness between workers or students. It is meant to minimize hierarchies between bodies in these buildings, but I am more of the belief that this can lead to feelings of nervousness or stress when there is less space for privacy or to hide. I think this type of architecture moderates your behaviour. It is as if the glass constructions become the surveillant itself. I find it interesting how our spatial environments can have so much agency after entering this world and how they are affecting the way we perceive each other and ourselves. It is obvious that architecture expresses who we want to be, but who do we become when entering these spaces? 

The theme you are bringing up here, of the relations between architecture, space and behaviour, makes me think about a performance-based work you did about a year ago, that you called Queer Lines of Desire. From the poetic text that was a part of this work, I understood it as a discussion on how social behaviours – desires – of different social groups in society partake in the formation of the spatial landscape in our cities. “Queer” seemed to denote something that diverge from the institutionalized orders and perhaps mass-behaviours in both a sexual and spatial sense. I found this conjunction intriguing. Would you like to tell us a little bit more about this work and the thoughts you had on it?

I started writing a lot in the beginning of the corona pandemic about digital existence versus urban existence. I had questions about what happens with the urban collective and our bodies in public spaces when we are put in a position where we must place our social desires into digital platforms. What is left out there in the physical realm, outside the collective online? I thought a lot about ways of existing and about walking freely in public space. At this very moment in Athens, for example, you must text the government every time you leave the house.  

I started writing a text that focuses on the bodily or physical imprint we make on nature and in our urban environments. These imprints can be seen as a kind of carving and drawing on our landscapes, the so-called desire lines that are created as we walk across the lawn in the park or beside a sidewalk. The text describes these pathways as queer lines of desire as the pedestrians are entering and creating a different structure in our cities, against the established sidewalks and normative design in public space. The queer movements of our bodies become a form of resistance against urban planners and designers, as the bodies are shaping the urban environments in their own way. It is a text about wanderers and dreamers that are behaving and moving against conventions, normative ways of operating, and standard directions in public space. It is also a text about sexual orientation, queer people orientating themselves in the landscape, existing independently, being out of line. The word “queer” itself comes from the Indo-European word “twist” which gives it a spatial meaning. Bodies moving in a “twisted” direction, not following straight lines or “objective” coordinates. I wanted to change the words, “lines of desires”, by adding “queer” to it, to stress that desire is not always straight.

This interest in thinking of other ways of moving in public space, led to a collaboration with my friend and artist Bianca Hisse. In our performance, titled, “Vessels”, we worked on a choreography and concept for a group of performers, presented at Folkeparken Friluftsmuseum in Tromsö. This piece was part of an outdoor exhibition organized by Failure, Understanding, Care (& Kunst). We wanted to question the vertical body and its dominance in public space. Crawling, rolling, and lying – which is often seen as improper for such places – became dominating in the choreography. We wanted to bring attention to unspoken collective rules and the “choreo-policing” of daily life.  

”Vessels”, 2020

I understand the performance as an intervention – perhaps even a “spatial intervention” since it negotiates themes of city planning and architecture. The intervention seems to reoccur as a form and framework in your artistic practices, would you like to describe this tendency in your work and interest? 

I am fascinated by the ways that architectural space and its liable objects have the potential to be constructed, redefined. In my installation, “Softly Glowing”, I covered one of the roof lamps in the exhibition space with a photo print. I thought it started “acting as a window”. The photo print depicted raindrops on glass with a blurry house facade in the background.

”Softly Glowing”, 2020

To me, the lamp became a window to an artificial exterior, and I hoped to challenge and redefine what we see, erasing a well-defined function in space, a liable object in the room. I have the impression that we usually do not look up at the ceiling when entering an exhibition space. Modernism neglected ceilings. I am not saying we should go back to the Renaissance, to the ceilings with painted figures in geometric cells, I am just fascinated in paying attention, in seeing art in the total room, altogether, and in how the room can shape the conditions for the artwork itself, in how the artwork takes its final shape and form. Another type of work I made, relating to your question, is the collection of drawings I made in collaboration with the museum building, Kode 4 in Bergen. During a weeks’ time I went to the museum to select different rooms to work with and made frottage drawings of several architectural elements, frottaging of door stops to an elevator and the exhibition floor carpet. I later presented the collection of frottage drawings in a group show at the same museum but was organized by the student gallery, Gallerifi4e, and you could not tell where the motives came from, really. The drawings became abstractions of the history of the building but at the same time they were referencing and revealing architectural elements in the building. 

Would it be true to say that in your interventions, you often start with something invisible, forgotten or hidden in the spatial environment? If so, how would you describe the process of coming to these initially hidden starting points and in which way would you say that this perspective on the material surrounding influence your art in general? 

Very good question! You could say that I have been working with the visible and invisible, that is correct. Marble dust is a material I have been coming back to for measuring invisible factors in different spaces, different rooms. A series of marble dust sculptures were presented and placed directly on the floor. I never blended the dust with anything more than water and with time when the sculptures started to dry out, they started reacting on the vibrations in the space. The sculptures slowly started to fall apart when becoming more unstable and vulnerable to the vibrations in the floor, usually caused by bodies moving around in the space.  

In one of my latest projects, I finished a 20-minute sound piece called, Resonance from Before, in 2020. It consists of recordings from an abandoned beer factory in Tromsö in Northern Norway and field recordings and nature sounds from the harbour area outside the factory. I took up and recorded “invisible” vibrations with a geophone and electromagnetic sounds with the help of a priezor in the rooms of the factory building. The hearable and non-hearable frequencies were edited and fused together in a software. I was interested in minimising the distance that exists between what we see and hear in a space or room. The invisible sounds – vibrations and the electromagnetic sounds – are something our ears normally cannot perceive; humans can expect hearing between 20 to 20,000 Hz. So, I amplified the sound frequencies that are usually beyond our direct perception when we move around in space. I think you could say that every physical space consists of several realities that exist at the same time. I often wonder if hidden sounds in our physical environments can tell us about a common state of alienation. I think it is a common feeling of inadequacy in what our bodies can perceive and experience of the surrounding.  

One of your works that most evidently touches upon the theme of this issue is An Invitation from 2019. In this work you encouraged museum visitors to take pictures of themselves together with coal pieces from a mine in Svalbard in front of images of free trade zones. Would you like to describe this work in closer details, and some of the thoughts that lay behind it?   

Gruve 3 (Coal mine number 3) is a non-active coal mine owned by Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani, and it mainly functions as a tourist attraction today, with daily guided tours in the mine. The mine was operational between 1971 and 1996. During my trip to Longyearbyen, I got to join the guided tour in the same mine. We had a lot of questions along the tour and right after the tour, the guide gave me a bag full of carbon pieces to bring back home. I was grateful for the gift and thought I might make something out of it. In 2019, I decided on what I wanted to do with the pieces of carbon from the mine. A question was raised; can you be a tourist in a landscape without visiting there? And on a one-night event I invited gallery visitors to take a picture in front of a green screen and they got instructions to stage the carbon and themselves in front of the backdrop. In the next step they could decide to pick a background image from an archive I had collected for years. The collection consisted of images and sceneries from so called free trade city zones and romantical, historical landscape paintings (mainly with motives from the Arctic region) from the 19th century. I thought about if this kind of photobooth event was suggesting a distance experienced by the visitors from narratives in the collected images and the historical paintings. I wanted the audience to become participants, to perform; planning, exchanging ideas, staging images that led to the production of new images with new representations, new micro- and macro-narratives, or just tacky-funny images. 

Speaking of galleries and museums, what kind of place would you say that a museum is? I keep coming back to the duality of hidden and visible features and just came to think about your work Keep your Desires Inside from last year. What was the idea behind this work?     

Museums are many things. I guess there is a tiny difference when it comes to who owns the museum, or if it is owned by a state, like a public museum, or if it is a private owned institution. And the function of a museum has changed throughout history until today. Museums aim to preserve the history of the past. Most of the institutions like to buy or take new artworks which offers the power and prestige related to having these pieces in their collection. So, yes, what kind of place is a museum? I heard somewhere that the architect Alvar Aalto has said that the door handle is the handshake of a building, which can be inviting and courteous, or forbidding and aggressive. In this artwork you are referring to, I used several non-accessible doors at Kode museum 4, Bergen. I thought the doors did not look very inviting, there are many locked doors in museums to non-accessible rooms. I decided to attach a yellow vinyl text on the doors saying, “Keep this door closed at all times Keep your desires inside”. I hoped that this gesture could bring consciousness to the everyday object – these mysterious doors in an institution. I was also very curious about all the hidden artworks behind these doors. I read somewhere that museums only show a few percent of their art collections to the public. This gave me a feeling and fear of missing out on something. I also started thinking about how much responsibility our institutions have when it comes to deciding on what art we can take part in as museum visitors.