Social Constructs, Slade Coldstream prize 2015
By Jenny M Wedgbury, on 31 July 2015
“Where am I? Inside. Outside. Included. Excluded”
Pause. Changing page. She continues:
“ I, a mime student: an actor without words. I, a dancer: repeating movement by movement. Again and again”
UCL Art Museum has been collecting prize winning student work from the Slade School of Fine Art from the 1870s to the present and our collection provides an unrivalled archive of tastes and trends in art education over the last 140 years. This year’s winner and new entry into the collection from the William Coldstream Prize is Anja Olofgörs with her installation piece, Social Constructs. The William Coldstream Prize of £1,000 is awarded annually in June as a purchase prize for outstanding achievement with pieces accessioned into the UCL Art Museum collections.
In Social Constructs Anja Olofgörs explores the impact of gender and space on our bodies. She is interested in how various forms or various modalities of spatial experience control our bodily activities and behaviours, and the effect this has on our self-perception. Taking a feminist stance, Olofgörs work references Queer theory, Bauhaus and Swedish ideological history as well as iconic images that capture poetic moments, like that of Marilyn Monroe dipping her toes in a swimming pool in [place] in [time]
The project Social Construct turns the gallery into a performative area which explores physical, societal and intellectual space. Its physical components consists of a group of chairs designed in characteristically Bauhaus and Swedish aesthetic and a publication. The chairs create a space to host readings of her publication, and function as a symbol for human proportions; as a stand-in for the anticipated body.
Anja was kind enough to answer some questions about her work and her artistic practice. You can read her responses below:
Can you tell us a little about you as an artist and your current practice?
For my recent piece I worked with installation, text, printmaking and performance. In my practice I am inspired by the idea that space is not innocent but that it is filled with norms and invisible borders. I believe that space is where otherwise unrelated bodies’ can connect, making space into an active power in the constitution of the body. By breaking down ruling structures and stretching the possibilities of what space can be, bodies can cross the edges and inhabit places in new ways.
When were you at the Slade and how would you describe your experience of studying there?
I graduated from the Slade this year. I think I haven’t really realized that I am not coming back in the autumn. The first year was challenging. I was not used to the large amount of critical feedback. The Swedish school system does not provide and prepare us for that. In the beginning it was difficult to relate to it, but studying at the Slade has helped me to develop a language for my practice which made it easier. I will miss it a lot; it has been two great years of my life.
What do you think is special about UCL Art Museum, what’s unique about it?
I experienced UCL Art Museum as a creative platform for interdisciplinary meetings and collaborations across different teaching and research disciplines at the university. I also feel that the museum shows a great interest in Slade students’ work and that they are continually giving students opportunities to exhibit and show finished, or ongoing projects to a wider audience.
Can you tell us about the inspiration for your prize winning piece Social Constructs?
For the project Social Constructs, I wanted to explore what happens to the space—and the bodies within space—when the starting point for creating furniture is a non-normative body. I got interested in looking at the active production of gender distinction and the ways in which it can be found at every level of architectural discourse. I was interested in the norms that are built into the architectural space. Questions I am interested in asking are: How can we open up for discussion the way in which standardisations of space and being are created, established and maintained? How can we create space that physically includes different kinds of bodies and behaviours?
What’s next for you artistically?
I will continue to work with what I started at the Slade. I’m not quite finished on working with the chair as a symbol of human proportions. The chair contains information on how we perceive the body. I am interested in continuing to explore the information that the chair gives. During the summer I am writing a script for an episode for Cassandre Greenberg’s podcast Sounds Like. I am also collaborating with a Swedish urban planner, Amanda Fröler. Together we are researching Swedish political concepts of the 1930s and the role that these have played on the current generation’s relationship to body and space; how the aesthetic expressions of that time have affected our thinking around our bodies and our environment.
If you’d like to find out more about Anja’s artistic practice and experience her piece Social Constructs she’ll be performing it in the Art Museum on Friday 27 November as part of our monthly Pop-Up display programme. To find out more go to our What’s On pages.
Jenny Wedgbury, Learning and Access Officer, UCL Art Museum