The first time I came across an image of Alina Maria Frieske, it was in a magazine. It looked like a painting. I turned the page and moved on. Then I realised that it couldn’t be a painting, because the magazine I was leafing through was dedicated exclusively to photography. I went back and, reading the text that accompanied the pictures of Frieske’s work, I found out that I had been fooled by my mind.
Through her meticulous practice, Alina Maria Frieske works blurring the lines between photography and painting: in her collage, she assembles hundreds of fragments taken from various photographs in order to create new images and unique scenes. In so doing, Frieske pulls the strings of our perception on several levels and explores the way we approach and understand images.
In her first Italian exhibition curated by the Milan-based duo Twenty14 and hosted at Pananti Atelier, the German artist presents the series Abglanz, a body of works that deals with the digital world for the form but recall to the painting tradition for the practice.
The subjects portrayed are mainly domestic and in a certain way really familiar, maybe because these artworks are based on everyday smartphone photos from the endless pool of the web. Indeed, her carefully-crafted compositions tackle issues such as image circulation and the relation between the individual and the mass.
As a way to explore new possibilities of displaying, the exhibition project was also conceived under a digital form, created in partnership with Art Curator Grid platform. “We really think that one of the biggest issues that curators should confront at the moment is finding new strategies to help the audience to stay engaged with artists and art projects. And visually emulating an exhibition space is not sufficient,” say the curators Matilde Scaramellini and Elena Vaninetti in this interview. “The digital exhibition offers to the audience a more complete look at Alina’s practice, sharing more about her creative process. For example, we produced video content especially for the digital exhibition that could help reduce the distance between the viewer and the artist.”
I chatted with Alina Maria Frieske to know more about her practice of using photographs as paintbrushes.
Can you tell me more about your work? How did you develop this particular approach?
In my practice, I assemble fragments of preexisting photographs into an overall image. The image develops over a longer period of time and is pieced together in layers that appear like brush strokes. The approach developed out of a curiosity about image recognition. I like to work with reference to source material and try to see how much I can stretch the meaning of the image. The layered images invite to see multiple things at once which is a primary interest in my work.
What is your creative process?
Most of the time I begin my images with drawings I make on paper, where I develop the composition. The scenes and people depicted are all imagined freely from personal experiences. In order to fill the outlines of the drawing, the image gets further processed through digital interventions. In return, some parts in the image are newly printed and rephotographed in the studio. Thus, it is frequently a rotation between digital and analog practices until the image is really finalized.
What does the term “Abglanz” mean and what is the focus of the exhibition?
The term Abglanz is an older German expression that means something like a weak reflection or a distant echo. I was curious to look at the way how the countless self-portraits and ordinary moments people upload on a daily basis are seen from a distance – how we are reflected through the screen and how we see ourselves in others. The images in the exhibition are set around a domestic environment, where the portraits and still lifes relate to the passage of time and the idea of repeated actions.
In this series, to create new compositions you used images taken from social media. Why?
Looking at the massive amount of image content that gets uploaded, tagged and reposted on social media, I wanted to focus on the information we actively provide about ourselves. My aim was to find out how recognizable the depiction could become when all the fragments get multiplied and linked over a certain period of time. I was curious about the idea to create a collective portrait and merge different viewpoints together. It was inspiring to discover similarities between people and to create a dissolve between personal moments from complete strangers. This might be shown in an identical gesture or a similar object shown in the background for example. Through these random commonalities, it was possible to create a new pattern. At the same time I am interested in the specific size, resolution and filters applied on images from social media.
Can you tell me more about your collaboration with Twenty14? Also, how was it to think about the exhibition also in a digital form?
We started the collaboration after the recent publication of YET Magazine, of which Elena Vaninetti was Senior Managing Editor. Even though we never met in person, we had a longer exchange from early on during the preparation of the work. I was very happy when they told me about the possibility to present the exhibition additionally through the platform Art Curator Grid. The combination of seeing the installation step by step and gaining more information through additional material was a great way to compensate the difficulty to see an exhibition physically these days.
Through your works, you play a lot with the viewer’s perception. What kind of reflections do you want to elicit with your images?
In constructing the images I play with contrasts and combine photographs between distant and close, blurry and detailed, recognizable and unfamiliar. This comes back to the experience with social media to feel connected and isolated at the same time. Due to the huge amount of images we are daily confronted with, people are used to a continuous scrolling and a short attention span. I find it important to question how images are used, understood and distributed in everyday life.
Did you study at ECAL, right? How did it influence the way you look and deal with photography?
Yes, I did my Master Degree at ECAL in Lausanne. Especially the Master puts emphasis on future developments in photography. Studying at ECAL enabled me to experiment with many new devices and techniques, ranging from three-dimensional scans to virtual reality or materialized photography. Looking back, I think these experiences helped me to look at my research interests from a different angle.
Do you find inspiration more in photography or painting?
There is a close reference to historical portrait paintings and an interest for the depiction of the personal space. I find a lot of inspiration in both photography and painting but also in films or sculptural work. For the Abglanz project I was often referring to material around transparency and glass. My early inspiration came from research about diorama cases for example.
Are you exploring other stylistic approaches to images or will you delve further into the practice of collage?
I think it will be both ways. I am currently working on a book about the project but at the same time I am planning to focus on printing options and research more about the tactile sense, working with different materials to create something more sculptural.
Abglanz by Alina Maria Frieske
Curated by Twenty14
With the support of Casa d’Aste Pananti
February 5th – March 31st 2021
Via A. Saffi 9, Milano