German artist Anna Skladmann’s practise sits somewhere between photography, print and scanning techniques. Influenced by the first expressions of photography, Skladmann’s delicate work focuses on symbols, histories and myths rooted in the earth; her aim being to bring the viewer closer to the natural world and in doing so, closer to their own nature.
When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
When I was little I would collect obsessively: dead bees or flies were drying in my books, boxes of labelled and dated candy wrappers that would remind me of the pleasures I had when eating or sharing them with others; obscene objects I would pick up, collect, label and archive.
I felt I had to collect absolutely everything so my memories existed in a physical realm and wouldn’t disappear into the abyss.
When I was eight and got my first camera it felt like such a release and I could finally hold on to my memories.
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
I was born and grew up in the North of Germany as a child of Russian Jewish immigrants, whose objective was to leave the Soviet Union and build themselves a better life in Germany.
Even though I was born in Germany, I always felt like an outsider, speaking a different language at home, observing different religious rituals and rites and living in a sweet nostalgia of the Soviet times that continued to live inside our living room and kitchen. This sensitivity to our roots that existed in our minds and reflected inside our home, juxtaposed the rural and natural landscape that I grew up in. It has taught me about dualities from an early age, but also the importance of ones inside life.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience?
I started at the Parsons School of Design where I did my BA in Social Documentary Photography. It has taught me everything I know about story-telling, light and the history of art. After graduation I moved to Russia to work as a Documentary Photographer for over five years. I worked for major international magazines and also on my own artistic projects, however with time I felt I became the messenger and I wasn’t able to express myself fully in my commercial work, so I applied for my Masters at The Royal College of Arts which I started in my late twenties. This is where I started to believe in myself as an artist and found the vocabulary to express myself.
What is the message of your work?
I try to draw my inspiration from a world that moves in between a psychological state, where the alchemy of the self transpires beneath the nose of our immediate awareness. I find certain motives reflected back in nature, which I collect and combine with symbols, histories and myths, to create alternative female-focused narratives, rooted in the natural world.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I try to spend my studio time in a transcendent and fluid state, either through walking or more meditative states which also trigger memories that can be individual or collective. I then try to secure them often by reflecting them back in nature, which I collect and scan to create these so called ‘digital cyanotypes’.
Who or what are your greatest influences?
Anna Atkins, for pioneering in Photography. She was a botanist who published the first book illustrated with photographic images. I also adore Taryn Simon for her alternative story-telling and directing one’s attention to familiar systems of organisation—bloodlines, criminal investigations, flower arrangements—making visible the contours of power and authority hidden within.
Anna Atkins, Ferns, 1840
Are your works planned? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?
My works are carefully thought through. I would love to shift the viewer’s perception on to nature and perhaps their own nature too.
What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise?
My artistic medium varies between photography and scanning techniques. I collect natural specimens and combine them with liquids, such as water or milk, to create so-called ‘digital scans’, which bring us back to the invention of photography: ‘the cyanotype’.
What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?
I mainly work in series; so the starting point would always be an interesting story, myth or archive to follow and unlock. This is still heavily influenced from my time of working as a documentary photographer and using photography to illustrate a story and working closely to investigative journalists and researchers.
What are your goals for the future?
I had planned a joint exhibition with one of AucArt’s other artists, Yulia Iosilzon. We planned to re-create a typical Russian 24hours Flower Stall.
How has your art practice been affected by self-isolation?
Currently I’m spending my self-isolation in my hometown in Bremen, Germany, where I was lucky enough to re-create a small home studio and work with the natural world around me. It also keeps me sane, as I currently combine my practice with long walks in nature, shifting my attention from the screen to the natural world.
Are you creating new work while social distancing?
I’m slowly starting to birth to some new ideas whilst organising our family photographic archive and its negatives. I spend hours on end organising our shared memories as a family, histories and emotions, while running old negatives through the scanner: a beautiful process to turn something negative into a positive.
How are you staying creative?
Long walks in nature, which I’m so lucky to have right now.