Body of Work, 2021

Conversation between Björn Bengtsson and Miriam Bäckström, taken from exhibition booklet.
Booklet design by: Mateas Pares
MB: Bergman directs?

BB: Madame de Sade, it is on SVT play. There is also an interview where Vilgot Sjöman and Bergman talk about the production. They are both quite content, fulfilled by each other. Maybe it might be something like that today.

MB: What we often return to, when we meet, you and I, is the photographic image. What does photography have to do with theater?

BB: The photographic image is always a form of performance.

MB: Especially as you arrange the pictures in your books. It is layer upon layer. Things you do not see. Images behind images. But they are there.

BB: I think of photography as something that hides rather than shows things. It is such a very small part of a context that is made visible. This is something I return to, both in my books and several works that are now in the exhibition. It is a difficult instrument that is its own opposite in some way.

MB: The photographic image is a medium that syncs so well with our brains. The photograph has previously been allowed to represent reality. We believed in the picture. The sender was not always important. Photography had become part of our thinking and we interpreted the world from a photographic perspective. Today, photography is constantly changing. The representation of reality, alluding to truth, is disappearing; it no longer has the same function. However, photography can represent itself, use itself and its history, to build other realities, new images. It is exciting. During the end of the 20th century, an awareness grew that the image was not innocent; there was nothing objective, that all images have a sender with a purpose. Artists worked on the basis of this awareness. But now, the use of photography is on an entirely different level; we communicate via photos and everyone has become a photographer. It affects the medium.

That was an important aspect when I looked through your book. There is no documentation. This is the way you use the images. Not even the images themselves feel important. Even in how you organize the images, there is a freedom, beyond representation. The images represent your world, not the world. But what I reacted to most were some of the objects in the book. They are in a context — nothing strange about that — but then they are presented as physical objects where they become objects and works in your exhibition at StudyForArtPlatform. It was as if the photographic image had begun to produce objects. As if they only exist as images in a world of images — in your world of images — and then are taken out of the image and become reality.

In the past, photography has lived in the physical world. Photography has needed the physical world to have something to document and to be able to produce. Here it is the physical objects which find nourishment and genesis in the image. They acquire meaning in the photographic image, and copy themselves into a physical object; into a work of art. The images create works and reality. Movement is also important. There is a movement in how the images relate to each other. Movement I think is important for the new image, but also how we relate to the image. Mobility is also required there. Reality is set in motion and our naming system and grammar are out of play. The terminology for the relationship between reality and image has fallen to the ground. Now completely different premises arise.

BB: Flux?

MB: Yes, reality is always in motion. Now the image is also in motion. What then?

BB: At the same time, it feels more natural that way.

MB: In what way?

BB: Maybe it is the image that set the world in motion. For me, images have made up the world. And now there are so many more images to see, more perspectives to take into account. When the perspectives were fewer, it was easier to categorize, organize and name. I am thinking of Alphonse Bertillion's pictures of criminals, and the photographs from the Salpêtrière institution. Those pictures were always accompanied by texts that explained and decided what they represented. The text was authority. Over time, the text has taken on a different role in relation to the image. In any case, it is less visible, hidden in the image's meta data. Text that is visible is yet another image. Text and image may have become more equal.

MB: Has this happened now?

BB: Yes, I think so. Text still surrounds images, such as hashtags and when we google, and so on, but we look at images very differently from 130 years ago. The speed with which images spread, and the enormous amount that surrounds us, means that we spend less time with each individual image and must become faster readers.

MB: Text is something that needs to be translated. Advertising without words can speak to a global audience. The Internet has created a global context that requires new conditions. But there is a lot that can not be said in just one image. Reasoning. Consequences. The communication may be in a certain way. The text may have been replaced with the purpose. It is enough that we can interpret the image and understand what it means, convey, what its purpose is. Longer reasoning may end up as a moving image, in films instead.

BB: The film also makes individual images invisible, creates an experience of movement through time and space, a different terminology. Then templates are formed based on agreements for how to present one thing or the other, which in turn is enhanced by our will and ability to imitate.

MB: So it imitates reality?

BB: Yes... or make it so high-res that the image of reality is dissolved.

MB: You feel more at home in the picture... Maybe because it is a natural state? That image was my natural state. The place where I felt at home. Now it is not like that anymore. Is it me who has changed or the environment?

BB: You have been there for quite some time I think; in the transition where images meet or are resolved.

MB: Scale 1: 1 was scary. Everything is already done. I know I was thinking. The scenographies were my salvation. I saw the world as a scenography where we all built scenes for our dramas. When working with images, you add elements. Via composition, sections, lighting, etc. And work with layers of reality that can be amplified or reduced. Which can not be perceived until you see it in the picture. I had to produce images to be able to understand how I related to, and perceived the world. The artist's constant process.

BB: I have also had a hard time making physical works. Translating two dimensions into three, you have to make one dimension up. It comes more natural to me to create flatness out of depth.

MB: Is it not a similar process to make a book as creating a room?

BB: Well, it is a three dimensional object. But a book, or a magazine or an album is also a world of its own. The demarcation allows me to fool myself, a book is a book. I do not think of it as an object. Books are worlds where I have experienced image, learned image and been touched by image. Books and magazines and family albums. This is where I started creating my world.

MB: It is interesting with photography. Give it 50 years and all photos become interesting.

BB: If you have been taking a lot of photos and done it for a long time, sooner or later there will be an exhibition or a book...

MB: I interviewed a man. Do not remember his name. He had a museum that only showed anonymous pictures. He and his wife had people around the world who bought photographs for them. He had become an expert at identifying time and place in photographs. He did not have to travel, he said. He had already seen the whole world.

BB: Makes me think of photogrammetry, speaking of photography and space.

Mathematically extracting spatial proportions from images depending on which lens, distance, focal length angle, etc. Extremely documentary in that way, or grounded in reality. When you have enough images you build up something that is no longer the images but a model.

MB: Like a scanner. Each photograph is a pixel in a 3D image. When I was out walking in the sun yesterday, people were sitting outside eating pizza. everyone was photographing their pizza, standing around taking pictures. What will this lead to? You build your own 3D scan of reality.

BB: Maybe that is why you take selfies, to fill the void in the middle where the camera is, to be part of the same reality. I have been looking for myself in my photos for a long time. I thought I was there. I have also tried to stop photographing many times. It becomes increasingly difficult to search for oneself in an ever-growing image archive. It was only when I stopped asking myself what the images are and instead began to think about what they could become that I could see in a new way. The images became a material to work with, not mirror images.

MB: When did that happen?

BB: In 2018, when I did Indigo / Keloid, the first book in the Indigo series. Working on the book, it was as if I could relate more freely to the images, create a distance. Before, it was as if I was sucked into the images and disappeared. At first this can be quite pleasant, but eventually there is only emptiness. It is a bit sad when you look for yourself, but there is nothing there.

MB: But you are there, right?

BB: In a way. Because when the images could be anything, I also became freer and it came through the realization that the connection between me and my pictures is so strong. How does it work for you, with all your materials?

MB: All my things?

BB: Yes, and your house and studio. I am curious about that. What is your relationship to your own works of art? Some seem to be able to do anything, completely disconnected from themselves. Others, like me, have an almost physical connection to their works as if they were part of their body. Sometimes you stretch extra far and create something you do not recognise as your own. There is a sense of risk in it, that it might remain something you do not understand. Like carrying something around and not knowing where to put it. But it seems to resolve over time. In the end, things fall into place, it is more a question of how much you can carry. It also makes it easier if you have a studio, a place where you can store things you do not yet understand.

MB: For intuition to work, one must still have confidence in oneself, or rather inintuition. Intuition knows more than I know, it has plans I do not know. I can collect things that have no relation to me or what I do. The house full of strangers. Intuition may be called thinking. The self cannot think so far ahead. Intuition is the sum of my experiences and therefore knows more about what will happen. And can therefore collect material for future works. What the hell am I going to do with this? It does not matter, just buy it. Then it gets a key role in a production ten years later.

BB: You have your characters too. A good trick to handle doubts. Name them, bring them to life, study them. I have learned a lot from how you work.

MB: The negative impulse that does not let one do anything, that wants to stop everything. Like a very negative parent. I usually call it a system. It is the system that is at work. The system wants me to save time, space, save money.... It is a no-sayer. They should be locked out, not included.

BB: If you listen to them, the world shrinks.

MB: I think of the objects and things that you have made, they really do not feel like an image. It is one thing to see them in the image, and then you go to the next page, then suddenly there is something that really exists and that will be shown in an exhibition. Elements that I do not understand, then it becomes so much more intrusive and exciting. Like you have opened a door and something sneaked past.

BB: Maybe precisely because they are not just one image but consist of many images, I have created them in three dimensions, so they contain many perspectives, many images. I also kind of did not see them until they were finished. With photography, it is almost always the case that I perceive something which I then try to translate into an image. The sculptures have no model; they mostly consist of things I have collected. You find animal bones in the forest, take them home and cook them, then they sit in the studio for a few years. One day you wonder what a credit card with a hairstyle would look like, but have no idea how to go about it. Suddenly, these materials become visible; things that I have been gathering turn into potential building parts. Maybe that is why you can use them, because they have been without a destination.

MB: Yes, I think that is super important, you create meaning. And when it becomes an exhibition, you take the work outside yourself, and create dialogue with others.

BB: Taking these materials seriously... there is satisfaction in seeing them find their role and let them meet an audience.