Studying at KHiO 2021: Art and Craft
Name: Alexis Owen
Programme: MFA in Art and Public Space
What has it been like to study at KHiO?
I almost feel like I can’t say what it’s like to study at KHiO, since almost the entirety of the MAPS program has taken place online for the majority of my time here, but interspersed throughout were periods of time when I was on campus more, to take technical courses, or that time before the pandemic that feels very far away now. There is a great openness to the educational structure at KHiO, which means that a great many possibilities open to you through the institution, but also means that initiative is key. I particularly enjoyed the opportunities for technical courses in the great facilities here, as well as interdisciplinary events, like KUF week, that highlight the diversity of artistic research and production that happens here.
What is your key takeaway from KHiO?
I think the biggest takeaway from my time at KHiO is an understanding of self-motivation, which is an excellent tool for artists to have. Anything is possible here, but you have to be the glue that makes it happen.
Tell us about your graduation project
My practice has always held an interest in investigating support structures and networks of care, and early in the pandemic I began experimenting with creating a number of platforms dealing with the pandemic and its collective effects on our lives. By the autumn I was very burnt out, and realized I needed to turn the lens of care inward, and find ways to focus on caring for myself. I began documenting the various habits I had developed to care for my self during this time, and eventually decided if I was serious about taking care of myself I should try to quit smoking, a coping mechanism I had returned to in the early days of the pandemic.
But then I began to question my logic- is it really a caring act to make myself quit smoking during this time? Or could the act of allowing myself to have a coping mechanism, albeit an unhealthy one, be considered an act of care? What defines a care practice? How does it differ from a coping mechanism? Is physical health more important than mental health? Is care contextual?
These fruitful questions evolved into my thesis project, Small Comfort (2021) which consists of two elements, a looping durational video 12 hours, 26 minutes in length entitled small comfort (every Cigarette, February – April 2021) and a limited edition 32-page risograph publication, rauchen ist tödlich (small comfort).
Composed of self-shot footage documenting every cigarette I rolled from February 1st - April 31s of this year, the video, small comfort (every cigarette, February – April) (2021), tracks the repeated performance of this quotidian gesture during times of isolation, a gesture that has always been connected to a certain aspect of sociality at other times in my life.
Through the documentation of this gesture the video follows the ebbs and flows of the effects of corona restrictions on the physical spaces my body has access to, from extended periods of isolation, through moments when social contact becomes possible, to isolation – again and again and again.
Installed during the thesis exhibition facing a common smoking area at KHiO adjacent to the front entrance, the video interjects this gesture into it’s analogous site at the school, the space I would have been rolling, and socializing, if not for the pandemic and its restrictions.
An accompanying text work, rauchen ist tödlich (small comfort) (2021), explores my embodied relationship to cigarettes and notions of self care and coping during times of crisis. Tracking the ways in which this gesture has flirted in and out of my life, it meditates on the current resurgence of this habit during the pandemic, the somatic knowledge held within a gesture, the materiality of making cigarettes and the loss of my Grandmother to lung cancer as a child.
I am working on developing a number of project proposals, and am very much looking forward to exploring the possibilities of being a professional artist situated in Oslo.