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Saskia Holmkvist

My practice signals a search for connection in a time of uncertainty by a politics of revisiting near historical pasts to construct new mediated narrative memories from. Working in a circular mode of connectivity, bringing together themes of historic erasure and limits of translation through critical listening, oral speculation, repetitions, and scores into works of performance and film installation. My early practice started with storytelling and oral traditions relating to the notion of truth and reliability by entangling it with documentary traditions and elements of veracity. Voice over and the interview have served as important areas to investigate political narratives between bodies, language, and culture. More recent work filters through layered dialogues with artist´s works from places of contested history as a means to renegotiate a place’s history. The historical timespan of my work is tightly connected to my own lifetime through memory, even revisiting my own work from 10 years ago through narrative filters of reflection on it today. In Blind Understanding-New Commentary 2009-2019, for example, the original voice over is replaced with a new voice over critically reflecting on the earlier version and it´s analysis of 2009 together with conditions and choices for the work.

Narrative structures, film, social performative strategies and collaboration are central to my practice and have been so over the past 20 years as a practitioner. I employ research when I instigate work and it is through the research process that I build relations, often becoming collaborative or invited partners. I encourage discursive abilities to participate through invited constellations. This is a process that involves a high degree of presence and ethics in the encounter with each person I meet. In handing over a performative part building trust and sustainable relationships is essential as the participative part in my work is informed by the personal and professional qualities of the participants. Essential is to make my collaborators and participants comfortable with being partly in character, partly out of character, which is a position of direct critical reflection, avoiding rehearsal as a method to explore the analytical potential of the protagonists and there are many similarities to teaching in this process.

What I am working on now / current interests

I am currently working on an extended film and performance project called Back Translation. I use what I have called ´performative translation´, by looking back at performance with a focus on women in performance from the 90s in Northern Ireland. I´m in a dialogue with a place with a contested history through a performance from 2001 called KLub by Heather Allen, an artist in my own age who is no longer active as an artist and the work is barely documented and archived. The disappearance of the artist and it´s poor documentation has been catalyst to the ongoing research and production. The disconnection with both the performance KLuB and the artist has created a need for other patterns of connectivity arriving in a decision to speculate together. The film I´m working on right now involves persons I have met through the research and builds on loosely connected fictional scenes. The chapters build an open-ended assemblage, not a logical machine; they tangle with and interrupt each other-mimicking the patchy picture I get of the complex history. An archival fabulation as Sadiya Hartman writes about in Wayward Thinking, in lack of archival material. Inspired by Sadiya Hartman who suggests that stories about refusal, stories that don´t exists as documents need to be created through a sort of fabulation or fiction based on research to be written into history. My intention was always to go beyond re-enacting an artwork and rather re-negotiate parts of history and subsequently the now through “unfixing” a narrative of a work of art in relation to a place as a way of deconstructing the power dynamics and cultural biases by creating a place to renegotiate not just the work but what is prior, beyond, and ahead of the work and its surrounding environment through a new artwork. Northern Ireland was a place, that I only had memories of from a distance, made by Swedish broadcasts during the 80-90s reporting about IRA, the terror attacks and The Troubles. From what I recall, all they spoke of was religion, terrorism, and boarders. They didn´t speak about colonial past, class differences or haunted history to my memory. I´m learning by connecting with local artists of my own age and younger from Northern Ireland who tell conflicting stories. I am grateful. The process is becoming a film and installation and performance in relation to missing knowledge, connection and disconnection, the right to withdrawal and blur.

As part of this process, I also created a research group using the great educational format of group critique as a way of borrowing formats from teaching into my own practice. The group has in times of Covid formed a strong collective research process in sustaining practice by re-learning about belonging and travelling in times of shifting grounds. The collective consists of 2 PhD fellows Sara Eliassen and Manuel Pelmus as well as 2 scholars in translation and de-colonizing studies: Sue-Ann Harding and Temi Odumosu which will be involved in my courses this year.

Pedagogical approach and expectations of students

A main task for artists and art students is to learn to be an involved spectator of art. But also, an involved spectator of our time, own interests, your collected material, and research and to tie knots across your material into a body of work. In tutorials and group critiques this is what we do too. We practice our involvedness and how to involve. Art is a weak source of information, its strength often emerges when we bring different aspects and affective connections together by narrowing down and going beyond the graspable by adding, fabulating, crossing or extracting from the material. My role as a professor and main advisor is to create conditions for a good dialogue in tutorials and group critiques. It is urgent to create a generous structure based on trust to allow for different opinions and constructive critique. My main aim is to train the connection and interaction between your perception, doing and verbalization (how you speak about and create a personalized language around your own work).
So how do we get to all of this?
My aim with tutorials consists in strengthening and connecting dots around your art practice. The tutorial is an intimate space where a culture of openness is needed to identify doubts and uncertainties as a means to develop your own criticality to your work. What can be cultivated in tutorials is precisely to listen for interests, intentions and allow time for you to test and create materialization in between meetings. This dialogue opens for a place to find out the relationship between your intentions, research, process, and materialization and how to arrive in decisions. Because your work will develop somewhere between your curiosities and collected material and a process based on listening to yourself and others, playing, fabricating.

Group critique

In group critiques, I strongly believe that the best is to have something concrete at hand to present. It doesn´t need to be a finished work as it´s better if there is still openness in the work. This will spark much fruit for discussion for the group. I would therefor like you to set up an installed version of the work in process. Show the group the correct scale, materials, careful details, installed as if for an exhibition and prepare questions to the group relating to uncertainties around the work. We want to get an as close impression as possible of your intentions with the work to be able to concentrate a discussion from the work itself, hear your peers’ reflections, readings, and options to consider for the work further. Everyone´s contribution in the discussion is important, in fact as important as the person presenting to the group. We will speak about the works presented without asking everything from the student presenting as that person might not necessarily have all the answers. Imagining scenarios for each other´s works as a way of voicing reflections and sharing knowledge. The generosity of sharing a work in progress with peers will be rewarded in the discussion.

A wider discussion about the art world, references and tools will also plays an important role in our discussions. Sometimes we alter the presentation, for example using role games where a fellow student gets to present your work so that you can pose questions to this person. We also employ a practice of note taking by a fellow student for your record. Main advisor groups often consist of 10 students. Normally with a mix of Ba/ Ma students. I will come with suggestions, but it would be great if you also come with suggestions. If one person in the group speaks in English, we speak English.


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