In Dialogue with Krista Svalbonas
Krista Svalbonas has been capturing images since her first darkroom photography course in high school. The camera in some form — as an integral part of the work or as a reference — keeps playing a central role in her artwork, which takes shape in diverse forms such as painting, ceramics, and sculpture. Her first solo exhibition at Klompching Gallery in Dumbo, Brooklyn, features work spanning a six-year period.
All your work begins with a traditional photo and the final pieces are realized in a range of forms — mixed media, collages, sculptures. What can you tell me about your process?
The physical nature of the work is often dictated by the concept behind it. Having a diverse background in a variety of media, allows me to think about what shape or form best suits the ideas. For a long time now I have been exploring ideas of home in a variety of ways and although the execution may vary from one body of work to the next, the ideas behind each series are very consistent.
In your first solo exhibition at the Klompching Gallery you bring together four bodies of work. Let’s start with In The Presence Of Memory (2014–15), where you are focusing on the disappearing rural barns of Pennsylvania. Tell me about the idea behind this series and what is the viewer going to see?
I grew up in an area of Pennsylvania dominated by the steel industry, and I have long been interested in industrial architecture as an expression of cultural history. In the Presence of Memory explores the architectural vestiges of a far more ancient industry: agriculture. In this series I traveled throughout my home state of Pennsylvania to document these agricultural structures — abandoned, re-purposed, or occasionally still in use. These photographic images have become the source material for this body of work. Using industrial felt (manufactured in Pennsylvania) as a substrate, I silk-screen images of architectural details of the barns utilizing industrial pigments such as steel, iron and copper. I paint each piece individually with oil and cold wax, and cut into the felt, echoing the empty and thatched spaces of the often dilapidated structures I have photographed.
In Migrants (2014-16) you utilize photos of architecture from locations you have lived. Can you elaborate on that and how does it differ from The Presence of Memory?
Ideas of home and dislocation have always been compelling to me as the child of parents who arrived in the United States as refugees. My family’s displacement is part of a long history of uprooted peoples for whom the idea of “home” is contingent, in flux, without permanent definition and undermined by political agendas beyond their control. Perhaps as a result, I am fascinated by the language of spatial relationships and by the impact of architectural form and structure on the psychology of the human environment.
Complicated by this family history, my definition of home constantly oscillates between past and present. Migrants began with photographs I took in the three locations I have called home in the past eight years: the New York metro area, rural Pennsylvania, and Chicago. Each image is a visual sketch of the genius loci of the landscape at a particular moment in my history. I cut and reassemble the images in sets of three, creating hybrid structures that reinterpret and reinvent architecture, disrupting space, light, and direction.
In your most recent work, Displacement, you specifically look back at your Latvian and Lithuanian family experience of post-WWII refugee camps in Germany. What would you like to share about this series?
Born in Latvia and Lithuania, my parents spent many years after the end of World War II in displaced-person camps in Germany before they were allowed to emigrate to the United States. In this series, I set out to retrace and re-imagine that history. My parents’ childhood homes were impersonal structures appropriated from other civilian and military uses to house thousands of postwar refugees. Today, the buildings give no hint of the tumultuous lives of the postwar refugees, stuck in stateless limbo with no idea what the future held.
To better understand and honor their struggles, I turned to archived copies of the plea letters the Baltic refugees sent to the governments of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I merge these painful accounts with the photographs through a process of burning, an echo of the traumas of war the refugees had endured. Eventually made entirely of lace-like text, the buildings grow fragile, inseparable from the precarious lives they housed.
The series has now grown to include portraits of the DP’s (displaced person) that lived in the spaces I have documented. I have been traveling the US and Canada meeting these individuals and documenting their stories. My plan is to have this work published as a way to preserve this history.
In Migrator (2015-18) you create photographic triptychs as three-dimensional forms. How did this series start and how do you see the relationship between the photographic and the sculptural in your work?
The Migrants work was playing with shape and space in a 2-dimensional realm. It seemed a natural progression for me to take these collages and make them three dimensional, really exploring disrupting form and space in a very physical way. I see my work as a combination of photography and sculpture. I love the capabilities of photography to become an object and the ingenious ways so many artists are doing this. I am increasingly interested in exploring the boundaries of photography, what constitutes a photograph and how the medium can be combined with other media.
All photos courtesy of Klompching gallery
Krista Svalbonas Recent Works at Klompching Gallery Through February 27th, 2021
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: email@example.com