Andrea Frank (Interviewed by Laura Fanti)
I have known Andrea since 2004, the year of her solo show Search in Genoa at Pinta contemporanea Gallery. I was impressed by her use of contre-plongée, derived by Bauhaus in creating black and white images of trees viewed from below. Since then I have followed her work, also writing for her exhibitions, observing her changes in approaching the photographic language ––often based on archival research concerning children and matters of education, and recently involved in a complex system where she argues out questions of ecology, overpopulation, and pollution.
Laura Fanti: Andrea, you dedicate your life to photography but I know you used to draw. Could you tell me something about your first steps and about the moment in which photography became predominant in your life and in your work?
Andrea Frank: Photography entered my practice in a substantial way during my Masters studies in New York. Until then I had worked in painting and drawing, and later in site-specific installations and public interventions. With a new focus on the social, political, and psychological in this new context came a keen interest in the photographic image as part of my research and work.
What is the substantive difference between your recent work Systems and previous ones, such as Search or Ports and Ships?
I think the works are actually closely related. Over the last years, I realized how useful and fascinating a systemic approach is to issues of all kinds, and began a study of system dynamics. Looking at the earlier works through a systems lens has given me a new way of thinking and talking about them, also in relation to the new or developing work. I am fascinated by how a systems perspective directs attention to underlying societal paradigms, and subtly shows us “vicious circles”, or reinforcing causal loops.
So to answer your question more specifically, I actually included Ports and Ships in the Systems show, to point to global trade as the underlying engine of our economic and political and societal system, which is currently driving us into a dangerous direction.
Search, if seen from this perspective would rather address the individual psychological aspects of striving, desire, and fear, which are some of the underlying reasons for where we are globally.
You seem not to be very interested in representing human beings, in your recent project in particular, could you explain why? It is interesting especially because the inner sense of your work is related to humanity.
That’s an interesting question. I am interested in the larger dynamics of where we are as humanity, where we must move toward, and what keeps us from doing so. We are facing unsustainable growth of the human population, the economy, pollution/CO2 emissions, and something will happen to balance that. This quite sad realization is part of a systemic understanding of where we are––on a limited planed with limited resources and a finely balanced ecosystem. It is not possible to continue on this path indefinitely. We are destroying the basis of human life on this planet, changing the climate in extremely dangerous ways, seeming not to care about the extinction of countless species, and we are intervening in natural systems without any understanding of the long term and broad effects. It seems that only when we start to feel extreme economic and climate change effects of this reckless way of living, to which we have become so habituated, will we start to pay attention.
I am hopeful but deeply concerned, and am trying with my work to contribute in a small way to an understanding of these connections and relationships, so we can learn how to change course step by step. We need to look beyond the human scale to understand all of this.
Could you please explain your practice in realizing Systems?
For this exhibition, which to me is a preview of where my work is heading at the moment, I have been reading and collecting material, and writing over the past years and months, trying to wrap my head around the different issues that are converging so forcefully.
During the past year, I took seminars and a class in System Dynamics at MIT, to understand the field better and to be able to start using SD related strategies for my own work. And I became involved with the Sustainable Societies initiative at MIT.
I became really interested in collage and cutting out objects from photographs, as this eliminates the context and image border, and opens possibilities for new connections. I was excited to figure out how to laser-cut photographs without burning them, through a lamination technique. This presentation adds an important layer of removal, making the objects appear fossilized, or as seen through a thick lens. I realized that this technique allows me to tie in the aspect of learning about natural systems with my concern about the extinction of species.
In addition, I addressed the theme of education in my classes last fall. That means we did collective research and students developed projects around the theme. My own research project, a series of photographs of MIT classrooms, was developed in parallel.
So by juxtaposing seemingly disparate bodies of work and giving the show the title Systems I wanted to invite the viewer to look for connections and systemic aspects in the work, which are everywhere to be found.
You also did archive research in the past. How do you now see the role of collective memory in relation to natural history?
I am interested in how we learn about the natural world today. Natural history museums present a still, dead, but exact version of parts of a dynamic natural ecosystem. But I am concerned that we don’t know about animals and plants, their habits, and needs in a direct and experienced way. This is part of a big trend toward protecting ourselves from our natural environment, changing it, manipulating it. It does leave us ignorant about the larger ecosystem, though, and how important it is for our own survival. Taxidermy is now the only window through which to view certain species, which have become part of our collective memory in this form, which is interesting and links back to earlier work.
Could you tell me about your projects? Are you still working on “System Dynamics” or do you consider your project closed?
I am currently working on a new but related body of work for the Flora and Fauna series. This time I am looking at plants that have been pulled from the earth for study, and recreated in glass. The very act of killing to learn is a potent metaphor.
Another piece I am working on is a video, which observes a laser cutter drawing on/cutting through images. This process, which is very beautiful and visceral, is something I was fascinated by when I did the cut-outs. I want to expand on this powerful metaphor of cutting with light, through a more elaborate piece.
I am also thinking about another series of interviews for film or book, this time around evolving (system-) drawings or other visual material, focusing on our global impasse and how to navigate it toward a livable future.
Current show: Systems, Michela Rizzo, Venice (Italy)