12 March 2012

A Portrait of the Artist: Sannah Kvist

It is hard to tell why,  but the age we are living in provokes an increasing number of people over the world to concentrate on living with less and to de-clutter.  Be it financial crises or way of thinking, it has become obvious that over-consuming will only lead us to wreckage.

That is why when I stumbled upon Sannah Kvists project All I Own, I invited her to participate in our A Portrait of the Artists series. Sannah is a young Swedish photographer who is on a quest to find and expose the reasons and effects of a replaceable culture and life on mortgage that lead to the present day state of mind of the 80's generation. For her project, Sannah has produced a number of photographs showing University students in Sweden with all their belongings.

What inspired you for the project All I Own? Is it a reaction to over-consumerism?
I had lived for 23 years when I took the photo of me and everything I owned and thought it was a sad collection of junk I've managed to buy. But this was also the center of my sell-everything-period when I did not own much. It's always this multi-layered and I oscillate between two opinions. Most of the other people I have photographed had a different feeling though. They were more surprised at how much shit they actually owned. But I guess so. You can tell when you move how much there really is. I think most people actually got an eye-opener when they built the piles.

The project started as a documentation of what I owned at that time. I had just moved for the third time in six months and was so damn tired of moving everything so I had started to give away much of what I owned. At the moment I owned not much at all. When I wanted to continue the project with other participants, I noticed how quickly they began to "compose" their stacks. Much time was devoted to fine-tune them, put some stuff in front, hiding others. They were proud of some things, less than others. It became clear that it was important to express the models' own personality in the pictures, probably much because all were portrayed next to the stack.

So far it has gone fairly smoothly because all the models are used to moving around and therefore do not live in big houses with giant furniture. But I want to try to broaden the participants something. It has been quite convenient to choose people in your direct or indirect presence.

The trend for de-cluttering is taking over the world. What do you think is the reason behind that?
It seems to be something I always will come back to, to get rid of what I have. I get some kind of idea that I would be a more harmonious and free person without all junk, so I sell what I have and give away the rest. Then I sit in my apartment with a bed, a desk, a computer and some clothes. I realize that I am neither a more harmonious and free, and feel the white walls tip over on me, and start buying little porcelain figures again.

But I struggle every day with consumption. I know that I have a desire for things I did not know I needed. Someone else just decided that I wanted this. But it is hard to resist even if you do know this. I feel I am shallow and being cheated when I consume, but also it's hard to argue against it since it actually makes people happy. And who am I to say to me that this happiness is more false and wrong than... for example, love?

Can you take us through the creative process? How much time did staging each of the photos take?
The procedure is as follows: I set up the camera in the participants' living rooms or bedrooms (most live in one room apartments) and the model must collect all the furniture and all the loose stuff to build a pile, a sculpture, in front of the camera. They get all the freedom to design the stack and choose what should be a priority spot from the camera's perspective. Everything should be in, however, but one can hide some stuff in the back. I photograph the person and the pile together. 

Depending on how ambitiously they are involved with their styling, each image took from 2 to 5 hours, with coffee break included of course.

Why did you want your objects to be born in the same year?
All participants are born in the 80s, just like myself. It is an important part of the project that it is limited in this way. It has other limitations too, but this is the most important.

Why? Because '80s Generation is the first generation, at least in Sweden, who had to grow up with worse social conditions than their parents, while the way we consume has changed radically.

'80s Generation has also grown up with a new approach to individualism and has been described as extremely selfish and materialistic of previous generations. I have nothing to say about this, but I think the criticism has been fierce.

We buy more and more and much of what we buy is based on confirmation of our own person. I want to explore how this generation, my own, has been affected by this change in approach to consumption.

Do you think people nowadays identify themselves with their possessions rather than with their knowledge?
Just when I had started working with this project I became aware that none of the participants had a fixed mortgage or a first contract, but shorter sublet. They were already very familiar to moving around town with their boxes full of lifestyle products. While previous generations easily were able to find safe housing, having to move every 6 months became normalized for younger generations.

I remember myself when I lived in Stockholm, how I before moving to a new flat  minimized my stuff more and more. I came to Stockholm to a truck and went away with an IKEA-bag. What was left was what I thought was most important. It defines me most as a person.

Now when I live in Gothenburg, where it's easier to find a sublet where you can stay longer, I have increased the household goods again. Most with trinkets, I think… I just recently bought a life size skeleton made of PVC. I have no further comments… :-)

So while the property itself becomes non-static and reduced to some sort of showroom for the stuff we own, the identification value has increased.

Here is how to get in touch with Sannah: website | facebook | flickr | tumblr

All photographs published with permission from Sannah Kvist.