Magdalena Bors' surreal and fantastical works tell tales of creation, nature and hidden places. Her labour intensive environments seem to harken back to her roots in architecture and conjure up reflections of natural environments from household materials.
While preparing for her exhibition at Galleri Image in Denmark, she took time to answer my questions and was very sportingly, the first to submit to a "pictaview" style question for which I am delighted with the response.
First, here is her artist statement:
"My practice to date has predominantly explored the idea of the sublime in the everyday. I have done this by constructing, then photographing fantastical landscapes in domestic spaces. Our connection with the natural world is the driving force behind my work. I am fascinated by the simultaneous strength and fragility of this connection as we go about our lives, spending most of our time within the confines of the small compartments we call home.
The images in Homelands can be seen as snapshots of daydreams conjured in a moment of distraction while performing everyday tasks. While the landscapes are staged in familiar spaces and use familiar objects, emotive, sometimes dramatic lighting leaves room for ambiguity about whether the scenes are ‘real’ or imagined. Homelands was born out of my own desire to be in, and to photograph the kind of landscapes that were out of my reach in the real world.
The characters in my latest series of images The Seventh Day have been overtaken by a seemingly uncontrollable compulsion to create complex environments from materials found in the domestic realm. The processes undertaken to create the landscapes are extremely labour intensive and involve repetitive, painstaking tasks. Food scraps and remnants of materials seen in the images allude to the passing of time and the physicality of the processes involved. The resulting scenes resemble familiar, sometimes iconic natural landscapes."
You studied Architecture in Brisbane before studying photography; do you apply any of this architectural background to your current work? And did it help in any way to develop your photography and if so, how?
I don’t apply my architectural background consciously, but I’m sure many of the decisions I make in a design sense stem from what I learnt during that time. Looking back, I did spend a lot of my time as an architecture student producing meticulous models of my designs… The designs themselves were quite average, but the models were impressive! Architecture definitely did develop my passion for photography. It became my preferred medium for documenting everything to do with a potential project, from site and material studies, to macro photographs of those carefully constructed models. I was obsessed with recording light. One time, I stayed at a site for 24 hours to record how light fell on a wall every 15 minutes. It was also my introduction to a darkroom, where I spent many, many hours… So really, I guess Architecture more or less helped me find my medium – construction and photography. It also taught me a great deal about patience, perseverance and problem solving.
What would you say is the significance of "hidden worlds" to your work?
Hidden worlds and hidden spaces fascinate and excite me. ‘Homelands’ explores hidden worlds in both the physical sense (behind cupboards, under tables), and hidden in the psychological sense (existing only in the imagination). I’m intrigued by the duality of our public/private selves, and the level of privacy that our homes afford us, particularly in inner city areas with dense populations. Isn’t it extraordinary that you can live somewhere for years, but have no idea what goes on just a couple of meters either side of you? The scenes of ‘The Seventh Day’ are portraits of very private moments. It is only through the voyeuristic eye of the camera that we are given the opportunity to view them.
What is it about German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich that attracts you? And do you have a favourite among his work?
I’m drawn to Caspar David Friedrich’s deeply moving depictions of ‘moments of sublimity’, something I aspire to portray in my own images. I think there is a similarity in the attitude of contemporary society and that of the society of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which is perhaps why there is an apparent resurgence in the popularity of romantic art. There seems to be a growing undercurrent of disillusionment with materialistic society, a renewed interest in spirituality and a need to re-connect with the natural world.
"Some of the sets in ‘The Seventh Day’ actually took months to make..."
It’s difficult to choose, but I would have to say ‘Two Men Contemplating the Moon’ is probably the image of his that affects me the most. Do you remember as a child, looking at the moon and standing still enough and for long enough to see it move? I recall it being quite a ‘magical’ moment, but it wasn’t until I was quite a bit older and understood the mechanics of the universe better, that the same exercise offered quite a profound, humbling experience. When I occasionally remember to pause and do this now, it still takes my breath away. To me, this is what the two men in this image are experiencing; a moment of realisation of the magnificence they are witnessing, as well as their relative insignificance to it.
You've described the process of developing props as taking several weeks to complete and two days to set up and shoot; is there a particular reason you only produce a single image from each concept?
Some of the sets in ‘The Seventh Day’ actually took months to make, but the length of time it takes me to make them is beside the point. Even if an image took me years to construct, there would only be one resulting photograph. If I ever felt the need to take ten photographs of one set, that would be the time to move the set into a gallery and call it an installation. I think my images would significantly loose impact if I were to photograph several versions of one concept. Why water down a good idea? I have little interest in producing ‘large’ bodies of work in a commercial sense either, which I guess is sometimes an expectation of photographic artists. That’s not to say I won’t ever produce larger numbers of photographs, but just not without good reason.
"I wouldn’t completely rule out doing installations in the future..."
What was the last revelation you've had in regard to your work?
I think I’m too close to my work at the moment to have any significant revelations… Maybe that is a small revelation in itself. If I were less involved in the ‘making’ process, perhaps I would create images that were stronger conceptually.
Aside from photography, what other arts do you practice and have you ever considered making any of your works into installations?
It’s a question I get asked a lot, but I just don’t think my current concepts work as installations. The context of these images is so important, not to mention the meticulous lighting, posing of subjects and the precise expression during that critical 1/60th of a second. A few years ago, a gentleman contacted me to enquire about purchasing ‘Woodland Scene’, but as I proceeded to give him print size information, he interrupted to explain that he wanted to purchase the ‘Woodland Scene’. Of course I had to explain the elements of the set and the moment was long gone, but to this day I am fascinated with this desire to possess what was represented in a physical sense. I wouldn’t completely rule out doing installations in the future, but I think it would involve something site specific and unlikely to be in a traditional gallery space.
Are you working or developing anything new at the moment?
I’m stepping outside the domestic realm for my new body of work, which I’ll begin working on later this year.
PICTAVIEW: Below are three images. Please comment on them in any way you see fit. You may comment on each individually or as a group and your reply may be anything from a description of what they mean to you to a fictional narrative or poem. There are no rules except that which you put down should in some way have been instigated by one or more of these images. It isn't a critique of the image but rather a free form reply/reaction.
Ashes, ashes, ashes, orange. I have an early childhood memory of being on a rural property with some older kids; we were playing with the smouldering remains of a large bonfire. There were no adults present, and although my memory of the circumstances surrounding the event are vague, I distinctly remember an exhilarating feeling of rebellion as we poked and prodded the dying fire, daring it to come to life again. I also vividly remember the cave-like little scene created by the glowing embers, and the hissing sounds as one of the older kids rolled an orange into the ‘cave’, followed by the incredible smell of slowly burning orange. Since then I’ve always associated ashes with oranges.
Thank you, Magdalena.
Magdalena Bors (Facebook)
Magdalena Bors Interview (Blanket)