February 16, 2015, Long Island City, NY – Three days before Anna Ekros’s solo thesis show opening, I visited the ICP-Bard MFA studio to see the installation in progress. Two weeks earlier, I met her for an hour-long interview.
A large portrait of a young man greets you on the other side of the glass entrance. His eyes are closed and small pieces of tissue are inside both nostrils. Is he sleeping or daydreaming? Was he bleeding just before the picture was taken? Only half of his upper body is visible and his white shirt is buttoned all the way up. A soft focused door in the background suggests that he is inside an apartment. Harsh light is coming from the left, creating a chiaroscuro effect between the subject and the background, resembling a movie still. Did the photographer construct the scene or is it a candid moment from real life? Throughout the show, Anna’s photographs provoke similar questions: who are they and what are they doing? After wandering around for a while, I realized that it is best not to ask these questions to Anna; mysteries are best when they remain unsolved.
I remember meeting Anna for the first time. It was in the beginning of fall 2014 semester when the first and second year students gathered at our Long Island City studios. Our program chairperson, Nayland Blake, asked us to introduce ourselves by talking about the worst thing happened during the summer. I don’t remember all the stories but I remember Anna. She was very tall and wore vintage clothes. Is it a prejudice to assume all tall people are from Sweden? Well, Anna was and her Swedish-ness peaked when she showed sculptures painted in all white during her crit in the fall. She said Swedish people feel alright when everything is white. During that critique, she showed few photographic pieces. Now summing up her two years at ICP-Bard in her thesis show, Anna is mainly showing photographs. Perhaps, she needed a break from the constraints of the still image.
Anna’s thesis show, All Things Shining, consists of small and large photographic prints, two short videos, and one large drawing piece (36×110 inches). She has been photographing her three roommates that she has lived with since moving to New York. In each photograph, there is usually an individual engaged in domestic activities, such as combing hair, taking a nap, or reading a book. Somehow these daily moments become eerie in Anna’s photographs. The presence of photographer is hardly felt. It is similar to having an experience of watching a movie in a movie theater. We are physically close to the movie screen yet we are far from the reality of the movie. We become voyeurs of someone else’s constructed life and as time passes, we start empathizing with the emotions of the characters.
Anna’s depiction of domestic life and her daily observations continue in her drawing. Each section has its own story—a different facet of life—and small stories and events are integrated with lines. The drawing comes full circle when looking at all the little details. Her narrative starts from the left with the first day of moving into an apartment in New York City. The content is often biographical but with a fictional twist. For instance, Anna uses pseudonyms, which changes later on in the drawing. She sometimes comments on current issues such as Ebola or media hype on weather alerts. My favorite part is where she drew a group of birch trees that are commonly seen in Scandinavian countries. Underneath the tree drawing, she wrote that her grandmother is trying to learn Skype. It is a hint of nostalgia to her hometown.
Two videos are made in Sweden and New York. Scenes of Anna’s family in Sweden and her roommates in New York are interwoven with landscapes and domestic spaces. Both videos are crude and shaky from hand-held use of a simple video camera; they convey the feeling of home videos.
Throughout the show, Anna is asking one main question: what is a family? This concept is relevant to contemporary society as more people travel far away from their biological roots and relocate to new places. While making a home in a new place, one may need the same kind of emotional security that one feels from his or her hometown and place importance on new acquaintances. The title, All Things Shining, refers to a book by the philosophers Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. By reading the Western classics, from Homer to David Foster Wallace, Dreyfus and Kelly look for a new way to find meaning in a secular time, as philosophy alone could not answer this.
One may notice large grain in Anna’s photographs. Colors are often desaturated, not having wide color gamut. She seems unconcerned with sharp focus. This disregard for perfection is consistent throughout her photographs. Anna was once a newspaper photographer back in Sweden; she knows advanced techniques but she is not interested in producing picture perfect images. Taking advantage of ICP’s equipment rental cage, Anna tried all kinds of equipment but she prefers using a twenty-dollar video camera that she bought at a local drug store and working with inexpensive films. While she has a casual approach to her photographic tools, Anna’s photographs are well composed. She is highly aware of what goes into the frame and is meticulous about the presentation of her work.
Anna’s most recent works are two constructed images of family portraits: one is 40×40 inches and the other is 3×3 inches. The large print consists of three people and the smaller print consists of four people, including Anna. In the large print, there is a man standing and looking away, another man sitting and apparently in deep thought, and a woman sitting and bending at the waist while pressing her hands to the floor. There is a small painting on a wooden easel to their right. This is the only picture in the show that has a title: La Sagrada Família (a basilica in Barcelona that has been under construction since 1882). If these are family members, they seem to be a disconnected family. In the smaller picture, Anna sits on the chair while the other woman is standing. All of them have blank facial expressions. While they are physically close and one touching the other with hands, the rigid and formal quality of the picture suggests that they are forced to display evidence of being a “family.”
All Things Shining touches upon and reflects on the meaning of family and what it demands of relationships. The intimate relationships that Anna has formed with her three roommates within the last two years inspired me because she was not afraid of giving her heart. This is a rare quality in a large, impersonal city like New York. During the opening reception, three artists will play music, which will complete the exhibition space that Anna has created for her solo show. Music is an important part of Anna’s life as evident by the instruments in photographs, the singing in the video, and musical notes in the drawing. The entire show is lyrical but it is up to the viewer to hear the music even if there is no sound playing.
ICP-Bard MFA Solo Thesis Show: Anna Ekros’s All Things Shining
Opening Reception: Thurs, Feb 19, 6-10pm
On View: Fri, Feb 20, 11am-2pm and 5-7pm. Sat-Sun, Feb 21-22, 2-5pm
Address: 24-20 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY (Subway E/M to 23rd St/Ely Ave, G/7 to Court House Square)