Austrian artist Stefanie Moshammer has a special ability of conjuring a sort of delicate surrealism in the most mundane settings, with shots that merge a DIY aesthetics with a great sense of composition and a sharp narrative sense. Here we discuss her project “Grandmother said it’s ok”, her background and the underlying ambiguity of her images.
Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background and upbringing?
I’m born in Austria, in the Scorpio season of 1988, and grew up in the Suburbs of Vienna, not too far from the airport. Seeing and hearing airplanes everyday from my child’s room was my first experience with “travelling”, at that time time purely imaginary. Growing up with a mother being a teacher, and a father being a policeman, my urge to express rebellion apparently started early. My youth was defined by the Viennese Punk and Anarcho scene – my mohawk was tall, my skirt was short, my ethic was DIY. Being able to express myself through a subculture was my outlet and also my way of finding a creative voice. Having the freedom of exploration is already such a privilege and it is only possible when you grow up in a more or less safe environment. My younger self has been interested in a life experience and through picture taking I slowly found my language. To me, it was a process of time and accepting who I am.
How did you first get interested in art and why did you decide to become an artist?
Being creative started for me with the act of just doing things myself. The DIY attitude was (and still is) a fundamental part of my life. When I was 12/13 years old I began sewing clothes myself, painted on them, and just did all kind of different stuff with my hands. I went to Fashion School when I was 14 and actually focused on Textile Design. It was a great school. Besides of printing (secretly) all the patches of my favorite Punk bands, I actually really learned to understand art. I remember watching “Un Chien Andalou” for the first time at school, or studying the colour theory by Johannes Itten, and it totally opened up a new world. Using the medium of photography in my practice only came afterwards. My work nowadays feels like an aftermath of all these interests and practices I did over time, from fashion to textile design and graphic design to photography.
How did you come up with the concept for your project Grandmother said it’s okay?
“Grandmother said it’s okay” is an exploration of the world of my grandparents.
They’ve always lived in a big house in the countryside of Upper Austria, in an area called Mühlviertel. It’s a hilly land, with rocks covered in moss, and the air is fragrant from the surrounding farms. As a kid growing up in the city, the countryside was a place full of adventures. I have 11 cousins and as kids we played there together, dressing up and creating scenes with the clothes and objects our parents had left for us in the house. Years later I’m recreating these memories in front of my lens. Overall, I would define the series as a visual capsule of the retrospections that centre on the house. The images are hidden histories, mirroring ageing, rituals and the impermanence of life. A tissue of metaphors.
How do you find beauty in the mundane?
Through transformation, and by this I mean creating rearrangements of the ordinary.
And distance. Sometimes to look at something, you have to stand back a little in order to have the possibility of seeing it. It’s like a relationship – at times it’s necessary to put some distance between you and your lover to discover the love again. To me, the mundane always changes depending on your perspective and sometimes it becomes surprisingly beautiful.
What does a photo have to have to be considered “art” for you?
To define a photograph as art, I want to feel the author’s signature. It’s about the vision of the creator, as well as the mystery of images to awake your interpretation.
Do you play with the boundaries between documentary and art?
I’m not motivated by the desire to document through photography. The documentary aspect is important in the research – to find my core, my topic. This is just the skeleton onto which I build the rest of my work. Once my skeleton is defined, I can create a body of work, which is more suggestive and brings in my personal approach.
What is the relationship between truth and fiction in your work?
My work has an attachment to reality cause I’m looking at real life, thereby it automatically involves that idea of truth and truthfulness. Even in fiction you still need the reference of reality and photography is a personal interpretation of reality. I like to see my work as an ambiguous projection of different representations and realities, a mixture that is constantly flirting with real life and imagination.
How do you tell a story through images, how do you construct a narrative in your work?Everything starts with a vision. With this vision you’re your own curator. The main idea is to recreate my experiences and transform my sentiments into imagery. My work is mostly about creating a constellation of places and ideas, thereby I’m collecting fragments which consist of people and their environment. The final output is an interplay with different types of images, using colours and anatomical similarities as a narrative binding agent.
What do you look for in an image?
I’m interested in the ambiguity of images in different contexts. However, inexplicability is a necessary ingredient of admiration.
What kind of impact do you hope to have with your work?
To create images that throw up questions without answering them.
Which artists influenced you the most?
When I started getting more interested in photography I read a lot of Charles Bukowski. His writing is like our life – it doesn’t make apologies, and it’s loud and passionate. His texts transferred me into a world in which I wanted to see myself in photography – it was brutal, yet sentimental; raw, yet empathetic. He relied on emotion, experience and imagination. Visually I got first inspired by William Eggleston and Fred Herzog. I think this also resulted into my fascination for American Society and thus their visual culture. Nowadays, I get inspired by mixed media art, f. ex. I love the work by Cyprien Gaillard, Sophie Calle, John Chamberlain, Erick N. Mack, or Deana Lawson. Lot of times it’s also an exhibition that truly inspires me. The last time this happened with “Visionary Company” by Wu Tsang at Lafayette Anticipation in Paris, or the retrospective of Michael Schmidt at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. In general I get way more inspired and influenced by experiencing work “directly” than looking at work online or in books.
What are you currently working on?
I recently found an old letter at my parents place. It was a Wish Letter to Christkind (European Santa) and I must have been around 7 years old when I wrote it. I totally forgot about this letter and the content is so terrifying. It has to do with my mother’s illness, a topic that’s ever-present in my life, but never in my work. Without going into too much detail now – the starting point of the work will be the letter, but on a wider scale I plan to work around broader issues.