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Anna Spanlang

In conversation with Barbara Pflanzner, Studio at Creative Cluster, May 8, 2023

Your work is characterized by collaborations with other artists and colleagues. What do you like about this form of collaboration and to what extent do you understand this kind of collaboration as a feminist practice?

My background is film and I have spent a lot of time working on other people’s projects. For example, I started working with Katrina Daschner about ten years ago. Before studying art at the Academy, I studied theater, film and media studies and started making my own films. Before I moved out of home, I didn’t know that you could study “video” or “film”; I don’t come from an academic household. It quickly turned out that I’m not interested in making films alone, film work is created in teams and collaborations. I’ve always found the atmosphere on shoots to be very special, and I like the energy that’s created when all these people who want this project to be realized come together. Because you mention that it’s mainly women I work with – I have to mention Katrina Daschner again: With her, it’s never just the people in front of the camera that are important, but also the team behind it. I have learned a lot – even unconsciously – from Katrina and am very grateful to her for that. I can’t judge whether that defines feminist practice. I just do it and don't see it as anything special myself, but I know that it will also be read in a feminist way.

Your works often refer to socio-political aspects. Do you also see yourself in a kind of mediating role?

I find it interesting that you ask that, because I recently discussed this with a colleague and moderator of the Crossing Europe Film Festival. It was about a giveaway from the City of Linz that had a picture of a Linzer Torte, which in turn had a half-naked woman on it. I was insanely upset that this woman was being used as a decoration. But not all the people I talked to about it had a problem with it. The moderator then said, “... you’re just often also a mediator, no matter what role you’re in now.” However, being a mediator is actually not something I choose to do, but it stems from a need for justice, which is based on gender equality. Because of the different roles I’m in, I have access to different perspectives. I also see it as a privilege that, as an artist living in Austria, I can express myself very freely compared to international colleagues who don’t have this opportunity everywhere.

Speaking of roles: You’re active in various other functions, among others, you were artistic director of YOUKI (the International Youth Media Festival), a member of the program commission for the Junge Dokfest Kassel, program coordinator of the FC Gloria Film Awards, and, recently, on the jury at Crossing Europe. What’s important to you about the work of other artists?

I prefer to look at works without knowing very much about them beforehand. Of course, what appeals to me is when I feel that a work is not just created to be exhibited somewhere or to get recognition, but that there is an urgency behind it to express something, or a need to address something. But the cool thing about art is that it doesn’t have to do anything. I think that’s also important to emphasize again and again.

Because right now I’m sitting in the studio in front of the cover of the car tampon that you showed in the forecourt of the Kunsthaus Graz in spring, a general question: What can you tell me about this work?

The car tampon is a sculpture by Judith Kratz (formerly Rohrmoser) and me, for which we received tremendous support from our colleague Noushin Redjaian in its production. We developed this sculpture together while shooting the last episode of Green Scream. Green Scream is a series that originated as a wannabe late night show during the first lockdown, with G-udit hosting the entire first season.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a time when toilet paper and menstrual items were suddenly in short supply and you thought you might have to craft them yourself. We took up this idea and invented the You make it, we menstruate it segment. For the final episode we wanted something big, and that ended up being a car. For the Kunsthaus Graz we exhibited the car tampon in the forecourt as a sculpture. It also served as a hook for my first solo exhibition Baby better have my menstruation. I ain’t no museum, whose title was on the BIX façade of the Kunsthaus Graz.

Having the tampon in a public space and in front of the Kunsthaus Graz was interesting in that even during the installation, passers-by commented, asked questions or shook their heads without being asked. The sculpture was sabotaged before the opening, which in retrospect was also an interesting experience. The work serves as an impetus to talk more (to each other) about issues that mainly affect women. Unfortunately, we haven’t made any progress at all, and that’s also motivation and a desire on my part to defend what generations of women before us have already fought for.

Let’s talk about your film CEREAL ... The question of authenticity is very important for this film, although it can also be questioned through editing.

Exactly. These are private shots, but they are clearly constructed through the editing. Something happens when I put two scenes or clips together that never happened that way. I’m interested in how reality is redesigned or even manipulated. I can still remember that moment when I first held a digital camera in my hands, with a display that depicted “reality” in real time, and the feeling that I could record something myself. The question of what it does to the immediate surroundings when I hold this device in my hand, and whether reality goes the same way if I don’t record this scene now, is something I’ve been dealing with for a while now.

The work also explores the relationship between recordings intended for private use only and material intended for the social media public.

The recordings are partly from my time in Mexico. That stay was originally the starting point for my thesis, which I ultimately didn’t implement. As a privileged, white European, you don’t walk through Mexico City’s streets with your cell phone and film everything that passes you by. I not only question my own status, but also what I can and can’t record; the relations in between have meaning. I think that’s central. Everyone has a smartphone, films something and often posts it on social media without thinking, which I find problematic.

For the film, you viewed an incredible number of videos filmed with your cell phone. How do you make a selection?

The work was for my thesis, with which I completed my studies at the Academy, and that was the first time I managed – also due to the pandemic – to be free for half a year, not to take on any jobs. I sifted through and organized about 4,000 files of archival recordings that were created over the course of eleven years – and it was eleven years that I was enrolled, on and off, at the Academy. Usually, the material itself is very telling, and I had a lot of confidence in it, because I was there myself in all those moments. It’s also a tribute to the people I met and spent time with during those eleven years. Of course, they carry this film; without their trust, their approval and their presence, the work would not exist. It was also very important to me that they all gave their consent to appear in the film. The fact that I contacted all of them was also a special feature during the pandemic because we started talking again. That was very nice for the whole process of the work, because it was no longer just about this work, but also about the relationships with the people involved. That might also explain a little bit the collaborative aspect we talked about.

In your application to the Studio program, you wrote that you are currently working on a new film project with the working title Wet. Is that still up to date? What is it about, and what stage is the project at?

Yes, the work exists. We’re just pausing right now. It’s a project with Judith Kratz and Miriam Schweiger (Klitclique). It’s supposed to be a feature-length film about a girl who could be our great-granddaughter and whose everyday life we want to portray in different scenes, dialogues and encounters – but in a different way than we know from previous Hollywood sci-fi movies.

And what are your plans for the near future?

I’ll be teaching at two schools (the AHS and NMS) until the summer, where students cut their own video clips into short films in teams and image production per se is questioned. In the winter semester ’23/’24, together with Katharina Müller, the leading researcher at the Austrian Film Museum, I’ll be holding a course at the Institute for Theater, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna entitled I ain't no museum: Chewing the phone archive. I’m really looking forward to it because it will also be about my own artistic practice in the context of film studies. This teaching and entering into dialogue interests me. In the next weeks and months, I want to visit friends (some of whom no longer live in Vienna) and hang out with them a lot – very important! And last week I got an inquiry about participating in an exhibition from the Deichtorhallen Hamburg; I also got an invitation from a Viennese gallery to do a residency. I’m looking forward to everything!