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Laura Sperl

In conversation with Barbara Pflanzner, Studio at Creative Cluster, April 19, 2023

Your artistic work deals with processes, among other things. What interests you about exactly this aspect of photography in relation to your artistic work?

What interests me is that something is never finished and always evolving, including the practice of accepting that change and the desire to hold on to things as well as, at the same time, the impossibility of that holding on. I think that’s beautifully inscribed in photography. In the truest sense of the word. What I also find interesting is making something invisible visible, observing how it changes and sometimes making the visible invisible again. Photochemical processes are so perfect for that, because they change with the light so quickly that you can watch the process directly.

You often work in the classic analog way and with old photochemical processes such as cyanotype or chemigram.

Yes, the analog is definitely a big part, currently I mostly create hybrid works. The works for my artist book NOON, for example, are a mixture of photograms and chemigrams. In them, I placed things that block the light – for example, I worked with sea water and exposed sand on photo paper to the sun. The salt reacts with the chemistry in the photo paper and continues to change. My fingerprints also inscribed themselves, so there are traces from all sides. The change in the resulting analog photo-/chemigrams is then documented over a period of time with the help of digital photography. I didn’t know at the beginning what the outcome would be and was extremely surprised and impressed by the result. That’s an important aspect of my work: that I let myself be guided by ideas that then lead to other things.

Ruth Horak wrote about the “experimental nature of the analog” in her essay for the publication on the 2022 Mentoring Program. For me, this is evident in the use of different image carriers, among other things. How do you yourself describe the experimental in your work?

I like to try out different materials. For example, in the series Wattebelichtungen, I tested out a lot. I wanted to use the material to emphasize the fragility of the skin and test where a photograph is still a photograph and where the image dissolves so that you can just make it out. The surface structure always shapes the character of a work, and I attach a lot of importance to that. It excites me to imagine what’s behind it.

The second part of the work Sonne auf Sand, auf Textil, auf Sonne, auf Sand, auf Papier, auf Wasser, auf Sand was recently created on a trip and will be shown in early summer in Bildraum 01 in an installation. There’ll be a print installed on the floor and a cyanotype on fabric hanging over it like a sail. Two quite mysterious worlds or spaces are opened up that one might want to think about further.

The experimental also shows itself in that you mostly fall back on the technical conditions of the medium in a media-reflective manner and subject them to an update; works such as Schattenbelichtungen or Brückenperformancebelichtung already have this technical aspect in the title.

It’s about testing my limits in the possibilities that are currently available to me and about the questions How far can I go? How can I extend the limit? Where is this limit anyway? For example, during the Belichtungsperformance at Photo Cluster in the summer of 2022, I exposed my body to a light-sensitive object in a room that had been converted into a darkroom, and developed it in huge developing baths. Or the series Solarbelichtungen. For these, I captured sunlight in various places, such as Valencia, Cyprus, Lisbon, or Isla Saona, with the help of a solar cell, took it back to Vienna, and exposed it directly onto paper in the darkroom. That is, I wrap the paper around the solar cell that powers a small lamp, briefly expose it, switch it off again, and develop it. In this way, only the light is shown as it’s distributed on the paper; and because of the folding and the degree of crumple, each work looks different. Another important point is the incorporation of natural influences that I can’t really control. That’s why I work a lot outside in and with nature, with water and wind. During the Brückenperformancebelichtung, for example, the wind was extremely strong, I didn’t anticipate that at all, which had a big impact on the whole thing.

Dance is also an important aspect that you integrate in your work in different ways.

Here I’m particularly fascinated by the fact that it’s always about an immediate reaction; one movement follows the next and builds on it. You have to be in the moment, you can’t think too much or it won’t work; you have to let go and really be in the body. Dance for me is the epitome of change and it excites and fulfills me to be tangibly in the middle of the process myself and to be able to respond physically to music. It’s simply another form of communication. For instance, I worked out a beautiful project together with the dancer Alina Bertha, the realization of which is still in the planning stage. And on my last trip, I did an underwater performance where I move with the fabric and take on the challenge of finding a common movement. The water, the cloth and me – I see this as a kind of dance as well.

You’ve also been working collaboratively for some time, for example with Elena Kristofor. With her, you conceived the 2021 exhibition Es ist schon vorgekommen, dass Flugzeuge auf dem Rücken flogen, als sie wieder aus den Wolken hervorkamen, at the Sehsaal, where you each put your existing works in a new context. Or People Cannot See Well in Fog at T/abor in 2022, which shows works that were created in collaboration.

Exactly, that’s how our collaboration started. For People Cannot See Well in Fog, we started producing collaborative works in the sense of co-creation. We’ve been working on a fog series for a while, which is about orientation in an undefined space that totally undermines our physical sensibility. In the fog, we no longer have any reference points to distances or noises. The backdrop in one of the series is the forest. This part of the conception comes from Elena’s engagement with it. Her childhood on the steppe had a great impact on her perception and sensibilities, and so for her the forest embodies a space that is disorienting, even constricting, and challenges her sense of direction. We were fascinated by this entanglement.

As part of the Studio Program, you had planned a video projection based on the work that would bring together your movements and the drawings. What’s the status of this project? has to wait right now, because so many other works want to be finished first. During my time here in the Creative Cluster, I have implemented large-scale cyanotypes, or coating with chemistry, of various formats, from small to large. Since I would never have been able to work on this scale, I was very happy about the studio space. Also, my idea of inviting people into my studio for visits got going straight away. I’m really pleased that the resulting exchange fueled artistic creativity and that a wide variety of people have already visited me here.

What projects are coming up in the near future, are there already plans?

The next exhibition will take place at the beginning of June in Bildraum 01 with Fotogalerie Wien, which is currently still on the road due to the renovation of its rooms in the WUK. In the course of this, Fotogalerie has also planned a kind of “tour” with me, which makes me particularly happy. First, I’m exhibiting at PARALLEL VIENNA and then at Prevenhuberhaus in Upper Austria in November. In summer, I’ll be exhibiting with Anja Nowak and Elena Kristofor in my hometown of Schärding, and for October Michaela Putz and I are planning another exhibition in Lisbon. What connects me to her is that she made me aware of the artist-book residency at xyz Books, and we were both on residency there. In Lisbon last fall I started working with chemigrams and that’s where my Artist Book NOON was created. It has Japanese binding with double-folded pages and the cover is made of thermo-sensitive material. There is a perceptible change when you touch the book. I’d like to produce a small edition. The book will also be part of the exhibition in June at Bildraum 01.