Camden Alive Close Up: Steffi Klenz
Camden Alive is a programme of arts and cultural events that celebrates the people of Camden. Sharing our diverse heritage through creativity, Camden Alive has captured the sights, sounds and spirit of the borough and what it means to live and work in Camden. Through music, dance, food, fashion, gardening, performance and visual art the stories of our neighbourhoods will unfold and be showcased
In this series, we are speaking to artists and creatives who worked with residents on the Camden Alive projects. Today, we are speaking with Steffi Klenz who since the spring of 2019 has collaborated with the rap artists Brownsilla and Boss B. As artists in residence at the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, they explored the histories of the social housing complex Maiden Lane Estate in Camden, using maps, newspapers, court reports and images. Weaving these stories with their own experiences of living and being in London, Klenz and Browsilla and Boss B reflected on what has been, and of its relevance to lives today. They worked together on a music album called Tensed Muscle which was produced at Tileyard Studios as a Music for Architecture records, available on Spotify since spring 2020. Klenz is also working on the body of work Tensed Muscles to be exhibited in a solo-exhibition.
1. Tell us about your recent work with Camden Alive and how it fits within your body of work.
My photographic practice has been consistently preoccupied with the built environment, critically exploring the notion of place and spatiality. My work unfolds in urban places and buildings but it is not commercial architectural photography; instead it uncovers unexpected narratives and traces of history embedded in the place. For me the places I am interested in form a kind of palimpsest rich in interrelated sediments of history, politics, territory, trauma.
The commission allowed me to spend time at Maiden Lane, talking with residents and immersing myself in the architecture and history of the space. The Maiden Lane estate, designed by architects Benson and Forsyth, was a visionary, modernist scheme which included plans for 400 new homes, shops, sports facilities, a community centre, a primary school and open spaces. Due to financial pressures in the late 1970s the plans were not fully realised, resulting in a split site and years of practical and social challenges.
My work Tensed Muscles explores the relationship between the architectural promise of modernist living; of equality and opportunity, and the reality of living in Maiden Lane in the 40 years since its inception. I layered images of the neighbourhood, mixed with architectural plans, archive material and hand-drawn medical illustration to unearth what is hidden beneath the surface of the site. My photographic practice is generally interested in the entanglements of poetic, political and socio-economic aspects of a place so this commission allowed me to develop this interest of mine by working with the Maiden Lane neighbourhood and use the metaphor of the ‘phantom limb’ to present this. Medical drawings and images of Maiden Lane residents’ disconnected limbs signify something missing – something missing in society relating to inequality and social-economic trauma, represented through bodily trauma.
The use of the body in my work connects us with the site, animating modernist architectural plans which use the body to merely populate the space. Illustrations of tensed, spasmodic
Muscles suggests that these animated bodies (the working class and less fortunate who this estate was originally built for, who society and politics might want to disappear) become visible, real and vocal. This idea is apparent in the images of disconnected hands. These hands are separate and disconnected from the main body politic through trauma, but are presented as significant tools of communication.
In hip hop and rap hands become gestural instruments and, as presented in Tensed Muscles, capable of vocalising through sign language by shaping an alphabet. My complex abstract collages of images, photograms, graph work and line drawing disrupt the discipline of architecture as a measured, rational and ordered space; interrupting this with human agency, interaction and the realities of life on a London estate.
2. What were the best parts of working in Camden?
The commission allowed me to work with my general interests in archival material, the fragmented image and the play of context as an investigation into the expansion of the representational potential of space. In that sense the commission was non-restrictive and allowed me to work with Brownsilla and Boss B but also be amongst the residents of the estate. I kept notes and images that I take on my walks through the estate and working with Brownsilla and Boss B, in my studio. During the time of the commission, I was thinking about those and what ideas they might initiate. It was the process of living and working amongst these ideas, fragments and footnotes that something emerged which eventually became the work.
3. How have you been keeping during lockdown? Do you have any tips or activities to share with us?
As we all experience challenging and exceptional times right now due to the Coronavirus, I do think that as an artist, one always has to be resilient, inventive and be able to adapt. Being an artist in itself is challenging (due to cuts to the public sector and its cultural institutions, one’s own financial situation, balancing other income streams with one’s creative practice).
Being in my studio reading, writing, making or simply thinking always requires moments of stillness and serenity so in some sense our current restrictions due to the virus have not changed my working practice that much.
However, many artists, creative thinkers and institutions have responded to the situation by producing online content such as virtual exhibition tours, screenwalks and zoom in-conversations due to the anxiety of being present, of delivering content through virtual windows, of bringing the outside cultural world in……but the challenge, in my opinion, is to respond to the current crisis through meaningful projects rather than just ‘filling the void’.
4. What’s next for you?
The current situation has highlighted a general concern of mine as an artist and that of many arts organisations of how to explore cross-disciplinary practice, not just across visual arts and other media but also across digital technologies, exploring and expanding relationships between artists and their audiences.
I am currently exploring Augmented Reality as part of the Camden Alive Commission. I am working with immersive technology specialists Arcade Ltd to present the album Tensed Muscles through a bespoke augmented reality app. The project will be installed in the Maiden Lane Estate in Camden, London which is the social housing estate I explored as part of the commission. The idea is to create a kind of ‘museum without walls’ which will enable new,
large audiences, particularly the people living on the estate to experience the work in an immersive way in their own spaces. I have been very keen to take to digital technologies in order to expand and diversify the audience demographic of this work and to approach the context of an exhibition in a different manner.
Artist bio :
Steffi Klenz’ work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions both nationally and internationally at the Wellcome Collection London, The British Museum, The Royal Scottish Academy, the FotoMuseum Antwerp, Los Angeles Centre for Digital Arts, the Phoenix Art Museum, The Fine Art Museum Luleå, The Finish Museum of Photography, The Royal Academy London, The SeaCity Museum in Southampton, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Kunstverein Ludwigshafen and Museum Künstlerkolonie in Darmstadt.
Her work has been reviewed in numerous magazines such as Art Monthly, Art Review, Art World China, Elephant Magazine, The Architectural Review, Photographies, History of Photography Journal and Portfolio Magazine. Her work has been discussed in Chris Townsend’s “New Art from London”, Thames & Hudson (2006), Judith Rugg’s “Spatialities: The Geographies of Art and Architecture” by Intellect Publishing (2012), Robert Shore’s “Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera”, by Laurence King Publishing (2014), Imogen Racz’ “Art and Home: Comfort, Alienation and the Everyday” by I.B.Tauris (2015), Robert Shore’s “Beg, Steal and Borrow” by Laurence King Publishing (2017) and Jean Wainwright’s “Ship to Shore: the Art and Lure of the Sea” by John Hansard Gallery and Cornerhouse Publications in 2018.
She published her first book “Polo bound for Passaic” by Cornerhouse Publishing and Schaden Verlag in 2009. Her first book published by Mörel Books “He only feels the black and white of it, Berlin Wall 14-07-1973” was launched in 2016 and her second book “So to Speak” was published in 2018.
She has been commissioned to undertake the BBC East Tower Commission (2016-2017) in London, the Rights Of Passage Commission for the 2015 Venice Biennale, Strange Cargo Commission for the Cheriton Light Festival 2018 and completed the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Cultural Quarter Commission in 2018.
She is a Reader in Photography at the School of Fine Art and Photography at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury.
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