Erika Kierulf: The Perfect Moment Collector – Dayna McLeod

Erika Kierulf brings a sensitivity to her work that tickles the emotional response muscle buried deep in our chests while stimulating our grey matter with thoughtful pause, bringing us full stop to frame-by-frame moments and shared experiences nuanced with intimate vulnerability. I spoke with Erika about her approach to photography, video, performance and how collaboration influences her practice.

Dayna McLeod: What do you see when you start a project? Is it an image and an idea? What inspires you?

Erika Kierulf: It usually begins with a gut feeling, a curiosity, and an obsessive attention for patterns. Sometimes it starts with an image–or sequence of images–that I carry around with me, in my mind. Ideas tend to simmer for awhile (I prefer to use mijoter in French). My process is fairly intuitive. The shape in which projects materialize is slowly becoming more eclectic.

The inspiration for some of my recent works stems from a desire to explore ideas that are difficult to interpret in form, such as: discomfort, unease, indecision, and hesitation. It sounds so vague, but I see these in-between physical and emotional states–these moments of suspension–as hazy territories with indefinite contours.

DMC: When did you discover that you were a photographer; do you remember the first picture you ever took?

EK: The first image… Wow! That goes far back. I can’t be specific about the actual first image. My early rolls were shot on 110, disc film, and finally 35mm. But my first well-composed, well-lit image? The first that comes to mind that I was proud of, was of a sailboat and it was taken with my father’s Leica.

It’s when I work outside of the medium of photography–in video, video performance, or installation–this is when I can remind myself that at my core, I am a collector of images.

DMC: Tell us about the series, ‘Throw your arms around me’ and, ‘Un temps pour chaque chose’.

EK: ‘Un temps pour chaque chose’ (2002-2003) drew inspiration from snapshot photography, but was shot with a large format 4”x5” camera. I wanted to contrast an intention that required spontaneity and swiftness with a medium that is slow and methodical.

Instead of capturing life as it is being lived, I staged scenes using actors and artificial light. These constructed scenes were unexpected happenings that I had either been witness to or experienced myself. At first, hauntingly, the scenes stayed with me until they were remade. As time passed, it was almost as if these private moments made public were all I could see unraveling, as I commuted throughout the city.

In this context, I recreated moments where someone’s intimacy was open to the public realm. I was inviting the viewer to consider how strangers look at us in moments of lust, anger, and despair. As observers, we carry on as if we have seen nothing: we turn a blind eye and pretend not to notice. As the participants, we are oblivious to the outside world; ignoring the presence of strangers, and consumed by the experience of our own reality.

With this project, I was challenging myself to work outside of my habitual way of working. When you asked earlier about when it was that I considered myself a photographer–I tried to dodge the question. But discussing this project takes me back to those initial motivations. A photographer masters technique and the manipulation of light. I suppose I have never thought of myself as a photographer because I have never felt comfortable with technique. Shooting a series in large format can only force you to confront technical aspects head-on because you’re investing so much money per shot.

I worked on, ‘Throw your arms around me’ (2002-2004) almost concurrently while producing ‘Un temps pour chaque chose. Overcome with a sense of urgency to evacuate feelings that were both complex and painful- I don’t necessarily feel the need to discuss art as a cathartic process, but this would be one of those moments- this series is composed of non-linear snapshots. It is a life-long work-in-progress that manifests itself in different forms.

DMC: A lot of your early work is inspired by snapshot photography. How has this interest evolved?

EK: I was really drawn to the moment, the accidental, and the haphazard. In this quest for images, I would shoot rolls and rolls of film. Not all of the shots were good. These days I continue to take snapshots, and thanks to high-resolution digital cameras, I can shoot to my heart’s content and not worry about cost. But I seem to be more careful and selective. I remain concerned with issues of intimacy and the banal. Only now, I use the potential of the gaze and the camera in an attempt to seize the imperceptible and the invisible.

DMC: How has installation, performance and video each changed your practice? How do these disciplines manifest themselves in your work?

EK: Not wanting to be limited to the medium of photography, video was definitely a natural extension to my practice. Video and performance have allowed me to treat the same concerns I have always had, but within a form that is time-based. Installation is challenging, but really gets me going because I find myself often considering how we immerse ourselves spatially into the piece.

DMC: How did you start working collaboratively? How do you make work with other artists? What is this relationship like, and how do you all know (and agree) when a piece is finished?

EK: I think the groundwork for my beginnings in collaboration happened once I started staging situations and setting up specific scenarios. ‘Un temps pour chaque chose’ might have been one of the first instances where I was not only directing my models, but also relying on their participation and performance for the camera. This can also be said for the installation Breathe (2007). These collaborations have proven to enhance the work and make it more accessible.

In 2008, I attended the Cosmic Ray Research residency led by Janice Kerbel at the Banff Centre. My time there was amazing. It was during the seven-week period that five other artists, Rafael Rodriguez Cruz (MEX), Matt Crookshank (CAN), Miruna Roxana Dragan (US/ROM), Jason de Haan (CAN), Meghann Riepenhoff (US), and myself formed the collective Unconstrained Growth into the Void. Fitting to our thematic residency, you could say that the six of us gravitated towards one another. We spent many a late night in each other’s company and decided to be proactive about it. If we could drink beers into the wee hours of the morning, why not make art while we were at it?

I have to say that I’ve never experienced such an intense bond and friendship with five other people in such a brief amount of time. Short of sounding corny, we really did walk away from the residency with a sense of having formed a family, or rather, having been in a relationship with five people at the same time. We were an inseparable gang that always sat together for meals in the dining hall, and although we were all there to work on our individual projects, somewhere the desire to create collectively outweighed the need to produce alone. We all managed to produce on our own, but the collective’s project was of great importance to each of us.

DMC: ‘No rain can touch us now’ was produced as part of a residency at the Banff Centre in 2008 for your collective, Unconstrained Growth into the Void (Rafael Rodriguez Cruz (MEX), Matt Crookshank (CAN), Miruna Dragan (US/ROM), Jason de Haan (CAN), Meghann Riepenhoff (US), and yourself). What were you interested in with this project and how did your interests and intent change with, ‘Staring at the sun’?

EK: UGIV exhibited our inaugural project Switchback: Pausing Time in the Rocky Mountains of Canada in the Other Gallery, which was preceded by a group performance in “No rain can touch us now”, an inflatable sculpture that I made from polyethylene. Plastic drop sheets were cut according to a hexagonal-shaped pattern and then sealed. Inflated with a household oscillating fan, the truncated pods were joined together in a circular formation–providing a temporary shelter and membrane for the collective to sit and share in.

I had shelved the idea of working on an inflatable piece since having taken a workshop with Ana Rewakowicz in 2006. I have always been drawn to this lightweight, space-saving (when deflated and stored), affordable medium – but I just didn’t know what to make. Working with volume was intimidating to me. One afternoon, it dawned on me that I needed to make this fragile sculpture that spoke to the existence and experience we were having at the Banff Centre. Real life was out there, down the highway towards Calgary, or on the news that kept reporting the economic collapse around the globe. Meanwhile, we were living life in the Banff bubble. I didn’t have to cook or make my bed, and I had a great big studio all to myself that I could putz around and make stuff in. We had time and we had space. It was a truly precious time. That was two years ago!

In a somewhat selfish way, I made the pods for the collective. It was an extension of Switchback where the UGIV’s mission was to pause time via an epic journey through a mystified landscape. We did not want the residency and our time together to end. A comment post-performance from a colleague was that they had anticipated us to levitate!

When I returned to Montreal, I realized that I wanted to open up the interaction inside of the pods to the public. So I re-appropriated the sculpture, and installed it next to a bike path in Rosemont. It was a completely different experience, and far less insular. Images and a video of this intervention, as well as the performance from Banff, were shown in two exhibitions in Mexico last year. It was a great opportunity to show the work at the Museo de la Ciudad (Quéretaro) and La Tenería, A.C (León), but I have admit that I believe that the work needs to exist outside.

DMC: How did letscalltheshot.blogspot.com start? Who is involved, and what aspects of collaboration are you interested in with this project?

EK: My close friend and studio-mate Jacinthe Lessard-L. is a very inspiring and energetic artist. We had talked for years about working collaboratively, and last summer she proposed that we start by blogging. Marie-Christine Simard, an artist, our mentor, and close friend, also joined our endeavor not too long after we began. The premise is open; you can post whatever you like–be it text, video, drawings, or images. So long as you post! One person starts a theme/thread, the others respond to it, and begin another theme/thread. In this age of web 2.0 where so much of the content is driven by sharing, and working collaboratively, Ietscalltheshot has been a great venue for experimentation and a place for images that may be the beginnings of something for each of us.

DMC: What are you working on now?

EK: Unicorns and making the invisible visible.

Erika Kierulf is an artist who works in video, photography, and installation. Concerned with issues of intimacy and the banal, she explores emotional and bodily states of between-ness. She completed an MFA in Photography at Concordia University, and has presented her work in solo and group shows in Canada and abroad, including Sweden, Indonesia and Mexico. She recently presented the exhibition Chants de lassitude at Les Territoires and participated in the group show Drop Out organized by the Blackwood Gallery (Mississauga) in the context of the Scotia Bank Nuit Blanche in Toronto. Erika lives and works in Montreal.