IN CONVERSATION WITH: HANNA ABRAHAMSON
In Conversation with Sophie Spence
Sophie Spence: What is the significance of the corset in your works?
Hanna Abrahamson: The work “Band” was my degree project at Valand Academy of the Arts in Gothenburg in 2021. When my son was born in 2017, it highlighted the relationship between a parent and a child in a new way for me and I became interested in investigating the act of involuntary power that takes place in this kind of relationship.
So I started thinking about different ways to visualize it. How do you portray shifted and involuntary power in pictures? Caring and control? Then I realised that the most efficient way to do this was by working autobiographically and using my own mother and a specific experience that we share.
During my teens I had to wear a corset 22 hours per day because of severe scoliosis and my mother was the one who helped me to put it on. By removing the corset from its medical context and making it an allegory for care and power, I wanted to shed light on an experience of dependence and power that I think many people can relate to. The work consists of three video works. And in one of the videos, I try to take the focus further away from myself by adding another object – a bicycle child seat. Just like the corset it has protective and caring purposes, but when someone is pulling its straps, it can also become an act of involuntary dominance.
SS: Your video project ‘Band’ depicts a mother and a daughter discussing their personal use of the corset. What is the context of the corset in relation to the familial relationship?
HA: The corset made me dependent on my mother to a large extent during my teenage years, a time when you "normally" try to break free from your family and start creating your own life. Through the daily process where my mum was pulling the straps of the corset we developed a strong connection that influenced us more than we wanted. My mum worried about me a lot and I craved freedom. I use the corset as a symbol to explore ideas about control and care in the relationship between a parent and a child.
SS: How do you approach making work about the mother/daughter relationship?
HA: I find it a very interesting relationship. I don’t think everyone agrees with me on that, but I see the mother and daughter relationship as the most complex one - you can both relate to each other and see each other as competitors. Perhaps both the mother and the daughter have higher demands on each other and their relationship than a father and a daughter have? But I don’t know, it's just my own speculation. Probably the same with fathers and sons? However, in this project, it’s not specific about the relationship between mother/daughter, it’s more about the relation between a parent and a child.
SS: The videos appear to be autobiographical. Would you consider these works to be personal - and how do you approach creating work in this way?
HA: It is definitely based on a personal experience, but I hope that the viewer also can take it out from the personal context and see it as something more universal. One fear that I had doing this project was that it would be considered ”autobiographical art” and that I would fail in getting the essence of the project across.
In the past years journalists and media personalities in Sweden have criticized the art scene for being too narrow-minded and too focused on personal experiences. However, I wanted to nuance that discussion. In my project I tried to find an expression that would best suit what I wanted to investigate. In this case the autobiographical was suitable.
SS: How would you describe the performative element to your work? Is this something you do in collaboration with your subjects?
HA: Since I have a background in ethnology, I want to combine the theoretical perspective with the visual performance. In this project I started off with Foucault’s theory of power and then found a thematic narrative that would unveil how power can shift between people and through time.
In one of the three videos, I staged a photo shoot and instructed my mother on how to pull the straps of the corset. She was not aware of the fact that I was filming, thus I was using the camera as a tool of power. The video is a mix between fiction and documentary. That kind of theatrical form helped me to clarify the movement of power and the role of the child. I wanted to underline that it's not just a parent who takes on a dominant role, the child can do that too. Perhaps the parent has been the dominant one during the first years, but then power can shift.
SS: You displayed your works for the series ‘Band’ in a car, what inspired this kind of installation and what was the experience for viewers like in that environment?
HA: There is actually an Art gallery in Stockholm, called Konsthall323, which is based in a car. I thought it was fun to show the work in that way, but there was really no major thought with the installation in the car, in relation to the work. But, in a way there is a connection between it. I work with the child bike seat, but you can also read it as a car seat or any kind of safety objects for children. Also, I actually think considering the car as an object is interesting, because there is something existentially unpleasant in it. it's like a death machine that you put your children in and at the same time you make every effort to check their safety in the car seat. Like a kind of allegory for caring and controlling and the way you want to control what you cannot.
Hanna Abrahamson completed her BFA at HDK-Valand Art Academy in the spring of 2021. She also holds a BA in ethnology from Stockholms universitet.
To see more work by Hanna Abrahamson, visit - Vimeo / Instagram