Ingrid Lønningdal

The Guest Studio at Vestfossen Kunstlaboratoriet is a resource that is offered to professional artists who might profit from a sustained period of work at Vestfossen. The studio is part of Arena Vestfossen, a studio collective that is housed in the same building as VKL. One of the purposes of the Guest Studio is to contribute to an exchange of artistic ideas among both Norwegian and foreign artists. The second interview in the series is with Ingrid Lønningdal, who was guest artist at the studio in June 2017.

Ingrid Lønningdal (b. 1981) has held several solo exhibitions in Norway, and participated in many group shows. In 2014, she was awarded Sparebankstiftelsen DNB’s Art Stipend, and in 2015 her book “Borgen. Et sted for kulturproduksjon” (Borgen: A Centre for Arts Production) was published by Teknisk Industri. Lønningdal studied at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, and lives and works in Oslo.

Textile Transformations

Sunniva H. Stokken

(based on a conversation with Ingrid Lønningdal, Vestfossen June 2017)

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Textiles cover sections of the floor and one of the walls of the Guest Studio at VKL. Ingrid Lønningdal has spread out her works in the studio space, and one of the work tables has become an ironing station. For ironing has been a core activity for the artist during her residency in Vestfossen. Her textiles have been folded and ironed in a variety of ways, in order to give the two-dimensional surfaces a sculptural quality.


Can you tell us about what you worked on during your stay?


Lønningdal: Yes, this is an extension of my series “Cladding”, which I started on last autumn, and which featured at my solo exhibition “Division of Space” at Oslo Kunstforening earlier this year. The works are made from jute hessian, a material I have used on several occasions and which fascinates me, as it can be both used and read in many different ways. Most people are familiar with hessian through embroidery and cross-stitching at primary school, and perhaps retain a memory of it as a rough and rather unpleasant material. The quality is relatively coarse, but finer than that employed for hessian sacks and for covering trees and bushes. The hessian I chose for “Cladding” has an industrial character, while also being intended for interior use, and it has a fairly rigid appearance, with an obvious grid pattern in the weave.


For these works I have made use of traditional textile pleating methods – such as knife pleats and the box pleats one uses in pleated skirts; but I have also used folds inspired by cold-rolling in metalwork, and have borrowed corrugated forms from metal sheeting. I break down the fibres by ironing and steaming them, and that gives a form of rolling as well. During my residency at VKL, I’ve also experimented with what happens when I colour the fabrics.


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Ingrid Lønningdal, Cladding I-III, jute, 180 x 82 cm / 180 x 70 cm / 180 x 52 cm, 2017. Photo: Vegard Kleven

The coloured textiles have a sheen and an expression that takes me back to the aesthetics of the 90s. How do you create this colour sheen? 


Lønningdal: I’ve coloured the textiles with reactive dyes in a bath, so that they have been completely stained. The brown pigments of the fabric still shine through – it is perhaps this that gives it a 90s look. The hessian has several levels, with the upper threads forming one surface, and optically it can look like there are other colour nuances to the threads that lie below. This gives it its sheen, I think. It is not dissimilar to those shiny, burgundy shirts that were so popular in the 90s. Jute hessian is a cheap fabric, but it gains a little splendour when it is folded and those light and shade effects arise. The pleating also means that the works will have a different appearance depending on where you are standing in the room, and the size of the works gives them a physical quality.


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Are you preparing these works for an exhibition?


Lønningdal: Yes, they will be part of my solo show, “Grooves and Ridges”, which is due to open in August at the Trøndelag Centre for Contemporary Art (TSSK). Each textile is 180 centimetres long, and they are being mounted directly on the wall. I will probably mount them alternately coloured and uncoloured, but I won’t know until I see how it works there. There’s always something that arises once you start to work in an exhibition space.


When your works are to be shown in an architectural space, the size of your works have ranged from small collages and drawings to large wall-hangings and textile works such as these. Do you adjust your scale according to the architecture?


Lønningdal: Yes, the scale factor has been a central component of several works. I have worked with various mechanical techniques – for instance, with a compass or a pantograph – to enlarge or reduce an architectonic motif. But the textiles I’ve been working on while at Vestfossen have a 1:1 relationship to the building materials and the human body.

The exhibition space at TSSK is fascinating. It’s open to the street with a high glass facade that stretches up to the roof. To the rear of the exhibition space there is an office on a mezzanine level, with a more intimate gallery space below. So the exhibition will be shown in one room which is partly vertical and outward-facing, and partly horisontal and more inward-facing. “Cladding”, as a title, also fixes neatly on to connections between exterior and interior, and my textiles will run through the room from the glass front to the back wall.


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As you suggested, there are extremes of expression represented in the series. On one side is the coarse and industrial character that is evident in the material and the shapes inspired by corrugated sheeting, on the other is the softer, more feminine aspect that comes to the surface through your choice of colour and use of traditional pleating techniques for the textiles. Is this a deliberate ambiguity?


Lønningdal: I attended an interesting debate at Kunstnerforbundet in connection with the anniversary exhibition held for Norwegian Textile Artists. The theme of the debate was the extent of Polish influence on Norwegian textile art, and several times the issues surrounding feministic and gendered aspects of textile work arose. Brit Fuglevaag, who has studied in Poland, emphasised that both men and women worked with textiles there, and that it was not regarded as a gender-specific medium. Here at home, however, we more readily regard textiles as something particularly feminine. On the other hand, canvas is also a textile, and nothing says “macho” more than huge, expressive paintings. So I like the ambiguity to which you refer, this “in between” aspect of the medium.


What other works are you showing in Trondheim?


Lønningdal: In addition to “Cladding”, I am exhibiting two large, painted textiles, and a series of screen prints. When I was doing some preliminary research for the exhibition, I discovered that Nina Berre, who is Director of Architecture at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, had written a lengthy article about Herman Krag in the Architecture Yearbook 1995. He is the architect who designed the building that houses the Trøndelag Centre for Contemporary Art. There were a lot of buildings Krag designed in Trondheim, including the Siemens building, which was the first place in Norway to extensively use corrugated metal plating. When I read that, all the pieces seemed to fall into place. Nina has written a new text for my exhibition, which is to presented in a publication together with photographs I’ve taken of the Siemens building.


Can you tell me more about the painted textiles?


Lønningdal: I created “Uten tittel. Palm Springs I – II” for my stipend exhibition in 2014. The idea behind the works was to bring colour to modernistic architecture in Palm Springs, California. Early in the last century, the area was developed as a centre for health and well-being, on account of its favourable climate. The town was designed and constructed with irrigation canals to bring water, so that a green oasis could flourish in the desert. It turned out to be very popular among the Hollywood elite, situated as it was between LA and Las Vegas. Architects were given carte blanche and generous budgets, and designed experimental houses with open floor plans that blurred the distinction between outside and inside. There were a lot of glass walls, and rock outcrops incorporated into the living space.


I travelled there three years ago, but the buildings I most wanted to see were inaccessible behind high hedges and fences. The houses had turned out to be too open, and the occupants felt a need to screen themselves. So there is a disparity between the intention of the designs and how they ended up. For most part, I only caught small glimpses of facades in Palm Springs, and had to imagine how they look indoors from a glance at the outside. In steel and glass structures like these textiles are very useful to dampen the acoustics, and that is what inspired me to choose this material. I studied the colour nuances of the facades, then painted on to the textile with silicate-based paint, which is usually used on outdoor walls. I worked in large formats that suited a house facade – an outdoor scale, in other words. The works are several metres long and are draped in such a way that they can also be shown indoors.


I was also interested in the relationship between the unique and the mass-produced, and wanted the painted shapes to look mass-produced, almost like screen prints. But they were painted by hand, and it was a painstaking, slow process, since the jute hessian i so coarse. The paint went through the fabric and dried into hard surfaces. Painting the fabric is one way of transforming it, and ironing it is another.


What is it about this architecture and the gradual transition from interior to exterior that so appeals to you?


Lønningdal: Yes, I am fascinated by the shift from outside to inside, but also by the fact that those unique houses in Palm Springs would come to serve as models for mass-produced suburban architecture. The principles that informed the Palm Springs buildings were further developed, simplified, and made cheaper. I think it’s interesting to see how the idea of leisure and how the Hollywood elite live their lives should find an expression in suburban housing.


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Ingrid Lønningdal, Untitled. Palm Springs I, jute, steel and silikat paint, 285 x 234 cm, 2014. Photo: Istvan Virag

Modernistic architecture, as typified by the iconic structures of Le Corbusier or Mies van de Rohe, has been a constant source of fascination for contemporary artists. You have also been inspired by architecture from that epoch, what is it that attracts you? 


Lønningdal: Well, it’s a good question. I haven’t done so much with Mies and Corbusier, but I like to work with modernistic architecture. For me, the most interesting aspect of the epoch is how architecture became politicised – that it became important to think in a radically new way about how people are to live their lives and what sort of framework they have. It represented a real shift in mindset that I found myself drawn to.

You were one of the artists who took part in the “Inside Outside Architecture” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2013 and 2014. In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum arranged an event with the Director of Galleri ROM, Henrik der Minassian, during which he showed a video clip of architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, who is a partner in Snøhetta, the renowned firm of architects. Trædal Thorsen offered the following definition: “Architecture is, in many ways, the reading of political systems and society translated into physical form and shape.”. That strikes me as a good definition. Is it one with which you would concur?


Lønningdal: Yes, absolutely! I read an interview with artist Monica Bonvicini in which she describes architecture as a democratic entity. It’s something everyone knows a lot about: we all live in a house and relate to architecture all the time. I think it’s interesting to explore the conditions that determine the architecture we get – both in a physical sense, but also ideologically and politically. There’s a lot of mileage in that.

We mentioned how architecture can open up new horizons for art, and in your works there can also be an interplay with architectural elements. Do you have any thoughts about what art can bring to architecture?


Lønningdal: Art and architecture are very closely related in some areas, but actually belong to two different worlds. Art is freer, it is a different way of thinking. When I take, as a point of departure, a given situation or existing building, it doesn’t thereby follow that the architecture informs the contents of the works. Some times the architecture can be a starting point to say something completely different. Art gives the artist the opportunity to be abstract, to look at ideology, or at something else that is manifested in the architecture. In this way architecture can become part of the works, and they can perhaps give something back to the field of architecture. But I don’t work in architecture‚ I am not an architect, and have no desire to become one – I’m very happy to be an artist. But I am interested in why things are as they are, and our surroundings are a large part of our lives.

Borgen 02Ingrid Lønningdal, Borgen. A Place for Culture Production, Teknisk Industri, 2015. Photo: Kine Jensen

You have got involved in issues concerning city planning and the production of art, including the publication of a book about the Borgen studio collective. What led you towards this issue?


Lønningdal: As an artist, it is often necessary for you to move studio often, and moving to and getting set up in a new place steals time from you. There has been a self-evident connection between the displacement of artists in Oslo and the development of the city. I never worked at Borgen myself, but saw that it could be used as a case study to illuminate the processes in the art life of Oslo and other growing cities. The production of artistic content is very poorly protected, and Borgen is just one of many studio collectives that have disappeared in recent years. Borgen was a large collective, both in area and in the number of people attached to the building. But it was in the way for the development of Bjørvika: a shining example of what Oslo will make space for and what it won’t. I felt it was important to document the activity in the building before it was torn down. I hung around there for weeks with my camera. Then I invited writers to put the Borgen collective into a wider context. 

The publication of the book must have been an unfamiliar way to work for you, as an artist. How did you experience that process?


LønningdalIt was an educational and demanding process, drawing on the skills of many people: artists, writers, publisher, designer, translator, etc. It’s a hugely time-consuming job, a project like that, and I think I worked on it for three years alongside other projects. I think it would have been a different book if I hadn’t been an artist. Part of it is given over to photos I took of Borgen’s working areas and the people who rented space there, and how important it was to them, the trust that was built up between colleagues.


Your residency of the Guest Studio at VKL will soon be over. What remains for you to do, and what are your future plans?


Lønningdal: It has been a large and generous room to work in. And the fact that Vestfossen is close to the countryside, adds a peacefulness to your work. There’s an excellent artistic community here, so you can choose whether you want to work intensively, or go and have a chat with someone. My works take up a lot of space, so this has primarily been a valuable opportunity to work intensively on them. I have a nice studio, but it is only 35 square metres.

It’s not long until the opening of my exhibition at the Trøndelag Centre for Contemporary Art, and after that I have a commission to make some artworks for a school in Brevik that is under construction. After that, I’ll be getting down to a new book.


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2 VKL Gjesteatelier 2017 juni