Franzisca Siegrist

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. In this series of interviews, we have invited the guest artists to share some of their experiences and thoughts about their residency at Vestfossen. The third artist of the series is Franzisca Siegrist, who was guest artist at the studio in July 2017.

Franzisca Siegrist (b. 1984) has master’s degrees in Fine Art from Universidad de La Laguna and in Artistic Production from Universitat Politècnica de Valencia, Spania. As an artist she works with objects, installations, and performance art, and has shown her work several times in Norway and abroad. She is one of the instigators of Performance Art Oslo (PAO), an artist-managed organisation which arranges an annual festival of performance. Siegrist lives and works in Oslo.

 Visual Poetry


Sunniva H. Stokken

(based on a conversation with Franzisca Siegrist, Vestfossen July 2017)


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Photo: Franzisca Siegrist

Franzisca Siegrist keeps a tidy studio. Many of the things she has brought with her are arranged neatly on the worktable of the Guest Studio, while others are arranged around the space as if ready to stimulate a performative inspection. In her artistic practice, objects are not the most important element, but are rather an important component of both the process and the work itself. Siegrist works primarily in performance, with a visual language that is more abstract than figurative. She works conceptually with living pictures which are poetic and challenging rather than descriptive or charged with meaning. Through their expression of the abstract, the unspoken, and the undefinable her performances are often experienced as a sort of visual poetry. As a conjunction to this, the artist often distributes short poetic texts to her audience before the performance commences, to give a hint of what is to come. As an art form, performance has a presence and actuality that makes it both immediate and fleeting. If you weren’t there when it happened, you’ve missed it. However, Siegrist leaves her objects behind in the performance space to bear witness to what has taken place there.

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Siegrist: While I’m still in the creative process, I don’t necessarily have a clear image of how I might use the various objects. Some of them – the set of spoons, for instance – are always with me in the studio, but it doesn’t automatically follow that they will be a part of anything I show to an audience. I explore the objects, and that can lead me on to new places. So it’s difficult to say anything precise about the various things I have with me in the work area, but a few new ideas have emerged during my residency here. For example, I have suspended some wooden boxes on the wall, that is part of a process that will develop into something I can use. My creative process is a form of brainstorming; I throw into the air a whole lot of ideas to get a thought process moving. Perhaps, in my case, it should be called “object storming”.


My attraction to organic materials – well, that’s always been there, I can’t really explain why, but I’ve always wanted to work in connection with materials such as earth and plants. It also makes for a sharp contrast to other materials I use, such as the objects with their strict, geometric shapes. In connection with a performance I was to give in Bergen, for which I was going to fill the exhibition space with soil, I discovered that Clas Ohlson sold blocks of compact, peat-free, potting soil. By adding water to one such block you expand it to 10 litres of soil. Here in the studio I cut the blocks into smaller cubes and experimented to find out how much time it took for them to expand and how much water it required. The expanding soil could actually be an intrinsic part of the performance. I was also curious to know how much soil remained after a performance, and whether it could stay there as an element of the exhibition.


I had an exhibition in January at Cellarcube in Asker, a gallery which specialises in process and experimentation. Again, the remains of the performance remained in the gallery as part of the exhibition space. The materials often remain charged with meaning from the performance itself, and it really fascinates me that they can exist as independent works. In connection with a performance I was to give at Østfold Art Centre to open the Eastern Norway Regional Exhibition, it was the curator who approached me to suggest that the objects could remain in the gallery after the performance as part of the exhibition. I really liked that, it’s not often it happens.

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Siegrist has used her residency in the Guest Studio at VKL to prepare several upcoming projects. She has recently returned from Contexts International Festival of Ephemeral Art, which was held in Sokolowsko in Poland, and has several projects running concurrently this summer. Every performance she gives is unique, while also having a thematic connection to a larger project.


Siegrist: Much of the work I’ve done here in the studio is part of the “Route of Roots” project, on which I’ve been working over a prolonged period. It is always developing, and functions as a sort of platform from which I launch various other projects. I’ve prepared a performance to be shown at the opening of the Eastern Norway Regional Exhibition at Østfold Art Centre in September, and in October I will be taking part in the  Uncontaminated Oslo Fashion Art Festival, and giving a performance in China. In addition to my own creative career, I also work for Performance Art Oslo (PAO), and in November we arrange an annual festival of performance art. We place curatorial emphasis on the variety of the programme, and it offers the audience a wide range of performance expressions. I was part of a group that instigated the festival, and at that time there was no arena in Oslo for performance art. Now we receive a three-year production grant from the Arts Council, and the festival has become established; however, I used a lot of my time on the festival in its first years. It’s really fantastic to collaborate with other artists, and to work together to raise awareness of performance art. I think it is vital for us artists to support each other. The situation for artists is precarious enough as it is, and it gives us strength to stand together.

It was her studies that first brought Franzisca Siegrist to Norway, but then she met her partner here and has since made a home in Oslo. There was nothing inevitable about her becoming a performance artist, but during her student years there was no other artistic path that seemed right for her. Most of her art education was in Spanish academies, and this has given her art some of its character. She often utilises everyday objects, and in the Guest Studio several of these seem to be at various stages in her process of experimentation. 

Siegrist: There’s no doubt my background had a good deal to say in how I work. I was born in Switzerland, grew up in Spain, and now live in Norway. I came here first in 2006 as an exchange student, after that there were a few years when I travelled back and forth a lot, and in the end I made my home here. My education in fine art was from Universidad de La Laguna in Spain, and there was always a lack of tools and materials, so we had to find them ourselves or make do with things we found around us. And I think that may have shaped my artistic development, for I have really tried to make art from whatever I have around me, and often make use of everyday objects and materials. In performance art, that is quite a normal practice, to be honest. And now I also make use of objects I make myself, such as the square wooden boxes I made here in the studio and which will be at the core of the projects I am working on right now.


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Photo: André Wulf / Dreiemoment AS


SiegristDuring my penultimate year of study I had an exchange year in Valencia, where I worked with both video, installation, and performance. I studied with Bartolomé Ferrando, who has taught performance art for getting on for 30 years. At that time I hadn’t found my own direction, but things started to fall into place. I got accustomed to working with my body, and working visually in space and time. There are, of course, other ways in which artists can work with their body, but in a performance I get to decide how I use mine. It isn’t choreographed like dance or theatre, and there are no guidelines I have to follow. So I can choose whether I create a physically demanding performance, such as the one I am working on now, or whether I wish to express myself through a quieter body. A performance can also give you pretty strong emotions, as you are so present in the moment, and so close to the audience.


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Siegrist documents her projects, and in the Guest Studio her photographic equipment is neatly placed in one corner. For the time being she only uses the camera as an aid to her own working process. Improvisation that arises from meeting the audience is at the core of performance art, and it is important for Siegrist to preserve this. In this way, the artwork consists of a sequence of arbitrary moments. The audience is also a component of the performance, for the work is not rehearsed in advance, and only exists in this performance. The artist always prepares mentally for the performance, but it is the spontaneous and unforeseen aspects that are so appealing to her.


Siegrist: There is a certain degree of planning: there are ideas I know I want to use, and pictures I wish to create during the performance. There is a direction I want to move in, or, perhaps more correct, I have a sort of framework. And within this frame all sorts of new situations can arise. I don’t rehearse the performance beforehand – it’s fantastic with anything spontaneous that happens there and then. The locality for the performance always adds something too. At the Contexts International Festival of Ephemeral Art in Poland the exhibition space had tiles on the floor, so there the square boxes suited the room so well, and I could use this aspect actively in the performance. Beforehand my work can be seen as a mental process, along with notes and sketches I make. So the works are never pure improvisation; but seeing as how they are not rehearsed either, something for which I was unprepared will always occur. That’s the reason I am keen on a run-through beforehand of everything practical and technical, going over anything I can think of that might go wrong. How will I react if an object or a material doesn’t respond in the way it should? What do I do then? Apart from that, everything that happens, happens there and then together with the audience. And it’s often the case that the best elements of the performance are those that were unforeseen.


I always try to get a photographer to document the performance. In that way I can control whether or not the pictures I had in my head in advance correspond to how they actually appeared. Last year, I had a two-month guest residency at Nordisk Artists’ Centre in Dale which gave me the opportunity to work more intensively on my process, and I did in fact do some photo-performance. By that I mean that I captured on camera moments of the performance, which revealed that some ideas were working well as pictures, but not necessarily as part of a performance. So, from that residency, a new aspect was added to my creative process, which I now find very stimulating to try and develop. I take photographs as I work, both with the help of an assistant and with a remote shutter release. With the remote device I can take 8 to 10 frames a second, and the images are shot at wholly spontaneous moments. In this way, the spontaneity of the performance is transferred to the images. When I work with a photographer, it is he or she who determines when an image should be taken, and as a rule they capture very good moments. When I work with a remote shutter release the picture I capture is not necessarily the most visually striking moment, but for me it can be equally interesting. Photography is now an integral part of my creative process, but in the future I plan to use the pictures as a photo sequence in some way.

Photo: Franzisca Siegrist

In one of Siegrist’s works she attempts to fit her body into five wooden boxes of different sizes. The boxes are arranged from largest to smallest on the floor of an otherwise empty space. The artist bends and twists her body in response to objects into which she doesn’t quite fit, and her body assumes both an animated and a sculptural shape. It is clear that she has a well-defined notion of what she wishes to convey, while at the same time ensuring that there is enough space left for the viewer’s own subjective experience. She likes to think of her creative practice as having such an open format, rather than relating her work directly to any theory or artistic tradition. In this light, the image of the artist attempting to conform to square boxes can stand as a metaphor for just how different her own open attitude is, both to her work and her audience. 


Siegrist: During my residency at the Nordic Artists’ Centre I filmed this experimentation with wooden boxes. It became a tool that helped me move forward in the process. The actual narrative has been a continuous thread through several performances – I attempt to get my body to fit into boxes – but the process is different from work to work. So each performance is unique. No two days are the same in our everyday existence, our physical shape varies too from day to day, and this is reflected in the narrative. The essential elements of the performance are space, body, and time. Yes, one can make it all very abstract by talking about the limits of the body and the limits of space, but I also hope that one can say a whole lot more. I do have a lot of thoughts and ideas around what it is I am trying to convey, but I also don’t want to talk too much about them. Galleries and festivals usually ask me for a project description, and I’m fine with giving them one for internal administrative purposes. But I think it destroys part of the experience if an audience know in advance what it is I wish to convey. On the other hand, I enjoy talking to an audience afterwards and listening to their experiences; hopefully each individual has their own interpretation.


So I try to work in a very open fashion, but at the same time so concrete that a viewer can take something from it. As for my own attitude to my creative practice, I feel that I can express myself so much better through the visual and the physical than I could through words. Rather than explain the content, I prefer to write abstract texts that are distributed to the audience beforehand. During the performance, I regard myself as a component of the work – a tool or an element in much the same way as the objects I employ. In fact, I’m not all that keen on ever being the centre of attention, but I feel the work is an abstraction of objects and body, so that the body too is acting beyond its normal function. 


I do have a theoretical and historical foundation to my artistic practice, but I’m always striving to liberate myself from it so as to work spontaneously. It’s important for me not to pigeonhole what I’m doing, but rather to be faithful to my own expression. What I do is inevitably influenced by external impulses, and is a reaction to how we live today, but I feel that theory and history can be disruptive. So I prefer to read about other things than art; right now I’m reading a book about the concept of place. This is the way I can explore the concepts I work on.

In her “31 cups” (2014), Siegrist removes her shoes, revealing that one of them contained small beans, the other white feathers. These she drops, alternating between beans and feathers, into coffee cups placed in a line on the floor. The tinkling sound of the beans contrasts with the silent, falling feathers. The artist often takes as her point of departure everyday things that, in a performance, assume weighted significance, and it is important to her that what she conveys reflects the lives we live. She works conceptually, rather than narratively or autobiographically. At the same time, she doesn’t regard the starting point and finish of the performance as limiting, rather that they serve to give the work a clarity of form and content.


Siegrist: There are a lot of things I’m interested in at any given time, so I try to abstract performances a good deal so that viewers can find there things they want to find. In general, art is related to society and therefore reflects and reacts to the way we live and the time we live in. But I also want to be positive in what I do, there is already enough pain in the world. Perhaps some of the parts of a performance are heavily charged or political, but I hope the audience leave with a sense of something good, not negative or upsetting. It’s also important for me that the work should initiate a thought process, and it’s often the case that the viewer goes through various phases in the course of a performance. Different feelings and different thoughts – and they are a reflection of our lives. Just as music can have a variety of mood levels, a performance can reflect much of the same, and in this way conjure up a sort of soundless rhythm.


I work conceptually; at the same time, the pictures I want to create are placed in a defined sequence, because in that way they convey meaning. I think it’s important that performances have a beginning and an end, and that’s why I always start with something and finish with something else. But it is everything that can happen outside the sequence that is so open and exciting. It’s also possible to have a gradual transition, so that the audience is unsure whether the performance has started or it has concluded. It’s one way of working, but at the moment I prefer a well-defined start and stop. There are so many different ways of working! There’s a Spanish performance artist, called Esther Ferrer, who once said that there are as many types of performance art as there are performance artists. I think that aspect of my medium is very beautiful. It ties up with my wish to try and be true to myself, and I suppose I am always trying to find ways of doing that.

Photo: Franzisca Siegrist 


Photo: Franzisca Siegrist


For the period of her residency in the Guest Studio, Siegrist has taken the train every day from Oslo to Vestfossen, and feels that the journey has contributed to her creative process. She moves on now, first to Fredrikstad for the opening of the Eastern Norway Regional Exhibition, and then on a longer voyage to China. As our conversation approaches its conclusion, she is keen to emphasise how useful it was to have had such a large studio to work in.


Siegrist: VKL’s Guest Studio is an excellent resource for artists. There are very few offers of this kind in the Oslo area, and for me it has been an important opportunity, as I usually work in a relatively small studio. The size of the Guest Studio is fantastic, and I have really made use of it, even though it did take a little time to get used to it and to make it my own. It was also very useful to observe my things in a different space over an extended period. Taking the train here every day was an enriching experience; my studio day began in a way when I took my seat on the train and only stopped when I arrived back on the platform in Oslo. There is something so meditative about seeing from the train window how the landscape transforms itself – a very positive part of the process. The sounds of a working day at Vestfossen seep into the Guest Studio at all times, and that too has its meditative aspect. It has also been uplifting to be a part of the environment here, with the Art Laboratory, the café, and all the striking industrial buildings. There’s a lot of history in these walls, and I will certainly carry it with me. So it has been a stay that has inspired me in many ways. I am very grateful for the opportunity and only wish I could have stayed longer. But it is also nice to think that a new artist will now take up residence in the studio, and that as many artists as possible get the opportunity to enjoy this resource.

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3 VKL Gjesteatelier 2017 juli