We are islanders: Interview with Alicia Eggert

Lionheart Magazine, Home issue, 2014. Original article.

islanders1We are islanders: Interview with Alicia Eggert
“You are on an island”, reads the sign, in bright white neon lights. Then it flashes, and suddenly the message is different: “You are an island.” It’s so simple, yet the philosophical implications are severe. And it’s not like Alicia Eggert hid this work away in some gallery. Instead she, along with co-conspirator Mike Fleming, rigged it onto a lorry and took it on tour, first in the US, then in Australia and the UK. Unsuspecting bystanders would get a dose of existentialism right in the face as the lorry drove up the High Street. Does Britain feel like an island? Or is it the the world that’s the island? The poet John Donne said it first: “No man is an island, entire of itself.” This is true, but don’t we each live alone inside our heads?

Light and language are repeating features for Alicia Eggert, who lives in Maine, USA. Time is another, as several of her works have a kinetic element: watch the rotating blocks and every so often they spell out a word: “NOW”. Then it’s gone, but it will be back. A drum is rigged to sound out the number of heartbeats of the average person, and we know the instrument will “die” when the timer runs down. A clock has 12 functioning hands, so it’s always all the time. Asign in the middle of a beautiful scenery that reads “Panorama”. All of it is so basic, on the surface. But just on the surface, though, because where do moments go once they’ve happened? Why do we forget that life isn’t a state but a motion? And what is time anyway? See, that’s what Alicia does: she gets you going.

Jessica: Your work is based on strong, clean ideas. Is it important to you that the viewer gets what you are trying to communicate?
Alicia: It has always been very important to me that my work can be understood by all people on at least some basic level. As a conceptual artist, my work always begins with an idea, and the materials I work with are chosen based on their ability to communicate a concept as clearly and concisely as possible. I think this is why text has become one of my primary sculptural materials. Words are like found objects – they are easily recognisable and accessible to anyone who speaks the same language and has the ability to read. But single words can have many definitions, so they also have the ability to possess great depth and complexity. One word can be both simple and profound. My art practice is founded on my own sense of wonder, and my personal goal is to create works of art that inspire a sense of wonder in others.

J: Time is a recurring topic for you. It feels like time passes at a different pace depending on the situation – I realise that’s impossible, but I’m not always convinced.
A: I think each one of us lives in our own little time universe. Some people live at a significantly slower or faster pace than the majority, usually without even realising it. Culture is definitely an influence, but I think it’s more individual than that. Time varies from person to person.

J: “You are (on) an island” – I love this. Do you think living on a massive continent like the US, as opposed to an island like Britain, makes people different characters? Or is being an islander a state of mind.
A: This work can be interpreted very literally when shown on geographical islands, but I think people can also live on metaphorical islands … ideological islands or political islands. I can never really know what it’s like to be an islander in the literal sense, since I was born and raised in the US. But what I love most about this sign is the way that it forces you to zoom out and consider the bigger picture. Even continents are islands on a planet whose surface is 70% water. And if you zoom out even further, our planet is an island in a vast universe. The sign highlights the sense of isolation we all sometimes feel as individuals, but it also emphasises how that feeling is something we all have in common.

J: Does working with the same ideas across several projects feel satisfying? Or is it frustrating because the questions are never fully answered.
A: It’s actually very satisfying. Because I’m not trying to answer any questions. I’m trying to figure out a better way to ask them.



My knight and I

Lionheart Magazine, Shapes issue, 2013. Original article.

lionheart4My knight and I
At night I curl up in the bed and twist my arms around my legs, one hand grabbing an ankle with a knee hiked to my forehead. The city is my nightlight, slipping past the curtain to make shapes on the floor. I listen to the rustle of distant traffic with closed eyes, and within moments I’m asleep. I’m a big girl now, even tangled up in the foetal position, and I no longer have wolves at the door.

When I was a kid, monsters would come when I turned the light off to sleep. Playful cartoon creatures would grow dark and menacing at night, looming in the corners. Fairytales my grandma told me, over the smell of familiar dishes in her warm kitchen, would turn on me at night. In the stories, trolls living under bridges were pushed into the water, and wicked fairy godmothers were split in halves by brave knights. But at night they came back to life, turning my blood to ice.

During the day the imaginary monsters slept. I would walk home from school, glancing over my shoulder in case the mean boys were around. They didn’t hit me very often. Mostly they would shout, but I could barely hear a word for the thud-thud-thud of my heart pounding inside my chest. I don’t remember much anymore, but if I close my eyes I can put myself in those little shoes and let the feeling rush in all over again.

Putting one small foot in front of the other I used to walk home, locking myself in the house until my parents came home from work. They would make dinner, and the three of us would eat together at the old, wooden kitchen table. Then later they would read me stories, where knights in shining armour made sure the witches met with their deserved end. But at night the creatures roamed free. I left the bedside light on and pulled the covers over my head, and lay there stiff and scared to breathe until sleep came.

This is a very long time ago now, and I hardly ever think about it anymore. Remembering used to make me feel helpless, but as I’ve grown up the sentiment has changed. When I dive into the memory now it’s less often as the girl – instead I’m the knight, having stepped out of the fairytale to put the world right. In my armour I slay the evil goblins and toss them into the river, watching as they thrash against the rocks, whispering: ‘Who’s ugly now?’

The birthmark I’ve always had on my thigh used to be exactly in the middle, but now it’s sitting three-quarters of the way up. I’m still in the same skin, but my bones have grown. For each thing that changes, it seems, there’s something that stays the same. The skin around my eyes shows my age, but I peer down at my feet and they look exactly the same as they always did: stubby toes, puffy on top. The little girl has found her knight in shining armour, and it turns out it was me all along.



Down the rabbit hole

Lionheart Magazine, Adventure issue, 2012. Original article.

LH3_1-COVER-211x300Down the rabbit hole
I don’t know when I changed my mind, but it happened somewhere between the park and the pub. I didn’t want to be with this guy, because I was so raw and fresh from the last one I loved; it takes so long to walk away even when you know you have to do it. Because you have to take pause when you call time on a relationship that has lasted years, a relationship that you thought, just for a moment, may be the last one you were ever going to have … Like I say to my friends when they agonise over their decisions, wringing their words in every which way in order to undo that nagging feeling: it’s not hard, it’s just painful. When we were younger it was harder to know what we wanted, but not anymore. The awareness of what I am sits with me, like a feather in my mind and a rock in my stomach. They don’t use words, those two, but it is a language that speaks in perfect resonance.

Except when it doesn’t. When I met this guy, just a couple of weeks after walking away from the last one that meant everything to me, it felt like coming home. I shrugged; I’ve been at home before. The feather and the rock are devious little tricksters, they have an agenda of chaos, of rollercoaster journeys down the rabbit hole, and this is not the time for that. I want to be on my own, I want to feel what it’s like, at long last, to not be looking. To be reliant on nobody but myself, like in a girl-power pop song. To just have fun. You can’t fake that feeling and I know that, because the last time I tried to chase it, the feeling remained at large; I’d scowl around for it while stomping home after yet another night out that left me feeling like I was the only single girl in the village. I wanted to be happy being by myself, shuffling down the pavement singing along to the music in my ears, indifferent to the comings and going of boys and just being free, happy as the sole ruler of my little castle. But instead I felt like Sleeping Beauty, stuck behind the briar growing high over my head, gnawing at my walls, closing me in. ‘Someone come save me from this,’ I’d whisper in the rare moments when I let myself feel what I was really feeling. I hated myself for it, pacing around behind the hedges, seething with resentment for failing to be strong.

That was a long time ago now, and it’s one of those stories I cringe at admitting to. So I was so excited this time, to be venturing out on my own again without this cloud hanging over me; less Briar Rose, more Lara Croft, if you will. I am in need of nothing and no one this time, and I am charmed by my flush of independence. So when this man, this annoyingly familiar, generous man with the most open face and arms I have ever come across in my life, stepped into my path, I felt my eyes narrow. ‘What the hell are you doing here,’ I said, ‘I have plans and they certainly don’t include you!’ I dismissed him with a flick of the wrist, because right away I realised a fling would be out of the question: it would be the next big thing. He didn’t agree but he understood. Some time went by. He stuck around and I kept him at arms’ length. He churned around in my head.

So, somewhere the park and the pub, in the middle of the big city on a rainy summer night. I was a little drunk, but not very. He kissed my cheek, and my forehead. I closed my eyes. He lit a match and threw it at me, and it turned out I’d been doused in petrol and now I was in flames. I swore at him, with the taste of him still on my lips, cursing him for setting me alight. He apologised and went away. I thought about him for 48 hours solidly. I picked up the phone and asked him to come over.

He is still here, and from here on the story is set in the present. I know I’ve been suckered, but I’m old enough to know that this sort of magic doesn’t come around very often. When it does, you have to climb up to the top branches and feel them sway underneath you, and trust they won’t break. I didn’t want to be up here but I am, and I’m concentrating on the moment. It’s the only thing I can do, because every other time I’ve done this, I’ve always been sent crashing to the ground.

I wear an old key on a string around my neck, it’s been with me almost every day for the past four years now. I love the idea of a key: one solution, one way, one final answer, one person. Of course, this is a crock, because there are many solutions, lots of way, a thousand answers that change as we go along, and there are lots of people. It would be easier if this wasn’t the case, but it would also be a lot more boring. Right now the feather in my mind and the rock in my stomach are weightless, spinning around each other; I’m keeping them there with steely determination but my grip on the situation won’t last. I know this because of what happens when he looks at me, with the bluest eyes I have ever seen. I can feel the branch sway underneath me, and as happy as it all makes me I am old enough to know that it’s also a threat. I squint and look closer, into his face, looking for answers, but there are no shortcuts, no tricks, no keys. He looks back at me and smiles, and I see nothing but open road and blue skies. I feel the wind rush around me and I think, maybe, just maybe.

A certain process

Lionheart Magazine, Warmth issue, 2012. Original article.

TetrahedronA certain process
Beauty isn’t really a part of the equation for product designer Bernadette Deddens, but somehow it happens anyway.

“I don’t care about pretty things,” says Bernadette Deddens, as I’ve just asked her about the clean look of her work. Her considered and specific processes create something elegant and beautiful, but what it is not, and do take this in the best way possible, is pretty.

The product designer is fresh-faced and cheerful in spite of the freeze gripping London the day we meet. Fellow café patrons are huddled over hot tea, but Bernadette seems unfazed by the sub-zero temperature; her means of transport is a bicycle, imported from her native Holland.

“The beauty lies in the practicality, in the usability,” she explains, taking off her self-made leather bangle. “People say they like this, so it must be pretty. But for me, it’s a 1.2 metre long piece of leather. I considered the thickness of the leather, how to roll it up … that’s where the beauty is for me. It’s almost mathematical. It’s a simple object.”

I’d hoped to meet Bernadette in her studio, which I’ve been told is cold and cramped and speaks volumes of how one suffers for art, but alas. Bernadette, who makes up half of Study O Portable alongside husband Tetsuo Mukai, is in the process of moving to a bigger space: “At the moment we have small versions of the tools we need. A small belt sander, small drills, a puzzle saw instead of a big saw.” This is dirty work; the result may be elegant, but the process is anything but.

Of course, Bernadette realises customers may be less concerned with the method. This will sometimes result in requests for matching pieces, such as earrings, but this is problematic: “This process doesn’t apply to earrings,” asserts Bernadette, explaining that the hollowness of the bangle can’t be replicated for earrings: “The process was developed for bangles, and I like to be specific.” She runs her fingers around the inside of the bracelet, her voice soft again now, self-conscious after having spoken so adamantly. But she is certain in her intentions, meaning the product catalogue will never feature earrings alongside the bangles. But would she do it on commission? She shrugs a yes, probably. This is where artistic ideas meet the reality of rent.

On that note, Bernadette works part time in a gallery and as a university art tutor. “Tetsuo and I have always had other jobs to fund our work. The other jobs pay for the job I love. I never envisioned it any differently, but it’s starting to pay off now, seven years later.” While she loves teaching, Bernadette is quick to point out that not everyone is suited to become artists: “You have to have a vision of what you want to do.” I ask her if she has a vision, and she makes a face. And then: “Yes, I am capable!” She bursts out laughing, shy again for speaking boldly, but I think she knows this is the truth. Bernadette’s teachers tried to talk her out of going to art school, and she is not entirely against this advice: “You have to be extremely driven. You have to subject yourself to vigorous experiments.”

Bernadette and Tetsuo’s dedication to experimentation runs through everything they create. Take the newest works, a series of quartz crystal mirrors. Crystals are integral to transferring energy in technological devices, and the mirrors are a play on the idea that we see ourselves through the objects we create. “We didn’t know anything about crystal when we started. But if you want to know, you find out.”

Peering over the photos of the mirrors, I cannot but point out how neat they would be as pendant. Bernadette’s eyes widen: “The mirrors won’t be pendants!” Their function would be compromised if they were that small, she explains, laughing. What if someone commissions one, I ask, and she nods, well yes, probably: “Is that a cop out?”

I think that’s a reality of London rents, I say as we gather our coats to brave the cold again. Has she considered moving Study O Portable to a less expensive city? “No, I think we need London. It has amazing free lectures, for one, all the galleries, the opportunities to meet people. Elsewhere would be cheaper, but we’d miss out on all this. I think we need this flux.”

For a designer whose work is all about experiments, transferrable ideas and methods, it makes sense to want to be in the middle of the noise and grime of a place like London. For an artist who sees beauty through process and practicality, it must be paradise.

The years shall run like rabbits

Lionheart Magazine, Warmth issue, 2012. Original article.

LionheartMagazineSpreadsThe years shall run like rabbits
‘Time flies’ – it’s an old person’s saying and I keep saying it. But instead of getting used to it, this racing of time, it just seems to scurry on more intensely. Time rushes along at an increasing pace, which doesn’t make any sense because there is more, not less, to do. Weekends come along thick and fast and all of a sudden it’s summer again when I could have sworn it was mid-winter only yesterday. When I was a kid, an hour was an age and winter seemed to never end. I walked home from school, one little foot in front of the other in seemingly infinite repetition, but I know now it was no more than fifteen minutes. I think time is supposed to be a constant element, but I’m really not all that convinced.

I keep getting distracted. I pick at the seam of my shirt, turning the hem upward to examine how the hastily assembled item is unravelling as I wear it. I feel my skin tingle and how my cardigan rests on my collarbone, my fingers wander up and slide into my hair. There they have work to keep busy for ages, twirling around the short, soft whisks underneath my ponytail, digging for rough strands near the crown and greedily feeling their coarseness when one is found. I look up and the sun has moved across the sky.

The dizziness of this new freedom is subsiding and I have more good days than bad days now; when it’s one of the latter the thoughts no longer feel like my own but as if there’s an intruder. Pragmatic as I am, I evoke my mother for the task at hand: ‘Don’t be so helpless,’ I hear her say inside my head, not unkindly. I get a broom and sweep the intruder away. I read back those last few sentences and realise how precious and melodramatic it sounds, to say things like that, but it’s the truth and don’t you think I wish it wasn’t. As I figure out what I want I can feel the world opening up but at the same time it’s getting narrower. I haven’t really changed anything but I am becoming determined and with it, ruthless; just a pinch.

And all of a sudden it’s the weekend again and we’re waiting for the green man so we can shuffle on in flimsy sandals, soles tapping against paving stones and there’s that feeling again: I want to be working. I’ve had the moment where I’ve realised that work is no longer something I’m trying to dodge – no more clock-watching for Jessie. There’s just me here, and all the things I’ve always wanted. And I’ve wanted them for a bloody long time too – so long that I was starting to wonder if waiting was all I could do.

Now that my time is my own I feel like it should be slowing down again, back to its leisurely, trusty ticking of the days before double-digit birthdays. ‘The day is long,’ my grandma used to say, as I stood in front of her wall-clock which counted the seconds so loudly they rattled through the whole house. Outside that living room, time runs like rabbits and I know it. So why isn’t all that dead-end inspiration of office afternoons here for me now, waiting like water in the tap? I spent so much time wanting to be ‘big’, for my time to be my own. Now both those wishes have come true, but there are other forces at play. Again I catch myself staring into the middle distance.

Cool kid Chloë

Lionheart Magazine, Warmth issue, 2012. Original article.

Cool kid Chloë
Swagger, talent and a thirst for exploration through acting is why Chloë Moretz is a star in the making. Jessica Furseth talks to the Hollywood actress about ambition, confidence and listening to your mother.

She has a lot of sass for a 14-year-old, that Chloë Moretz. She rocks up with buckets of smiles, a cocky-cute “how you doing” and she’s just so cool – there’s no other word for it. I meet the teenage actress in London during the promotions for Martin Scorsese’s film ‘Hugo’, where Chloë plays sheltered Paris girl Isabelle as she embarks on a much-longed-for adventure. But the Chloë sitting in front of me in the flash hotel suite looks much more grown up than the beret-wearing child on screen. An elegant hair bun is paired with dark-checked trousers and a grey blouse, with her silver nail polish perfectly offset against chunky heels in the same colour. She speaks with a broad American twang; earlier that day Martin Scorsese praised her for being a joy to direct, with an English accent so spot on he thought she was a native. The verdict is in: not just a pretty face, but good at her job too.

“It’s such an honour to have worked with Marty, he’s a living legend,” says Chloë, kicking back in her chair. She’s conscious of not seeming ungrateful for the chance to work with Scorsese, but then again, why wouldn’t she be chosen? After all, she’s good. “In acting there are so many people telling you ‘no’, but I look at them and think, well you say ‘no’ now, but next year I promise you are going to want me for your movie. And almost every time I’ve done that it’s come true: they have come back wanted me!”

Chloë laughs easily, drawing you in with the occasional geeky grimace. Listening to her describe Scorsese makes it clear she sees him more like an uncle than a hero: “He’s an amazing guy, he’s so funny! He makes everyone feel comfortable, everyone’s on the same playing field. I think that’s why he gets such a good vibe in his movies.” The role of Isabelle is probably the closest Chloë has come to playing a girl like herself, after previous experiences of playing a vampire in ‘Let Me In’ and a potty-mouthed superhero in ‘Kickass’. Tim Burton’s ‘Dark Shadows’ is due shortly, where Chloë plays a girl with a “dark secret”: “I look for something where I really connect with the character. If I can’t put down the script, if all I can think about for the next few days is how I want to play that character, that’s the kind of movie I’ll do.”

Chloë lives with her mother and four older brothers, and it’s clear that little sister’s career is a family project: “My brother Trevor and my mother read all the scripts that come in, and if they like them they send them to me. The we make a group decision on what’s not only the best decision for my career, but also for me as an actress.”

It’s easy to forget the young woman sitting in front of me is only 14 years old. Not that she tries to appear older, in fact she seems very aware of her youth. “I’ve seen [Scorsese’s] ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Gangs of New York’ but my mum still keeps me from seeing ‘Taxi Driver’. Even though the others are also 18-rated, that’s over my head in a different way. It deals with things I can’t exactly grasp at 14. Which I don’t like to admit but I have to.”

Chloë has worked as an actress for half her life now, starting out by reciting monologues in the playground. “My mom would get calls from school asking, why is your daughter talking about killing someone?” She laughs. “That’s how I got into acting, and I begged my mom to let me do it. Of course I didn’t know what acting really was, just that it was fun.”

And it’s still fun: “I think the day it starts to feel like work is the day I will stop, but I’m nowhere near that. I still have an amazing time acting, when it’s huge and fantastical and I get to see through the eyes of the character. […] I love roles where I’m not like myself, because I’m Chloë every day. I’m happy with my life, so I like playing characters that aren’t so happy.” She pauses. “Those are the roles I can really space out in, you know, where I can really get into those dark crevices of the psyche. I love those weird and dark places you have to go to for those characters.”

Chloë is quick to concede she’s not exactly a regular 14-year-old, but her responses usually draw examples from her family, not from working with famous directors or going to Hollywood parties. Like when I ask if she feels older than she is: “My mom is the kind of mom where if you want a bowl of cereal, she’ll tell you to go get it yourself. She didn’t baby us to the point where we didn’t know what to do by the time we were 14. My family is … it’s sort of a sophisticated atmosphere, maybe. And also pretty crazy. But my mom’s always raised me to be a smart kid.”

It’s a bold statement, but Chloë definitely is a smart kid: “I think there’s a difference in acting older and feeling older, knowing older. When I was 13 I thought I was older, but now I’m 14 I realise I was a baby then. So when I’m 16 I’ll think I‘m a baby now.” She laughs. “And when I’m my mom’s age I’ll really think I was a baby!”

But make no mistake: Chloë has buckets of confidence. “Yes I do. But in any profession you have to be confident. I’m very competitive. I’ve always wanted to be the best.“ She shrugs, cocking her head to the side. “One of the first films I saw was ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn. She makes you smile, you know? And that was one of the reasons I wanted to act, the way she makes you smile and transports you to that place, that’s what I want to do for people. I want to transport people to another place.”

And then our time is up, as the PR sweeps in and hustles Chloë out of her seat. She flashes a grin and thanks me for the chat before she’s off to charm someone else. In this she will succeed, I have no doubt.

The Viking compass

Lionheart Magazine, Bravery issue, 2011. Original article.

lionheart1The Viking compass
We’re moving, my bike and I, the traffic around us is menacing but today it creates the perfect hum. My wheels are a butch girl called Lola, I’m a scrawny girl in woollen layers. I’ve got music in my left ear and the rush of the city in my right, I know what I’m doing here, moving through roundabouts, edging up to be first in line at the big crossings. Casual but cocky in my element, I stretch my back out as I wait for the light to turn green. This city, this country, it’s my home, I feel it in my bones, it’s there in the buzz on my skin.

I’ve lived in England for almost 12 years now, a third of my life. I was raised Viking, in Norway where it’s dark for an hour in the summer and you pay for that with blood in the winter. I was a kid then, an awkward teenager who left in a huff the first chance she had. Norway and I have since forgiven each other, but the feeling of detachment remains. There’s space between the houses up north, in the country that provided me with pale skin and fawn-coloured hair, there’s space between the people. There’s a stillness, a quiet understanding of what we are, that we are all the same. Everywhere are tall pines, wide valleys, and whitewater rivers, subdued by eight months of winter. If I never see snow again that will be fine with me.

People ask me about Norway, about the food, music and culture, but I don’t know the answers to the questions anymore. A decade changes things – I know this, because the few days a year I spend there are enough to show me, again and again, how they’ve moved on without me. There’s an irony at work here: I left because the world is such a big place, and what happened was I ensconced myself on this small, crowded island, squinting backwards with increasingly foreign eyes. When I visit them up north I drive my mother’s car to the shop and panic at the sight of another vehicle, because everyone’s driving on the wrong side of the road. The reprogramming is happening.

It took a while, but I’ve figured out how to live in England now. I have learned what clothes to wear when the weather is muggy and shifty, the art of banter and the fact that “how do you do” isn’t actually a question. I go back to where I came from and people expect me to be the same, or should I say, they expect me to have kept up with the changes, but instead the years pass and I stumble at Norwegian words. My language is rusting. I don’t recognise the people in the paper, I balk at the price of peppers in the shop, I carry my umbrella everywhere even though up north it doesn’t really rain. The air feels cold inside your nostrils, you can hear the gravel crunch underneath your shoes and life feels so slow.

The funny thing is, I never felt Scandinavian until I left. It’s only now I understand how much of me is shaped by the place I come from. How pragmatism is a national trait, not a personal one. How things so often aren’t about common sense, they are about culture. England isn’t a big leap in global terms, but it’s big enough to trigger an awareness about how the customs of the people around us shape our choices. Even now, after a decade in England, the culture around me isn’t really mine, meaning I get to choose. But every year that passes I understand a little more about this country, one discovery leads to the next, like peeling an onion. In England, the air is damp even when the sun shines, it feels different than anywhere else in the world: the constant crowds, the cracks in the pavements, the roasted foods and a language that rolls in the mouth. Everything has rounder edges, everything is patched together by people from all corners of the world, adding their stories to the tapestry that makes up this small island.

At night I pull my woolly cardigan around me, the stars are the same ones I’ve always looked at but here they’re positioned differently in the sky. I was just a kid when I got here, suitcase full of tinned fish, looking not for England but simply for something different. I’m a grown up now, and I realise the passage of time would have changed me even if I’d stayed put. There’s still a lot of Scandinavian in me – the skin that burns in the sun, the pragmatic core that borders on rudeness. Norway may have brought me up but it’s England that raised me, it’s where I’ve made my bed. I feel it every time I return, when my plane lands and the wheels jump against the runway. I know I am home, it’s the feel of you when you’re around me.