Conversation with Fenna Kosfeld – Fine Art graduate from Chelsea College of Arts
Installation EIN-UM-AUS by Fenna Kosfeld, Greenhaus, Chelsea college of arts | Photo: Floor to sky studio
Tinatin: Since we’re reflecting on your final graduation work, can you talk about what made you decide to install your sculpture EIN-UM-AUS in the Greenhaus which is a communal garden project you started with your peers at the Chelsea College of Arts?
Fenna: The whole garden project, in general evolved out of my personal practice. I’ve been making sculptures and light installations, working a lot with artificial but also natural light. Here at Chelsea, there’s no urgency about sustainable materials, having an awareness for the environment and all that, I think it’s not promoted well. They’re trying now but it’s been really bad. The amount of stuff that goes into the bin… I had this personal urgency to create a space where things can be explored. It’s not that I’m politically engaged, it’s more of having a personal need to explore, and doing it with other people is fun, I think. That’s why we started this garden space (with other students) and the whole idea was to use this space as an outdoor gallery as well. So, as you asked, why show work outside? We always try to create a stage, a set, like a clean, sterile gallery space, which I don’t mind, but when you work with natural materials, I think it’s interesting to see how they act and how they behave in an actual environment, even when it’s still manipulated and constructed. For example, the bark is so interesting because I constructed it in a way that when you see through the lens you can’t see the light outside, then, because of moisture and temperature, the bark changes and looks slightly different every day. I don’t necessarily want that, that’s something I’ve learned from this process. Though I still want to have control over my sculpture and the way I want it to look but nature and the atmospheric phenomenon all come together and do their own thing. That’s something that I don’t see as a struggle, but rather an interesting process when the work is already finished but it keeps changing. And all these outdoor influences are beyond the human body and the piece of art. There’s so much more here that influences our perception of the work – even the plants around the garden will influence the way we perceive it. For example, in a white gallery space, you have one thing on a plinth and that raises the attention to that one thing and this thing becomes exaggerated. I wanted to show it somewhere outside, though not on the parade ground (*Chelsea Parade Ground in front of the University) which also seems like a great open space. Here, where it’s an established garden, the sculpture shares its presence with so many other things.
TS: I think it is interesting to have it here, among the trees.
FK: And the streetlamps.
TS: It stands out to me because it has a structure and doesn’t look like something accidental. I love your use of materials – metal, wire, these technological tools imposed on nature, which is something I’m also trying to do in my drawings. Your sculpture is a tree but it’s not a tree…
FK: Yeah, and it’s a streetlamp but not a streetlamp. It’s shining inside instead of outside. There’s a massive concept behind it… technology and the natural aspect but at the same time manipulated, human-made, I really find that interesting. This garden space as well – we say this is nature, but this is all kind of maintained.
FK: Yes exactly. The idea of a garden is so perverse in a way, there’s a lot of cutting and pruning for our liking. Once I read this article about landscape architecture and they basically said that within the practice of landscape architecture & design, you have to be fine with the beauty of nature that’s never going to be perfect. The moment you reach perfection, when everything is cut and pruned and done the way you want it, literally 10 minutes later things will already start to grow in their own way. You may not see it but it’s happening gradually. So, this piece kind of behaves that way.
TS: We’re some kind of ‘perfectionists’ as species.
FK: Yes, we are.
TS: We like nature to be tamed. Whether or not nature is perfect or humans making it ‘perfect’ is an ongoing discussion. For some, it’s calming and soothing to have a manicured garden, while others like it wild. I’m more on the wild side, I see absolute perfection in that.
FK: Since I started to think about more sustainable materials and new materials, it’s something I’d like to go with in the future. Creating/designing new materials is so interesting, out of recycling materials or collecting stuff from nature and reshaping them, creating new materials you can sculpt with, bioplastics for example.
FK: There are so many people who are doing it and it’s very inspiring. Since I started to research and got more into this, I see it everywhere.
TS: I think that’s exciting. I use cement in my work which is not good for the environment. After water, it’s the most consumed resource in the world – it trashes our planet. If we ever get to the point of not using cement anymore, I’d be like, can artists please keep the right to use it, because I like it so much and it’s so little compared to what’s in use on industrial level. It has this duality, it’s not a green choice but flexibility and durability are its top qualities. I don’t know how to replace it.
FK: I don’t think you have to necessarily replace it. It’s more about innovation. There’s a company that’s already doing biodegradable cement. They’re going to build a new highway in London, to test it as well. But these things are still so inaccessible to us as individuals. It’s more in use on an industrial level. It will take some time for it to become accessible and affordable for us. However, I don’t want to restrict my creative process because of those decisions but I’m trying to be conscious enough.
TS: Finding new materials is interesting. It would also allow to come out from already existing forms of sculpting.
FK: I’m from Frankfurt, Germany and there’s a studio complex called Atelier Frankfurt. I was there last summer where I met a woman from Latvia, she studied MA material design at Eindhoven Design Academy and she developed this technique – you know the pine trees that are normally used for furniture, firewood and what not; and in Latvia the production is so immense, the waste material is the bark, so what she does is, the trees that are irregular shape and difficult to cut because of the machines, she peels them herself, takes the inner skin from the bark, as long as the length of the tree gets, she peals the whole thing and makes tapestry out of it. She sells the product for people to use creatively, and she uses it for her own products like bags and carpets. It’s all handmade and hand-harvested. It’s such an old, natural material, people have used it since forever, but she found a way to act with it in a new way. That’s what I find interesting – coming up with the new materials not in terms of chemical engineering but through means of playful experimentation.
TS: What’s the afterlife of your sculpture? Will it say here in the Greenhaus?
FK: The idea is to keep it meandering to different places. At the moment I’m in touch with several communal gardens in London who might be interested in showing it over the summer. The installation can act as a contribution to triggering ecological awareness and discussion in garden spaces and places where people are fascinated about this. In autumn I hope to install it in an outdoor sculpture park.
London, June 2022