German of Albanian origin, Anna Ehrenstein navigates between these two cultures and feeds her work with questions about identity and self-representation. Her colourful work oscillates between trash, bling-bling and fashion, and always calls for reflection.
In this interview, Anna talks to us about her vision of art, about the artist’s responsibility to confront the viewer with their contradictions in order to push the debate forward.
Hello Anna, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Sure thing, first of all thank you for the interest in my work!
I work in multidisciplinary artistic production with an emphasize on research and mediation. Currently I am based between Berlin where I work as part of the educational project of the Berlin Biennale and Cologne where I am pursuing post-graduate studies at the Academy of Media Art.
“I have a lot of artist in my family and was drawn to creation from an early age.”
My mom and dad came to Germany from Albania slightly before I was born. While my mother came with a working visa and stayed my dad came as a refugee and shorty after went back to live in Tirana. Similar to my family history my socialization is scattered between these two societies.
How did your passion for photography begin?
I have a lot of artist in my family and was drawn to creation from an early age. My mum is a pianist and my uncle is teaching painting at the art academy in Tirana. Photography became more important during my own years of adolescence through creating my own visual identity or working with high school friends. Until I started studying photography straight after high school I was always interested and practiced various mediums of creation and went back to it following a few years of focus on photography.
“Art gives possibility to analyze the global frenzy we live in and its structures in a more complex and nuanced way […]”
Your work deals with many current topics, such as gender issues, self representation, etc… Do you think that art in general has a responsibility to address social issues?
Actually for me being a valuable part of society means addressing social issues, especially in regards to the scary state our planet and humanity is currently. Everyone should be critically reflecting their own position and privileges to let arise progress and so of course people in the art world are not exempt from this either.
“[…] I believe that humor and fun have a big importance while talking about serious issues.”
Art gives possibility to analyze the global frenzy we live in and its structures in a more complex and nuanced way than for example news reports – as well as give the possibility to show alternative imagineries. This works especially well in transdisciplinary collaboration with people of other fields that have always been working in similar manner like activists, scientists, critical thinkers or cultural scholars.
It is just important to remember art can be an amazing agent of change, but people still have to be the performer.
What issues are important to you that you would like to address in future projects?
There is a few interests that kind of pull through my work like the social life of things, relations between people and their material surrounding and the intersections of so called high and low cultures. I am really curious generally about the power structures behind pop cultural phenomena and mass media and I believe that humor and fun have a big importance while talking about serious issues. It does not have to be arid and boring to be actively doing work.
“If I would have listened more to the restrictions art and photography teachers tried to tell me, my work would look very different at the moment.”
What do you wish to convey through your photos?
Well I guess there is a couple of things. First of all I want people to enjoy them aesthetically and brighten up their day while feeling synchronically awkward because they might be confronted with their own biases and prejudices.
You have a very strong aesthetic. Did you have trouble finding your artistic identity, or was it something that came naturally?
Thank you! I generally believe that people’s identity is multifaceted and always transient, so I also think artistic identities are more of a shifting than a constant parameter. Generally I would say I have always been a very visual person and nothing gives me more joy. But like every other artist I needed to try out a couple of things to embrace myself and trust my own decisions. If I would have listened more to the restrictions art and photography teachers tried to tell me, my work would look very different at the moment.
What are the things that inspire you?
I am a real freak for “informal” market and shop window installations and have a huge photographic archive from the shops in my neighborhood Neukölln in Berlin as well as every city i’ve visited in the last couple of years. This, neuroscience, cultural theory, philosophy and 4chan probably.
“To me it is still a surprise how isolated big parts of the photography world are to contemporary art […]”
What advice would you give to young photographers who have not found their artistic identity?
Stop looking at other photographers and start being interested in the arts in general. To me it is still a surprise how isolated big parts of the photography world are to contemporary art or a cultural discourse. So if you feel like trying to find your own artistic identity try to watch as many exhibitions as possible, follow contemporary art debates and read whatever interests you on a daily basis.
If you found something, get your teeth into it and construct all of your daily life around it. The music you hear, the movies you watch, the podcasts you listen to and the colors you surround yourself with.
What does the future hold for you?
I was trying to learn coffee reading ’cause it was always kind of a big thing growing up, but so far I am miserably failing in predicting the future.