“...last week I cried to my favorite chalga-song!”
– a conversation with Oda Haugerud.
By Lars Nordby
Oda Haugerud concluded her artist-in-residency at ARV.International with a solo exhibition at gallery Heerz Tooya May 18th, 2019. Living and working in Vishovgrad at the ARV.I studio, Haugerud focused on her exhibition as well as further developing her artistic practice.
I met Oda Haugerud for the first time at the center of Vishovgrad in April. She arrived with a taxi from the nearest city with a huge black suitcase with broken wheels. There was no sign of confusion in her eyes, just a smile and a let-me-drag-this-heavy-load-along-the-asphalt kind of attitude. She is that artist, with an elegant touch, invites you into that uncanny environment and smiles straight back at you.
Lars Nordby: Oda, how are you?! How is life back in Amsterdam?
Oda Haugerud: Hey Lars! It feels a bit different to be back in Amsterdam after such a good time in Bulgaria. I rarely cry but last week I cried to my favorite chalga-song! Another day I went to the Bulgarian supermarket here in Amsterdam to buy one of those two-liter beer bottles. In my bedroom, there is now a little Bulgarian flag and I was also proud to bring some homemade rakia for the Swedish midsummer celebration. It was such an interesting time there, it is hard not to get nostalgic already!
L.N: It is something, isn't it? It’s hard to accurately pinpoint the Bulgarian feng shui, identity, and culture, but that endeavor also has its ways of excluding a personal touch. I guess the mixture of Bulgarian supermarket in Amsterdam in line with a Swedish midsummer party with rakia wraps that neatly up. It's been a while since you were in Vishovgrad. Any particular memory you are left with? Even concerning your expectations before you arrived?
O.H: Well, my expectations were mainly that this would be an adventure, going to a small village in a country I never encountered before and work towards my solo exhibition at Heerz Tooya. I was surprised how quickly I adapted, and how comfortable I felt in this, for me, unknown territory. Mainly thanks to the fact that the people around me, like you, were so helpful and open from the start. My best memories are from the people hanging out in Vishovgrad outside Danche’s kiosk with David who I shared the residency with. He became the annoying little brother I never had from day one. I am really happy he was there. It was fun to share the experience and get to know someone in this setting. I remember I wrote in my residency application that I needed a change of environment, away from the Amsterdam bubble and it was exactly what happened. Very refreshing!
L.N: freezefearflood at Heerz Tooya was your first solo exhibition. First of all congratulations with the exhibition and the financial support that came along with it. You’ve done great research before you came to Bulgaria. I remember I received 40 kilos of soap at ARV.I before your arrival. Could you share some thoughts about your choice of material and experiences from its transposition from the studio to Heerz Tooya?
freefearflood, 2019 / Gallery Heerz Tooya
O.H: Thank you! It was 57,5 kg to be exact! Not of too much importance for the end result, but I initially wanted to have the starting point of dealing with a mass of my own weight. I worked with soap before but never with this large amount. In terms of scale, as I ordered it I pictured this mountain of soap and to my surprise, on arrival, the boxes looked really tiny in the 100 square meter studio. I am generally interested in milk as it is tied to the idea of abjection. The choice of specifically goat milk soap was a conscious decision made concerning regional agriculture in Bulgaria.
L.N: Mentioning abjection, it's hard for me not to think of Julia Kristeva and her essay Powers of Horror. There is some resemblance with your work and her connection between bodily outbursts and primal emotions such as fear and desire. Yet, you have a very elegant touch in your approach to sculpture, composition and installation works. Dare I say that there is an expressive outburst through your conceptual framework that unfolds uncannily balanced?
O.H: I think I like the idea of the work being uncannily balanced! My research has generally been heavily influenced by Kristeva’s ideas, and like you said, there is a primal expressive outburst in the background. In terms of sculpture, I am starting to realize I am drawn to something I see as passive-aggressive gestures. Or maybe better described as aestheticized violence. As to me, elegance is raw, painful, and cold. On that note I think of this great poem by Elise Cowen:
The lady is a humble thing
Made of death and water
The fashion is to dress it plain
And use the mind for border
I find it interesting to be more direct when writing. Which is also quite revealing in the titles. For me I think it is also important to have multiple languages as I always loved these extremes. The very subtle and the very loud. If I listen to music it should either slap me in the face with directness on loudest volume or be weird instrumental ambiance that is annoyingly hard to grasp.
L.N: You earlier mentioned your favorite song from the Bulgarian pop-folk phenomena called Chalga. Which one?! You also did a podcast at your hotel room the day before your opening. Who is Saatans Kvinna? This and your exhibition title makes one think of your press release, right?
O.H: It was the mega-hit by AZIS called Sen Trope. I remember I put it on almost every morning to annoy David who was definitely less into that song. “SAATANS KVINNA” is my side project, or even alter ego, I started last year. It is a monthly show where I record (or sometimes play live) an hour-long mix for the Malmö-based online radio station Retreat Radio. I especially enjoyed making this mix as I chose to limit myself to only Bulgarian music that I discovered while living there. Yes, that is true, it is dark, a lot of cold waves and scary stuff. Reminiscent of the tone of voice of my favorite poet Aase Berg from who I borrowed the title freezefearflood for the exhibition.
L.N: I’ve listened to your podcast and I really recommend others to do as well, for those who have their armor ready! Last thing Oda, what would you recommend future ARV.I artists? Any warnings? Any delights?
O.H: Go there with an open mind but with some sort of starting point. Make use of the big studio and the possibilities of it. Also, take breaks and meet people. Try Danche’s homemade rakia.
L.N: The latter sounds like a warning and a delight to me, hehe. Thank you for the chat Oda! Hope to see you soon.
Oda Haugerud (b. 1990, Sweden) obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Gerrit Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam) in 2018. She previously exhibited in group exhibitions at Stedelijk Museum and took part in a residency at M4Guestatelier in Amsterdam in 2018. She sees her work as “body essays“ mainly using sculpture and installation. Her thesis ”Living Dead Surplus” (2018) received GRA awards nomination and was later re-published as an essay. www.odahaugerud.com