1.16.07, doppelgänger series, © Cornelia Hediger
Last week my father was in NYC gallery hopping and returned to tell me about the work of Cornelia Hediger. I instantly fell in love with it. It's narratives are unsettling, she shoots herself, it's semi-autobiographical or a visual diary of sorts, it's uniquely creative, and it's provocative. All of my favorite things!
So I immediately had to send her an email and was happy to find a reply in my inbox from this intelligent, witty, generous artist. Here is a little back and forth from those emails. (note: I'm not just posting private emails, I mentioned these questions were "on the record" and she was very open to that.)
cinemascapist: Let me start off by saying I really enjoy your work, especially the Doppelgänger series (which is what I will be referring to in the Q&A). I haven't seen the work in person yet, but I have a few meetings in NYC early this month and plan on stopping by the gallery while I'm there. One thing I admire about your work that differs from other work I've seen (mine included) is how eerie and unsettling the images make me feel, but that it is done in a vibrant, bright and almost cheery way. That is a bizarre combination and one of the most attractive elements about the series. Was that your original intention for this series?
cornelia: erie and unsettling you say, ha! I went on your website and loved the work - it's pretty unsettling as well. I know what you mean though, I can wear a playful polka dot dress and still make some viewers feel uncomfortable when looking at the images.
The lush colors and 'sweet' dresses might draw the viewer into the image but then when you stand there for a while you might realize that there is something off and not quite right. Personally I'm more interested in a silent scream than having blood gushing all over the place. I do realize, however, that I'm walking a fine line and some of my images might be a bit over the top like the fish image (Doppelgänger 4-01-07). There is nothing subtle about this image and I can see how this would be a criticism. Some of the other images are more quiet and not as obvious and therefore perhaps more effective. I'm aware of the problems in each image, I spend a lot of time with them, and yet I decided to let the fish image live because it was honest at the moment when I created it. Perhaps the Doppelgänger series is a bit like my 'creepy' doll collection. The dolls look all sweet and innocent but deep down you know that they are up to no good, ha!
4.01.07, doppelgänger series, © Cornelia Hediger
cinemascapist: Ahhh yes, the fish image. In my opinion that doesn't scream at all. I think that image is quite humorous compared to the others and poses many questions for analysis. Unsettling if you've ever been on the receiving end of that situation, but how many of us really have experienced that? (Personally, I'd would hang this is my dining room across from my paint by numbers crucified monkey). You mention that your decision to keep that image was because it was "honest at the moment". So do you concern yourself with the "fine line" when planning or producing a shoot, because your images seem to walk that line almost perfectly? And if not, do you ever discard any images you think might cross the line or be too "on the nose"?
cornelia: No, not at first. I follow my instinct and I trust my gut feeling - the only thing I can ultimately go on. Once I come up with an idea for a new set I translate it into a visual image even though I might have some doubts about the outcome. At times an image turns out to be too obvious, too easy, and I will end up not using it, however, I'm usually glad that I took the image, I always learn something from it. So yes, I do discard of images that in my opinion don't work.
cinemascapist: Your images employ a mise en scène technique that I am fondly attached to myself. When do the characters & scenarios unfold for you? Meaning...do you sit down and plan out or even draft a sketch of a shot you have in mind or does it come from spontaneity once you're in front of the lens?
cornelia: Each individual set is carefully staged and planned out. Once I work through an idea I then sketch out the characters and the interaction between the Doppelgänger. Even though the shoots are meticulously planned out, from the color of the wall, (I often change/paint the color) to the pattern of the dress. I do make spontaneous changes, however, as I go along. On paper, and in my sketches, everything is possible, but once I look through the lens I often realize that I cannot translate the sketch into a photographic image and I have to improvise on the spot. So there is quite a bit of spontaneity in the sets.
cinemascapist: You mention "each individual set". Are these all on a real set? As in built in a warehouse type set? If not, is your landlord OK with the constant painting and repainting?
cornelia: Until the end of last year I worked in real environments and living spaces. Many of the sets are shot in apartments and houses that belong to friends of mine. I would usually visit for a couple of days and turn their house upside down, cleaning out rooms and moving everything around. This year, so far, I've been shooting in my apartment - and no, my landlord doesn't have the slightest idea what I'm doing. Every couple of weeks the color of the walls change. There is a good chance that I might not get my deposit back once I move.
6.21.07, doppelgänger series, © Cornelia Hediger
cinemascapist: staying on the subject of working...Do you work alone or do you have assistants? if you do have assistants, do you find them to be a distraction to the spontaneity of the shoot?
cornelia: Creating these images, to me, is a very personal act and I prefer working on my own. To answer your question, no, I have never worked with an assistant. These sets not only take a long time to photograph (an assistant would most likely walk off the set in disgust since it's taking so long) but also I go into characters when I work and I'm not sure how comfortable I would be having someone around.
cinemascapist: (I'll preface to reader's of this by stating I am not a journalist, so apologies for the boring closing question, but I couldn't think of any of question that sort of ends the conversation?) What's next for Cornelia Hediger?
cornelia: I'm still working on the Doppelgänger series, it's an ongoing project that might go on for some time. I do have an idea for another project but it's too early to talk about it.
You can view Cornelia's work (I highly suggest it) at the Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn until Halloween night (October 31)! Or visit the gallery's website to see more images. You can also see more on her site as well.