Emily Swanberg / by Altered Esthetics

Emily Swanberg is a Minneapolis, MN based sculptor whose work is influenced by the environments, materials, and processes inherent in architecture and systematic design. In 2016, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art from Bethel University. Her work has been included in various exhibitions, including the 2018 Masters Show at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, Scotland. Swanberg is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Minnesota.

Block 0: 1-2,  cinder block, cast aluminum cinder block made from single-use sand mold, cast iron cinder block made from same sand mold, 8” x 8” x 32”, 2017

Block 0: 1-2, cinder block, cast aluminum cinder block made from single-use sand mold, cast iron cinder block made from same sand mold, 8” x 8” x 32”, 2017

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?

My work examines the ways sites are marked, unmarked, and distinguished from surrounding areas. With emphasis on both the planned meticulousness and the precarious jury-rigging of the construction process, the sculptures observe and absorb the tendencies of built architectural and utilitarian structures. The materials of these structures exist as relics of a place, witnessing the complete action timeline of the site. I am interested in the shift that occurs when those materials are translated and re-materialized in a new context under new pretenses. In this translation, I aim to investigate what it means to mark a site with a structure and how the physicality of structure functions beyond what it marks. Employing altered building processes and re-fabricated materials, my work fetishizes and dissects the intimacy of building labor and the ways it links to systems of power and authority. The objects forcedly slow down and frustrate the building process, questioning how constructive labor functions within larger society.

My previous work was also very materials focused, considering ideas of national power and identity. But my current practice feels much more intimate. I tend to and care for my materials in a way that feels almost sentimental in nature. Ideas and relationships are much subtler, softer. My hand and my labor have become infinitely more important than they have been in the past.

[ STRUCTURE X]  (study), sawdust studs and fiberglass insulation bricks, 8’ x 8’ x 3.5”, 2019

[STRUCTURE X] (study), sawdust studs and fiberglass insulation bricks, 8’ x 8’ x 3.5”, 2019

A process which I’ve noticed in your recent work is the use of casting. Can you talk a bit about cast objects and repetition and how those elements inform your new work? 

I think I initially fell into casting because of how demanding and process heavy it is. My work has become focused on labor lately-- considering systems of building labor as well as my own labor. It therefore feels important that the objects I create demonstrate the labor that I put into them. I like the way that casting requires so much behind-the-scenes work and that it can capture that effort in a really tactile way, even when the final object presents as fairly pristine. For my current project, casting has held even more weight because it has allowed me to dissect and reform even the most basic building units. Namely, I've been packing sawdust into 8-foot long molds to mold back into lumber again. After literally breaking down the wood into its messiest form, using a mold allows me to put it back together with my own hands. The resulting lumber holds the same material as the original but has structurally become something completely different. For this project that is so rooted in dissecting systems of assembly, it made sense for me to disassemble and reassemble in this way as much as I could.

Material choice also seems to play a large role within your practice. How does the filtering of material effect your palette [color, texture, etc]?

I tend to use pretty traditional building materials-- lumber, concrete, drywall, insulation, etc. Everything is naturally pretty pale, sometimes warmer in tone, if not completely neutral. My palette tends to be a bit calmer, softer when I leave those raw materials exposed. I appreciate when these traditionally very strong and structural materials feel more intimate and accessible in that way. I also like things to feel touched or touchable. Making objects feel visually tactile opens up the material for a person as well.  

Sawhorse , silica sand studs, sandblasted sawhorse brackets, 28” x 16” x 32”, 2018

Sawhorse, silica sand studs, sandblasted sawhorse brackets, 28” x 16” x 32”, 2018

How did you decide to become an artist?

I don’t remember ever deciding to become an artist. My father has been gifting me tool sets ever since I was 5 years old. As my collection grew, I eventually got to a point where using those tools felt like the only thing to do. Over time, working has become increasingly central to my everyday life. So I guess I’m an artist now.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

My undergrad mentor, Ken Steinbach, once told me to learn the proper way to use a new material and then to completely ignore it. I’ve learned that knowing the way materials are prescriptively used offers a great deal of insight into how that material holds and persists. But for me, pushing it beyond those prescriptions to a place that feels more true to a concept or structure always leads to a better result. I’m constantly referring back to that advice, trusting that I’m allowed to do whatever I want.

Wall (Dundee) and Broch Bricks , sawdust, paste, concrete, hand-carved lumber, dimensions variable, 2018

Wall (Dundee) and Broch Bricks, sawdust, paste, concrete, hand-carved lumber, dimensions variable, 2018

Is there any medium you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?

I did a bit of printmaking in undergrad but really only scratched the surface of what’s possible with that medium. I’d like to try using printmaking methods to create 2-dimensional prints from 3- dimensional objects. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there to experiment with and portray objects in another way.

Who are some of the Twin Cities artists you enjoy?

There are so many excellent artist in the Twin Cities. Some of my current favorites are Eric William Carroll (http://www.ericwilliamcarroll.com/), Brittany Kieler (http://www.brittanykieler.com/), and Emmett Ramstad (http://www.emmettramstad.com/).

Pallet , silica sand, 40” x 48” x 5.5” 2019

Pallet, silica sand, 40” x 48” x 5.5” 2019

If I were to follow you around to see art in the Twin Cities, which places would we go? What would we see?

Because my studio is in the UMN Regis Center for Art, I frequent the University of Minnesota galleries most often. Working at the Katherine E. Nash gallery offers me an insider look at the larger exhibitions alongside briefer shows and student pop-ups. Off campus, I like visiting smaller Minneapolis venues like Yeah Maybe, Hair + Nails, and Q.arma, which offer a more casual setting for checking out new and experimental work. Mia and the Walker are Minneapolis must-sees, of course, when in a formal art-viewing mood.

Do you have any exhibits to promote in the near future?

The vast majority of my time is currently dedicated to preparing for my cohort’s graduate thesis show.

The House | The Yard will be on view at the University of Minnesota’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery in the Regis Center for Art from April 9 -27, 2019. There will be a public program and reception on Saturday, April 13 from 5:30 – 9:00 pm.

More information here: https://cla.umn.edu/art/galleries/katherine-e-nash-gallery

Image of the artist

Image of the artist

For more of Emily’s work, check out http://emilyswanberg.com/.

Follow Emily on Instagram at @emily.swanberg and Twitter at @easwanberg.

Be sure to visit the Katherine E. Nash Gallery to see new work by Emily:

April 9-27, 2019

with a public program and reception on Saturday, April 13 from 5:30 - 9:00 pm.

Altered Esthetics News:

Our sixth annual Film Festival is open for submissions! Learn more and submit your entry on our Film Freeway page. We are also seeking donations to support this event. 100% of your tax-deductible gift to Ae goes directly to the festival’s operating costs and paying participating artists.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Donny Gettinger and edited by Sarah Kass.