Aspirational Abject: A Studio Visit With Anna Uddenberg

Anna Uddenberg in her studio. Photo copyright Franz Grünewald
Anna Uddenberg in her studio. Photo copyright Franz Grünewald

Since the 9th Berlin Biennale opened in June there’s been one artist whose work keeps popping up on Instagram with the tag: #berlinbiennale – and that is #AnnaUddenberg. The sculptures and installations of the Berlin artist have been causing amusement and awe in equal measure for its brass and confrontational depictions of contemporary performance culture. Last year SLEEK went to her studio to find out what’s behind her contortionists in compromising and revealing positions, and this is what we found out.


#berlinbiennial #annauddenberg

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Anna Uddenberg’s studio is in a typical Neukölln tenement building, where workshops, artists’ studios and apartments lie cheek by jowl. Inside, a half-finished Styrofoam and resin sculpture lies atop a cheap suitcase with rollers: a plinth of sorts. Clad in a parka and wearing a backpack, the sculpted form has drawn her shoulders back, exposing her full breasts to onlookers. “It’s entitled ‘Lady Uniqiue’ and its all about the current obsession with travel and sports gear, outdoor living, full moon parties,” Uddenberg explains.

Uddenberg, 32, is a slight figure dressed in a nineties mish-mash of crushed velvet trousers, a slinky top and untinted sunglasses. Hailing from Stockholm, she studied at the Swedish Royal Institute of Art, with a turn at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. Behind the sculpture, Styrofoam base pieces are set out in a pattern instantly recognisable from the tattoos that adorn the smalls of many girls’ backs: a tramp stamp. “It’s a piece that will be set off against a wall. I’m interested in these ‘common’, folky-cultural things,” the artist explains.

Anna Uddenberg’s studio. Photo copyright Franz Grünewald

Uddenberg started out as a performance artist: for example, in her show “Truly Yours”, hostesses, escorts and glamour models enacted their version of an ‘It girl’. “I was looking at genuineness, performed genuineness, how being perceived as “genuine” is so important in contemporary culture right now”, she says. Social codes, poses and objects lie at the heart of her work. Her focus lies on uncovering the “it” personae – as opposed to people – that currently dominate traditional and social media. Her installation “La Isla”, 2014, features a kitchen island and extractor fan that she found on Craigslist, and perched atop is one of her sculptures, legs scissored in a Voguing pose. Features distorted, she stares out at the onlooker, a cipher. An embedded television screen shows scenes from a reality TV show, “Cheaters”, in which spouses confront their cheating partners. “Their slogan is ’the REAL reality show’,”  It’s all about revenge, I feel like the notion on an  ‘authentic’ drama is really present here,” she says.

The piece combines Uddenberg’s interest in the codification of aspirational lifestyles – represented by the luxury kitchen island (the exhibition took place in a luxury apartment) and the aloofness of the accompanying figures, and their distorted relationship to the environment they find themselves in. Her sculptures often feature the common markers of the contemporary “it” girl – long, acrylic fingernails, ‘tribal’ tattoos, and plenty of sex: breasts are exposed and buttocks uplifted. The piece “Jealous Jasmine” currently on show at Sandy Brown gallery in Berlin, features a female figure bent deeply into an expensive Graco pram, extending a leg to the side in an off-kilter, distorted and unnatural pose. Jasmine wears fishnet stockings and a body which rides up into an ass crack that proudly bears the mark of a tramp stamp. Her wig is elaborately and obviously highlighted. The ensemble, with its flow of hair, its dirty puffa jacket and the empty pram all evoke responses of the abject. “I’ve seen so much gear that’s connected to newborns, rolling piles of stuff with umbrellas sticking out – so I wanted to incorporate that, with a booty and sportswear.”

Anna Uddenberg’s studio. Photo copyright Franz Grünewald

Yet Jasmine is also emblematic of the Yummy Mummy – the hypersexualised maternal figure, a social construction.  Uddenberg is at her happiest subverting the performative aspects of supposedly aspirational figures: the ‘it’ girls and boys that populate “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” or the Daily Mail’s “Sidebar of Shame”. The artist chooses to interpret this agenda via a practice that uses elements of figurative, classical sculpture, where readymade objects stand in for the role of the plinth, sculptures are cast in Styrofoam and resin rather than marble. In the end, the viewer is left to answer the question of whether Uddenberg’s pieces are satire or homage to contemporary lifestyles, as read through the Daily Mail.

Interview by Jeni Fulton


“X is Y” is on show at Sandy Brown, Berlin, until 18 April 2015

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Jeni Fulton

Jeni Fulton

– Dr. des. Jeni Fulton is Sleek’s Editor in Chief. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD on the subject of Value and Evaluation in Contemporary Art from the Humboldt University, Berlin. Her PhD examines how economic assessments of value interact with sociological and critical assessment in the field of contemporary art. She has contributed to Frieze, Spike and Apollo among many publications, and regularly lectures on art economics, art criticism and the contemporary art sphere.

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