Prologue | Personal
Fiona, imagine if the pandemic did not dominate our lives at the moment and we could meet in your home or in your studio. Where do we talk together? I work in a large industrial building 2 blocks from my home in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve had my studio here for 15 years. Freight trains go by outside my window, and I can see the foothills of the Rocky mountains over the city rooftops. The building is filled with other painters, sculptors, wood workers and framers. My studio oscillates between a crowded mess, and a tidy, open space.
Studio in Vancouver, 2021
Maybe we are sitting at your favorite place? My studio my favorite place. Every morning that I unlock the door and walk in, I’m struck by how lucky I am. Where do you come from, where were you born when? I was born in Canada in 1978 and grew up in Montreal. I moved to Vancouver for a new experience in when I was 21.
Fiona Ackerman, Portrait, 2021
How and where do you currently live and work? I live and work in Vancouver, Canada. My studio is in a large warehouse very close to where I live with my husband and 12-year-old son. Which stations and people have shaped you? My upbringing and education have certainly shaped me. My mother is a writer who raised me alone while running a theatre company in Montreal. She nurtured and encouraged all artistic interest. I went to an art and music focused public school in Montreal and sang in a choir. It was natural to play music and make art in our home. As an older teenager, I met my father, a German painter and studied painting with him for years after.
Studio in Vancouver, 2021
Which writers do you currently find exciting and which books are on your bookshelf? I love Miranda July, Chris Kraus, Siri Hustvedt, Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti, Julian Barnes… But also, I’ve been a part of a very active book club with a small group of close friends for six years. We read around 20 books a year, so my bookshelf is eclectic. On the shelf right now are books I’ve read while developing my current exhibition at Galerie Kremers Berlin. The show looks at Metamorphosis, transformation and living in-between two states. There is Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Robert Anton Wilson’s The Cosmic Trigger, Ovid’s The Metamorphoses, A biography of 17th century scientific artist Maria Sibylla Merian by Kim Todd and several others.
Fiona Ackerman working in her studio, 2019
Which books have influenced or shaped you? I really enjoyed and learned a lot from Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature, about the life and legacy of Alexander von Humboldt. Reading about the influence that his discoveries and philosophy has had on the development of environmental thought has been very inspiring. I also loved Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick. All of life is a “blank screen onto which we can project our fantasies”. What are you currently reading and where do you keep the book? I read a number of books at once; among them at the moment is The Reason for Flowers by Stephen Buchmann. I just picked up a copy of Laline Paull’s The Bees, and I don’t think anything has satisfied my own pandemic emotional storm like Voltaire’s Candide. I keep the books in a pile by my sofa in the winter, or by my chair on the balcony where I sit in the summertime.
Studio in Vancouver, 2021
What music do you listen to and when? I listen to music everywhere, at home, at the studio, buying groceries, sleeping. My tastes are wide ranging, but lean on the heavy side. If you would cook something for us, what would it be? Hmmm… A cheese platter and hors d’oeuvres? I’m fine at cooking, but not very interested. What do you like to eat most? I like anything that mingles different textures and temperatures, especially if prepared by someone else. What do you think about breakfast? I don’t care for breakfast. Unless “breakfast” is code, or something else that I’ve never heard of, in which case, I’m intrigued! But otherwise, coffee please.
Studio in Vancouver, 2021
What kind of sport or counterbalance to your work do you practice? I’m not especially sporty, but am often very restless. I do the usual things one does when trying to maintain a level of fitness, regular running, swimming.. In the warm months I play tennis alone against a nearby warehouse wall. There must be at least 40 tennis balls on that roof by now. Do you have special passions for which you are burning, and if so, which ones? I play quite a lot of music, alone now, but with my band KCAR before Covid-19. I’m really looking forward to that starting again. We’ve all been so quiet. What personality trait defines you? Hopefully none of the ones I try to cover up! That’s a better question for those who know me. There is probably a gap between how we see ourselves, and a how other do, but I would say that I’m the kind of person who invests deeply in things that I care about.
Fiona Ackerman in her studio in Vancouver, 2020
Interview | Artist + Position
To begin, please tell us your artistic vita in a few sentences.
Fiona Ackerman lives and works in Vancouver Canada. She studied fine art at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. Her work has been in many exhibitions and art fairs in North America, Europe and Asia. In addition to her painting practice, recent projects include large size murals, video projections and collaborative music-video projects.
Briefly explain your current project / the upcoming exhibition.
At the time of writing this, I’m opening a new exhibition titled Metamorphosis: The Cosmic Tiger at Galerie Kremers Berlin. Through a series of new paintings and a collaborative video/music piece made with musician Arjan Miranda (NY), the work explores metamorphosis and the cocoon experience of being in transition. Created concurrently, the paintings and video draw from each other, referencing Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the Zhuangzi Butterfly Dream and the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment along the way.
Video “I Am Strange On The Inside” by Arjan Miranda and Fiona Ackerman, 2021
What are you most concerned about at the moment; what is on your mind?
A list comes to mind, but I prefer to focus on how much is ok at this moment, and to live in gratitude.
How did you come to art? Why art?
I grew up with a single mother who ran a theatre company in Montreal. I attended an art & music focused public school, moving on to study fine art in college and then university. I met my father, a German painter as a teenager. My becoming an artist seems in retrospect, natural, and inevitable. While being a painter is not an easy road, I’ve never had to worry about what to do with my life, only how to do it.
What makes you happy at the moment?
After many years holding a solitary studio practice as a painter, I’ve recently been seeking out opportunities to collaborate with other artists in other disciplines. I’ve been exploring video and animation, and I play a lot of music. My current exhibition at Galerie Kremers Berlin includes a collaborative video/music piece with musician Arjan Miranda (NY). What makes me happy these days is to create opportunities that challenge others to try something new, and for them to inspire the unexpected in me.
Fiona Ackerman, The Transformation of Things, 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 66″ x 40″
What is currently scaring you?
I try not to allow any space for my fears to grow. Fear is a debilitating emotion.
Do you believe that art has a social responsibility? And what do you think it can do?
I don’t think art has any specific or unique responsibility, but I do believe all art has social value and power. Art is one of the very important ways that we as a species, as cultures, express who we are and what we value. It’s a way to share the experience of our existence. That experience is very complex, and requires a vast spectrum of expression, many kinds of art.
What makes your art special? What is it about – what are the central themes of your work?
I work from exhibition to exhibition, or project to project. Each explore the theme or subject that I’m invested in at the time. Subjects have ranged from music, to Foucault’s concept of Herterotopic space, to botanical history and now to metamorphosis. As my curiosities evolve, the painting style follows. Over the years my work has changed in many ways, ranging from surrealistic, to abstract, and now video.
Read Fiona Ackerman’s answer further in THE DEED | DAS WERK.
Fiona Ackerman, The Cosmic Tiger, 2021, Acryl auf Leinwand, 47.25″ x 55″
How do you protect yourself from too much inspiration these days?
I haven’t experienced what ‘too much inspiration’ might be. I love to dive into a subject and to be consumed by it. In this state, it often feels like any accidental happening or chance discovery is related to whatever I am absorbed in. Everything inspires it. It’s a wonderful feeling to be immersed.
How much in your works is planned in advance – how much is created intuitively?
I don’t usually plan work in advance, with the exception of my Heterotopia and Glasslands series (for which I worked from photography). Mostly, I start with unstretched canvas on my studio floor.
What are your (next) goals?
I have new painting / video / music projects that I’m excited to run after! Coming out of the pandemic, I am especially motivated to find new international connections and opportunity for travel.
What is your opinion about faith? Do you have principles of faith or is there a motto?
A loaded word! But of course someone who’s been a painter for over 20 years has faith. There have been many times when I might have given up, but I always had faith I would find a way to survive as a painter. If there is a motto, it would be that there is no answer without a question. When you are able to articulate what want, what you don’t understand or what you need, you are more than half way to finding what you need.
Fiona Ackerman, Time I, 2021, 48″ x 40″
Which project would you still like to realize, if lack of time, courage or financial resources would not play a role?
At some future time when I have less family commitments I would like to do a residency somewhere.
What do you consider to be attributes of good art?
Hmm.. What qualifies as successful art to me is artwork that is skillfully created, demonstrating an understanding of composition, colour and form. Further, art that touches on something in my conscious/subconscious. Art can reflect aspects of ourselves that we can’t put into words. It can be humour, pain, love … When this happens, an artwork becomes good (to me) by virtue of becoming meaningful.
Is one born as an artist*? Or is studying art compulsory in your view?
Yes, I think one is born an artist. All humans are creative beasts. Also yes, studying is compulsory – though education may take many forms. I believe I was born with an curiosity that drives my work and fuels my commitment to this career choice. However, it’s equally important to have a good art education. This education can come from anywhere. Though I studied art in university, everything I learned about painting was from my father, Berlin painter Gregor Hiltner.
Fiona Ackerman, Kafka, 2021, Acryl auf Papier, 10″ x 8″
To whom do you show a new work first?
This has changed over the years. Lately, Instagram..
What does the first hour of your day look like?
On a weekday, I wake up at 6:50 and start drinking coffee. Then I begin the hurried process of getting my 12-year-old son ready for school. At 8am, he leaves to walk to school and the rest of the day begins.
In Times of the internet of things, are galleries still necessary? If so, why and what for?
For the kind of work I’m currently doing, galleries are necessary because exhibitions are necessary. Having a physical space and the curatorial framework to present an exhibition is important. It can be shared widely over the internet, but there is much more value in the live experience and putting forward a body of work. I’m also not that interested in spending a lot of my time on the business side of art. I’d rather focus on making the work.
Fiona Ackerman & Arjan Miranda, I Am Strange on the Inside, Video Still 1
Social media – in your view a blessing or a curse?
I love social media, mostly. For me, it’s been a blessing. When my son was younger and I couldn’t travel much, it gave me access to a world that would have been out of reach. I’ve also been having a lot of fun with it during this pandemic, writing, recording and making videos with friends remotely to share online.
Epilogue | Current
The solo exhibition Metamorphosis II – The Cosmic Tiger with new works by Fiona Ackerman is visible from 29 April to 3 July 2021 at the gothic hall of Galerie Kremers, Schmiedehof 17, 10965 Berlin–Kreuzberg. This is the artist’s third solo exhibition at Galerie Kremers. You can reach the gallery under email@example.com, Tel.: +49 30 46 99 80 68 or Mobile: +49 176 64 72 72 47.
In times of Corona, when travel, studio visits and personal contacts are inappropriate or even impossible, the written interview remains an important medium to introduce artist personalities, to spread their messages and to stay in touch with art lovers. The interviews are not edited or shortened by the editors and are always reproduced in original sound. Therefore, we do not translate the interview into English or German, unless this is submitted by the interviewee.
This post is also available in: Deutsch