"I’m always interested in images of models as an attempt to represent how an architect imagines people might experience the building that they have designed."
Sam van Strien, Artist.
Taking art to the Edge of Europe: Sam van Strien in Bergen
Sam van Strien is an artist based in London (born in Delft in the Netherlands). He is currently an artist-in-residence at USF Arts Centre in Bergen, Norway. After earning a BA in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins in London, where he was also an Erasmus Student at the National Academy of the Arts in Oslo, he went on to complete an MFA from Ohio State University. Sam has exhibited in the USA, UK, France and Norway. He is a member of Acme Studios in London.
Much of Sam’s work is driven by questions that relate to how and where people experience architecture and how these encounters might change. He engages with his theme through direct and mediated experiences of architecture, using rubbings of buildings, as well as photographs and texts that he sources from architects' archives.
British Council Norway caught up with Sam, now two months into his residency, and found out what he really thinks about architecture and design in this west coast city on the edge of northern Europe.
Tell us about your time in Bergen and at the USF so far?
The residency is going very well. I’ve been working in my studio at USF for the past six weeks, engrossed in my work. I will stay installed here until the end of September. The space is large and has views overlooking the sea. It’s a marvellous space in which to be making art; it allows me both to ruminate and to focus.
I’ve also had time to get to know members of the cultural community here. I’ve met artists and architects, and have been to events such as those hosted by Bergen Kunsthall. With the natural landscape so close by, there have been quite a few hikes in the mountains surrounding Bergen and a few opportunities to go swimming in the sea just outside USF.
What kind of work have you been developing?
I’ve been making a series of drawings, rubbings and photographic prints that respond to modern and contemporary architecture in Bergen. They partly rely on the archives of Mad, an architecture firm based in Bergen that was behind Media City (a prominent corporate building in the Bergen and a centre for media companies in the region). In short, I’ve been looking at the model that the architects who built Media City made, and how they photographed this model. I trace these images and project them as the starting point for my drawings. I’m always interested in images of models as an attempt to represent how an architect imagines people might experience the building that they have designed. Contemporary architects tend to use visual renderings to represent how they envisage a building. I’m curious as to whether a physical model shapes our experience of architecture differently from visual models.
Tell us about your working process
I’ve made rubbings from the Media City building in the public square designed by the architects. I’ve then etched on top of the rubbings using a laser-cutting machine. The image that is cut into the rubbings with the laser comes from a photograph of the surface of the public square. I’m keen to recognise how these rubbings could be experienced as simultaneously abstract and real, detached from and in relation to the building itself.
Has the art scene in Bergen captured your heart?
Bergen’s variety of cultural institutions cannot fail to impress, and there is a lively arts scene that envelops the city and makes one feel immensely supported as a young artist. Many people who come from abroad to train stay on for longer, and that is a major plus.
The most interesting visits I’ve made have been to the Aleda and Bergen Ateliergruppe, which is in a building in the working port of Bergen. Bergen Kunsthall has some great exhibitions, too, such as Torbjørn Rødland and Andrea Büttner whose work was recently on show. There are also inspiring film screenings and artist talks. Other galleries, such as Entrée, Hordaland Kunstsenter, and the Art Academy, are hubs for ideas, too. And of course, USF has exhibitions in its gallery space, as well as gigs, festivals, performances and screenings. As a resident, I can attend these for free. I am loving being immersed in culture 24/7!
Has your interest in architecture developed since you arrived in Bergen?
At the start of my residency, I met Celia Glanfield of Mad architects, who was on the team behind the Media City building. We discussed the building and looked through the drawings, photographs and videos that they produced during the design and construction of the building. One of the highlights of this meeting was our ensuing conversation, which concentrated on how artists and architects can think about architecture completely differently. It was an eye-opener. I then returned to the studio with a fresh energy with which to develop ideas and drawings based on the materials that were part of the original Media City building scheme.
An exhibition by architect Cristian Stefanescu and artist Apichaya Wanthiang at Hordaland Kunstsenter also changed my approach to architecture and the built environment. This duo collaborates on projects to create installations and environments in the gallery. My curiosity stemmed from how they wrote about their work. I decided to meet Cristian to discuss this, and to hear more about the architectural scene in Bergen and his personal perspective as an architect who also engages with artistic practice. Cristian teaches at the Bergen Architecture School, so I was able to visit and see their Architecture diploma exhibition at the same time.
From a historic and contemporary perspective, I’ve found Bergen an especially exciting city to look at. The range of buildings here is remarkable, from the wooden houses of Bryggen where the merchants and fishermen lived, to the modernist architecture of Grieghallen and Bergen City Hall. The surrounding landscape of mountains and sea cannot fail to amaze.
What are your objectives for the rest of your stay at USF?
There are a fair few! A series of drawings from the architectural model need to be finished, and I’ll be making rubbings and photographic prints until the end of the residency. I also plan to meet a few other architects, such as 3RW, who’ve built a lot of contemporary architecture in Bergen and abroad, and MIR, who portray unbuilt architecture, as well as artists and curators. At the end of my residency I’ll have an Open Studio event to display the work I’ve done here. I’ve no doubt that the next few weeks will fly by, and I will relish every moment.