Although the Vancouver-based artist works primarily in photography, her artistic practice also incorporates sculpture, collage, and film. Tergesen finds inspiration at her local supermarket, simultaneously picking up groceries for cooking and materials for art-making. In the studio, she meticulously prepares her ingredients (fruits, meats, flowers, vintage fabrics, found food imagery, etc.), transforming familiar objects into surreal arrangements. In her latest exhibition, Tergesen continues to explore the domestic sphere and gender roles therein.
Since graduating from Emily Carr University in 2020, her work has been gaining much attention. Two photo-based series in particular, distinct for their uncanny use of cut-and-arranged fruit in uncanny ways, Garnished Sundries and Crudités, have literally appeared across the city (on City of Vancouver bus shelters at the Marine Drive Canada Line Station as part of the 2022 Capture Photography Festival), and in exhibitions at galleries such as The Polygon Gallery, Telephone Gallery, and Macaulay & Co. Fine Art.
Read on to learn about the artist’s process and inspirations…
Your work usually begins as a sculpture or collage. How does your studio look and smell when you’re creating a new work?
My worktable is littered with foods in varying states of freshness, vases of declining flowers, knives, X-Acto blades, greasy paper towels and cutting boards. I’m often wading through heaps of fabric and paper strewn across the floor, that I’ve pulled out to create makeshift backdrops. After a while the room develops this salty, sweet smell —like rotting fruit juice. This sculptural part of the process doesn’t mesh well with photography, which is best done with clean hands to manipulate my cameras, lenses and lights. The arrangements decompose quickly under the heat of the strobes, so I have to work hastily to capture the image before something shifts. It’s chaotic and messy but I think this can facilitate a sense of playfulness and experimentation that leads to a fertile artistic space.
What was the inspiration or impetus for using food – predominantly produce – in your work?
I wasn’t raised around a lot of art, so typical artistic materials like paint or clay weren’t familiar to me. However, I was taught how to prepare and appreciate food from a young age. So this material felt not only accessible to me but beautiful and malleable, as well. I am also always thinking about how to make art sustainable for myself, and being able to accomplish my weekly grocery shopping and getting my art supplies at the same time helps me continue my practice. I work out of my home, too, so art making is never a separate activity from the other aspects of my life.
What can viewers expect to see in your new exhibition at the Audain Art Museum?
You can expect to see a mix of framed works and large vinyl wallpaper. It’s sort of like a decomposition of the still life into its various parts — flowers, meats, fruits, fabrics — and then the elements are reconstituted and brought back together into new forms and combinations.
What inspires the patterns you create out of the cut fruit and vegetables? Do they reference a specific time period, culture, and/or location?
I’m an avid knitter and I love the diamond pattern quilts and granny squares used in vernacular textile work – a lot of the diamond patterning I use is inspired by that. Recently, I’ve been very inspired by antique fabrics and design elements dating from 1730-1920. Floral lace, bows and curvilinear lines feature more prominently in my newer work. I am also really drawn to the presentation strategies used in 1950s and 60s era magazines. The way images are lit, the film stocks used, and the colour palettes from that era are really compelling to me.
Svava Tergesen: Ornamental Cookery is on view at Audain Art Museum from April 1st to June 11th, 2023, as Capture Photography Festival ‘Featured Exhibition’, curated by Emmy Lee Wall. Regular admission is $20 (+GST). Museum hours are Thursday through Sunday, from 11am-6pm.