Zoe Berg: Our Last Summer

Zoe Berg Sculpture

Body Pillow (Grandma), 2014 Fabric, permanent marker, foam 24 in x 36 in.

Austin native Zoe Berg has created an astounding body of work relating to her identity as a Norwegian American, family influences, childhood ephemera, and mythology. Receiving her BFA in Studio Art with a minor equivalent in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013, Berg has shown her work throughout Texas, including an absolutely stunning 2013 exhibition at the Visual Arts Center in Austin. A self-proclaimed water baby and lover of the Norwegian-Danish sculptor Stephan Sinding, Berg is an amazing example of a talented young artist working in Texas today.

GL: First, talk a little bit about your current body of work and its focus on fantasy, worship, aging, your Norwegian heritage, and more. How did this work come to be and how has it progressed through the process of its creation?

Zoe Berg: About a year ago, I began my current work–Our last summer–the title, pulled from the 1980 Abba hit. I had thrown together a green screen performance, incorporating a yellow light as the “sun”; two occupational therapy props (a sock aid and a grabber arm); Abba’s song, Our Last Summer; and one of my grandfather’s postcards depicting Sognefjord in Norway. This video marked the beginning of my new work; I knew that I wanted it to involve weather and melancholy, embracing the bittersweet shortness and intensity of Nordic summers. Coincidentally, I acquired a box from my step-grandmother of my grandfather’s photographs. As we started to look through them, we found several images of mysterious, unrecognized women; my grandfather must have met them during his teenage summer travels throughout Europe. I now portray the women in the work (often cast alongside Anni-Frid and Agnetha of Abba) as they reference his youth and the romance of summer. Then, contrasting his youth, I abstractly represent my aging grandmother–by donning nightgowns or muumuus as performance garments, using OT aids, and through the Norse goddess, Freyja.

Zoe Berg Sculpture

Mystery women (1&2) of my grandfather’s teenage life with Raindrop frame, 2013. Gouache, acrylic, ink, and pastel on bristol 
Frame: Paper mache, wood, latex paint, spray paint, pastel, glitter glue 33 in x 24 in

GL: Using methods and materials that have strong ties to craft, children’s playthings and perhaps even DIY culture, how do you think about your work in terms of feminism, nostalgia, and reverence? Do you see crossovers between these three ideas?

ZB: My work deals with longing and the past and is perhaps sentimental, but I try to represent it differently than nostalgic, making it relevant now and not archiving it, not labeling it as something that happened and is done and only exists to reflect on with warm, fuzzy feelings. Working with time-based media–performance, video, non-archival materials used in my sculptures–and my family’s history, I am conscious of dates and how they mirror the present. Much of my work uses craft elements from the 1970s (also Abba’s heyday). I see the 1970s as a midway point in time, beginning with my grandmother born in 1933, leading to the present, 2014. I view these parallel chapters of time and choose materials, books that I’m reading, documents, images, and music to be folded into my work accordingly. I am extremely sincere in my methods, chosen materials, and respect for women and craft. I also love the accessibility, creativity, and precise simplicity of children’s and community theatre.

Zoe Berg Sculpture

Cookie Jar/Urn (Kjell) on Rainbow Bridge (Bifrost), 2014. Vessel: Cat litter, glitter, salt, pigment, epoxy resin, party light bulb Plinth: Wood, acrylic and latex paint, hardware, latch hook rug 7.25 in x 8.75 in x 53 in.

GL: How do you go about creating your own myth? How do choose materials and how do they dialogue with the creation of your own myth spanning several genres?

ZB: Through storytelling, presented within my performances and installations, I develop a language of visual cues to be accessed like a myth. I am like a zany explorer, translating memories and histories ideally to evoke a more universal understanding of life and nature. In recent work, to extend beyond my family, I portray my grandmother–and furthermore womanhood–through Freyja, a Norse goddess, equipped with a cat-drawn chariot. The connection between felinity and femininity appears infinite. I have begun by casting objects in cat litter and creating fertility goddesses from cat toys.

GL: How long have you been a part of the Austin art scene? How has your involvement shifted over time and what changes have you seen?

Zoe Berg Sculpture

Luv Tears, 2013
Latex paint, gesso, and MDF on canvas 30 in x 48 in.

ZB: I was born and raised in Austin but left in 2008 to attend college in Madison, Wisconsin, for two years. I returned in 2011 to finish my BFA at The University of Texas at Austin and have recently moved to Denton, Texas, to live with my muse, my grandmother. While in Austin, I found the university to have a strong presence within the art scene. Additionally, because Austin lacks a major art museum, the community is largely artist-run and open to showing all kinds of work. Most recently, I have seen changes in The Contemporary Austin, which is curating more exciting shows and establishing helpful programs for Austin artists. MASS Gallery, the Visual Arts Center, and Co-Lab Projects are crucial to the scene and amazing in their contribution.

GL: In one short sentence, how would you describe the art scene in Austin?

ZB: Supportive network of smart and kind folks, working to make interesting things happen.

To see more of Berg’s work hop on over to zoeberg.net

By Gracelee Lawrence

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