The Freedom to Be Free

Interview with artist & model Anna Kuen


Artist and model Anna Kuen from Burghausen, Germany studied painting at the Academy for Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria. She has recently moved to Berlin and shares her thoughts on the various worlds she inhabits.

Where About Now Where do our questions find you?

Anna Kuen In Berlin where I am living and working since about 4 months now.

WAN Where would you rather be while reading these questions?

AK I guess in perspective of our current situation I find it alright to be home and able to continue working in the studio. Having time and no pressure to create is wonderful. Without the pandemic happening, I might have been in some airport or hotel or on set working as a model.

WAN Can you tell us a bit about your double life as model and artist? How, if at all, do they influence each other?

AK I have always been doing art. I went to school for music and art and was lucky to have an all-around humanistic and artistic education reaching from playing instruments to dancing to acting to actually painting. After I finished school it took me a while to figure out what I really want and somehow I started working as a model (I have to admit I really didn’t like it and was very confused by this whole industry at this young age so I quit after maybe 2-3 years). I moved to Vienna thinking I would become a doctor as it seemed such an important job to me, only to find out this was all completely wrong. I applied at the Academy for Fine Arts Vienna and got accepted on the first try – so I took this as a sign and thought well now you are doing what deep down you always knew was your way.

After quite a long break I came back to modeling and started to enjoy this job more. In fact, I started liking it because I know now what I want and am not scared anymore to speak up. Still, the two worlds I am living and working in are very contrary and it takes some discipline to manage it all at once. I thought a lot about how my modeling would affect the art and maybe the image it creates, and I used to be very insecure about being an artist and a model. I realized that this is bullshit and that people will always think different and judge me if they want to, or feel the need to tell me what I should do better. In the end it is me. I am an artist, a painter and a model.

WAN Following you on Instagram, one gets the impression that you (used to) spend a lot of time in so-called non-places (the term non-place refers to a construct by the French anthropologist Marc Augé. Non-places are especially mono-functionally used areas such as airports). How do you see these places compared to your studio in Berlin?

AK I literally see and experience these places as non-places. To spend time in airports or anonymous, always changing but still so-similar hotel rooms feels like a parallel universe, or as if nothing is real. I used to read a lot and watch movies on my phone while having to spend time in these non-places, or call friends and family (which now I do as well but from home). So compared to that my studio space is a completely different world to be in. It is a physical place, a place where I have my feet on the ground, where I am free to express myself. If something of the ‘other world’ bothers me I write it down in my studio diary, it helps me to focus on my artwork.

WAN Can you tell us more about your painting? What are the themes you are interested in and the techniques you use?

AK I am mostly working on the same format (150x180 cm) and I use a mix of acrylics, dispersion and oil paint on canvas. Besides this I work on paper. I used to do a lot of collages which I transformed into paintings. The collage style is still very visible even though I am not really doing the paper collages anymore. I draft ideas very briefly in a sketchbook and develop the paintings directly on canvas. The themes I am working on very often are rooted in mythology and intuitively work around the very original questions of humankind.

WAN When you’re not being someone else’s muse, what are the things which inspire your own practice?

AK As I grew up close to the mountains, the structure of mountains and stones, the sky, nature and natural phenomena find their way into my work. I take my inspirations from observing my surroundings, reading, and I am mostly dreaming of a painting. I like the idea that our memory doesn’t work chronologically. Memories overlap with other memories and merge into a new image.

WAN When you (used to) travel for modeling jobs, how do you begin to engage with and discover a new place?

AK If I have the time which is rare when I travel for modeling jobs, because it is mostly like: airport - hotel - studio / location - hotel - airport, I would simply start walking around the neighborhood, find a cute dinner spot or café and observe the new place I landed. If I travel to a city or country more regularly and have friends there I will of course try to meet them for a quick catch up.

WAN Recently in the new daily newsletter to support artists by Zeit Magazin you spoke about Hannah Arendt’s (1906-75, German-American philosopher and political theorist) book “The freedom to be free” (Die Freiheit, frei zu sein) and how it relates to our current situation. Can you share with us your thoughts on the subject especially in this time of self-isolation?

AK The question of freedom in all its different ways of interpretation and all the different ways to answer it is more up to date than ever I guess, especially in my generation. What does it mean to be free? What relates to this particular question and most importantly: who decides if we are free? Are we even able to make this decision by ourselves?

WAN How does it feel, for a frequent traveler like you, to be in one place (Berlin) for a long time and does this standstill have an effect on your artistic production?

AK I have to admit the beginning of the lockdown was hard for me. I felt numb and unable to move for about three weeks. Slowly I tried to create kind of a routine for myself which helps to not completely get lost in space. I still have ups and downs as I am totally not used to have these daily routines and being forced to give myself a daily structure. I try to take it all day by day. I am trying to go to the studio as much as possible, almost everyday for a few hours and see what happens. By now I found myself being able to paint and create again which feels like awakening from hibernation.

WAN What are you currently working on and where can we see your art in the future?

AK I recently started a new series of big paintings. Besides that I have been working on smaller paintings for quite a long time now and am also doing watercolors when staying home. For now I am not sure where you will be able to see my work in reality next, cause everything got cancelled. You can of course follow my Instagram where I post updates now and then and on my website. As soon as it is possible again I am happy to do one to one studio visits too.

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