Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday Artist: Trine Bumiller (Interview)

Trine Bumiller, Prayer Flags for Peace
Installation View
All Images Courtesy of Trine Bumiller

I have been following the professional career of artist Trine Bumiller since 2013, when I first spotlighted her in an Artist Watch column at the online arts magazine Escape Into Life. Recently, Trine, who lives and works in Colorado, wrote to let me know of her selection for a solo exhibition at the XXXIII International Festival — Sarajevo Winter 2017 — Silk Road Art. Trine's installation, Prayer Flags for Peace, a remarkably timely artwork, will be on view at Sarajevo's Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina from February 7 through February 17.

One of the best ways I know to celebrate such an honor is to interview the artist and highlight the event for art enthusiasts. Amid preparations to fly to Sarajevo for the exhibition opening and reception on February 7, Trine graciously took time to answer my questions via e-mail and to select for my use a number of installation photos.

Maureen Doallas: Is this the first time you've participated in an international arts festival, Trine?

Trine Bumiller: This is the second. I was part of two group shows during last year's festival. I was showing with the Artnauts, a collective that uses the arts to address global issues and exhibits in places where peace is at risk; the collective has had exhibitions in more than 30 countries. ["Sarajevo Winter", as it is known, is an annual, themed event for artists and festival goers. The first "Sarajevo Winter" festival was in 1984-1985.] 

MD: How did you learn about this particular festival and the solo exhibition opportunity?

TB: Since I had participated the year before and had traveled to Sarajevo for the XXXII Festival, I was able to see the other excellent solo exhibitions there: a film in an installation by Klitsa Antoniou of Cyprus and an exhibition of photographs by the Finnish visual artist Sophia Ehrnrooth. Seeing those me wonder if I might be able to participate in some way in the future.

I discovered there was an online call for proposals and decided I would submit something for the following year. The call imposed no limitations on what could be submitted and, having seen the exhibitions spaces, I knew they would be appropriate for my work. I believe that Ibrahim Spahic, who directs the festival, may have been partially responsible for the decision [to choose me], along with a committee of local professionals.

After that, I forgot about the festival until I submitted a proposal for the Artnauts's 20th Anniversary Exhibition in Denver, Colorado.

MD: What originally inspired you to create the artwork for the exhibition in the States? What, if any, critical feedback did you receive? What, if any, changes to the work did you make for the Artnauts show or for this year's festival exhibition?

TB: My inspiration was the call for proposals for the anniversary exhibition "Rally 'Round the Flag of Justice" at the nonprofit Redline Contemporary Art Center in Denver (the show ran from November 2016 to January 2017). Artists could interpret "flags" in any way we wished, in any material we wanted to use. 

The project proposal I submitted, consisting of drawings and a project description, was accepted and, from the outset, received enthusiastic support from the curator, Linda Weintraub, an art writer out of Seattle.

The original idea was for an installation comprising strings of small flags imprinted with prayers and hung outside as positive offerings of prayers for peace, health, and happiness. Subsequent to the original proposal's acceptance, I made refinements.

My thought was to use 360 fabric flags, similar to Tibetan prayer flags, each of which would bear visually a prayer in old Bosnian writing, which I meant to symbolize prayers of hope for a future of peace. When I realized I would have a difficult time finding enough written examples, I looked through my many photos from earlier travels in Sarajevo and Bosnia and decided to use some of them. Friends in Bosnia helped by sending other images I've incorporated, and I also used images (floor plans, maps, etc.) reproduced from historical sources such as museums. Each of these represents a story — a thought or an idea for peace — made visible. Each also connotes an act of remembering.

Trine Bumiller, Prayer Flags for Peace (Detail)
Installation View

Over the graphic reproductions I've superimposed what are called, ironically, "Sarajevo Roses". The idea for these came from having observed firsthand on damaged city buildings and pavement the imprints left by the thousands of mortar shells that were exploded during the siege; some of these imprints were preserved by filling them in with red resin, which gives them the appearance of red roses. Using photographs of actual Sarajevo Roses that I found on the Internet, I hand-painted in red, one by one, each of the superimposed images, as if chanting my own prayers repeatedly and ritualistically. Each "rose" thus stands for a meditation on the act of prayer and is a graphic representation of a historical event that caused damage and blood-shed and resulted in lives changed and lost.

Trine Bumiller, Prayer Flags for Peace (Detail)
Installation View

The number of flags is 360, or the average number of mortars that fell on Sarajevo each day of the four-year siege of the city, from 1992 to 1996. In all, there are 24 strings of flag, one for every hour of the day. The strings are anchored with rubble, that ubiquitous materials from demolition and construction, to convey the idea of destruction and rebuilding.

Also, I had considered making all the flags white but ultimately decided to stay with the traditional colors of the Bosnian flag (blue, yellow, and white) and make the work more festive and hope-filled.

I changed my original concept from flags hung across a space (like a clothesline) to flags hung from a central point in the ceiling (like a maypole). Originally, I changed my idea to better reflect the "Rally 'Round" theme, because, one, I thought it might be easier to place the work in the exhibition space without having to find adjacent walls and, two, I could create a space that could be entered, making it almost like a sanctuary, somewhere to stand and look up at the flags, to think and hope and interact. For purposes of this year's festival, I used the circular arrangement to reference a central meeting point, a place not only to come together but also to shelter or take refuge. (I like the power a circular space connotes; I explored it once before, in 2013, when I created an outdoor installation I titled Stanza).

Prayer Flags for Peace, Installation View

The circular shape of the installation echoes the shape of the Sarajevo Roses, mosque ceilings, and other Bosnian archetypes.

When I saw that the theme for this year's festival was "Silk Road Art", I knew I had to submit my proposal for the installation from the Redline show. The original concept of prayer flags is from Tibet and Nepal in the East, and inherent in my piece is this concept of transmigration: I am transferring my ideas West to Sarajevo — transporting them, if you will, across time and place, across borders and continents, the way the Silk Road was used to trade or exchange goods. Also, I grew up with a Danish mother who told me stories about her years in occupied Denmark. Having listened to Bosnians' stories of their experiences in 1992-1996, I felt I had to respect and honor them in some way in my art. Thus, over three continents and many years of history comes this piece, Prayer Flags for Peace, constructed with images from my earlier visit there, connected to Sarajevo's recorded history, and depicting representations of all our hopes for a peaceful future.

Trine Bumiller, Prayer Flags for Peace (Detail)
Installation View

MD: Can you give us a sense of the time that elapsed between your conception of the installation and its initial Redline showing and then your subsequent submission to the festival?

TB: I submitted my proposal for the Redline show in April 2016. I submitted the proposal to "Sarajevo Winter" in October 2016.

I installed the work at Redline in November 2016, and it was up through January 2017. While it was up, I took several good installation shots and sent those to the festival's art selection committee, even though the deadline had passed. I felt it couldn't hurt to put the photos in front of the committee. I received my response from the committee in December 2016.

MD: What do you  think made your submission stand out from all the other artists' works?

TB: I don't know what the others were like, so that's a hard question to answer. I know that mine probably was unusual, particularly in its format, and, perhaps because it incorporated images from Bosnia, it stood out.

MD: How were you notified of your selection?

TB: I received an e-mail telling me I had been selected. I was visiting my mother (the same Danish mother), who lives in Arizona and suffers from dementia, which influences my work about memory. The last line of the letter was, "Welcome to Sarajevo", a famous slogan seen throughout the city during the Olympics, and, ironically, one that appears in photographs from the war years. It was very meaningful to me.

MD: Do you recall your initial reaction(s) to the news?

TB: I was thrilled and very emotional. This is an international fair, with artists from more than 1,500 countries (according to the press release), so to be selected is both humbling and an honor.

I admit, too, that the thought of bringing a work with images of Sarajevo back to Sarajevo made me a little nervous.

MD: Will the various components of the installation travel with you to Sarajevo or precede your arrival there? What preparations must you make to get the artwork where it needs to go and then get it installed on site?

TB: I will be bringing the work and its hardware with me in my carry-on luggage. My experience with Artnauts taught me to travel with my art in my carry-on so that it doesn't get lost. The installation unassembled fits into a very small space—something I didn't anticipate as being an advantage when I first conceived of the piece.

The bricks that anchor the piece were always meant to be rough like rubble and from the location where it's displayed. For the installation in Denver, I used rubble I found in an alley. In Sarajevo, some blocks from the building facade were found (I'm guessing they were left over from damage during the war) and I will use them; they will have a special meaning there.

I will be installing the work myself (with some help!) once I get there.

MD: This is not your first trip to Sarajevo, as you've noted. What from that earlier trip left its deepest impression on you, and why?

TB: The earlier trip was because of the Artnaut shows in the festival a year ago. That marked my first time traveling with the Artnauts and its founder, Dr. George Rivera, and three other artists. George was giving sound art performances as "Dr. Tsonik and the Amazonian Jazz Orchestra"; we all performed in it. it was great fun. We traveled with a local Bosnian artist, Edis Vojic, and got to meet many local people, to talk with them and hear their stories. One thing that struck me is that all the locals we met had been through this horrible event but remained very optimistic people, people who just wanted peace. I think this is why I was inspired to make Prayer Flags for Peace a hopeful artwork.

MD: What will become of the installation when the festival exhibition closes?

TB: I will have left Sarajevo before the show is over. The piece may travel to a small town, Bihac, or stay at the museum; I hope to donate it. If no one wants it, I suppose it will be abandoned. I feel okay about that. The work will have been in two wonderful exhibitions and returned to its place of origin.

MD: Do you have any thoughts as to what effects, if any, your participation in this festival might have on your career?

TB: I don't really think about that. I am just happy to have the opportunity to show my work in this setting and to share it and its meanings with a broad audience. I am looking forward to and am hopeful that visitors will take away something from it.

MD: What's next for you?

TB: Currently, I am having a show of new work in New York City at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, and a selection from my 100 Paintings for 100 Years series about Rocky Mountain National Park will be at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, Oregon, throughout February. Everything is a little far-flung at the moment!

There will be an Artnauts exhibition at the University of Texas at Austin in March; the university is acquiring the Artnauts collection.

In the fall, I will have three paintings in the inaugural show at the newly re-opening Kirkland Museum in Denver.

And, last, I have been invited to participate in a Colorado women's show on the theme of pink to commemorate the first anniversary of our historic Women's March.

Thank you so much, Trine, for sitting for this interview. I wish you great success in Sarajevo and throughout 2017.

Trine also has a small watercolor in the Artnauts exhibition, Meta Journey, at this year's festival; that show, curated by George Rivera, opens February 9.

To my blog readers and followers of Artist Watch: Look for my "Catching Up with Artist Watch Artists" columns, which I periodically post here at Writing Without Paper to celebrate the artists' many successes and honors.


Photo of Trine Bumiller at Robishon Gallery courtesy of the artist.

The Opening Program of the XXXIII International Festival — Sarajevo Winter 2017 can be found at the festival's Website. It is in English in pdf.

Read about the Historical Museum.

Trine Bumiller Website

Robischon Gallery

Artist Watch at Escape Into Life

1 comment:

Trine Bumiller said...

It was an honor to be interviewed by you Maureen. Thank you so much for your in depth interviews and copious posts on artists. Your support of the arts is invaluable.