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Sculptural Curating

The term plantation can be defined as group of planted trees or plants, but it can also refer to the planting of seeds. One can argue that this is exactly what Trine Stephensen is doing with her bi-annual publication The Plantation Journal.

– My favourite part of a photograph is the process leading up to it, and my favourite part of the process is trial and error.

– Was there ever a time that you failed, or rather, when did you fail the hardest?

– Probably when I studied photography at the London College of Communication. My error was always seeking the finished product, I never wanted to show anything I was working on to my teachers or fellow students until it was absolutely done. I think that’s the biggest error you can make, because this is when the process is at its most exciting, and that’s when people can give you feedback on your work. If you always show a finished product, then your audience doesn’t get a chance to give you their interpretation. If a photograph is already framed it doesn’t open up for a discussion. That has been a valuable lesson to me, learning that the process is often more important than the final product.

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We are meeting Trine at Oslo’s botanical gardens on a sunny autumn afternoon, she is amazed that she’s never been here before. Especially as she loves parks, always strolling around in London’s Hampstead Heath – a haven allowing her to get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. An expat who has called London home for that past seven years, she is back in her native country for a short weekend visit. Her work takes her on plenty of travels, visiting photo exhibitions in places like Amsterdam and Paris, while drawing inspiration from young emerging artists she meets along the way. Or ones she finds online. Being editor of The Plantation Journal is in many ways quite similar to being a curator.

– When I was studying photography, and taking my own photos, it was the research part of it all that really fascinated me… discovering new artists.

– What I enjoy the most is the interaction with other artists, and being able to email and get in touch with galleries and artists I otherwise wouldn’t have had a reason to. The Plantation Journal opens up many possibilities, it gives me a reason to reach out. It is also a lot easier to reach out under The Plantation umbrella, than it was back in the days when I was just reaching out on behalf of my own photography.

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Reaching out as Trine is something she is clearly not comfortable with, but once she puts on that Plantation hat – magic can happen. Like speaking at Offprint, an art publishing fair at TATE Modern in London.

–  Do you think you’ll always prefer it like that? Being in the background?

– I think it’s very nice that way. I mean, it’s the artists, journal and exhibitions I want to promote. One of the reasons it all started was because it was such an exciting time in London, as photography was finally starting to get accepted within the realms of exhibitions and museums. Realms where photography might have been somewhat looked down on before, not considered proper art. But then suddenly artists started to experiment a lot more with what was within the frame. I thought, how can we not only showcase photography, but also explore how it is showcased? These things, together with different printing methods, are what’s important to me.

– We actually use different printing techniques for each journal. And that’s a new way of showcasing artists, because usually their photographs are printed in a similar way every time. If they are shown at one exhibition, they won’t be printed differently for another. But by exploring the possibilities of different printing methods you give their photographs an extra layer, and they are showcased in a way they might not have been beforehand.

– And how do you interact with the artists?

– I choose seven artists for every issue, and I pick three photos from each artist before I contact them. If someone doesn’t answer the email-invitation, or doesn’t want to participate, then I’ll have to find three photos from another artist that goes together with the rest. This time around I am also working with a guest-editor, and the theme of our next issue is going to be sculptural corners.

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– Before we delve into that, tell us a bit more about the Plantation Journal. How did it all start?

– It started in 2012 with Ida Elevine Berge and myself. I had a small studio, still do, on Ridley Road in Dalston. The studio was completely empty when I moved in, so I had the perfect opportunity to put on exhibitions. Within a year we were doing photo exhibitions, but it became too expensive for me to keep the space on my own, so I invited Self Publish Be Happy to join me. They are still there, and I think it’s nice, because they are doing self-publication and they have a great archive of books. In the research-process leading up to one of our exhibitions we decided that we also wanted to have something printed, something people could keep and treasure… because an exhibition is usually just there, and then poof it’s gone. There’s no trace left remaining. So I wanted something that could become more of a collector’s item, and decided upon a series of publications. It kind of started with me finding different artists I wanted to feature in the journal, and then looking at what they had in common. As it turned out, they all worked within sculptural photography. So that has become the thread that follows each journal, although they all have a different theme. Like the first one was on sculptural photography, followed by sculptural body, sculptural landscape, sculptural geometry – and now sculptural corners.

– What is it about sculpture that fascinates you?

– For me it’s about seeing a photographer being in control of the whole processes of a photo, it’s the complete opposite to documentary photography where the photographer takes a picture of something that already exists. It is exciting when the photographer also become the artist, and creates something he or she then takes a photo of. We only get to see the frame the photographer has selected. This is the way one works with sculptural photography, and that’s why we work differently with the journal and our exhibitions.

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The Plantation project is much more than the bi-annual journal, it is also a studio – or an exhibition space – and a collective. The latter is an online-based project where the themes of the journal and exhibitions are taken one step further, and where the photographers are given a voice to explain the process behind their photographs. Sculptural photography is about process, and that’s why the three platforms work so well together. Coming together, like plants, or seeds, growing.

And for the curious, the name The Plantation derives from Trine’s previous projects, which all seemed to be circling around plants of some sort. She felt the connotation of the word was fitting for the journal. It also makes meeting here, at the botanical gardens, seem rather fitting. We walk around, say hello to the cactus, admiring the orange autumn leaves that sparkle in the late-afternoon sun, before continuing our conversation.

Although, not a long-term planner, Trine has started a master in contemporary art theory at Goldsmiths University. She chose contemporary art theory over curating, as she wanted to meet people in all different sections of the arts, and because it allows her to specialize in the direction she wants to go. With The Plantation project she aspires to put on even more exhibitions in the future, because the journal and the exhibitions are never the same, they are both there to compliment each other.

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 – After flipping through an issue of The Plantation Journal, what mark do you want to leave on the reader?

– When in comes to the journal, each journal has a text written by someone who works within that technique or field. I hope that people who buy the journal will read that text, so they can see a connection between the photos. I give the writer full artistic freedom, and only ask for all photographs to be mentioned. Viewing photos together in a holistic context, although originally very different from each other, creates a discussion, and I hope people will see that there is a discussion between the photos printed in the journal.

– Do you ever get tired, or is it always fun?

I think it’s loads of fun, because everything always feels new, but also because I meet fantastic people who are interested in what I do and who wants to lend a hand. I think to myself that as long as people are interested and ask questions, I want to continue down this road.

More on Trine Stephensen Here // Get The Plantation Journal Here

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