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From Taxidermy to Technology: The Evolution of Winged Art in Hanna Antonsson's Work
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N: Hi Hanna, how are you? Can you tell us a bit more about where you grew up and how you fell into art?

H: Hi! I grew up in the forest side of Sweden in an idyllic Astrid Lindgren setting surrounded by different animals and motor driven vehicles. I started out with photography as a teen on the internet and spent a lot of time on Tumblr which sparked my interest enough to study photography. I studied for some years in my early 20s but dropped out because I felt I had to do something more important and took a normal job and traveled for a few years.

When I came back home I decided to study again and applied for a cognitive science program at university and to HDK-Valand, an art school in Gothenburg. I got into both but decided art school seemed like more fun and now here I am on the other side and I think it was the right choice.

N: I find your fascination with wings really poetic. Where did that come from and at what point did it become a "signature" in your art?

H: I seem to always have had a fascination with feathers, scales and flowers. I somehow feel like they have a correlation and I keep coming back to these motifs time and time again.

When I look at the wings I work with I often have the feeling that the colours, repetition and movement of the feathers is designed too well, as in that they are too good to be true. I just love to look at them. Birds and flowers are stamped trademark cliché beautiful for a reason and I fall hard for it.

Animals have always been a big part of my life. My mom taught me to see every animal as a small person to respect, take care of and love. When I moved from the countryside to the city to study I missed the forest and started to visit natural history museums and take photos of the bird cabinets. The protective glass between me and the mounts bothered me and I started thinking that I wanted to make my own taxidermy one day.

Some years later I had landed a grant and did a course with a taxidermist in Edinburgh in a shed behind a stone castle by the shore. It was weird and amazing. After that I started collecting dead birds and making my own taxidermy mounts and integrated them in my art. First as photographs, later as still sculptures and now these last two years they have evolved into moving sculptures.

N: I find it interesting how you often pair wings with objects that symbolically represent the idea of "movement" such as wheels or shoes. Can you elaborate a bit on that?

H: I see the sculptures as somewhat living creatures when turned into these car debris and bird wing hybrids, and for that reason it makes sense that they should be able to move and live their own lives. I think the materials I use often come charged with an embedded knowledge of what has happened to them before I took care of them.

Worn out shoes, demolished car parts and taxidermy all tell a story of what they used to be and do: in the gym running, driving down E20 or living a life in the sky flying. Pairing the wings with a wheel gives them, at least in our human minds, a movement and an afterlife. I do pair them with things that logically would be impossible to move as well though. The first sculpture I made in the Auto wing series was a broken windshield with wings. I experience those pieces more sad than the wheels that feel more fierce and restless.

N: What are some themes that you like to explore in your work?

H: My work is very much driven by my materials, so rather than working with a theme I work intuitively with a certain material I find and like. I tend to work with contradictions of soft/hard, organic/metal, sticky/dry, and even life/death. I sketch a lot with things around me in the studio and let things come to me that way.

I almost always work with things of low value, dead pigeons and crashed windshields are free. The Auto wing series theme would be the collision and came to me quite naturally.

Since the birds I use very often are hit by cars and I find them on the side of the road I saw an opportunity to speak of why the animals I use have died and work from there.

I have also somehow explored mythologies and different symbols in a backwards way when doing my art. Everything you put wings onto has been done before in Greek mythology, the motor industry or sports logos. There’s wings everywhere that are used today which originate from a tale a long time ago.

N: I want to know more about the mechanical aspect of your pieces. Have you always had an interest in playing around with hardware and technology?

H: Not at all. But I have always been very into, and also scared of, AI technology and sci-fi things. I love and hate the Boston Dynamics robot dog. When I got the idea to make the wings move I got really excited since it opened up another world of the soft/hard contradiction and I couldn’t shake it off. Working with technology in my art in this way is new to me and I’m still figuring it out. I have friends and art colleagues that help me a lot.

I’m actually pretty uninterested in the coding and tech parts but I love how I can make them mimic something super organic. I can still get goosebumps when I’ve worked hard on getting the wings to move a certain way and it works, so I have to keep on learning.

N: To conclude our interview, what are you looking for when making art? Are you looking for a certain feeling, way of life or perhaps looking to communicate a certain message?

H: I’m looking for the melancholy, seriousness, poetry and sadness in the fun, bizarre, absurd and weird. Whatever feeling that is.

All images courtesy of Hanna Antonsson.
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