Reykjavik Boulevard lately has been exploring Ireland.

Our research brought us to find young talents in the fashion field before, and now with KRISTINA COLLENDER we explore the artistic side of photography.

Recently graduated, she realized several projects based on the identity of women and about being an artist in Ireland today. Let’s ask her something more and discover Dublin from her point of view.


Hello Kristina, I read in your biography that you recently got graduation at BA Photography in DIT, Dublin. How important is cultural training for a photographer, in your opinion? And related to technique?

Ok, good question. I believe that cultural and technical training is very important for any artist in the development of their practice and also the critical background they associate with it. To be able to practice and write about a particular area of interest is great when you are immersed in a learning environment. Although have a college education in photography is not completely necessary, it’s great to be surrounded by so many other artists and also learning about the industry.

Your training is soon evident by looking at the Sean Bean Nua project. A collage of which artists inspired you?

So many artists inspired me! Sean-Bean-Nua is an exploration into many different areas, so naturally I had many areas of art which inspired it! Women’s studies is a very important area of research for me in my work. How women are represented and how they represent themselves is still as an important topic of research today as it was years ago! Identity and gender is also an important factor. Artists like Tracey Emin, Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing have always been great sources for me. Although they don’t associate themselves with being “feminist” per-se, they’re work can be read in many different ways.

I love Emin’s autobiographical approach which she adopts, and also the craft element of her work. Sherman’s projects explore the many facets of female identity by using costume and masks, an area I explore in my own practice.

Also, Wearing uses a ‘mass-observation’ technique in alot of her work. Looking at the public and private personas we choose to show to the world, whilst also allowing her subjects to have the anonymity to say how they feel.

Rene Cox is an amazing African-American artist who uses her own body to celebrate her black woman-hood and to critique society that she views as racist and sexist. I also like to use different media in my work. I work with collage and sewing a lot.

Irish artist Sean Hillen was great for looking at. His images describe his life growing up in Ireland. 

Also, Ghada Amer is a very interesting artist who gets her inspiration from porn and creates amazing embroidered canvases of the women represented in them. 

Finally, I draw a lot of inspiration from the Renaissance and Renaissance styles of creating art. I work with portraiture, so lighting and pose is important areas to consider. Also, my use of textiles and embroidery were inspired mainly from the Renaissance style. There are many artists to look at like Vermeer, Da Vinci are obvious choices. In my thesis I explored women artists practising in the Renaissance – Sofonisba Anguissola painted self-portraits and explored the many potential facets of her identity.

Sean-Bean-Nua (1 of 6)

Where does this project come from?

The inspiration for this project came from the questions I had about being a woman and an artist living in Ireland today! Although I do not attempt to answer them, I am merely addressing them, and letting them exist. . I knew I wanted to work with portrait photography and wanted to study deeply into the area of the pose and the portrait. My photography style is built around the portrait and the important, indexical readings one can obtain from just looking at the face.

Also, my work deals greatly with identity – it’s lack there of and the search to understand it. In particular I focus on female identity that is moulded and influenced by the idealizations constructed by the media. The exploration of the woman’s experience comes in the form of paintings and photographs made by the female artist. The female form creates new understandings, challenging the sexually charged and oppressed ideals created for a male audience. 

Also, there is a distinct lack of female artists included in the history of art so I wanted to question the identity of women within the confines of painting and photography. Also, being Irish was an inspiration for me! I work a lot with images from popular culture and memory, so I chose images from pop-culture, the media and history which I felt had a particular link for myself being Irish. The images reference my own personal feelings about Ireland, women, art and my place within it all!

Sean-Bean-Nua (5 of 6)

In Sean Bean Nua you covered faces of your women, hiding them, depriving them of their identity. What function does the mask take for you?

I used myself as the subject in this body of work. I was working around the area of the self-portrait and identity, but also stripping away any facial recognition of myself and replacing it with an intervention that I associated with my female Irish identity. The mask takes on a function of breaking the link between recognizing ideological beauty and trivializing the notions of female identity. By using masks and other ways of disguising myself I am making interventions into not only how the female body is to be interpreted, but how I am to be interpreted as an Irish woman and as a female artist. The title of my project ‘Sean-Bean-Nua’ – meaning ‘Old-New-Woman’, is a mask in itself. Masking the English translation, to only find out it is a strange juxtaposed metaphor- a lot like how being a woman is sometimes!

As a woman and artist, how do you live your city, Dublin?

Dublin is a great place to live. It can be tough going when trying to find money to fund or buy materials for projects, particularly now during these tough economic times. There is always something to see and do in the city. I find it interesting to watch people go about their daily lives, and wonder what their lives are like. I like to listen to people talking on the bus and try and use what they might say as inspiration for projects or juxtaposed text next to images. As a woman the city can become a negative place at times- as any woman might feel living in any city. I try to use these negative feelings of unease and fear as sources in creating work about the female experience.

We live in the era of image, where as you just handle a camera you repute yourself a photographer; has the Irish photographic scene been influenced by this too? What do you think about this?

I think the Irish scene is influenced by many different disciplines and does not allow itself to be defined. I definitely believe that there are purists out there who think that taking photographs makes you a photographer, or painting images makes you a painter etc. But I think, that to be a “photographer” or a “painter” is not so much about creating work to then define yourself, it is more so to create art that can be appreciated on many different levels. So the “painter” can then appreciate the photograph and the “photographer” can appreciate the painting and so on. I think the successful people in the Irish photographic scene do not allow the medium to define their work. I believe that there can be too much separation between photography and fine art at times. It’s all art.

In “In bed with Ireland” you deal with the issue of religion in Ireland. Why did you decide to deal with it so?

Religion, as much as we as Irish people try to distance ourselves from it, will still always play a massive role in our lives. Whether it is for positive or negative reasons, the Catholic institution in this country has had a huge effect on us. I originally aimed to make four quilts! One was to be about our religious heritage, and the others to focus on political, cultural and personal topics. I still have to get around to making the other three, but I am glad I have at least one made so far! I wanted to explore the many uses photography has, instead of it just being an image framed and hung on the wall. I wanted to question the materiality of the image, and make it into an object. As you know, I work with my identity as being an Irish person and memory, so I decided to explore the area of religion as there were many reports of child sexual abuse actually coming out at the time. I also wanted to make the quilt for myself. I was sick of keeping my opinions about religion quiet, or getting into heated debates with people over my views.

So I decided I would make a piece of art that would speak for itself! Even though I am not a religious person I did not want the quilt to be a wholly negative piece. I used images of Catholic figures that I had a connection with for varying reasons. Some were because of child sexual abuse, others were of musical priests, radical priests and nuns such as Sinead O’Connor, or comedic representations of Irish priests like in the program Fr. Ted. I juxtaposed all these faces onto the quilt beside text that I either made up, or obtained from newspaper findings or government reports. This idea of juxtaposing text next to images helps create a new non-linear narrative, which is also the ideology behind the patchwork quilt. The quilt is sewn from many pieces of material to create a new narrative behind the textile. The use of the quilt also references the notion we Irish people tend to have of just brushing difficult situations under the bed to hopefully forget about them. The title of the project itself – ‘In Bed with Ireland’, suggests the idea of sleeping with an entire country, putting it to bed, rituals, routine, safe places, promiscuity and carnal desires. 

In your work you used look and colors of the ’80s. How this decade has influenced you?

There is a definite retro revival and nostalgia for all things kitsch happening right now! For me personally I have always loved very kitsch things, especially kitsch style photography. There are many established photographers from the 80’s and 90’s who I admire like Martin Parr, Richard Billingham, Tom Woods, Nick Waplington, Paul Graham etc. There is a very specific look to their images taken in the 80’s and 90’s. I associate certain colours to that era, and their different works make me think of things that are kitsch, saturated and retro as well as being brilliant documentary projects. On the other hand I also appreciate the “tacky” style of “cheap” looking school portraits/mall portraits taken during 80’s/90’s.

I wanted to challenge purist notions of photography by celebrating this idea of “bad photography” with specific lighting, pose and costume in my project ‘The Class of ‘86’. I used clothes I had in my wardrobe and recruited friends from my college to just have fun in the studio. The images themselves are very playful and humorous, but the lighting and posing was very important to make these images successful. I hired this very old studio portrait lighting book from my library that gave set-ups for amazingly kitsch style portraits. I used one specific lighting set up from the book and poses that had a year-book/cheesy style to them. The results were great, and it had a fantastic reception to them online. It is interesting that the images are quite fun and silly, but in reality the set-ups were very rigid and specific and could not have been created without an understanding of a studio system. I think that’s the great thing about photography though.

By: Raffaele Piano // More pics in our dedicated GALLERY!