Sara Jordenö

Bildmuseet | 2011

Spring 2011

The Strange Case of Carbon: Reversal - A Conversation Between Sara Jordenö and Johan Lundh.

The Strange Case of Carbon's point of departure is Jordenö's project Diamond People: Instructions for a film, contributing writers Katarina Pierre, Jill Magi, Johan Lundh, Steven Lam and Erin Lee allow their texts to unfold in directions at once personal and universal.

Johan Lundh: Could you please tell me a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to initiate this project? I don’t want to create a biographical frame that will prevent other interpretations of your work, but your background and concerns appear to be connected in this particular work.

Sara Jordenö: This project begins where my life did: a small locality in northern Sweden called Robertsfors. Like any factory town, Robertsfors has been – and still is – heavily defined by the dominant industry, in this case a company that makes synthetic diamonds. This company, housed in an old factory building from the beginning of the 20th century, was the first place I ever worked. My father, who is an engineer, spent a large part of his career working here. He actually invented – as part of a team, he would interject – one of the high pressure technology presses. The company offered the children of their employees work during the summers, and this was how I ended up working – at 16 or 17 – in the payroll office. I remember how I one day found myself preparing the paychecks for mailing. Before me lay the names of everyone at the plant and the numbers that determined their livelihood; I felt like I had been given a blueprint to the socioeconomic structure of my community.

When I initiated this project in 2005, I aimed to draw a larger map. I wanted to investigate the history and present of the town and also its relationship to two other towns that are connected to it through the synthetic diamond industry: Springs, a town located in an industrial area east of Johannesburg, South Africa and Suzhou Industrial Park, one of China’s largest technological and economic development zones (ETDZ). During the five years I have been working on the project I have visited these places, and tried to understand how these three ‘diamond communities,’ as I call them, are both intimately intertwined and immutably distant.

Johan Lundh: As I see it, your project spans multiple continents over several decades while maintaining focus on the diamond industry. As a result, it traces our increasingly globalizing world through a specific material. The diamonds constitute a magnifying glass which has allowed you to investigate how your personal history is intertwined with the world at large.

Sara Jordenö: I think that is a very apt description! But I want to note that I have different roles even within that personal history. You can maybe say that I – since I haven’t lived there since the age of 18 – am both an insider and an outsider in Robertsfors. In Springs and Suzhou my perspective was limited in a way similar to that of a tourist. I have stategically attempted to shift between and acknowledge these positions. There is also an  “outsiderness” in my position as an artist. My work is documentary in the sense that I am inserting myself into a “real” place, and intend to create an image (textual or visual) that says something about real events. The relation between me as “the documenter” and “the documented” is further complicated by my personal connection to the subject. When beginning a new documentary project, the poet C.D wright admits: I already feel guilty./I haven’t done anything./but I allow the mental pull in both directions.

She defines an area, an unstable space to work, that I am very interested in as an artist. I have a unique position to make this project because of my personal connection, but only if I allow that “pull” between between insider/outsider, observer/observed, narrator/narrated.

Attention: What you see here is only an excerpt of a longer article. The full text appears in printed copies of Sara Jordenö’s book The Strange Case of Carbon.