Name: Sonja Hinrichson
Hometown: Oakland, CA (by way of Germany).
Profession: Artist. Currently in her third residency at Anderson Art Center in Snowmass, Co. Sonja creates large-scale, completely impermanent and completely beautiful design patterns over huge tracts of untouched snow all over the world, including Colorado, New York and France. She invites volunteers to help her creates the stunning designs, captures them with aerial photographs, then allows them to be completely overturned by nature.
How She Got Started With Her Snow Drawings: During her first residency at Anderson Art Center in the appropriately named Snowmass, she borrowed a pair of snow shoes and went walking around. She started noticing patterns she created against the snow like on a blank canvas so she started goofing around making patterns with the shoe prints.
Soon she began taking photographs of the patterns, and began noticing different light patterns such as shadows within the imprints, or the sun beaming straight in. She then began playing with angles, light, and shadow through photography.
Her inspiration came from the huge, untouched, pristine snow spaces found in Colorado.
How did you start taking photographs of these large-scale works in the snow?
During a residency in Steamboat Springs, Co, a local pilot offered to fly her up to photograph her snow patterns. So began the aerial photography and the help of volunteers.
What unforeseen problems did you come across as you began to create more of these snow prints? The first few times were definitely a learning process. “Sometimes I would do a whole piece and then realize that there was no place to photograph it,” joked Sonja. Issues like this are the nature of her work. For example, there is always a chance that a project won’t work out because of weather, which happened in Finland.
On The Help From Community Members, Volunteers and Strangers: Being as large scale as they are, her works began to take on the nature of a community project. She began having volunteers help her create the large scale patterns. She started by having about 8 or 9 volunteers, but now has up to 70 people helping over the span of a project, often 30 to 50 people a day for a 2 or 3 day weekend.
“Starting from the weather to the people, I don’t know who my participants are, so its truly a community project.”
She has works that allow her volunteers to roam through the snow freely, but she also organizes volunteers to work in patterns. “It’s almost like a performance- knowing what steps to take, never crossing each other. If you sped it up it would look like an organized performance.”
She says that it’s about an environmental experience for the participants. “It’s a long process, and you really tune into that one space.”
She says emphatically that her works is “really about the participants, in the moment.”
How do you feel about the inherent nature of impermanence in your work?
“I am immaterial in my life too, not a big collector of stuff. I don’t think we need to add more stuff to the earth.”
She says that European magazines that have done write ups on her always nearing up Land Art. “They do not understand Land Art. This is not Land Art. I do not want to add any material. In my work nature takes it back completely. The only documentation is photos and the peoples’ experience.”
She says the her snow designs are a “combination of appreciating art work and the nature that it is in.”
The Role Color Plays In Her Work:
She says that the pure whiteness of the landscapes she works in is an important element in her projects. The white makes it possible to play with shadows and light. Imprints either reflect the sunlight or cast a shadow. She reiterates that she didn’t really think about it at first, and that it all sort of just started out of play. With the scale and organization that she now works in, “it’s like painting with natural light.”
She also mentions that much like so many other uncontrollable factors, colors often come into the pictures by accident. It could be a lone standing tress, a person still walking their way through the pattern, a ski lift, or a park sign.
While working on a commission in France, they took a shot of the snow pattern that had a bright orange restriction sign in it. The arts commissioner hated it, and wanted the sign to be edited out.
“For me, those little splotches of color are interesting.” She explains that these “mistakes” can help express relation to scale. She enjoys photos that are completely abstract without those kinds of modifiers, but those little spots of color have the ability to show human smallness. “That’s where real color comes in- it’s fragile and small but important.”
What is your favorite color? Green. She is a nature fan, and an environmentalist. “I barely have any green clothes,” she laughs. “This is my first time here in summer and my green receptors are over stimulated.”
What color reminds you of Oakland?: Blue, because of the blue sky there.
All pictures of Sonja's snow drawings were collected from her website. Do yourself a favor and check it out at http://www.sonja-hinrichsen.com.