Clean Break

Clean Break is an ongoing research research on clutter, care and time management, started at HIAP Suomenlinna summer 2022, and is continuing at KRAFT Bergen November 2022.

Documentation by Sheung Yiu, and video still (last image).
Project supported by HIAP, Stavanger Kommune and Arts Council Norway.

Exhibition text by Sara Kollstrøm Heilevang (Kraft Bergen):

Clean Break

It is often said that cleanliness is a virtue, that keeping things clean is a reflection of care and respect for oneself and one’s surroundings. But when is something clean? When we talk about purity and cleanliness, are we actually talking about keeping things separate from each other, a clear boundary, a fight for territory? A place for everything, everything in its place. Things that spark so much joy when holding it that it spills into ones entire excistence, like a land of milk and honey?

In the exhibition Clean Break, Anna Ihle examines the ideas relating to order and control in the contemporary working life of women. On an average working day, alternating between processing large oak logs and breastfeeding her child, both of which are impossible to squeeze into the template of a 37.5 hour working week, she tries to navigate between society’s given framework and her own lived experience. In an attempt to find alternative ways to approach control, Ihle hired a cleaning consultant to give advice in a messy workroom. An act of courage to sort one’s own life out, or a declaration of surrender? Where are the boundaries for what is an acceptable mess, and what is unhygienic?

Cleanliness plays out in our lives in different ways, with different manifestations. Sometimes as a fleeting attempt to keep a language pure, sometimes to divide humans into divisions of the dirty and the clean. Expectations about cleanliness vary with the roles we have for ourselves and each other. In working life, a lack of cleanliness can be interpreted as a sign of effort and genius, where traces of dirt and grime testify to a piece of work well done. Are you considered a genius if you nurse a child from a breast covered in a layer of sweat and shavings from the day’s work? In the motherly role, a lack of cleanliness can in the worst case be interpreted as a lack of caring, failing or providing.

Clean Break shows traces of work in process, utilising materials such as wood shavings and dust. Small videos show hands at work; hands who stir, who work, who milk. In the exhibition, different materials are in conflict with one another. Dust attracted to electronics it makes malfunction. Massive wooden logs that prevent free movement. A voice that tells you how much better your life could be, if you could just pull yourself together, take action, milk the potential and feel the spark of joy as you carefully place each thing in its place, a place for each thing.