During a six month residency in Berwick Upon Tweed, Swedish born – UK based artist Cecilia Stenbom has produced short film The Case, which reconsiders perceptions of crime. Here, she speaks about the work with Hannah Elizabeth Allan…
Hannah E Allen: How did your ideas develop throughout the residency?
Cecilia Stenbom: At the start I had the idea of making a work that looked at perception of crime in relation to crime fiction. My practice explores notions of identity at the backdrop of a media saturated reality, re-interpreting and appropriating scenarios within the mainstream. In recent works I have specifically looked at what triggers fear in contemporary society.
The film started to take shape as I started to explore the town, I knew I wanted to make use of the coastal landscape, but also needed to find environments that weren’t as beautiful. My initial research looked at Scandinavian crime fictions that were set in small towns, so I was trying to get the feel of how a small British coastal town would look and act as a Scandinavian crime drama.
I knew from the start that I wanted to work with members of the public to inform the project, taking the form of open discussion events that I hosted. I also wanted to use local people for some of the roles in the film, and allowed the casting process to influence the characters on screen.
HEA: The actors read these interview transcriptions, which seem uncanny when placed in the context of the crime drama. Why did you choose to blur reality and fiction in this way?
CS: I placed a real conversation inside a fictional world. I had the idea of creating a simple crime narrative to make the viewer instantly recognise the genre, and deliberately creating a gap in the expectations of seemingly recognisable scenarios by inserting a completely different kind of dialogue into the frame. I am interested in how fictionalised versions of reality creep into our sense of real, and how even real experiences may seem unrealistic in real life.
HEA: How did using the scenario of the crime drama allow you to explore the perceptions of crime amongst the public, and particularly the residents of Berwick?
CS: I used crime drama as a starting point, as the common denominator, to start a conversation. Berwick, as a place, has very little actual crime, and I quickly got a sense that its residents generally felt safe in their environment, however when starting to dig further, there was a sense that a potential underlying conflict could erupt into violence.
HEA: Do you feel there is a strong connection between the Eastern British and Nordic coasts?
CS: Visually the landscape is very connected, it is after all on opposite ends of the North Sea. There is, and always has been, a lot of cultural cross-over between these shores, and even in contemporary drama there is a similar aesthetic that can be seen on screen.
My initial view of life in the British Isles was partly formed by imports of popular crime drama on TV as I grew up. In the past few years I have watched with interest how the popularity of Scandinavian crime drama has formed a new image of life in the Nordic countries. Specifically in how it turned the image of Nordic countries from a model for equal and socially conscientious society, into a bleak place with undertones of corruption, institutional racism and misogyny. An image I have myself started to re-evaluate.
The Case will premier 25-29th September as part of the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival.
Hannah Elizabeth Allan is an artist, writer and PhD candidate based in Lancashire.