Q&A with Stefanie Jordan

An illustration of the head and shoulders of a person with short cropped brown hair, yellow glasses, a small gold hoop earring in the visible ear, wearing a dark brown t shirt. The illustration is simple linework, almost a pop art style, with a neon green background. The person is looking off to the left and smiling slightly.

STEFANIE JORDAN is an award-winning visual artist, filmmaker, animator, illustrator, lecturer, and comic artist based in Berlin, Germany. For over twenty years, she has made animated films as well as feature-length documentaries, writing, directing, producing, and doing camerawork. Her work has earned many accolades internationally, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and the German Woman Media Award, and has been shown in venues as diverse as New York’s MoMA as well as on television in Denmark, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and the US. She was also awarded the Women Artist grant for Film & Video by the Berlin Senate several times. In the past few years, she has started gravitating more towards illustrative work and comic/graphic narration. Her first graphic reportage was published in the ‘Graphic Medicine’ anthology in Seattle in 2017 and her comic ‘Mitgehört’ won a competition shown on Berlin subway TV in early 2019.

Our Deputy Editor (Poetry), Zoe Kingsley, interviews Stefanie about ‘It Starts to Smell Like Winter’, published in #16 UNFUNDED.

Your artwork ‘It starts to smell like winter’ is an intriguing and stark depiction of seasonal shift.  I was wondering whether you could talk about the environment that informed this work, and what themes and concerns you’re being drawn to in your work currently? 

Living in Germany, more precisely Berlin, means being exposed, to strong seasons. Autumn, winter and parts of spring are defined by fading light, prolonged stretches of grey and darkness. Not only daylight gets scarcer but also the frequency of real sunlight hitting windows and streets. The 4-5 story courtyards / Hinterhöfe in my graphic story that the geese are flying over are typical of the old architecture of the city and only get sunlight at the very top; the sun hits the courtyard only briefly if the sun is out. I love recording polarity of light and shadow in all of my work; the dearth of shadow becomes even more intense in winter, making light precious and all the more appreciated.

I realize that I tend to look up to the sky a lot hoping to get the most light possible. This has inspired my newest body of work. Where the motif of me looking up into the sky is repeated, both seeing it and projecting into and onto it. In some of these narratives the sky works as a canvas for projecting inner turmoil, a space for thought, and a subjective expression of emotion. 

The second motif that appears in my last pieces as well as this one is the presence of birds in the city. Giving attention to them offers another layer of sounds, opening eyes and ears to the ever-amazing presence of nature in the city, which calms me in the midst the buzz and busyness of life in the big city. Listening to them makes the otherwise so prominent cacophony of urban noises fade, and makes space to perceive the remaining “wild” side of the city. Berlin, though a European capital, still has a lot of undeveloped spaces, making it not only the capital of nightingales but also home to wild foxes, rabbits, crows,  cranes, colonies of pigeons and recently even raccoons; the surroundings of the city are also home to wild boars, wolves and storks to name just a few.

In paying attention to the birds, I have also seen the influx of climate change. I strongly believe that it is essential to our physical and mental survival to protect and honour the nature surrounding us. The geese that inspired my graphic poem returned much too early due to winters not being as cold as usual. Some birds appear to not even have left due to the milder climate. Usually birds’ migration marks the onset of winter and a melancholy to those of us who remain in the cold and grey. But this time of hibernation is also a productive one, it is a season of introspection, lending itself well to creative work.

The birds which appear in my work are both themselves and metaphors: carriers of meaning which represent the beauty and aesthetics offered by nature in all its forms. Watching different birds moving and gathering in formations over busy city streets has sweetened for me many instances of waiting for buses or just walks in my off time.

Although they don’t lend themselves well to escapism, I believe the birds serve to pinpoint an intensely important moment in time—a necessary shift in conscience in society and politics—that deeply matters to me.

How is 2020 looking for you?

2020 started in the most inspiring way possible since I am on an art residency on an island in Brasil. I will see what kind of imagery comes to me in the process of being in such a different environment.