CultureXChange talked to an Austrian young upcoming artist about her experience starting photography studies at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts during the COVID19 pandemic.
Timna Lugstein is an artist since she was a child. After rigorously learning the cello as a young kid, she took a great interest not only in music but in several other forms of expression. Now, the 21-year-old already collects a few projects worth mentioning: she composed and performed the original music score to off-West End play “Muse”, about surrealist photographer Dora Maar — and has been published by notable online magazines C-Heads and Benzin for her sensitive and unique photography style. After deciding to study photography at the University of Applied Arts Vienna (Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien), Timna found herself facing the struggles of being a new student deepened by the current COVID19 pandemic.
CultureXChange: Timna, can you tell us a bit of what attracted you to photography?
Timna Lugstein: “Initially I was looking for a media to express myself. It had been music thus far, but that was originally my parents’ decision from when I was a child. Visual arts was my own choice, although I started with filming. With photography, I just thought there were too many people already doing it around me, so I was too self-conscious about the comparisons I’d fall under. I only felt confident enough to try it after a while. My dad had some old cameras from his youth, and I was about to go on interrail with a friend of mine. I took one of the cameras he had with me — it was a year after high school and it was an important gap for me, entering a new phase. So I probably started it because I wanted to capture this journey in a “worthier”, more special way than with my phone. I also felt like I was ‘growing up’, and I remembered my dad did photography during his studies. It was kind of following my dad’s footsteps, in a way.”
CultureXChange: Since you started formally studying photography, do you see it differently?
Timna Lugstein: “In a way, I feel like University restrained me a little. I don’t feel like it’s easy to approach it anymore, I have all these new high standards, and as I had said, although I don’t want to compare myself with anyone, it’s hard not to when you study alongside other photographers. It’s always a dangerous thing, but there is definitely a conscious effort on learning how to not, to accept that we all do different things. It’s scary at first because after learning how to work all by yourself, you have to do it under other people’s evaluations. But you also learn so much, you gain so many skills. Somehow subconsciously I thought it would be nurturing by itself, I’d get in and feel instantly magically inspired. But really you have to make the effort for the school to be nurturing. It can sound negative but it’s also good because you start to understand something: you don’t need the school, it essentially comes from yourself. If you put a lot of effort in your work, the school can be of great help — but in the end, it offers tools and lessons for you to work, and that’s what is essential.”
CultureXChange: Has your practice also changed a lot after your studies?
Timna Lugstein: “Yes. Unfortunately, I feel like before I was more spontaneous. Taking action before you do research. I’m focusing so much on the concept now. Entering University, you start to think you have to have a great reason to start everything — and that can be not so nurturing for art, especially to get started on a project. I think the spontaneous glimpses of something that I like, take pictures of, film, draw, they were what made me start… Now I think there are a hundred steps one has to think through before starting to take pictures. It’s something I think many people go through when they start any sort of art school.”
CultureXChange: So you have a new workspace to develop your photos and work on your projects since you started studying?
Timna Lugstein: “Yes. I definitely have a huge new darkroom at Uni, which is super cool because there’s a lot of possibilities there. For some reason — it might have to do with corona, but I haven’t gotten used to this room yet, so it doesn’t feel like my workspace. I definitely still prefer the trashy, small darkroom I built for myself at home, but I think this takes time — which wasn’t possible because of the pandemic. I think if it wasn’t for this, I would feel more comfortable to work in it. Also, there is the fact that there is a shared workspace. So I think once regrouping becomes ok again, it will be a great new experience to work with different people together.”
CultureXChange: What did the lockdown in Vienna has meant for your practice?
Timna Lugstein: “I think besides what I’ve said previously, there are two main aspects: the negative one is that all these changes; what you go through when you enter university and art school, although this is natural and it happens to a lot of people — they seemed bigger in a way because we were all going through it alone. It’s not like we can go to class and talk about it there in the morning every day, so it felt like we were the only ones living it. The positive thing is that since I spent so much time at home, and that made me learn too. At first, I spent weeks and weeks just doing nothing — which was very frustrating to me. I felt that I needed to go somewhere to work and do things, and home is the space to do nothing. So I definitely started developing a routine in which I get stuff done at home. I learned I can also do nothing, balance the two. When the borders are not clear between the workspace and the relaxing place, it’s hard to find that. I had to structure it all in one space, which is harder. I think I’ve made progress on finding a routine and working during the day, but it’s an ongoing effort.”
CultureXChange: Between your atelier at the University and your own workspace at home — what would be your preference to develop further projects?
Timna Lugstein: “I think I would say at Uni. I really hope it becomes a place that I feel at home, in a way. I feel like it will be super nurturing for working in general because the whole place and institution can potentially get a more positive and familiar aspect. The whole concept of Uni will feel more familiar too — I would say that I want to sort of conquer the building and that space in a way. That way, I will literally inhabit the idea of being an art student and the concepts I have to find for my new processes.”
Cover photo ® Timna Lugstein
You can find Timna Lugstein’s work and contact through this link.
Propos recueillis par Amanda Cunha Batista
(Interviewed by Amanda Cunha Batista)