Young Human

An interview with ShuShu Sieberns

Foam curator Claartje van Dijk meets artist ShuShu for a conversation about her exhibition at Foam 3H: Young Human. They speak about being young and growing old, the layered duality of double exposures and her relationship to her grandmother.

ShuShu: In the exhibition I will show three movies. The first one I made is Under the Apple Tree, which I’ve shown in Never Neverland two years ago, in 2021. This was a time when I went to visit my grandmother after not being able to see her for a long time because of COVID and other factors.

I would describe it as a glimpse into our relationship and our tenderness and love towards each other. It’s approximately a 10-minute long video and I really see it like a window that frames our relationship.

We are talking about dreams. We are talking about her, the flowers she wants on her grave. We have a very physical connection in that video. It is a very serene moment in my memory. I have a strong connection to that place because every summer, I went to Russia to visit my dacha (country houses). My babushka has been my muse for as long as I can remember. I feel like she has been such an inspiration for me, that I felt the importance to grasp creatively what I’ve had with her, which is through making photographs of her, drawing her since a very young age and writing poetry about her - writing letters and using words to describe our bond.

Under the Apple Tree is reality and it’s a film that I cherish dearly. It captures is a love between an older and a younger generation, which I feel isn’t shown a lot. People have told me that after seeing the film they reflect upon their own relationships with their family, the presence or the absence of physical touch or love. In that way the film is the foundation of the entire exhibition. 

It is almost like an intro.                     The foundation of love. 

The second movie, which is my graduation piece, is called Young Human, from Russian Molodoi Chelovek [молодой человек], which I made last year in March. It was the last time I saw my grandmother. In it I am talking to my current partner about wanting to tell my grandmother about Them and introduce Them to my grandmother and share this love story with her.

Love has been such a present subject and also mine and my grandmother’s relationship in the sense that she has been telling me a lot about how she grew up with love — or hasn’t. I remember the stories about relationships in her youth, taking place during post-war times in Russia.

I feel because it’s such a big subject, I have always wanted to share that with her. My partner and I are in a queer relationship. I have had some doubts about how I can address this relationship with my grandmother because I wouldn’t want her to see me differently. On my way to visit her I called my partner and I told Them: "I want to tell her about you". Their response was: 

                    “Well, I don’t mind the word you use, 
                    I’m just your partner.”

Then I realised there is a word in Russian that could work, girls often use it for their boyfriends. It is “Molodoi Chelovek” [молодой человек]. 

If you translate it literally it means
                    “young human”.
I end up telling my grandmother that I have found my “young human”. 
The film shows a glimpse into her babushka-like reaction. I let her perceive us through as lense of heteronormativity, but what was really important was to tell my grandmother that I was in love.

Also, it is about intergenerational connection and cultural differences, since I grew up with my sister in Germany and not only in Russia. This movie deals with not being able to fully share yourself with someone who still adores
I’ve had lots of different emotional reactions to the movie or how people interpreted it, but that is the core of where it comes from.

See, through you, from the filmstrip series 36 Serendipities, 2021 © ShuShu Sieberns
Untitled, 2023 © ShuShu Sieberns

The last movie is An Empty Bed, a Dark Window (Mémoir). It was made in September 2023.  Shortly after I made Young Human, my grandmother passed away. 

I couldn’t make it to the funeral because by then Russia was closed off. Instead of going to the funeral, I went to the memorial, which is quite a big day for Orthodox people. Forty days after the soul is meant to leave the earth, it ascends to heaven. During this time, people come together with the deceased loved ones and perform a ritual, which I think everybody does a bit differently. 

Usually, it involves the church or priest, but we did it within the confines of our neighbours and my close family. I see this film as a glimpse into the time I’ve spent in Russia, a visual poem representing grief and mourning and the physical absence of love; A visual poem capturing the landscape, capturing water fighting, picking flowers in the headlights of a car that we want to put on the grave the next morning, and about emptiness. 
                                                  I see it as an attempt to let go.

In that context, I think chronologically, these three films merge together and make sense in connection to the title Young Human. It is not only about me wanting to call my partner, my partner. It is also about the cycle of life and being young and growing old and 
what is in between. 

                    Time is fluid. 

These films are individual pieces, but I like to think they are in conversation with each other when exhibited altogether, also facing each other [in the exhibition space].

I would want the viewer to dive into them, in and out - because all of them represent a certain energy and each film tells a different story. At the same time, I would love to see how the perception of these pieces can create,

                    what new story comes to the surface after seeing them together and when people are conversing with each other, yeah, maybe all in one row or that people come back to make new connections.

There are fairies by the lake, from the filmstrip series 36 Serendipities, 2021 © ShuShu Sieberns
Portrait with goats from the series Motherlands – three faithful things, 2021 © ShuShu Sieberns / photographed by and in collaboration with Edinlisa Go

Claartje: You grew up in Germany and you have a strong connection to your Russian, or Eastern European heritage. On one hand this exhibition is about bringing across being queer and non-queer, but also you are German and Russian, or even Western and Eastern. How do you perceive this duality in you?

ShuShu: I did grow up split [between two worlds], but for me it was obviously normal because I didn’t know any other reality. I wouldn’t call it a split thing, in duality
                    there are always two components: 

East and West, and then queer and non-queer, grief and joy. Actually, I think I see them all layered on top of each other. I grew up thinking that they are one picture. I recognize myself in both cultures very much. Some of the things I do reject, some of the things I do embrace, and I can resonate with. But especially with learning to love mainly through Eastern Europe, through the landscape, through the connection to the earth and through my grandmother, I think I also acquired some kind of longing that is very prominent in that culture.

Claartje: What you said resonates with me: It is and East and West, it is queer and non-queer, it is German and Russian – which when I make the connection to your practice, it is also a compression of it all. They are all different components, right? You use these parts to express who you are, like little fragments, maybe not even fragments: 
                    it is all part of a whole.

ShuShu: Your question about duality made me connect the film strip that is in the exhibition: it is a positive film strip, which I will title “Collide” or 

[as a reference to ShuShu’s thesis], or something similar. It is a roll of film that I took when I made Under the Apple Tree

At that time I was once again photographing my grandmother. Coming back to Amsterdam, I continued taking portraits of my queer community, my friends and life here. It was only for my graduation show that I developed that film, realising that both timelines had overlapped. All the pictures were in the end double exposed, because of a glitch in the camera. 

It is interesting how they ended up perfectly framed and aligned. It was an accident! At the same time, this is exactly how I see it inside my brain. It created a visual representation of how I see dualisms come together layer over 

There are so many nuances and stories hidden in plain sight. All these memories, moments and connections have been compressed into one single frame.

About the artist

Anna Sieberns (Germany, 2001), known by her artistic pseudonym ShuShu, graduated with the work Young Human from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 2023. A blend of German and Russian heritage, ShuShu’s upbringing intertwines memories from Germany with cherished summers spent at her grandmother’s countryside home in Russia.

About the exhibition at Foam

Artist ShuShu Sieberns tries to create a bridge between two different worlds: one where queer identity and traditional Russian family values can coexist alongside each other. The exhibition Young Human serves as a sensitive exploration of the internal conflict that the artist experiences in the relationship between her deeply religious grandmother and her partner.

learn more

The exhibition is made possible by DLA Piper, the Van Bijlevelt Foundation, Mondriaan Fund, Kleurgamma and Oschatz Visuelle Medien.

Young Human. An interview with ShuShu Sieberns - Article | Foam: All about photography Foam curator Claartje van Dijk meets artist ShuShu for a conversation about her exhibition at Foam 3 [...]
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Young Human. An interview with ShuShu Sieberns