2008, At the Zoo, Pencil on paper
How would you describe what you were working on when you were awarded the Maria Bonnier Dahlin Scholarship and what did the scholarship mean to you?
When I got the scholarship, I had just finished my education at Malmö Art Academy. It was an intense time with thoughts and uncertainty about whether it would be possible for me to work as an artist full time or not. The scholarship gave me peace of mind and security, albeit temporarily, and a feeling that it might be possible after all. I remember the nice motivation written by Niclas Östlind.
In the fall of 2008, I planned a research trip for the spring of 2009. I had received a travel scholarship from Helge Ax:son Johnson's foundation to visit the oldest zoos in Europe. It became an important journey for me and the start of my project At the Zoo, about the organizing of animals and people seen through the zoo's structure, art, and architecture, which I work with today. The work I showed at the fellowship exhibition at Bonniers in 2008, which depicts a private menagerie in the seventeenth century, was the basis of my interest in zoos.
What discussions characterized the art scene at this time and what was particularly important you?
I remember the fall of 2008 as coming out of an isolated hibernation after six years of studying at art schools. I don't remember any discussions. I don't remember what was important to me in the art scene. However, I remember the feeling of freedom.
What exhibitions, films and books were important to you and what music did you listen to?
During this time I was busy organizing and exhibiting animals. I was driving around zoos and museums and castles from another era, studying paintings of animals, sculptures of animals, furniture made of animal skins, animals as decoration, animals as materials, animals in paintings and behind bars. During this period I read several profound reports and books by journalists and cartoonists such as Barbara Ehrenreich, Art Spiegelman and Joe Sacco. Among newspapers and magazines, I read Glänta, Bang and Brainstorm and in my headphones I had Mulatu Astatke, Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane. Hito Steyerl's exhibition at Moderna got stuck in memory.
If you would point out any person that you perceive as particularly influential in Swedish art at this time, who would it be and why?
Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question.
How would you describe the social and political climate that prevailed, and were there any questions or events that particularly affected your work?
On a personal level, I was affected by certain political events and situations during the fall of 2008. It was the state's inferior way of solving the banking crisis, the first clashes in Rosengård in Malmö and the prostitutes' situation on the street I had just moved to. Meanwhile, my household subscribed to three newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet, Sydsvenskan and Dagens Nyheter, whose headlines were carbon copies of each other, and to the newly launched weekly newspaper Fria tidningen. When the year was over, we did not renew any subscriptions. Journalism felt pointless. I can't say if these events directly affected my choices in the studio. I was too deep into my work to look up.
When you look back and compare the art life then and now, which are the most eye-catching changes?
I can't say that I understood the life and politics of art as a recent graduate. Since then, my view of and understanding of art life has changed so clearly. On the one hand, I see the strength of art and the risk-taking of artists, radical thoughts and the will to change, on the other hand, I see an incredibly passive, scared, anxious profession.
What are you working on today?
Today I am working on a project that looks more closely at the central role of animals in art history and on how they are also present in artists' studios, as materials in brushes, paint and glue. Despite this visual and physical presence, the stories of non-human animals are usually invisible in art because the stories that are told are the ones about human ideas and problems. In my current project, I work on turning this anthropocentric focus and giving room to some of the animals that participated in our art history.
This is an excerpt from Samlade stipendiater! 30 år med Maria Bonnier Dahlins stiftelse, by Niclas Östlind, (red.) (2016). Stockholm: Bonnier fakta.