1991, Sjömannen, Oil on Canvas 145 x 126 cm
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?
Twenty-nine years ago, I was still a student at the Royal Institute of Art. I passed my fourth year. I stayed at school longer than most because I gave birth to both my sons during college. I painted and painted, the landscape paintings that were done on-site in nature now had slowly begun to take shape in the imagination inside my studio. Dystopia and wastefulness were something that interested me. Deforestation, housing ads with sad abandoned sports cottages with poor vibrations. But also water, black little mirror-shiny ponds, swamps without beaches where the tree roots stopped at the water's edge.
I looked at Hans Wigert, Ernst Josephsson, Piero della Francesca, Sidney Nolan and more. It was because of the love of color, the brush writing, and the fearless narrators. And not only painters but also poets like Gustaf Fröding and Janos Pilinszky. They had to help me several times with titles such as the Gray days of old and How is it to live with dirty black nails eternally, the atmosphere of the peatland. I had a feeling that what I was doing might not interest anyone. I did not care, it was still my journey, I was on my way.
The art climate in Stockholm, I thought was something completely different from what I was doing. When I received the Maria Bonnier Dahlin scholarship, I was very happy. It was money that was a great help in our family but above all it was probably the acknowledgement in itself. The scholarship was already then very established and I grew from this as a future artist. Lovely with dinner and scholarship awards at Manilla and then an exhibition at the Sollentuna Fair.
What discussions characterized the art scene at this time, and what was particularly important you?
Postmodernism was extremely topical, I experienced it as liberating. Suddenly everything was allowed. The ideas of modernism felt uninteresting and outdated. Now you could mix high and low, I saw myself as part of that time. Still, I felt so helplessly old-fashioned. Almost all of my role models were more than a hundred years old, at least in art. There was an intellectual philosophical part of Stockholm's art life that took a lot of space, especially in the media. Where I felt like an outsider, I didn't have the keys to that world.
Magazines like Material and Kris did not interest me, they felt high-spirited. I saw a lot of art, but what I was most interested in was vacuuming all the museums of the city, together with my husband and my two boys. Some places were pure gold mines, ethnographic, Natural History, Music, Post, Army or, for example, the Mediterranean Museum. KRO's student membership card meant free entrance everywhere. This is where I found real inspiration.
What exhibitions, films, and books were important to you, and what music did you listen to?
I listened to Nirvana's Nevermind, Beniamino Gigli singing the Pearlfish, Gustav Mahler 3rd and 5th symphony (the music from the movie Death in Venice) and many other things of course. One show that I particularly remember was Sophie Calle's In under the skin at Kulturhuset. It was innovative. I was in awe of her strange private investigations in chance and everyday life. Part of the exhibition was about working as a hotelkeeper and snooping and ferreting among the hotel guests' private things. The boys were small in 1991, one and four years old. I watched movies on TV. The books I read were children's books, some I read a hundred times.
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?
Dan Wolgers - cheeky, intelligent and unpredictable. Every time he showed up he became a topic of discussion both in schools and in newspapers. I thought it was interesting that everyone had opinions about him. I think he described his time, he visualized and intellectualized it in a whole new way. The most obvious thing was when he let an advertising agency get free rein to do an exhibition at Gallery Lars Bohman. It became flat and ugly, the emptiness felt infinite. But this pointed to something essential, which has to do with the art versus what the artist is to do. For me, that insight was crucial. The artist himself must be present if one should be affected.
How would you describe the social and political climate that prevailed, and were there any questions or events that particularly affected your work?
On the political level, it was quite hopeless, much like now. New Democracy, The laser man, neoliberalism, ZTV, it was irony, not humility. What affected me the most personally was environmental degradation, it gave me anxiety. In private, we had a great time, many artists and poets, lots of parties. It was a fun and bohemian time. When the children fell asleep we often played cards with friends in the kitchen in Sätra. The art scene I think was quite polarized though did not contain many conflicts. There weren't that many galleries to expect, you tramped around in the snow and slush on Sturegatan, Karlavägen, Karlaplan, Fredsgatan and some other places too.
When you look back and compare the art scene then and now, which are the most eye-catching changes?
The galleries have new names now, almost always named after the gallery owner, that was less usual then. They were called: Modern, Arton A, Boibrino, Hands, Swedish Pictures, Doctor Glass, The Green Palette, the Cavalry or, for example, the Gray Gallery. I probably have a feeling it was not as bloody serious, and then I do not mean the art, but the function of galleries. Many artists jumped around from one place to another. Many went to their gallery when the studio was full and then decided on a date. Today it is much more upset, on all levels. Most artists before the 1990s were painters, sculptors or graphic artists. Now something happened, the artists began to use photography and film as obvious forms of expression. Large installations became more and more common. This also meant having to take help from other people, that is, obtaining assistance, which was also a new concept. The first Swedish artist I understood had assistants was Ulf Rollof.
One could say that postmodernism widened the art scene. One thing that was clear the first half of the nineties was the cluttered craze for themed exhibitions. Often, group exhibitions took place in unexpected places such as the Myntverket, churches, Hallwylska palace and more. The big difference today compared to then I feel is the role of the curator. Today, it is quite obvious that all institutions and museums stick with their curators or freelance curators. Admittedly, museums have always had curators, but it's not the same thing. The curators are taking on an ever-larger place. The theoretical part seems to stand above the visual, it is incomprehensible. For me, art is, for the most part, a visual experience. Some heavy galleries tend to be bigger and stronger than their artists. You can see it on so-called lists of influential people in the art, a few artists are included, the more curators, museum people, collectors, and gallerists. What should these fucking lists be for? Take away the artists and everything falls. The pendulum goes back and forth. The great thing about the art is that it never stops, it is changed by its practitioners and viewers all the time, as the world changes. History is the only thing we can lean on, even though it usually feels like it was a thin curtain.
What are you working on today?
This summer I bought a printing press and in the last few months, I have devoted myself to woodcuts. Soon I start work with two exhibitions, one in Copenhagen, the other in Stockholm, together with the Danish artist Tal R. Both exhibitions open at the end of the summer of 2016.
This is an excerpt from Samlade stipendiater! 30 år med Maria Bonnier Dahlins stiftelse, by Niclas Östlind, (red.) (2016). Stockholm: Bonnier fakta