Bodies In Transition
Sculpture is commonly associated with permanence, yet while it comes to Swedish artist Éva Mag, sculptures – especially bodies – of clay and textiles have often been closely connected with her own body. The process itself of struggling with the clay and installing the works has often turned into performances on video and rendering something more everlasting than the sculptures themselves. C-print contributor Carolina Bergquist visited Éva Mag in her studio located in Stockholm to talk about her contribution, Hinder, in the running exhibition SculptureMotion at Wanås Foundation in Skåne in Sweden.
Before we sit down in the sofa, Éva gives me a small tour in the studio that she shares with the Swedish artist Karin Lindh. There are a lot of things stacked and stored everywhere in the room that are solely hers; seemingly lifeless clay bodies lying on shelves, costumes hanging from hangers on the very same shelves and in a corner, and additionally there is a large wooden box filled with dry clay. Most of the things are actually leftovers from her time as an art student, she tells me. After she graduated from the Royal Insitute of Art in Stockholm in 2015, she decided to take herself seriously and also take her work seriously. This very conscious approach is something that Éva feels is necessary to point out, because of the insecurity that lies in the field of art and in order to get work done. We sit down and Éva takes a look around and states that the room looks more like a storehouse or an archive than a studio.
But since a great deal of your works is site-specific, I suppose the studio is not where your creative zone is or where your creative process takes place. So how do you work? For instance, at your most recent exhibition at Wanås, did you work in any particular artistic process?
Wow, well, I would probably have to give you a retrospective answer to that. What I definitely have learned while making Hinder at Wanås is how the work and the work flow evolve during the creative process; how work and thoughts and thoughts of work make progress.
As you know Movement is the theme at Wanås this year and I participate in the exhibition SculptureMotion with my work Hinder. My contribution has evolved through three exhibitions I’ve created, installed and performed from autumn 2016 and basically until the very opening of Wanås on May 7. The first one was in September 2016 at IASPIS (Swedish Arts Grants Committee's international program for Visual and Applied Artists) and it was titled Världens finaste rum finns i Tensta (The finest room in the world is in Tensta).
Världens finaste rum finns i Tensta has evolved through my thoughts on what you do in a room. And especially what you do if you don’t have the space you need. If all you have is one room which isn’t big enough for you, how would you feel? What would you do? Världens finaste rum finns i Tensta is about how being in that room can make you anxious and nervous and makes you want to be able to climb the walls or start doing it. Since the actual climbing on the wall would be really difficult and demand that the person trying to do it, stay one hundred percent focused on succeeding and not falling down and get hurt it would take the focus away from the anxiety. So, if a person that is being in an anxious and nervous state of mind, which can be described with the proverb "att klättra på väggarna" (ping off the walls/go up the wall), would actually be climbing the walls, it could probably have a soothing effect on the person.
Världens finaste rum finns i Tensta at IASPIS in September 2016. To the right, Éva Mag climbing the walls
The starting point for the collaboration with curator Elisabeth Millqvist was Världens finaste rum finns i Tensta. As you can see, that installation is part of Hinder, however in this context and in this installation it is more about how the body is in motion than the feelings of pinging off the walls. It’s about how the body conquers obstacles and becomes stronger when moving forward from what might be a painful past and present.
The part of Hinder at the exhibition at Wanås, in summer 2017 which derives from Världens finaste rum finns i Tensta.
Along the way, Världens finaste rum finns i Tensta has evolved to the complete installation that Hinder is on site in Wanås. Also the other parts of Hinder derive from previous ideas and exhibitions manifested in You should be kind to yourself at Haninge Konsthall as well as Making Bodies at Art Lab Gnesta, which both took place just now in 2017.
For instance, at Haninge Konsthall there was a static metallic structure or stand as a part of the installation. That idea of the metallic stand is based on a carpet stand from outside the house I lived in as a child in Transylvania. I have made different versions of that carpet stand in my previous work, but for the exhibition at Wanås I made a replica of the original stand that still stands outside the house I grew up in. Though the original stand is a bit bent of age and worn out since many kids were playing there, climbing on it and trying their acrobatic skills. And also, well, did you see the Making Bodies exhibition? In collaboration with some students from Vårdige Folkhögskola, a preparatory art school, I filled a room, a very churchlike room, with clay bodies which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. In my opinion this became an installation where you could get close to existential emotions.
Making Bodies at Art Lab Gnesta in 2017
It looked so beautiful despite all the clay and the limp bodies. Why did you start creating bodies of clay?
Well, haha, I’ll have to give you yet another retrospective answer. I started my BFA at the Royal Institute of Art in 2007. During my time as a student, they changed the system so all the BFA students were not granted a place in the MFA program. We all had to apply for it. Unfortunately, I didn't pass the interviews to continue with my MFA. In 2011 and 2012 I therefore had two years off from studying. During those years I also had my second child and I thought a lot about women’s bodies and basically the constant pressure we are under. I also thought a lot about it in a historical context. I mean my great grandmother bore and raised like ten children, which means that at some point she must have been breastfeeding a baby or even two – if she had twins – and at the same time possibly being pregnant again, while also having sex with her husband and managing a household. While I was in Thailand in the beginning of 2013, I drew some sketches of my thoughts and ideas of this subject matter and I showed it to an artist friend. We talked a lot about the sketches and these issues. Our conversations became the platform for our further collaboration that became really important for me
Early sketch that Éva Mag drew to visualize her ideas and the subject matter of her art.
I didn’t know that. So it actually started as a more general political insight of the struggle of the female body? How did it evolve from there?
Yes exactly, and the conversations evolved to a 24 hour performance act, based on the idea to create a sculpture, a body, from a pile of clay but without armoring. And the challenging part was that the sculpture had to be capable of standing on its own. This is challenging since a sculpture must contain armoring in order to hold itself up or stand on its own, but I saw the armor in the body as an obstacle for continuous movement and wanted to do the body without it. I had an idea of a free flow animation for the body. This performance act practically liberated my work. It made me aware of my body, how the clay gave me resistance and I saw how every touch and interaction I made to the clay is visible and relevant for the result. The body that I created during this act never made it to standing position. It totally fell apart and revealed the shape of a pelvis. Magic!
Directions and shapes of a woman’s body – clay I, a 24 h performance act in 2013.
So in 2013 when I was granted a place for the MFA at Royal Institute of Art, I had found my artistic voice and a line of work that I wanted to proceed with. Therefore I did the performance a second time, this time in front of a camera and under the title Directions and Shapes of a woman’s body – clay II. This time I decided to make proper legs and proper arms before trying to make the body stand up. To make sure the body wouldn’t fall apart, I came up with a choreography in which I had to put the different body parts in a way so they could support themselves and each other. However, the very last day of the performance, I found the sculpture all broken into pieces. As an instinct I cut my dress and with the pieces from the dress I wrapped the parts together. This act gave me the idea to sew the wrappings myself.
I see! So in the retrospective answer to why you started making bodies of clay also lies an answer to the question how the textile fits in to all of this?
Yes! I guess you can say that and that it was instinctively added to my art. But also, I think it came to me because I come from a tailor family. I don’t have the drawing in my blood but I do have the textile in some ways; primitive skills of patternmaking and sewing that I don’t master at all. But instead of seeing my lack of knowledge as an obstacle, I realized there and then, that I could use it the way I want to. And that is also relevant in another manner; I believe that all of us have our 10 000 hours in doing these things just by being children in any context or just being human beings. So when I started sew the costumes for my clay body sculptures it was constantly a work in progress. And I saw that the textiles itself also expressed what it is to be a human being. But it is also a very intriguing experience to see the beautiful textiles connect with and be filled with the dirty wet clay.
So through this experience, I figured out that when I sew a textile costume for the clay body it is easier for it to stay intact even without the armoring, and it then becomes easier for it to stand up. It did make the whole project easier but at the same time the sculptures were so heavy that it was impossible to make it stand. I think that the bodies of clay that I created at that time weigh about 80 kg. So you can imagine I had a hard time wrestling it.
My work at this point in time made me think a lot about how to help a person who for some reason needs it, and issues on who is responsible for a person being able to stand on their own. This was especially evident with the performance act Stand Up which was carried out in front of a camera. In the performance act I tried so badly to make my sculpture stand up on its own but it kept falling and falling apart. And like I said, it was so heavy. To me that had a very symbolic meaning; you can’t force someone to stand up or help them to stand up if they don’t want to. If you do force them, people might just break instead of being helped. There is a risk you make a situation worse by imposing your own ideas on that person and how he or she should act or react. The video Stand up is now part of Hinder, being showed on a wall in my room at Wanås.
Still pictures of Éva Mag in the performance act Stand up in 2014. It is now also shown as a part of Hinder at Wanås
Ok, so the textile parts in your artistry is both for making the sculpture stay in one piece and also to keep it together as a body, but I also noticed in the pictures and here in your studio that you have a lot of metal structures, how did that become part of your work?
My first thought when I came to Haninge Konsthall and saw the height of the ceiling, the wooden parquetted floor which had a domestic feeling to it, was that I wanted to dance. I already knew that the title would be You should be kind to yourself. And for some time I had had the idea to work mainly with the metal structures and I found that the room at Haninge Kulturhus was fit for the metal. So, I went on with the metal structures which along the way have become the exoskeleton, i.e. the external armor for the clay bodies. But I also wanted to see how the metal structures work without the bodies. Therefore, a week before the opening, I invited three dancers for a performance act in which they would wear my designed costumes inspired by the clay bodies. I let the dancers interact with the metal structures and the only instruction that had been given at forehand was that they were to get out of their dark costume and explore the world that existed in the room. The performance was documented and became part of the exhibition as a 45 minutes video installation.
Still pictures from the video and Performance Act at
Haninge Konsthall in 2015.
We look at some three minutes of the mentioned performance act. I notice that hands are missing on one costume – the costume is clogged were the hand should come out – and there is only one half of an arm on another one which also has been clogged so the full arm length can’t come out. And I see how the three dancers take in the room and explore it in the ways they can in their costumes which are not fit for a human body. Éva tells me that it is an expression for how people adjust to circumstances and that it aims to raise the question on how you relate to the political and social structures of society. And I take a look around and recognize one of the costumes I saw on the video, now hanging on my right hand side.
Those are extremely relevant issues to address. Do you think that your own past has made you more aware of the importance of these issues?
Definitely! I mean I was born in Transylvania in Romania which at that point in time was run by a communist dictator and not a free country to put it mildly. My parents chose to flee and to come here to create a better life and to live under better circumstances. And even though they succeeded in coming here and in making it better in some ways, something had broken along the way. The question “Who broke my family?” have been the core of me even before art school and I have been sharpening my senses to try to understand what happened ever since we came to Sweden. The difficulties of being forced to change culture instead of choosing to learn about a new culture, mainly for my parents I guess, have made me question their decision to runaway a million times. It is awful really of me when they sacrificed so much in the belief of wanting to give a better future with more liberty for their children. And then again everyone’s destiny is based on circumstances and every little detail shapes you into who you are.
Världens finaste rum finns i Tensta was made at IASPIS in September 2016 and it was created in a parallel oneway conversation I had with my mother about life and also me wondering about what IASPIS really was and a physical longing of wanting to be able to climb the walls.
Listening to you, I sense that you are more into teaching someone how to help themselves rather than giving people help they didn’t want or even ask for?
What makes you think that?
I guess it just sounded like that...Tell me about the process in creating the clay and the textiles in Making Bodies? What part in Hinder has derived from Making Bodies?
To start with, Making Bodies was about taking control; partly in the sense of controlling my method of production. I also had three students from Vårdinge Folkhögskola taking part in the production. As mentioned before, Vårdinge Folkhögskola is a preparatory art school and at the time being I taught other my methods and therefore I had to meet my own expression through their work. In that installation the bodies still cannot stand on their own so they are lying down or sitting on the floor. It is ultimately about standing on your own, without any help. So I thought that lifting up the bodies in the hanging textile would give me some answers but the higher the bodies were the more dead they looked.
Making Bodies at Art Lab Gnesta in 2017
Furthermore, Making Bodies has also been the source for a part of my contribution in SculptureMotion at Wanås. That braided part of the textile holding the body is something I continued to evolve at Wanås. The textile cord was actually one of the first things to be installed. Only I didn’t really know what to do with it. But during the creative process and in conversations with Elisabeth Millqvist it became evident that it was to be a thickly braided textile and latex cord leading to a white costume in which I can go inside and feeling safe while being inside it. And most importantly: the body can stand up. On the day of the opening I did a performance act in that costume. I tried to just stand still, breath but also tried to walk to get away from the cord in the back. It’s interesting and a bit ironic how the cord both supported me but also held me back.
Éva Mag in her body which is a part of Hinder at the exhibition at Wanås. The photo is taken during her performance act at the opening on May 7.
Éva Mag in her body attached to the cord which is a part of Hinder and derives from Making Bodies at Art Lab Gnesta. In the center is the carpet stand which is a replica of the same one, still standing outside the house in Transylvania where Éva Mag grew up.
The performance act was taped, and it was an odd feeling that came over me when I looked at it afterwards. I think it is because I have been doing so many things during the past years on the themes of standing up, dealing with the self and identity-matters. And now at Wanås it’s the first time with a part of an installation standing straight up. It is almost as if the exhibition at Wanås is the crown of the work of what I have been working with for the last couple of years. Maybe it is time to move on. Maybe I’ll start working with faces or some other specific part of the body?
Photo credit and copyright: Holm/Mag
Éva Mag's work is represented by Galleri Riis in Oslo,