Experiencing in the Collective Realm
"I’m certain that people really want to meet and talk about what it is like to be human. The difficulty is that we have so few venues for this. We are stuck in our own bubbles and terrified of doing things the “wrong” way. I try to break through the confinements of social anxiety and create the venues that we lack; venues that allow long conversations about complex subjects", says artist Tove Berglund about her interactive and performative experiences that tackle the big existantial queries in life.
C-P: Your background is from the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts where you graduated a few years back, and you have since been working on creating and designing interactive “experiences” that intersect for instance performance and social party/gatherings, intended for substantial partaking by larger groups of participants. Tell me more about what ideas form the core of your artistic practice.
T.B: The core is basically to create venues that get people to meet, experience existential themes with their body and senses and make them talk to each other about the bigger questions in life. The idea is for people to leave the usual talk about the work and critique about whether this piece is “good or “bad” and instead be present and meet in important and personal dialogues and experiences.
In my work I use all of the participants' senses. By letting them hear, smell, feel and eat, the participants get immersed by impressions of the subject that is being investigated throiugh the evening and start submitting to their openness and curiosity. I also work a lot with creating a safe space without layers of fiction and a firm form for the participants to lean on. This tends to make people present and interested in starting conversations about complex subjects.
C-P: Your work strikes me as fascinating in so far, the grand scale and breadth of your “experiences” is quite unique here in Sweden. Someone else might have called it interactive performances but I like the way attributing your works as experiences really accentuate what it’s about, where “performance” would feel quite reductive to speak of in your case. What room for experiences of these sort do you see in for instance in the realm of contemporary art and museum and institutional settings? It’s quite rare, no?
T.B: I totally agree with you on the experience part. The term performance is not ideal when describing my work. When talking about my work, the term performance also intimidates and creates a distance between the experience and the participants. “Interactive experience” is the best description so far even though it feels a bit unspecific. When I talk about what I do it is challenging to get people to understand the form and scale, probably because, as you said, this type of event is quite rare in Sweden. The best way of making people understand what it is, is by their own experience. When they have experienced it, they are often all in on the concept and generally seem to love the idea of participating again. That’s why I think there is a bigger interest that will or could accomodate space for this type of experiences in museum and stage art institutions. In my first trilogy, LIVETS HÄNDELSER, we had an amazing collaboration with Köttinspektionen and Uppsala Konstmuseeum. For future work I´m hoping to do more cross-boarding collaborations with venues for art, stage, food and experiences.
C-P: I imagine you have your frequent collaborators that you enroll into your projects and work with to carry forth these intricate projects? Who are some people you’ve been joining forces with in your work? T.B: That’s right. I often try to involve recurring collaborators by inviting them to co-create the experiences with me. For LIVETS HÄNDELSER which I did 2017-18, a trilogy that investigated baptism, wedding and funeral, I created the experiences together with artist & actor Ellen Norlund and event producer and tech entrepreneur Martina Elm. That was a very interesting collaboration where we sort of invented this form. I’ve now continued to develop it, and it’s now a hybrid between interactive performance and artistic events as mentioned earlier. Both Ellen and Martina are joined in a mutual interest for creating meeting platforms and social interaction. I was the bridging element between them, coming from a background of stage art with an interest in working with events.
In my current trilogy, ÅRETS HÄNDELSER which investigates Easter, Midsummer and Christmas I invite different artists know who I know have a special interest in the specific themes I want to investigate in the three constituting pieces.
In the first part of the trilogy, PÅSKEN (Easter), I invited the artist Stina Kajaso to create the experience with me. Together we guided our 30 participants through experiences and meetings with more than 15 other artists and theorists who enlighted the construction and narratives of the Easter witch from different perspectives. For the second part, MIDSOMMAREN (Midsummer), I invited my long term collaborative partner, the choreographer Ludvig Daae. Together we created an 8 hour experience investigating the Swedish national identity and the notion of nationalism.
C-P: I always find it pleasantly self-ironical and crucially and necessarily poignant when the arts which in essence are tied with an air high-brow, examines the notion of what is “good” and “bad” taste and more importantly why. This is something you’re also said to be interested in with your work. What are your thoughts on the matter? How pivotal is humour and for participants to get to channel juvenile desires and urges in your work?
T.B: This is the very core and reason why I do what I do. I think it is important for humans with different backgrounds to meet in person, open up and talk about important and existential subjects. I try not to have specific goals I want to communicate, instead I am interested in presenting participants with a wide variety of perspectives of a subject, and let the participants themselves come to their own conclusions.
I’m also certain that people really want to meet and talk about what it is like to be human. The difficulty is that we have so few venues for this. We are stuck in our own bubbles and terrified of doing things the “wrong” way. I try to break through the confinements of social anxiety and create the venues that we lack; venues that allow long conversations about complex subjects. I also try to connect body with mind in the discussions for acknowledging new perspectives but also to get under people's skin. When this succeeds it is very powerful to see and hear back about these unexpected chance encounters and newly reached thoughts and perspectives on a subject.
I think these kinds of conversations often are the goals for artists, but I`ve almost never heard audiences talk about matters of life and death with other people after seeing a show for instance. What I do when I create these experiences is to target all of the participants' sentences and with firm hand lead them through different experiences and meetings. After a couple of hours in this safe space, drifting in an ocean of sensible impressions, most of the participants give in to the desire to really meet other people, prompted by the subject at fore.
As to answer your question, humour can be a great tool for making people relax a bit. But the most important thing to make people get down with the subject is to create a safe space first and then expose all of the senses to powerful experiences for several hours in a row. Then people actually crack and give in to being present and have "real" conversations.
C-P: I was fortunate to participate in PÅSKEN during the Easter weekend about the notion of the Easter witch. What ultimately drew you to "her"?
T.B: PÅSKEN was the first part of in the trilogy ÅRETS HÄNDELSER which investigates the big annual public holidays of the calendar. For every part in the trilogy I try to narrow a notion down; a notion that I define as the core of the holiday that is celebrated. The notion has to be something I don’t know how to relate to.
In my work with PÅSKEN the notion became the Easter witch ("påskkärring" in Swedish) and the part of the witch in creating femininity and culture. The Easter witch was the most fascinating creature I could find relating to Easter celebration and by investigating the Easter witch I had to really consider the witch as a the epic phenomenon that she is. The witch fascinates me as a feminist icon, surrounded by epic mythology and informed by a very dramatic history to say the least, but also due to the fact that people today relate to the magic of witches. The witch has also a rich repertoire of aesthetics from Disney’s popcultural attributes to the Victorian mystique, not forgetting the folklore and the spectacular witch clothing and attributes used since the beginning of the 18th century.
C-P: Most recently there was MIDSOMMAREN which is based on the Nordic tradition of celebrating midsummer. Midsummer like any other festivity has its particular and distinctive iconography. In this case it is quite very tied with national identity and heritage. I think that in light of political and global realities today of merger, migration and displacement, this becomes particulary interesting to me. Swedish midsummer is staunchly “Swedish” and as much a given for some as it is alien to others. What can be said about this work?
T.B: I totally agree, it is such an important subject today. This is what got us interested in it from the beginning. The work we did with MIDSOMMAREN, investigating national identity and nationalism, might have been one of the most important works I have done this far. In MIDSOMMAREN we introduced people to a wide range of perspectives, from personal and intimate stories, to the academic and political perspectives, adding to the mix every participant’s personal story. We didn’t have specific “truths” we wanted to communicate. Our take was; “This is a complex subject, we don’t have the answer. But here are some really interesting takes on it". And then; "Now how do you feel?”
For me, this work gave a lot of new insights and ideas when it comes to national identity and nationalism. In times of a polarised political debate when the terms “Swedish values” and "Swedish culture" are frequently used it is more important then ever to talk about what “Swedish” is and represents and to whom. To take part in defining the culture and values we define as “ours”. The nation is a political and cultural construction which is under constant negotiation. Everybody needs to take part in that negotiation. That is not the case today and that is problematic. In creating MIDSOMMAREN I wanted to inspire the participants to take place and part in the discussion about what Swedish culture is. Hopefully many participants left MIDSOMMAREN with other, but related thoughts on national identity, nationalism and culture.
Tove Berglund C-P: What plans do you have in store with your art for the rest of year in 2019?
T.B: Now I am making some smaller interactive installations for Uppsala Konsert & Kongress happening at Uppsala Kulturnatt on September 14. After that I am curating the interactive acts in the tech conference Nordic.js. And then I will do the visual concept for Ludvig Daae's next piece; a piece where we continue our investigation on national identity,. It premieres in the beginning of 2020 at Norrdans. In the fall of 2020 I am planning to do the last part of the trilogy, ÅRETS HÄNDELSER, which will be JULEN (Christmas).
1) Lives händelser, DOP1, Photo: Louise Enhörning
2) Lives händelser, DOP1, Photo: Louise Enhörning
3) Lives händelser, BEGRAVNING1, Photo: Maja Daniels
4) Lives händelser, BEGRAVNING1, Photo: Maja Daniels
5) Livets händelser, BRÖLLOP1, Photo: Miranda Ivarsson
6) Årets händelser, PÅSKEN, Photo: Miranda Ivarsson 7) Årets händelser, PÅSKEN, Photo: Miranda Ivarsson 8) Årets händelser, PÅSKEN, Photo: Miranda Ivarsson
9) Årets händelser, MIDSOMMAREN, Photo: Louise Enhörning 10) Årets händelser, MIDSOMMAREN, Photo: Louise Enhörning 11) Portrait Tove Berglund, Photo: Joanna Nordahl