Ebba Alling, Chasing My Tail, 2022, installation view, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm. Photo: Ebba Alling
Currently presented in Stora Galleriet at Konstnärshuset in Stockholm, curated by C-print's Ashik Zaman, is the three-person exhibition Hana-bi (fireworks in Japanese). It presents as a conceptual statement exhibition which considers how artistic disciplinary boundaries dissolve within the scope of art schools but are reinforced once after school which becomes a skewed condition for some artists. The three artists Wilma Harju, Ebba Alling and Iris Hautaniemi are all BA ’22 graduates in Graphic Design & Illustration at Konstfack, while all working with painting and sculpture. We met them as we were making The Future Watch Issue in print last year with their class and kept thinking they had so much potential as contemporary artists, while not stemming from a Fine Art background per se. It was a reminder of the need to look beyond formal classifications and making sure to continuously look for art outside of the box. The exhibition began with thinking about fireworks as a multifaceted notion, cemented both historically and culturally, and the dichotomies between violence/beauty and joy/loneliness that fireworks among other things represent. Deception and discrepancy between what appears and lies at the core, using fireworks in their metaphorical capacity is a major leitmotif at hand. In the midst the exhibition looks as well at the absurdity of fireworks being mass retailed using a language close to that of warfare (e.g.”Scorpion world destroyer!”) and by exploiting the image of animals, to whose detriment fireworks are lit. In our interview we speak to the three artists about their respective work, while tracking back doing our first ever art fair as exhibitiors with them at last year's Supermarket Art Fair in Stockholm (A booth exhibition titled Psykets estetik).
Wilma Harju, Bat Out of Hell, 2022, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm
C-P: What has the experience of working long-term with a curator and each other been like over the course of now two exhibitions? W.H: The whole process has been new and very exciting to me. Working with a curator who encourages us to challenge ourselves and expand our artistic practices gave me the opportunity to explore and test things I have not really done before. It has been very nice to have a curator with us, to always be able to brainstorm ideas with. Working with Iris and Ebba has also been a bliss. We have spent a lot of time at Konstfack working side by side, which made it possible for us to take part in each other’s processes from start to finish.
That has been very inspiring.
E.A: Very exciting! I feel like it’s been giving me a lot. I normally have a quite drawing-based practice, but after the collaborations I think more of how my work can appear in dialogue with a physical space.
I.H: I would say that it has been very fun and challenging at the same time! Since you are not alone in the project you have to be mindful of the people you’re working with. Being harmonious and respectful to each other and being able to listen and compromise without losing the essence of your own artistic voice and values. The more you work with each other the more you learn about each other's art and processes as well as your own. It has been an amazing experience. I feel very blessed to have seen the first ideas of every artwork come to life. Growing and constantly change. Listening to our conversations and seeing everything come together.
Iris Hautaniemi, Poor Child of Sin, detail installation view, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm. Photo: Iris Hautaniemi
C-P: How does Hana-bi differ for you from Psykets estetik of last year?
W.H: I think the big difference is the contexts and spaces in which the exhibitions were. Psykets estetik was exhibited in a booth at Supermarket Art Fair but this time we had a much bigger room in a gallery to work with. That made it possible for us to scale up, make larger and more pieces. Now in retrospect, I see Psykets estetik as a seed that was sown; a first, smaller exhibition to try out what we could create together. I feel like Hana-bi grew quite naturally from that seed and I guess I see it as a continuation of the first exhibition, even though they differ thematically.
E.A: I think we have a more united narrative in Hana-bi. Although our work looks quite different we have the same starting point. We’ve worked with the theme really closely and discussed it a lot together. I think our work merges really smoothly in this exhibition!
I.H. I say it differs in a lot of ways. I feel more secure trying mediums I’m not used too. While my main focus during Psykets estetik was sculpture I really wanted to focus on my paintings this time. There is a certain freedom in painting on such large canvases. You need to use your own whole body rather then just your hands. It is also something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time but not had the right opportunity for.
Iris Hautaniemi, Lucier Has Many Lovers, 2022, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm
Iris Hautaniemi on her interest in the devil as a concept and her character Buttboy
C-P: There is a narrative in a series of your paintings that connect to fireworks in their metaphorical capacity and involves the devil. Tell me about the devil in the works but also the devil as a recurring interest motif-wise in your works.
I.H: The devil has always been a very fascinating concept to me. It’s the personification of evil but you always have a sense of compassion for it. Just the mere fact that the most evil of creatures once was an angel. It’s vital in a lot of literature that I’m fond of and "he" is always very intriguing and charming. It’s a subject that always seems to inspire me and others before me. The devil in these particular artworks are depicted in different ways but together create a narrative that is independent of a specific timeline. His form varies just like his name. Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer…He is deceiving by nature and just like fireworks you can’t look away but it will burn you if you get struck by or touch its sparks.
Iris Hautaniemi, A Flower Is Merely A Flower, 2022, detail view, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm. Photo: Iris Hautaniemi
C-P: A character you’ve attributed as “buttboy” also appears in a painting and is also one of your signature marks. Buttboy certainly gets to have his moment in this exhibition.
I.H: Buttboy has become extremely important to me over the years. He started as this doodle of a scary man with a doll's head and snake genitalia and slowly over time he has become more cute as I’ve grown more fond of him. As he has become my signature mark it felt important for me to include him in this fine arts context.
Ebba Alling about her interest in the contrasting feelings represennted by fireworks
C-P: What are some of the threads around fireworks as a notion that struck a chord with you here?
E.A: I was very interested in exploring the ambivalent, the contradictory feelings that I do associate with fireworks. I thought a lot about fireworks as reflections of ourselves. In one of my works for the exhibition, Chasing My Tail, I froze the shapes of fireworks and played with them, to think of what they meant. The illusion of a change when we’re maybe just chasing our tails.
Ebba Alling, Comets, 2022, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm. Photo: Ebba Alling
C-P: You are presenting an evocative animation; Playing Love Songs on My Doomsday Trumpet. While the work is open-ended, the title hints at a narrative or a mood in the least you could say.
E.A: In Playing Love Songs on My Doomsday Trumpet, I wanted to create an animated loop with a subtle movement. When creating this work I thought a lot about the aspect of fireworks as a marker of time. Here, again, I was interested in the contrasting feelings. The festive and the sad. The decadent and the achromatic. The kiosk as a beam of light in the night.
Ebba Alling, Playing Love Songs on My Doomsday Trumpet, still from animation (22 seconds loop)
Wilma Harju, Phantom Red, 2022, detail installation view, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm. Photo: Wilma Harju
Wilma Harju about artistic labels and about considering the harm of fireworks to the non-human animal
C-P: How do you relate to, or not relate to, being attributed an artist within the neo goth art genre?
W.H: I had not really thought of what I do as something within the neo goth art genre until you (Ashik) pointed it out during our process. I think I have always just done what I wanted to do without thinking about if it fits into any specific genre. I’m fine with others putting my work into a genre, but I think that if I start to place myself there, I might feel limited by it. I’m trying to relate freely to various categories to have the opportunity for my work to potentially change to something else in the future. Especially since I’m just at the beginning of my artistic career. With that said, I can see that my visual language and certain themes I find interesting have a kinship to the neo gothic art canon. I also appreciate a lot of art within the genre, so to be attributed with that label is nothing I have a problem with.
Wilma Harju, Phantom Yellow, 2022, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm. Photo: Wilma Harju
C-P: What can be said of your works in the Phantom series? W.H: When I started on the paintings, I thought a lot about fireworks as a sort of symbol for the penchant of humans for "the beautiful" and how beauty often overshadows the sometimes downside of things. Fireworks are entirely designed to fill human desires and for other species a completely elusive concept. While we can have pleasure from watching the beautiful colour explosions, they can in the worst case at the same time harm or disturb the rest of nature. I also could not help but see the visual similarities between different plants and fireworks and I wanted to somehow disguise one with the other and portray them as phantoms of each other, beautiful but at the same time threatening. The titles are also a reference to a type of firework which is named ’’Phantom’’, followed by the colour of the firework.
Hana-bi is on view at Konstnärshuset in Stockholm through July 9.