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Heading South: Umeå Graduates '22

GSA Gallery in Stockholm presents a satellite iteration of Umeå Academy of Fine Arts Master Exhibition titled Live is Life – on view through June 18. We speak to three of the fresh MFA graduates; Oscar Häggström, Therése Lundin and Abdullah Mohammad. "After six years of constant studying, if you do not count a break after my first preparatory art school year, I am not the least tired of sitting and figuring out what to do next. On the contrary, it has rarely been more fun. I see it as proof that one's education has been successful.", says Oscar Häggström.

Abdullah Mohammad, installation view.

C-P: In 2022, where lies the focal point of your artistic practice?

O.H: I've been interested in how we view ourselves. How we present that to the world and what that creation of identity can look like; everything from social hierarchies to inner perceptions that determine how we behave. I have tried to find such "identity creations" to investigate in my various projects.

I also see a common thread; that everything is connected more or less to the digital landscape. With the benefit or risk of the internet, we have a much greater capacity to change and present who we are. I think it is extra relevant for me and my generation as we are the ones who grew up with the wake of the internet. We were involved when it slowly changed from an alternative to an imperative. Something that has gradually become bound to us. My parents' generation remembers a time when it did not exist, and my brother's children will probably never be able to understand a time without it. These are, among other things, thoughts that I have taken with me into my graduate work. I find all this personally interesting as I have had forms of social anxiety over the years and have found that playing different roles in different contexts has helped me deal with this. So my creative output has been a way to hold up mirrors to myself. You dig where you stand, I guess.

I think these thoughts can fit and be visualised through animation and video, something I see as clear characteristics of our time. It feels like everything is getting more and more animated with each passing day; an elevated reflection of oneself.

Therese Lundin. Installation view. Photo: Mikael Lundgren

T.L: My artistic practice in the last two years has been focused on figurative painting. In 2022 I have worked with themes surrounding the river, such as the transition of nature to culture and how we relate to big overwhelming feelings. My work often describe or document states of being and atmospheres that have an ambiguous quality to it. The main focus to me is the process of painting and I am slowly working towards getting more abstraction into my works.

A.M: My art in 2022 focuses on the concept of undefined human feelings, and more specifically, the feelings resulting from strong traumas in people’s lives, such as the trauma of war, the shock of isolation or shock from the reality in which we live. I express this topic in different ways through human bodies projected into a painting. Or sculptural work or installation, and recently I am interested in poetry and have a lot of writing. A recent experience was to recite poetry in conjunction with the presentation of my work in the master’s graduation project through an audio recording. I find that I will follow up on this thread for a period now.

C-P: Umeå being a school located up North, arguably off the grid from the epicenters of contemporary art; what were your considerations choosing Umeå for your studies and how has might Umeå have benefitted you as opposed to somewhere else?

T.L: Since I started my studies during the pandemic, my thoughts were that people were somewhat isolated everywhere. But I would have been happy to studie at Umeå regardless of that. The studios are amazing with panoramic windows facing the river and the access to the workshop areas is so much better than at bigger schools. My hopes were that it would be easier to focus on my work and retain integrity, since I felt tired of being in fast track-environments where I tend to forget myself sometimes. I think the attitude among the students have been the greatest benefit, and my experience is that it is more supportive than competitive, and I think that is truly valuable.

A.M: Shortly after moving to Sweden, I decided to study for a master’s degree after I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Damascus. I found that Umeå Academy offered a special advantage after reading about universities here. First of all, the location as it is located in the north. I really wanted to experience living there and the characteristics of the north with its nature and its lights, and especially the aurora borealis which is something of a fantasy. Secondly, the style of the education system that is based on self-development and depends on the student and what they want to make of their art without restrictions or limits of thought or style, and the special studios it offers for each student. Lastly, the calm nature of the north and its long winters give an appropriate opportunity to isolate from the noise of life and external influences and instead focus on work and artistic production.

Oscar Häggström, Did you see me yesterday? Installation view.

O.H: Since the epicenter of art is evident and it's all Stockholm-centered, for better or worse, it can sometimes seem that you are missing out because of the geographic location. I do not know if all students in Stockholm get gallery owners, unannounced, knocking on their studios. I would not want to go so far as to think. But it can feel that way. There are many more eyes there, and some of those eyes have so much muscle power that at distance they seem to be able to kickstart people's careers. Having that said, the sooner you learn that you have to get in touch, be out there and try to be part of a general scene about art no matter your location, the better it will be. Nothing comes for free, and even though it may look like someone is getting it, it is often not the whole truth, as with most things.

Not having so many eyes on me has allowed me to be as cringe, flawed, and as quirky as I want in my practice and understand that it's probably not the end of the world anyway to not be watched. In some cases, that may be what makes one excel. It has given me a calmness, quite simply. And that's why I chose the school to begin with. I wanted my cabin in the woods. Now that I'm done, I feel confident in my practice and have enough conviction in my knowledge of animation that I can do anything.

Of course, I got along well with my teacher, who acted as a mentor, and a class that was incredibly supportive and kind to each other. If I wouldn't have had that, perhaps my experience of a master's education in Umeå would felt looked very different. After six years of constant studying, if you do not count a break after my first preparatory art year, I am not the least tired of sitting and figuring out what to do next. On the contrary, it has rarely been more fun. I see it as proof that one's education has been successful.

Abdullah Mohammad. Installation view.

C-P: What can be said about your grad presentations and what you are showing at the satellite exhibition iteration at GSA here in Stockholm?

A.M: After our exhibition at Bildmuseet in Umeå, we had this good opportunity to exhibit at GSA. It is a good opportunity to gain experience in dealing with galleries professionally and start building relationships within the art scene of Stockholm. Given some challenges in the space, I decided to "edit" down the works from my graduation project in Umeå and submit two pieces out of five. In collaboration between us graduates, we succeeded in completing this exhibiton and I think it is a really special moment for all of us.

O.H: This is a work description of my video nstallation, Did you see me yesterday? which is currently presented there:

“The work is a collage of different films intertwined into a story about identity in a dynamic and increasingly digital world. During the project, I stuck to the term "profilicity," which means that we live in a world where our identities are no longer based on "our true self," but instead, our identities are based on something that can be equated with a personal brand. We constantly shape our identities based on an abstract audience. The term has helped me select my animations and has become a common thread throughout the film.

The video is projected next to dismantled cinema chairs and broken carpets. With the installation, I want to reinforce the film's plot and that the objects are in some way associated with performance and acting.” [sic]

Because I have had two different rooms to relate to in the presentation of the work (Bildmuseet in Umeå and GSA Gallery), I have been able to experiment with the look of the installation. In Bildmuseet, the screen was the primary thing. It became like a large cinema screen and simultaneously a sculpture placed in the middle of the room, with cinema scenographies as small props in the background with a projection depicting blinking eyes. Having a room by myself, the sound could almost be thrust out of the speakers and pierce towards the viewer differently than with headphones (as at GSA), which invariably then becomes a decision for the spectator, whether she wants to listen.

At GSA, the scenography functioned more like a sculptural element together with the animation; this time on a TV screen mounted on the wall. I chose to place the work in the reception of the gallery to boost the themes of appearance and presentation of my work. As the reception is often associated with what you are first presented with when you enter a building.

Therese Lundin. Installation view. Photo: Mikael Lundgren

C-P: What are your thoughts on the challenges an emerging artist like yourself faces after school in the present art landscape?

T.L: Since a lot of this is new to me, I think I have a lot to discover yet but I feel that there is a great longing for art after the weird years we’ve had and the situation in the world. Im very excited about keep working and I think the biggest challenge is to not worry too much about what the future holds, but instead try to bring forth what you would like the future to be. In some ways I try to separate my role as an artist and my role as a citizen but considering that the art landscape somewhat mirrors society, I think that these times are worrying but also interesting because a lot of emerging artists are going their own way, doing their thing without trying to fit in, and that feels very promising for the future.

Oscar Häggström, Did you see me yesterday? Installation view.

O.H: The biggest thing for me is probably to find a direction and a context. That is one of the essential things that a school provides, which you might take for granted. When we had guest teachers at the school, I always thought of how they emphasised: “appreciate these conversations you have with each other. It gets so quiet and lonely after you graduate”.

When you study, You have your class and always the next "thing" on your calendar. So it becomes like a safe haven. Being thrown out of it is a little scary. But on the other hand, I think it is necessary; I look forward to just working and actively finding directions and contexts. If I disappear after I no longer have a studio at school and not getting a student grant as a monthly pay through CSN, this wasn't cut out for me anyway. If you want to be good and successful at something, you have to keep going, and sometimes it's tough. Always stay committed to your dream projects. Work with people you like. Highlight those who highlight you and try to see cool opportunities in everything. Every chance can be the most incredible thing; it's just what energy you bring into it that ultimately can determine an outcome, whether question is of little online group show or a show in your apartment. I’m trying to have that mindset as I continue this profession.

Abdullah Mohammad. Installation view.

A.M: I think that the challenges are many and difficult for recent graduates, especially in art, due to the lack of real opportunities to work and the difficulty of obtaining funding and financial support which leads many artists to work in other distant fields, away from the arts, for life insurance.

C-P: Finally, what is up next for you in 2022/23?

A.M: For the time being, I am looking for job opportunities and I would like to start a new body of work which is a series of paintings.

T.L: I’m really looking forward to going back to my studio and work again, after all the socializing that comes with exhibiting. And it would be amazing to be able to do an exhibition this fall or early '23. I have a lot of ideas for new paintings that I haven’t had the time to start on. Im going to the northest part of Sweden to assist in a research project about the forest and hopefully I can bring something of that into my work but also I recently got interested in motorcycles and I really want to work with the theme of a female/non-binary community in the motor world, so we will see where I end up.

Oscar Häggström, Did you see me yesterday?, installation view.

O.H: Unfortunately, I have a few things I can't announce yet coming up this year and the next. But hopefully, soon, I can. But what I can tell you is that I got a scholarship from the county of Västerbotten, which also comes with a solo show to do, next year in the spring. So I'm developing some thoughts for that.

I'm working on an animation short revolving around my late grandfather Roland Jansson, who was a famous actor in Sweden.I'm also anticipating doing a residency in Japan and currently collaborating with a director and a playwright about making a theatre production where animation will be fundamental. So, I'm definitely excited about that. And lastly, I'm also going to move from Umeå.

Therese Lundin. Installation view. Photo: Mikael Lundgren


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