SEART Anniversary: 2021
SEART is the brainchild of Margarita Matiz Bergfeldt and Jonas Bergfeldt who together with close friends, each working in different creative fields, set sail to the art platform in 2012. SEART since then is devoted to the promotion of emerging Swedish art fresh from art academies around the country and the Nordic region. Marking the tenth consecutive year, SEART is just about to present and open another edition of its annual exhibition survey of distinctive artistries and positions within this scope of art. "These works of art are not only important tools for dialogues and inspiration but they also reflect what is going on in our time. This is evident in this year's exhibition. Many of the works have been created under the isolation of the Corona pandemic; a year in which almost all communication has been virtual and the restrictions on access to studios and workshops at schools have been extensive. It has therefore been more important than ever to create a chance for these artists to be seen and offer the audience an opportunity to take part in what is happening in this contemporary art scene", say Margarita Matiz Bergfeldt and Jonas Bergfeldt. We speak to Laura Johanna König, Madeleine Jacobsson, Jacob Broms Engblom and Fanny Hellgren of this year's exhibition to learn more.
Laura Johanna König
C-P: Your recent MA grad presentation at Konstfack in one of the degree exhibition cycles this year was very grand in breadth and your practice appears in the intersection between various artistic expressions. You have described yourself as a 21st century alchemist, saying an objective is to create the Lapis Philosophorum. Do tell more about the alchemical realities and elements of your work.
L.J.K: Porcelain is the material I am working with and probably always will. My addiction is mainly caused by this deep fascination for a material I simultaneously do and don't understand. With its natural and supernatural qualities, it unites many opposites. To me, it will always remain to be the most exciting process, resulting in outcomes from incredible delicacy.
When I applied for the Master's program at Konstfack, I did that with an extremely blurry proposal. Luckily, I got in anyway and received The White Road by Edmund de Waal to read as homework. So I did. "It is in the category of materials that turn objects into something else. It is alchemy." After leaving a bookmark at the page on which de Waal described the allure of a porcelain piece, things escalated. Alchemy was a better word than magic, which I used before, and my research began. From then on, I could not have a conversation without referring to alchemic investigations. It was everywhere. It is everywhere. And it entirely cleared my blurriness. I approached alchemy from the perspective of a maker, an observer, and a designer; thrilled to complete a bigger picture. During the process, various perspectives needed to be considered and the various expressions are a consequence of this.
Alchemy is a story, which fills libraries. A story of obsession, voracity for knowledge and wealth, a continuous striving for higher goals, improvement, and control. It is told by the desire of crossing borders and vanquishing human limitations. This science is founded on the thought, that once all structures within this universe are understood, they can be restructured. Literally, philosophically, and metaphorically.
The concept of enlightenment through a successful (material) transmutation is at the core of alchemical investigations. At its end is the creation of the Lapis Philosphorum - the Philosopher's Stone - an unspecified object, which is supposed to serve its user with immortality, enlightenment, and wealth through the creation of gold. The process is one of control; the outcome very much based on trust and desire.
Laura Johanna König, Object N°6_MORGENSTUND, 400mm (deep) x 500mm (l) x 400mm (h),
mounted on the wall, wood, metal, glass, porcelain (slip-casted/handbuild)
In the beginning, I was very much focused on the aspect of material transformation and its enlightening consequences. Then Konstfack closed in reaction to the rising number of Coronavirus cases. I could not continue working and got lost in books instead. Specific literature made me understand that alchemy is not just stories of ancient madness and failed trials of creating gold, but a timeless phenomenon. With its philosophical approaches and an understanding of gold as a synonym for the most precious entity beyond its materialistic value, alchemical investigations are still ongoing.
I read about possible reasons for goal-oriented behavior; about the human desire for improvement, development, control, singularity; about the extensions of our limitations through objects, and the comfort through those. I illustrated my research through small kinetic machines, in which lost wings and movements in circles around tiny suns play core roles. Because: "Gold is the shadow of the sun" as the alchemist Hermes Trismegistus said 2200 years ago. The sun carries much allure and serves us with light, warmth, and energy. Perfect, that is what we need to move on: Far back in time, as well as today. To understand what we are striving towards today, I collected thoughts about how gold might look in the 21st century. It turned out to be a subjective value, often found in the small things: In actions of care and gestures of comfort. Not a mineral anymore, but the core ingredient for mental health--this precious entity, we all are striving for and which needs protection. Increasingly. Based on the interviews and my own experiences, I started to participate in the mission to find the Lapis Philosophorum; an object, which serves us with subjective and metaphorical gold through light, warmth, and energy. And since my participation, the madness got me, and I couldn't stop working. Every longer break was a distraction. Through being a maker, who is thrilled by material transformation; through being an observer and participant of restless striving for improvement; through being a designer in the service position to create objects that serve and support others, I am a 21st century alchemist.
Laura Johanna König, Object N°8_ CEREMONY IN BLUE AND WHITE, 70 mm x 60-90mm (various heights), porcelain (slipcasted), underglaze painted
C-P: What are you presenting in this year’s SEART exhibition?
L.J.K: My degree exhibition was very spatial. For this exhibition I reduced scale and I show one fragment from each thread I followed. With Mineralia Homunculus, I artificially reconstructed a mountain that was once entirely transformed into porcelain objects. The resulting test cylinders are framed in the seat of a stool. It is important to rest on your achievements once in a while. Shortly.
The small wall piece Ego Cosmos shows a hand and a bird wing circulating a sun, which can only shine when it illuminates itself--sad story: it will never happen--while two tiny suns are circulating themselves. Object N°6: Morgenstund_A ritual of Optimism is one of my seven first trials of creating a contemporary Lapis Philosophorum. It is a sink for daily cleaning, surrounded by containers filled with different substances that are considered to be healthy and healing for our physical and mental selves. For those who do not only want to wash in but swallow the probably enlightening stuff, special small cups are just perfect for the shot-to-move-one.
C-P: Would you possibly see a difference in the position of crafts-based art in your native Germany here and in Sweden?
L.J.K: I have to confess that I cannot answer that question. I am not really familiar with the crafts-based art scene in Germany and its position in society. I have never kept myself updated with the broader scenes around me, and my knowledge of what is currently happening in both countries is too fragmented to make a solid comparison.
Laura Johanna König, Wooden stol / table: 300mm (deep) x 500mm (l) x 1000mm (h), wood, porcelain (slip-casted)
C-P: What’s up next for you in 2021 and the near future?
L.J.K: This investigation I speak of is ongoing. I am not done yet with looking for the Lapis Philosophorum. Everything that follows now will contribute to my experiments and explorations in both artistic and academic contexts.
I will stay in Stockholm until the end of January and show single pieces in some exhibitions here and then permanently install the main body of my installation in Akademiska sjukhuset (the academic hospital) in Uppsala. But I am mainly staying here for the chance of working with a Stockholm-based experience designer. We want to start exploring how the fusion of our professions can result in a work, that irritates, fascinates, and through that triggers the perception of things beyond understanding intellectually.
In early February, I will then (hopefully) return to Arita, a small city in the south of Japan. This tiny city inhales and exhales porcelain and a previous stay shaped my way of working essentially. Funded through the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, I have three months to dive deeper into the question of how objects can become carriers of gestures, serving us with gold on a meta-functional level. I will then return to Stockholm for installing the results in the glass gallery inside the Odenplan metro station. I have never exhibited before, so all these plans are really exciting, but feel unfamiliar. My future will, hopefully, always be practice-oriented, but I intend to focus on academic contexts for placing my practice. I am currently applying for a PhD position in the UK. If I get the chance to continue my studies there, I have wonderful four years of intense, focused, maniac laboratory and library time ahead, in which I want to continue searching for the Lapis Philosophorum, and that is everything I currently want and need.
C-P: Your figurative paintings see the presence of anthropomorphic figures which are said to act based on emotional states that are extensions of your own emotions. What can be said to elaborate on your artistic process along these lines in the studio?
M.J: I use my intuition while working. Through it I feel within my own body where the figures' bodily and facial expressions are. I create their decorations and environment with the same senses. The aesthetic is intimate and a sensitive process. I work both fast and slow, with focus. My intuition tells me when the shapes have reached perfection.
Madeleine Jacobson, Fish, 2020
C-P: Tell me more about the two paintings you are showing in this year’s SEART exhibition; Fish (2020) and Satisfaction (2021) and the metaphorical qualities of these works, as well as the inherent relationship between the figures on view.
M.J: I personify "the human" in the figures, animals, plants and the environment. The components together build up an inner emotional world with references to my concept of reality. The art that is developed through this personification process is a metaphor for "humanity".
Madeleine Jacobsson, Satisfaction, 2021
C-P: What’s up next for you in 2021 and the near future?
M.J: I have been absent from my dog for a long time because I wanted to complete my studies at the Royal Institute of Art without her. I have neglected my desires of how I usually do my work, for the purpose of finalizing the core of my art practice at the institution. Now I am finished and educated. I feel the near future is about my dog, me, and creating our home.
Jacob Broms Engblom
C-P: Your practice to me appears so ingenious and I remember texting with you about your work once following an earlier chance encounter at a Rundgang while you were still at the Royal Institute of Art, thinking to myself; damn this is totally going over my head which is a feeling I’m not very used to. It was humbling! You’re not just an artist but also an engineer with a prior degree from the Royal Institute of Technology. How would you on a general note describe the overlap between technology and contemporary art in what you do and make as an artist today?
J.B.E: I approached art, specifically Net Art, initially as an engineering student in 2007, a very pivotal year in hindsight with the advent of the iPhone, increasing momentum of YouTube etc. That time was fuelled with an unbridled optimism for technology and the internet. It was all very playful.
Today is of course very different. I guess a lot of my work is still centered around bending or exaggerating existing technologies, showcasing some of the underlying absurdities in their logic. Perhaps though with a more somber tone. Recently that has been centered around machine learning algorithms (“artificial intelligence”) and automation as that is one of the latest new black boxes.
Jacob Broms Engblom, still from "Triggered", 2020, 4K video loop, 13:32
C-P: What can be said about your works Triggered (2020) and Blue Pilled (2020) that make for your audiovisual installation on site in the exhibition and inform elements of ASMR and machine learning algorithms?
J.B.E: They constitute a sort of overlap between meditation and endless scrolling that a 2013 The Atlantic article identifies as The Machine Zone. The Machine Zone has today been refined and fine-tuned into something resembling a black hole, sucking in our collective attention with various spectacles and stimuli. So stimulating it’s boring, with a vague undercurrent of dread.
Both pieces are essentially mockups of contemporary phenomena but dialed up a bit. One in the visual domain, one in the aural. “Triggered” is an infinitely scrolling loop of collected slime, crushing and shredding videos (sometimes “visual ASMR”) interlaced with machine learning generated variants of the same content. An automation of visual stimuli. “Blue Pilled” is an audio collage crowned with automated guided meditation scripts. Soothing gibberish that somehow sometimes still puts you in the machine zone or at least keeps you listening. The brain keeps extracting. They are both part of a body of work I call “Pattern Extraction”. Machine learning algorithms essentially extract patterns from piles of aggregated data. The human brain is also, in essence, a pattern extractor. The push and pull between the two can, to put it mildly, result in strange feedback loops when the driving metric is only whether someone looks at something or not.
ASMR and visual ASMR are emerging cultures that I see as symptoms of this. Today's prevalence of the two are in large part to algorithms discovering and amplifying that a particular stimulus does something, triggers something, for someone. Whether it’s ASMR tingles, a moment of human contact, or in the case of crushing and shredding videos, some sort of deeper primal satisfaction of destruction.
To summarize: both work handle how algorithms can be tweaked to isolate and synthesize a certain drive. To pick out one very specific piece of stimuli that will keep you engaged. Resulting in something as strange as a brimming wasteland.
Jacob Broms Engblom, "Triggered", 2020. Photo: Stina Stjernqvist
C-P: I wonder if there are moments in the past where you ever felt your art was slightly ahead of its time, in relation to current streams and canons of art? Something tells me this might possibly have been an experience of yours. I would not be surprised.
J.B.E: I try not to think of it in terms of ahead or behind, the world is such a temporal knot as it is. With that said, you do have to keep in mind that understandings of certain emerging technologies and quickly shifting media landscapes vary greatly. This is especially true regarding machine learning and artificial intelligence although I think the narratives surrounding these have plateaued a bit. People have a general better understanding of what it is and what it is not.
In the end though I’m often just trying to evoke the feeling of being online, that simultaneously timeless and incessantly immediate state. Sometimes the feeling of being extremely online. If you don’t have any relation to this the work will hit differently.
Jacob Broms Engblom, detail from "Triggered", 2020
C-P: What’s up next for you in 2021 and the near future? J.B.E: I’m currently sifting through the huge piles of material I’ve generated during the pandemic, trying to make sense of it and seeing what feels relevant. I’ve also been involved in an artistic research project via the Royal Institute of Art (with Lisa Trogen Devgun, Benj Gerdes, Amy Boulton) that will culminate in something during Research Week 2022. It’s a sort of mapping of mapping and how we parse the world through the screens of the black rectangles in our pockets. The pandemic has forced us through a lot of different reframings of the project but the dust is finally starting to settle.
C-P: Your educational background includes studying at several art academies; HDK-Valand in Gothenburg, the Fine Arts Academy in Vienna and later Malmö Art Academy where you recently graduated with a MFA. How would you say this might have had an impact on your practice as opposed to if you had done five consecutive years at one academy alone, and one city?
F.H: For me it felt necessary to switch schools to get some perspective, even though it's probably convenient to study five years in one place. I wasn’t very happy with the education at Academy Valand so I went to Vienna on an exchange. In Vienna I was exposed to art forms and directions that I would never have seen here, and I realized how homogeneous it is at the Swedish art academies. Later on I did a MFA in Malmö which I was very happy with, even though the education time became a bit strange due to the pandemic. To sum up, going in and out of different art school bubbles makes you become more aware of the conventions and ideas that are taken for granted at the various schools. You realize sooner that in the end you have to make up your own rules and you may choose and shape the bubble you want to be in.
C-P: You have been collaborating with Nevven Gallery in Gothenburg and have had the opportunity to exhibit with them already a few times. What can be said about your collaboration to date with the gallery?
F.H: I participated in one of their first exhibitions when they opened in 2015, when I just had begun my studies at Academy Valand. Back then, Mattia and Alina who runs the gallery had just moved to Gothenburg from Italy via Copenhagen to work as artists and by chance got a studio that could also work as an exhibition space. So Nevven started up very spontaneously as an artist-run gallery and over the years they’ve grown to become one of Gothenburg’s most interesting art spaces. I’m really impressed by what they’ve managed to create in Gothenburg, which isn’t the easiest city to create something durable in. Today Nevven is situated in the centre of the city and has grown into an emerging gallery and publicly funded art project. This year they are participating at Chart Art Fair in Copenhagen for the first time, with works by Anastasia Bay. I’m happy to have a close collaboration with them, among a group of very interesting, emerging or mid-career, Swedish as well as international artists. OVer the years I’ve participated at several group shows and have had two solo shows at the gallery; the latest being in January of last year.
Fanny Hellgren, Burning Nebula (Sand Drawing)
C-P: How would you elaborate on the distinctive process involving sand and water from which your work in the exhibition, Burning Nebula (Sand Drawing) stems?
F.H: Burning Nebula (Sand Drawing) stems from a process I’ve been working with since 2020. I create the drawings outdoors in the summer season by pouring sand and water on papers and spray on a mixture of pigments, graphite powder, binder, and water. When the sun has evaporated the water, I brush away all of the sand, while the graphite and pigment remain on the paper, plotting out the traces of the sand. I make choices in this process, but at the same time I have limited control over the result. This correlation between control and chance is something I work a lot with, where control represents my human actions, and chance represents the material and non-human influences. In these works, I try to capture a fleeting and ephemeral sensation of the earthly.
I usually involve the element of water in my works in some way. Water is a fascinating material with its eternal, malleable properties and ability to both build up and break down. I’m inspired by the hydrological cycle of water and the geological forces that shape the landscape, such as erosion. This is connected to my interest in the Anthropocene and dark ecology; ideas that have to do with widening our understanding of nature. We’ve created a separation between the human and the natural domains, instead of understanding our human civilization to be an ecological process among countless others. Everything is connected and everything is a phenomenon of nature, even ourselves. Our behavior have geological consequences. I try to work with these ideas in my drawings and sculptures by letting the the will of the material and the influence from natural forces such as gravity, heat, and evaporation guide the process.
The artist in process
C-P: What’s up next for you in 2021 and the near future?
F.H: I’m participating in a group exhibition at KHM Gallery in Malmö in October together with a group of other artists who got a scholarship from the Edstrandska Foundation this year. I will also start up a collaborative project together with my friends and colleagues Amanda Björk and Moa Gustafsson Söndergaard. Moreover, I will participate next summer in a group exhibition at Not Quite which is a cultural center situated in an old paper factory in Dalsland. That’s all I know at the moment but potentially more plans will come up.
SEART 2021 opens Friday September 3, 6 PM.–9 PM. No Picnic, Storgatan 23 C in Stockholm. On view through September 19, Saturday-Sunday, 1 PM - 4 PM (Exhibition is closed on Sunday 12).
Images courtesy SEART and the artists.
The group of participating artists are:
Geska Brečević and Robert Brečević, Anna Cherednikova, Jacob Engblom, Pauline Fransson, Vidar Francke, Klara Gardtman, Josefin Gäfvert, Caroline Harrius, Fanny Hellgren, Alexander Hult, Madeleine Jacobsson, Siiri Jüris, Johan F. Kallman, Laura Johanna König, Cecilia Levy, Therese Norgren, Malin Pierre, Elin Stampe, Armand Tamboly and Elsa Unnegård while bringing back Sacco Fujishima, Camilo Matiz and Yoyo Nasty