Signs from the Underground, Home Invasion and Textile Bliss
Notes on the MA Exhibition 2023 of Konstfack
Curated by DotDotDot May 20 - 26, 2023
John Funkquist (Spatial Design), Konstack
"This is the the best room", says Lisa Juntunen Roos, one of three curators of this year's degree exhibition on the various premises of Konstfack. Together with fellow Konstfack Craft alumnis Petter Rhodiner and Amy Worrall, she forms the nomadic art platform DotDotDot. The past exposure to the "ins and outs" of this school (including the biases and hierarchies) and having themselves experienced degree exhibitions on the other end as students, make them a very rational motivated choice to put at the helm of what is actually a two-year stint (they're returning as curators next year). We're in the long basement corridor, which is where we start a private press viewing two hours early (having actively found unparalleled ways to report from Konstfack over soon a decade's time must come with some perks, no?). The quote might possibly accurately have been; "This is my favourite room", but the jist remains nevertheless clear. A case is being made for the underappreciated basement space, met by some students' gaze as a "paria". The worry tied with the space down there is to not properly be found and get overlooked on the account of the myriad of projects on display already on the floor above ground. Certainly some of the spaces used for the degree exhibition come with perks that others do not. Few visitors are likely too really see everything but no one is likely to miss anything presented in the central Havet space that follows right after entry. A room called Atrium that is marked by beautiful light and aerial conditions and has for the past couple of years played house to "a side hustle" within the degree exhibition; an own separate group exhibition within the exhibition! This year is no different but more on that later.
Camille Barrington-Wood (Craft! Jewellery and Corpus), Konstfack
The students of Fine Art have some years appeared particularly self-entitled in terms of allocation and distribution of space, and some years the Fine Art cohort would surely have taken to the battle axe in order not to end up down in the basement. As bad it sounds, the needs vested in the degree exhibition are different for different disciplines. Unless a student of art pedagogy is pursuing galleries and institutions as their future platform, you really can't compare the stakes at hand with that of a grad candidate of Fine Art. There's two art schools in Stockholm and the other is one exclusively seated in Fine Art and is coveted and is generally offered preferential treatment by art professionals. Interestingly, the "one" grad in the most recent years of this discipline at Konstfack who went on to have an international breakout (rare for both art schools), or New Yorkian breakout (not synonymous per se with international, but depending on how you choose to look at it) Leo Park (MFA'19) and some of his peers were placed here (side note: Leo Park is showing as we speak at the seminal gallery The Hole in NYC until June 3 with the solo Big Fat Summer. That year the basement had an art fair booth-like disposition and didn't look particularly good.
And here's the thing; indeed it's a really good space down there, if as the curators you can manage to use its full potential to do something beyond a downmarket art fair, which in turn will require a good balance between space, air and art and to amp up some elements of site-specificity, where art aligns with the space and its look and feel.
The curators are eager to share their ideas from "the storyboard", especially since it might not always be evident. They haven't officially stressed or signed off on a big boastful statement, as might in hindsight have been the case with last year's curator group, the '22 CuratorLab cohort, whose concept was a "symbolic, emotional and physical re-orientation of Konstfack", with reference to Sara Ahmed's "Queer Phenomenology" (big words).
A driver here has been as few erected modular walls and as few acts of confining students to own solo sections as possible. I like the thinking. "Sometimes students think if they can confine and close off to their own corner it's the most ideal thing for them, that it allows them to just do their own thing", says one of the curators. We love how standing by one end of the long corridor, there's no obstruction of view leading to the other. It's too long to get the whole overview but there's a feeling of spatial "infinity" that allows for the space to be perceived for its merits. No cheap textile curtains or dividers or black velvet-y tents to pass through. The projects are all potent here and work up a dramaturgy together, as well in different smaller constellations. Gabriel Gabriel Garble (Visual Communication) set spark to light with the romantic everyday, reverie-inducing and "homely" notion of "sun cats", projected fleetingly on a wall (ed. note: He participated at the Sundance Film Festival with the short Well Wishes My Love, Your Love back in January), while KunSik Choi (Spatial Design) ends the corridor on a celestial light note and brings it back "home" with sublime cabinetwork, showing functional designs that have traversed far into the realm of abstract sculptures, while retaining their utilitarian purpose. Hence, a very interesting hybrid. Before these nodes, a leap-y journey from the Stockholm underground per way of Jaap Knavel (Visual Communication), all the way to The Moon by André Miller (Individual Study Plan in Design), with a layover in-between, around the Southern Hemisphere and a neon-infested Bondi Beach-situation courtesy of Camille Barrington-Wood (Craft! Jewellery & Corpus), happens as you walk the corridor.
KunSik Choi (Spatial Design), Konstfack
Jaap Knevel (Visual Communication), Konstfack
Jaap Knevel has looked at the signage and language use of SL in the local public transport system, identifying the negligence that exists (still) as the full extent of Stockholm's multiculturalism fails to be taken into any
effective consideration. Suggesting shortcomings with the title; It Doesn't Have to Be This Way, in the presentation he presents and call to attention the twenty most spoken languages in Sweden. We always think it's so smart to identify "small" relatable windows to address larger questions about structural system failures and it doesn't locally get more relatable than the iconography of SL that we are all met by on a daily basis.
John Funkquist (Spatial Design), Konstack
John Funkquist's bendy wooden constructions as interventions in this grungy space, amending to it pillars or bridges between floor/ceiling and walls is a beautiful (visual) fusion of materials, and appears like a declaration of love for wood in its very "non-monolithic" capacity while still in very primal form. The image shows what is surely one of three-five favourite moments in the entire exhibition. The basement space is a great feat to the credit of the artists and the curators. Loved it. The only possible flaw here is that one of the Fine Art students could have been brought down here too?
If the basement appears "unflawed", then some of the central spaces around Havet, the long isle (Seminariegången) that aligns with the main entrance and the library isle leaves a lot more to think about. Malin Lin Nordström from the '22 Fine Art cohort last year single-handledly showed the potential of the library as an exhibiting space and we'd take to take the curators to task for not using it this year. Havet at first glance looks perky, fun and balanced; it's neither an art fair "blockbuster" direction that meets the eye there, nor a quiet understated elegance. Two aerial textile "pavilions" set a clear mark. Ludi Leiva's (Visual Communication) choice to present her illustrated narrations around navigating the notion of "home" whilst in cultural in-betweenness, in this way feels fresh for the discipline and symbolically apt to confine a "room" of her own inside the pavilion. Ludi Leiva's had great success as an illustrator, appearing with her work in prestigious magazines and publications, so is clearly one to watch in this realm. Bhumika Sethi's (Craft! Textiles) Connecting Cultures where it hangs looks like a beautiful textile castle in the air. It's narrative, as the title lets on, is related to Ludi Leiva's. Bhumika Sethi's work "celebrates cultural identity and tells the story of her journey from India to Sweden, where she embraced a new way of life while keeping her cultural roots "alive", reads part of her text. Being born to Bangladeshi parents myself, we can relate and the detailing of the imagery is a joy. The half-enclosing construction looks great and the two-floor-layering with the thread strings in between as well.
Bhumika Sethi (Craft! Textiles), Konstfack
The problem in Havet is that after probing it closer it looks spatially unbalanced. The big imposing works takes up a lot of space (they're great), but it is to the detriment of some of the other presentations around there.
Camila Manuelsdotter Pino (Fine Art), Konstfack
On the side of Havet, bordering the wooden canteen area (which must be a really hard aisle to work with), Camila Manuelsdotter Pino (Fine Art) also makes a very strong mark on the exhibition. One of us worked together with her in an exhibition showing right now at Riche but while much enjoying and appreciating her past MFA solo around the same space on the premises while we were in that process, we were in fairness not quite willing to haul out any superlatives that time and also didn’t. Here; she just nails it and knocks it out of the ballpark. The presentation, with light streaming down from the roof, has when we catch it during the press viewing, something angelic about it. The usage of her, at times, very humorous protest signs to confine, or rather outline a supple and yet firm spatial setting for her presentation, is a great choice, to the credit of anyone involved in the decision-making. The aerial veil of her large-scale figurative work reveals a cascade of love. Earnest; heartfelt. Sacred; not clandestine, but such that, as we read it, is safeguarded by a ”gated” pathway through the protest signs. Come close, but don’t leave out the reverence conditioned by such intimacy when allowed partaking in.
Seminariegången (the central isle aligning with the entrance) feels more loose around the edges and mostly doesn't "stick" with me in light of an MA exhibition being what is at hand. For us a lot of the "gems" happen in rooms away from the most easy accessible spaces and corners. Once you get to such rooms the dialogues and unions between the artists inside are so strong and often blatantly evident that you are struck by the feeling of seeing curated exhibitions within the exhibitions, where the exhibitions we'd imagine are the curatorial feats of the curators together with the artists. The curators for identifying the potential and signing off on the idea, and the artists for completing the rest inside. Creating one big unison exhibition with this many students is utopia, impossible task, given also the multiple disciplines; that goes without saying, so it's not alien to think that smaller exhibitions will arise in some instances but it also makes you think of a certain disparity, where some artists are accentuated by each other so successfully, closed off in their own collective rooms, that it benefits the experience of their respective work, while others stand on their own. There will be impeccable, as there will be dull corners in an exhibition of this scale, but it's still some food for thought, what it says when multiple sections of an exhibition can be read as their own exhibition.
Caroline Nord (Fine Art), Konstfack
The most idiosyncratic of these exhibitions is the one joining together Nadia Maghder and Caroline Nord, which calls to mind a solid Maria Bonnier Dahlin exhibition at Bonniers Konsthall (back when the MBD exhibitions were held in one of the smaller gallery rooms). Caroline Nord’s big dark green wax waste-composed sculptural bodies that visually intersect ventilation pipes and insect-like creatures, as they appear on a course across the room and along Nadia Maghder’s domestic sculptural fixtures, e.g. a door and a curiosity cabinet, serve up a humorous reading along the lines of the invasion of the body snatchers from the underground. Finally, something connects back to the basement parts of the exhibition. The creatures crawled up from down there among people! That’s silly humour on our part, but the beauty here is these two artists’ presentation open up your playful fantasy register. It looks really tight. Clearly in this domestic invasion political underpinnings can also be imagined and extracted.
Nadia Maghder (left), Caroline Nord (right), Konstfack
Nadia Maghder’s curiosity cabinet placed with the back as a front wall at a very narrow distance from the wall, forcing the visitor inside the gap, is probably the single most exciting and inspiring installing choice in the whole exhibition. The objects on display, from the blue Nivea tin cream jar, to a box of multi vitamin juice (such you’ll find in every convenience store in a multicultural city part of Stockholm) and golden decorative objects; speak oceans about the material aspects of cultural identity, and how similarities/discrepancies in consumerism too create a sense of belonging/alienation.
Nadia Maghder (Fine Art), Konstfack
Gustaf Helsing (Craft! Textiles, left) and Adam Ytterberg (Fine Art, right)
Gustaf Helsing (Craft! Textiles)
Gustaf Helsing (Craft! Textiles), Adam Ytterberg (Fine Art) and Lisa Englund (Craft! Textiles) appear like a trifecta based on visual palettes and the common denominator of creature-like figures seamlessly binding them together in one of the rooms. Gustaf Helsing’s work has been noted over time at Konstfack and in a Swedish textile crafts realm of weaving that is both dominated by white and female-identifying practitioners, Gustaf Helsing makes a mark with his presence. His work appears to have evolved significantly and the work his textile presentation embodies physicality through metal structures, incorporating it with the inherent character and “infrastructure” of the space was very pleasing to see. Adam Ytterberg has quickly and very duly come to light as a most promising figurative Swedish painter of the future along with someone like Sixten Sandra Österberg. Adam who notably did his first solo with CFHILL before his solo at school and edited paintings nearly out of his subsequent solo, is back to presenting new substantial works and they more than make just for the attention he has been earning from the art scene outside the school bubble. Several people spoke to us about his impressive painterly skills. Talent speaks for itself. Lisa Englund’s figurative tapestry showing what appeared a sea creature on the way up to the water surface, ready for the party with painted nails, is a glorious “Hannah Ryggen” moment and hands-down one of the strongest in the whole exhibition. As few people with a solo room, William Reed's humorously titled Sunset Bitch presents the paintings that poignantly ring the zeitgeist bell in more ways than once, in an all blue pavilion, complete with audiovisual elements (don't miss the sound score!). A character that would appear an alter ego or in the least a dead ringer of the artist wearing lingerie and crocs will be found with endearing humor but if you've been on Grindr lately, it might be less startling.
Lisa Englund (Craft! Textiles), Konstfack
William Reed (Fine Art), Konstfack
A hint of magic is also found in what is really one of the less accessible rooms on the premises. Joining the work of two Craft graduates, Miriam Johannesson (Craft! Jewellery and Corpus) and Anneli Tegelberg (Craft! Textiles) is a home run. Entering the room, the former's fluid metallic sculptures, installed on the wall and suspended in the ceiling, appears symbiotic with the latter's gorgeous geometric woven works, both connected by circular shapes. In her Slowly Also Leads Somewhere, Anneli Tegelberg's has focused on the circle; a simple shape that in her field of interest, weaving, is difficult to perfect. To us, however, this is Craft at its finest, and reaffirms its position as one of the strongest disciplines, come time for the degree exhibition.
Anneli Tegelberg (Craft! Textiles) and Miriam Johannesson (Craft! Jewellery and Corpus)
Charlotte Hedberg (Fine Art) and Judit Fritz (Craft! Corpus and Jewellery)
Another room that finally has to be mention for its great merits inside is one shared by Charlotte Hedberg (Fine Art) and Kajsa Rönnholm (Fine Art) and Judit Fritz (Craft! Corpus and Jewellery) and Ida Netterberg (Craft! Ceramics and Glass). While quite heavy in form and contrasting materials (wood, metal, clay etc.) everything aligns well together and with the space. With its atrium-like character and ceiling height, this may be one of the best exhibition spaces which the group has made use of accordingly by installing from low to ceiling high. This is one of those cases where the curation inside supposedly should be credited the students. Charlotte's paintings (with a whiff of Hilma af Klint) sit as a grand patron halo on the wall. Kajsa Rönnholm whose amphora-like sculptures we first saw courtesy of SEART some years ago (then a graduate of HDK-Valand of Gothenburg) displays a very successful crossover from Craft to Fine Art. For instance, her metal glove resting on the floor almost appears like a blow-up of something belonging to Judit Fritz's clinical presentation with fetish and subtle S&M connotations. A sculptural canon where the clinical realm is sensualized and materials like silicone and glass are juxtaposed for sure exists in contemporary art, most notably it's been championed widely by the Lithuanian art duo Pakui Hardware (a pseudo for Neringa Černiauskaite and Ugnius Gelguda) but this is a welcome addition to such canon.
Kajsa Rönnholm (Fine Art), Konstfack
Another exciting work inside is an ephemeral installation by Kajsa Rönnholm where a wall of clay bricks seated in a water tank is meant too see its perishing which could be read as an allegory for the artist’s departure from her own background with ceramics towards other crafty materials and sculptural expressions. This way of self-referencing a past trajectory and turning it into a performative spectacle is what makes an exhibition like this have pull beyond the formulaic and expected stuff.
Ashik & Koshik Zaman