As Contextile media partner, ArteMorbida was pleased to meet and interview curator Målfridur Adalsteinsdottir and the artists Sidsel Palmstrøm, Ingunn Bakke, Siri Berqvam and Linn Rebekka Åmo.
A special thank goes to Katrine Rørbakken Lund, Soft Galleriet Coordinator, to have arranged the meeting for us.
In collaboration with the Norwegian Textile Artists (NTK), Contextile organises the presence of Norway as the invited country at this year’s Biennale over three cultural sites within the historic city of Guimarães: Museu de Alberto Sampaio, Palacete Santiago e Museu da Sociedade Martins Sarmento.
The 13 Norwegian contemporary textile artists present projects including various perspectives, representing some of the most significant concerns in Norwegian contemporary textile art.
Målfridur Adalsteinsdottir curates the exhibitions in collaboration with Contextile 2022 curator Cláudia Melo, Janis Jefferies and Kiyoshi Yamamoto.
According to Målfridur Adalsteinsdottir: “Thematically, the works span a larger field broadly dealing with the body, nature, ecology and the environment. Some works explore identity and belonging, while others revolve around our place in time and our close but complex relationship with nature. Several artists convey poetic and dreamy works and facilitate meditative and sensory experiences. Some work with elaborate mathematical pattern construction, some with the sculptural potential in textiles, while others map out and document. There is a spotlight directed onto the polluting textile industry and the difficult working conditions of the seamstress and textile worker, on overconsumption and the political landscape of our time.”
NTK is a democratic organisation for professional textile artists. The curators have been particularly concerned with showing a wide range of Norwegian contemporary textile art, its vast activity, and its strong position in the art scene. To know more about the association’s important role in the Norwegian and international textile art context, you’ll be able to read a comprehensive article written by Katrine Rørbakken Lund in the October issue of our quarterly magazine (subscribe if you haven’t already!)
During our interview, Målfridur Adalsteinsdottir explains that the first connection with Contextile began two years ago when she’d been selected to participate in the International Juried exhibition. This first meeting with the Biennial developed into mutual interest and collaboration that led Norway (NTK) to become the Contextile 2022 Invited Country.
Planning most of the display design online, Målfridur Adalsteinsdottir says she was amazed by the overwhelming beauty of the buildings assigned as exhibition venues. “Most spaces were much more interesting than they looked on screen, in drawings or pictures”. Being the invited country “was a challenge, but also an enriching experience,” she admits.
An example of the complex set-up presented by some artworks is Siri Berqvam’s ‘Red Fungus’, which interacts with the space, profoundly transforming one of the Palacete de Santiago’s rooms.
Metres of viscose and jersey are hand-stitched into endless folds of bright red, creating a bubbling, organic and mysterious atmosphere that envelopes the viewers in a surreal world. The site-specific installation required the artist’s touch. She personally intervened by covering a big wall, letting the long filaments of the sculpture emerge and expand into space.
“In my projects, I like to interact with the space, dissolving its physical boundaries. My installations involve the floor, ceiling and walls so that the individual elements act as a single body. I like to humanise the spaces I work with”.
Siri Berqvam addresses the significance of connections, both visible and invisible networks, in her practice and during her experience at Contextile: “Contextile gave me the feeling of belonging to a community, and this is very important”.
Red Fungus presents a structure composed of filaments and lamellae conceptually linked to the complex connecting networks of mycelia that invisibly spread underground.
“I worked in the forest for some time and had time to read and think. There is something mysterious about the underground life, about fungi; many things are happening in nature and inside the human body that are not visible to the naked eye. Covid is also not visible, but it has had and has many consequences. It is important to bring these issues to the surface and make them visible. Human life depends on the microscopic life of invisible bacteria and organisms. Fungi are the basis of life; incredible organisms that are neither plants nor animals but something else. And what we humans call the world wide web, when it comes to fungi, can be considered a wood wide web: an underground communication network. I like to combine all these thoughts about the ramifications of nature and the human body and combine them into surreal installations. The final work does not necessarily speak of a specific theme but is a synthesis of impulses that come to me and which I transform”.
Besides textiles, Berqvam works with different mediums and techniques that she uses freely to suit the needs of a concept or an idea.
“I need this flexibility because it gives me a challenge; otherwise, I easily get bored. I need to learn new techniques and ways of embroidery and sewing. I often use slow, meditative techniques. Working at a slow pace allows me time to think. How slow gestures affect the brain and the thinking processes is relevant for me”.
Nature and slow processes are central in Linn Rebekka Åmo’s work The revet (The reef) 2019, exhibited at Museu Martins Sarmento.
She explains: “I moved back to the North of Norway ten years ago because I want to be in nature as much as possible. Nature is one of my main sources of inspiration. I do a lot of reading on the subject and inform myself about the impact of pollution on the environment. I have seen several movies about the sea and how its seabed is full of waste. It is depressing but also a source of inspiration for my work’.
“When I walk along the beach, I always have a bag to collect the garbage. This series came out of the link between nature and pollution. Natural shades are just so good together, so if you see a tiny piece of plastic or something that doesn’t belong to nature, it stands out immediately. It’s wrong, in a way”.
In the Reef series, natural materials such as linen and cotton (most recycled) are cut into organic shapes, layered and stitched together to form textile collages framed in squares. Soft tones of pink, yellow, brown, grey and blue come together, depicting quiet abstract landscapes that remind us of the sea shore in the light of North Norway.
Her textiles are “still frames from the bottom of the ocean, like in the movies. And there are so many things we cannot see because they are hidden in the ocean’s depth”.
The collages’ woven backgrounds are painted on one side. “The paint comes through the linen, making it dirty, but I think this adds something to the composition that is by no means perfect in contrast to nature’s perfection. We have done many things wrong towards the environment, and this is evident everywhere”.
Linn Rebekka Åmo’s unique point of view on the landscape comes from her time at the Art Academy in Bergen, during which she mainly worked with photography. The camera’s perspective is declined in the softness and familiarity of textiles; the outdoors comes close and is perceived as domestic and familiar.
In front of the ocean textiles collages is Ingunn Bakke’s work Konstellasjon.
Having worked with textile materials for more than 25 years, Ingunn Bakke is now experimenting with new, more rigid materials like wood and glass.
The work on display is based on geometrical patterns drawn and developed on a computer, transferred onto MDF and laser cut. The modules are hand-painted in brown and black colours. This project originated from a research trip to Iran in 2017 that touched several destinations along the Silk Road in search of knowledge and inspiration, during wich the artist studied Persian patterns and reworked them into modules for her new project.
“Many of the most advanced and complex patterns in the world can be found in Islamic culture. In ancient times, silk routes brought knowledge, ideas and goods from the Persian Empire to Europe and linked East and West together. The influence on European art and culture has been enormous”.
“The basic shapes of the square, the circle the triangle connect people worldwide. How we see nature around us and connect to the world is universal. Speaking of patterns, that’s why there are so many similarities in different countries. And that’s what’s so fascinating about textiles, both when it comes to patterns and materials. It is so close to all of us”. The work combines new technologies and traditional decorative patterns, merging archaic and modern cultures.
Sidsel Palmstrøm’s monumental “Wall”, created by the artist in 2014 for a solo exhibition “Skorpe” at Galleri Format in Oslo, was purchased by the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum and here is displayed in dialogue with “Waiting room – mounting”.
The installation presents a large, open hatch in the wall, from which compressed clothes protrude, and a chair suspended from the ceiling with a pile of textiles stacked on top. The clothes in different materials and colours bring their previous lives to the agglomeration.
Palmstrøm works conceptually with textiles on different scales. From objects to monumental installations, the softness of textile matter is declined into solid volumes reaching, by layering and accumulation, a whole new meaning. On a singular and plural level, textiles closely related to human history can become a vehicle to address interpersonal relationships and broader social structures when detached from a familiar, everyday life context. In the encounter of ideas, materials and techniques, the artist seeks a further meaning beyond the visual, what is tangible.
“For some years, I’ve used old clothes we throw away or give away to create different installations and sculptures. Textiles connect all of us as individuals and as a society.
In this installation, you don’t know if the wall is about to be pushed back or if it is falling. I tried to create some sort of tension where you don’t understand what is actually going on. Is it just a nightmare? Is it something personal or a symbol of some psychological things going on? My reflection also touches the collective; it could represent all refugees. People have always been searching for a better life, somewhere else, for political or other reasons or hunger. I hoped this piece could comment on the textile industry’s overconsumption moved from Europe to other parts of the world. So far from our sight, we don’t see all the poverty and exploitation connected to it. I have a big expectation about the communicative power of this work, but I don’t know if I have been successful”.
Palmstrøm wanders about the efficacy of using textiles because, she says, “They are so literal. I just picked up a ton of thrown-away, used textiles, and made installations out of them. This material is so close to you and me. The danger is that the work would be too obvious and banal. After some years of using these materials, I felt I needed to change. So for the last five years, I have used other materials like ropes in combination with wood and stone”.
The ropes she uses come from the Abaca tree in the Philippines. “Sometimes,” she explains, “I try to get out of textiles, but when I have a problem, I always go back to the same methods. So, when I work, my questions are: Does the work really show what I mean? Am I too ambitious? Am I really succeeding in getting out of this material and processing its underlying issues?”.
Closing our coverage of Contextile 2022 with Sidsel Palmstrøm’s thought provoking reflections on the communicative efficacy of the textile medium and its social and political implications, we look forward to returning in two years’ time for another deep dive into the best of contemporary textile art and related research.