SOFT GALLERI – OSLO
*Featured photo: Ph. Credit Øystein Thorvaldsen
Soft Galleri in Oslo is one of the few galleries fully committed to textile art, a unique platform for exploring and discovering the Norwegian and international world of Textile Art.
The questions in this interview are answered by manager Karianne Opulani Sand and coordinator Katrine Rørbakken Lund.
Soft Galleri was founded and is managed by the Norwegian Textile Artists (NTK) organization. At the forefront of Europe, Norway can boast specific artists’ organizations, ensuring their members’ rights and providing opportunities for connection and promotion. Could you explain the role and importance of NTK to an international audience? When and why was it established?
NTK was established in 1977. It is a national organization for textile artists and one of the 20 founding organizations in the Association of Norwegian Visual Artists. We are a small but important organization with just over 250 members. Up to 1960, textile art in Norway primarily related to traditional craft, and makers were affiliated with the applied art movement. It took many years before textile art was represented by an institution and grafted into the art world as a distinct art form, with equal status to painting, sculpture and so forth. Only by exception had certain textile works been seen as fine art. A milestone in the history of textile art in Norway was when the jury for the annual National Autumn Exhibition accepted a work by tapestry weaver Hanna Ryggen in 1964. Ryggen was the first textile artist ever to have a work accepted for this exhibition. But it was through the establishment of Norwegian Textile Artists that textile art became a recognized and established part of the Norwegian art world. Another milestone was in 1976, when textile artists, after boycotting the Autumn Exhibition for several years, were finally able to get one of their own representatives on the exhibition jury. Still today, we have our representative on the jury.
A board manages the Gallery; how are the members elected, and how is the space management organized?
The gallery and the association are run by textile artists themselves, and there are four textile artists on the board of directors. They are elected by the members at the annual meeting, usually for two years at a time. On the staff we have a director who meets with the chair board at least four times a year, a communication assistant and an installer who meets with all the exhibitors and helps them mount their exhibitions.
Why the need for a gallery entirely dedicated to the textile medium like Soft Galleri?
The textile medium has, through history, had very little prominent space in the art world. To have our own gallery that challenges what textile art can be, what it is and what it might be, gives us a possibility to define our own material and our own art.
International and Norwegian artists can propose their work to the gallery board for consideration every year through an open call. What are the factors behind your exhibition programme, and how do you choose the artists to exhibit?
The board of NTK curates the exhibition programme to show a broad selection of interesting exhibitions each year. They want to broaden the public’s perception of what textile art is and can be by challenging preconceived notions, as well as giving space to established textile artists working more traditionally. The best applications are those who seek to push boundaries in their own way, either conceptually or materially. The artists who are selected to show their work at the SOFT gallery have high quality and ambition in their work and have developed a distinctness in their artistic practice.
Any tips for a successful application?
The chair board is constantly changing its members. Every annual meeting, some of the members will leave, and new ones will enter. This dynamic changes also the outlook on what kind of exhibitions will be presented in the gallery. But what will never change is the materiality and the high quality. We wish all who wants to apply all the best.
Next to the gallery programme, NTK and Soft Galleri organize a residency programme: AiR Green – Artist in Residence. Can you tell us more about it? What’s the aim, and how to apply for the residency?
In 2016, we, in partnership with the textile artist and farm owner Kristin Lindberg, set up AiR Green – an artist-in-residence program at Søndre Green farm. The farm has been the property of Lindberg’s husband’s family since 1860. The residency is for artists who have a textile approach to their art. The residency is supported by Viken County Municipality, Krødsherad municipality and us. The artist residency program makes it possible for four artists with different approaches to textiles to live together for a whole month. Norwegian Textile Artists´ board selects the four artists who will participate in the residency program based on the submitted applications. On the last day of the residency, the public is invited to an Open House event at the farm. This offers a unique opportunity to visit the artists in their workrooms and see their artistic processes. Some of the artists who have participated in the residency have exhibited works resulting from their time at Søndre Green Farm, and these have been purchased for public collections or as embellishments in public buildings. The Open House ends with an artist talk in the barn. Kristin Lindberg has made a «white cube» here, and it is used for the conversations and for presenting the artistic processes for some hours. Sometimes we also organize an artist talk at Buskerud Art Center. We get a lot of applications from all around the world, and we have had artists visit from India, the USA, Russia, Taiwan, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and, of course, Norway. But – when the pandemic hit us, we had to adjust the residency according to the national regulations, and we were able to carry in with artists who lived in Norway. Last year we added an in-depth residency for one artist who lives in the rebuilt «summer barn» at the farm. Since 2019 we have organized two rounds of artist residency.
There is an opportunity to apply once a year, and we welcome every artist who works in relation to the textile media to apply.
How has the pandemic affected your work? Did your cultural offer change in terms of digitisation? What will remain of these changes?
Because of covid restrictions, we had to close the gallery for a period during early 2021, and one of our exhibitions was not able to open to the public, which was very sad for the artist and for us. For the most part, though, the lockdowns did not affect the opportunity to have an open gallery, but our exhibition openings have been affected in terms of restrictions on the number of visitors we are able to welcome in at any given time. We have made digital exhibition tours, as well as artist presentations for our website and YouTube.
We have had to adjust to the restrictions and publish more digital content related to the exhibitions, which has been a great success, but we are also thrilled for restrictions to lift so that we are able to give the public full access to our physical gallery space. The material based and often large scale art that we show here at SOFT gallery often presents beautifully in a digital space, but in our opinion nothing beats experiencing it in real life.
Opened on 13 January and on show until 20 February is the exhibition Menossa, by Åsne Kummeneje Mellem. Can you tell us more about it?
Åsne Kummeneje Mellem uses art as an arena for exploring her Kven identity and belonging. The Kven people are a Balto-Finnic ethnic minority in Norway. They descended from Finnish peasants and fishermen who emigrated from the northern parts of Finland and Sweden to Northern Norway in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the exhibition Menossa, Kummeneje Mellem presents textile works whose point of origin is a Kven craft, called käsityö. By using traditional techniques and materials in her own way, she seeks to create a space for discussing Kven culture. Natural and recycled materials are important aspects of käsityö, and in the textile works, she has also, among other things, experimented with lichen-dyed wool and woven bark.
Through käsityö, Kummejene Mellem seeks to create a space for dialogue and to reveal a generational gap in the transfer of knowledge. Using conversations with witnesses of history as her starting point, she pieces together fragments of a culture that has been on the verge of extinction. At the same time, she experiments and adds her own expression – thus helping the culture not only to breathe but also to be important, relevant and to continue to grow. At the juncture between traditional crafting techniques and creativity, Åsne Kummeneje Mellem explores the nuances of Käsityö – what it has been and what it can be in the context of contemporary art.
What can we expect of Soft Galleri in the future?
We have an exciting and diverse exhibition programme lined up for 2022 and 2023. Some of the exhibitions will be by established textile artists working with tapestry weaving. Other exhibitions will feature experimental sculptures, and some again are more conceptual – for instance, on how work as an artist relates to the traditional views on labour. The common denominator is always materiality and (the expanded field) of textiles. There will, in all likelihood, be artist talks and events, and we recommend keeping an eye out on our social media platforms (@softgalleri on Instagram) and our website softgalleri.no for exciting textile-related happenings.
Can you suggest to Artemorbida’s readers a Norwegian exhibition space (besides yours) not to be missed?
SOFT galleri is part of a network collaboration called “Kunst i Kvadraturen”/Oslo Art District, a collaboration between eleven galleries located in close proximity in central Oslo, varying in size and dedicated to different art practices. Several of these galleries are run by organizations for different artistic expressions – LNM (The Union of Norwegian Painters), Tegnerforbundet (Norwegian Drawing Association) and Norske Grafikere (Norwegian Printmakers’ Association), to name a few.
Kunstnernes Hus is an art institution in the centre of Oslo. Established by artists in 1930 to show both Norwegian and international art, it has since then become the most important independent institution in Norway led by artists, specifically dedicated to contemporary art. Kunstnernes Hus also houses the annual Autumn Exhibition, which is being arranged for the 135th time in 2022.
The new National Museum, the largest art museum in the Nordic countries, will open in Oslo in June of 2022. This will be a place to experience older and modern art, contemporary art, architecture and design all under one roof. The new collection exhibition will present older and modern art, architecture, design, arts and crafts, and contemporary art.