Written by Deianira Tolema
In the era of the digital age, where identity is nothing but what’s left of humanity’s physical presence in an ever-evolving, globalized world, the line between being and not being, remains blurred. Meanwhile, feminist art seems to offer a blunt reflection on the condition of our anonymity-related anxieties.
Sophi Vejrich, a Swedish artist based in Stockholm, reflects on these timely issues in a series faceless dolls outfitted in surreal costumes, her mysterious female characters transcend the most common interrogatives about female power, foregrounding many of the unexpressed concerns about the role of women in today’s society. Vejrich combines her European background to a dystopian view of femininity and sexuality, referencing the brutal directedness of American commercials while hiding behind the invisible thresholds of post-conceptualism.
Deianira Tolema: Who did you first take inspiration from to create the crafting masterpieces that you´re known for?
Sophi Vejrich: I was inspired by Paul McCarthy, Sarah Lucas and the whole YBA (Young British Artists) generation as well as Louise Bourgeois.
DT: According to your website, you started making art in 1999. What triggered your desire to express yourself and talk about the human condition in works such as “The Dandruff Spreaderess” (2002), where you seem to offer this exacerbated sense of femininity, juxtaposed with a heavy sense of angst and suffocation?
SV: Art became a tool for me to understand/sublimate the unfathomable absurdity of human existence, of spinning around on a planet in the universe without understanding why. I’ve experienced this strong sense of existential angst ever since I was a child.
“The Dandruff Spreaderess” symbolizes the triviality of everyday life, I zoom in on/scrutinize behavioral tendencies in order to demonstrate the self-evident in existence. To see the absurdity of what we take for granted, or as in this case, the phenomenon “of having dandruff”.
Naturally, one can also see my sculptures as a critique of prevailing beauty ideals, with the highly strung, girlish, barbie doll-like hybrid that starts cracking as dandruff spews forth from the scalp like a volcanic eruption. It might be disturbing, perhaps, but I think there’s a lot of humor to this piece as well!
DT: Do women have the so-called “individual power” they have dreamt of for centuries in the West? Or has female emancipation simply become a consumer illusion?
SV: No, women do not possess individual power yet. Even Sweden, “one of the most gender equal countries in the world”, has problems with sexual harassment, inequality, gender pay gaps etc.
In my art, I have long worked with the female antihero. The woman will not be free until she is allowed “to be human”, and that includes all that goes with it, the frailty, short-comings, permission to be immoral, of feeling desire etc.
DT: How does your audience normally react to your works in different countries, especially in Sweden? Particularly with reference to your history and culture.
SV: My experience is that there is a tendency in Sweden not to perceive the complexity of my works, that they are interpreted as either solely comical or solely disturbing. One doesn’t see or chooses not to see the ambiguity or dual meaning, but I might be wrong. In Japan, where I now have exhibited several times, there is more of a readiness to embrace this absurdity (integrated, as it is, in their everyday lives in an entirely different way), while at the same time accessing the deeper layers in the artwork and understanding that something serious is also being expressed, as in Japanese animé or Butoh dance.
Surrealism never really gained a foothold in Sweden, and that has no doubt affected the general view of art here.
The feminist undertones and the satirical elements in my artworks are not always picked up on here, as there is a general consensus in Sweden that one should tell one story at a time, and not “mix” like I do. Art should be more distinct and articulated if it is to be accepted, at least that’s the impression I get.
“The Blonde Theme” is an example of this and stems from the myths and preconceived notions surrounding the blonde, such as in the works “Folklore Eye”, “Blondes Have More Fun”, “The Wind Swaloweress” and “The Dandruff Spreaderess.”
DT: Would you be able to draw a comparison between Swedish, European, American, and Asian feminism, and how that awareness reflects on your work?
SV: That’s a difficult question since I am not familiar enough with international feminism to convincingly comment on the differences between the countries. Swedish feminism is very influenced by American feminism and intersectional feminism not least, which has received more and more attention lately here in Sweden and has made me more aware and observant in general.
Asia, and with that I mean Japan, a country I am quite familiar with, is extremely patriarchal. But there is an enormous longing for change amongst my Japanese female friends and colleagues.
When exhibiting there, I have had to avoid certain works that would have been considered offensive. Furthermore, they are not used to art by women artists as being so openly feminist. But I think all that will change eventually, although it might take some time. There’s definitely no lack of curiosity, that’s for sure!
DT: Do you think artistic, theoretical research on contents and materials should be implemented by surveys and on-the-field research on current events to ultimately stem into contemporary art?
SV: No, I don’t believe that to be the case. Good contemporary art is not dependent on theoretical models. I personally feel that the most interesting art is the kind that can “stand for itself.” That’s not to say that the theoretical isn’t interesting/important as part of the artwork or as inspiration. My studies/research regarding both the material and the intellectual premise can include everything from music videos, poetry, literature, fashion, and subcultural expressions to social debates.
DT: Does your work also incarnate men’s feminism-related anxieties in the works, “Leader of the Wolf Pack” and “Wetland”?
SV: “Leader of the Wolf-Pack” toys with, among other things, the exaggerated male ideal. The title is also a play on words, and associations emergent from that.
“Wetland, the Gym” is, among other things, an artwork that has to do with the rampant narcissism of our modern day and age, where the hybrid/android is part of an installation featuring glass jugs containing a beer or urine-like liquid. A cannibal or vampire state, where the figure “drinks itself.”
Both of these works become symbols for a “human theater” of sorts and the issues surrounding it.
I see it as being more about the existential, of the confusion that arises when the animal in the human being has difficulty finding its place. But it could also be seen as a caricature of the male myth.
DT: What gives the right to artists to laugh out loud at commonly accepted rituals and habits and turn the human psyche into an amusement park where the only way to stop the migraine caused by tribal drums is to open your eyes and breathe?
SV: In order for society to work, it is essential that people be granted the right to laugh out loud. It is an absolute necessity to be able to ventilate all kinds of things, even if it hurts. The role of the artist is to be a free individual, a philosopher of sorts attempting to formulate something that is impossible to express in words, to lighten that over-inflated balloon and let some of the excess air out now and then.
DT: Do you think of a particular audience when making your work?
SV: My artworks are for anyone willing to open their minds and considering they can be interpreted and experienced in many different ways, I certainly hope they can reach out to as many people as possible.
My goal is to succeed in capturing something in my artwork that can awaken a new, different sentiment in the viewer, whether it be a physical, sensual or intellectual.
DT: Are your works talking to the young generations only or also the teenagers of the future?
My art naturally also reaches out towards the future, which I believe is even more crucial today. In contrast to the conservative tendencies and desire to over-simplify the world, the need for a more multi-faceted and complex manner of viewing the world is perhaps more urgent now that ever.
DT: The playful aspects of your installations as well as their implicit references to children’s toys can be confusing, at times, indeed, while showing around your work, I’ve been asked, “Is that for kids or for adults, and which one of those contents may be tailored for a more mature audience?
SV: If my artworks do indeed seem confusing, that’s fine by me, because that is a sign that I have succeeded. But one shouldn’t stop there, but instead, continue digging. Their toy-like appearance is entirely intentional on my part. I enjoy, for example, working with references to popular culture. I believe children can be drawn to that appearance. But content-wise, all of my works bear multiple meanings more relatable to adults – then again, children shouldn’t be underestimated. An artwork that looks funny can have an explicit content. I like the idea of the artwork reeling in the viewer with its humorous, innocent exterior and then revealing a myriad of other meanings the more intently the viewer looks at it.
DT: What are you presently working on?
And a book about my art will also be completed.