As her attendances at events including this year’s Venice Biennale and Cannes film festival show, the prominent gallerist and pioneering musician Marina Schiptjenko is an expert at the art of juggling different roles. In the midst of her relentless schedule, she sat down with The Forumist for an early-morning conversation and explained why nostalgia isn’t her cup of tea.
Let’s begin with Page, your music project with Eddie Bengtsson that dates back to the early ’80s. Later, synth-pop would grow into one of two identity-signifying subcultures of the decade alongside hard rock. You’re known to have been quite the pioneers in this genre in Sweden.
“I was 15 when we formed the band, and synth-pop had not even begun to have its moment. I had been listening to Gary Newman and Sparks and you could say both Eddie Bengtsson and I came from a musical background in the new wave. When we first started doing gigs, we were often on the line-up with prog, punk and post-punk bands. Later came Depeche Mode and there was a big breakthrough. Around that time, however, you would run to get a record at the faintest sound of a keyboard, getting your hands on whatever could be had that wasn’t rock. This identity factor you mention indeed became widespread and synth was the furthest down in the hierarchy after hard rock. Identification with music and the subcultural scene has always been a big part of me.”
You just released a new a record with Page this spring and have scheduled a couple of shows. What is Page’s sound like in 2017?
“We were always very clear with labelling what we
do as pop music. We orchestrated our music in a quintessential pop-music setup, using bass, guitars and drums, although we played them on synthesisers and drum machines. We try to be consistent with our sound – there’s no drive to reinvent ourselves or try
to sound in line with current times. We’re well aware that we’re in our fifties, but what lies at the core is the love for a certain type of music. In a sense, we are very nerdy when it comes to sound and recording. When it comes down to music, time always remains a factor. It’s rewarding but also very time-consuming.”
You’ve been in two musical projects with Alexander Bard, starting with Vacuum in the mid-’90s and, later, BWO (Bodies Without Organs). People used to talk about Swedish music being “big in Japan”, but with Vacuum you hit it really big out in Eastern Europe instead.
“I think that happened very organically for us, with Alexander having had a lot of recognition already out there with Army of Lovers in the ’90s. But what’s good to note is that Vacuum was founded on a clear idea and concept to make pretentious symphonic synth music. A lot of the ideas were eccentric. It was never intended to be lagom – balanced – and I think that bombast and strongly melodic quality worked very well in that market.”
Around this time you were already known as a gallerist, working alongside Ciléne Andréhn on your eponymous gallery. Being on the highbrow gallery circuit and competing in something so public as Melodifestivalen with BWO surely places you in two disparate worlds. What was it like?
“It was hard and I remember being quite divided and receiving some criticism about my choices. Times were different then, much less accepting than today. There was a reluctance on some people’s parts to accept my being both a gallerist and pop musician. I’ve always had the great support of my colleague Ciléne, who always had an easy-going approach to it. Had it not been for that, things might have been different. I was very stressed, though, and anxious about how it might impact on the perception of the gallery, but in the end, I learnt that, overall, people aren’t so bothered about what you do – it’s largely in your mind.”
Apropos of art, it feels like the idea that contemporary art will have its big moment among the public in the wake of social media has been in contention for quite a few years. I often get the impression that what slows the revelation down is this misconception that art is per se intellectually demanding, which then is alienating.
“It’s a big misconception, this idea that you need to address what you are seeing in words, as opposed to the experience of art being allowed to be something intuitive. I think intuitive and wordless perception is unfairly written off. It’s difficult for many to grasp because we’re raised to analyse and question the things around us – ‘What is the meaning?’ Perhaps it doesn’t mean anything and is just a state of a mind or sentiment evoked by the view.”
I think showmanship in art is something I’d love to see more of and which would make art more interesting sometimes. What would you like to particularly push for in art?
“That’s a difficult question and, in many ways, I feel like I’m already pushing for art at large merely by being a gallerist, maintaining a space that welcomes the public to come and see art. There are moments when you feel you are doing all in your power and wish that people would channel their curiosity more towards art and channel themselves when art appears distant. All these clichés about art being subject to snobbery or about feeling unwelcome at galleries just make you go, ‘No, that’s not really true.’ When you found a gallery [it’s because] you want to be creating the scene, and the public is a big factor in that. You don’t want to exclude anyone.”
I’m keenly taking note that you don’t come across as particularly nostalgic about the past as we’re having this conversation.
“No, I strongly dislike nostalgia. I think it comes down to a conscious decision not to go down that route, realising that if I do then I’m easily struck by a certain sadness. The epiphany is that it doesn’t really serve a point. What’s gone is gone and will not be coming back. I find it more rewarding to look forward and anticipate what is to come.”
On that note, you have a role in acclaimed director Ruben Östlund’s new film, The Square, which was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival this spring. Very exciting! Is this your first involvement with cinema?
“Yes! The movie uses the art world as a point of departure and presents a heightened image of what it is like – the director’s vision of it, basically. It is fiction, which needs to be said, but there are elements of certain aspects of the art world that resonate. Ruben enjoys working with a mixture of trained actors and amateurs to maintain an authentic feel and that’s how I ended up being approached for a role.
I play Elna, the chairwoman of the board at the museum where the lead character, played by Claes Bang, is the chief curator. Suffice to say, my character isn’t that impressed by him and I am the catalyst for a chain of events in the movie. At its core, the film is about the personal moral dilemmas of the main character, which are similar to what everyone faces in contemporary, quotidian society. It was a great experience and Ruben was lovely to work with.”
Lastly, what is a movement or shift you are seeing happening right now?
“I would say what is going on is a turn away from the anonymous and mass-produced towards authentic and unique experiences that bear an intimate feel, which you see in art and consumption. Take the resurfacing of vinyl in music as a great example. As for art, there is sometimes a push for it to carry so many ideas on its shoulders, for it to be political and mirror the state of the world and offer effective change. An interesting thought, however, is that perhaps art over the long haul isn’t the best-suited domain for that. Perhaps the rationale for art is rather to offer something aesthetic and poetic as a contrast. Maybe that will become increasingly important. I don’t have an answer myself, but it’s food for thought.”
#3 Betongverk Elsa Stenhammar vid pianot by Siri Derkert
#5 Bomb by Per B Sundberg
#6 Installation by José León Cerrillo
#7 Neoconcrete Space by Jacob Dahlgren
#8 Bedscene by Cajsa von Zeipel
#9 Josefs Sömn by Omid Delafrouz
#10 Flickor (Allra käraste Tova) by Lena Johansson