Three artists – Åsa Jungnelius, Ann-Sofie Back, and Saga Sandström – all challenge tradition and the limitations of the genre in their work. In occupying the worlds of both art and design, their work transitions not only from one state of physical being to another but also the artists themselves pass from one state of mind to another.
Art encompasses many creative disciplines, design being one of them. Even so, art is described as perceptual, endeavouring to evoke thought and emotion, while the design is seen as rational with the purpose of solving problems. They intersect but relate to different fields. They are in a state of transition in which the relationship between the two is relative, ever-moving, and changing.
We have met with three female creators to listen to their experiences as a part of the world of art and design. Is it possible to determine aesthetic judgment from a practical one? How are these beliefs and opinions influenced by time, culture, and experience? It is a narrow, complex path of what a transitive expression is and could be.
Åsa Jungnelius was born in 1975 and lives and works in Stockholm and Månsamåla, a small town in the county of Småland, Sweden. Åsa holds an MFA in Arts and Craft at Konstfack in Stockholm. Her early works in glass were her breakthrough into the art world, and she has since then been one of the leading Swedish artists within the field of glass.
“My time in art school was essential to my work. Not just the education itself, but the ongoing dialogue and conversations that progressed over time. We were a generation who recognized and believed in the potential of the material. The art of glass making goes back to prehistoric ages, but has never been taken seriously as an art form. We had to work hard to create a meaningful context of something that was viewed as (only) craft making.”
She describes her art as a language, spoken through the material. It places the body in relation to social space and reaches across different genres. Her work creates spaces where the human being is naturally included, a space where we can find meaning and start working with different contexts. Starting in traditional forms, the work gives a natural reference to different transitive phases in human history.
“The shape is related to fundamental needs and traditions. A vessel to drink from, a shelter to protect us and our basic human needs. I work with these traditions in my mind, and through repetition, a new shape and form is created. They are placed in social spaces, where tensions and situations are awakened.”
On the topic of transitive expression, Åsa describes the intent, the agency, as the most important aspect of art. Every state has a possibility of being transformed, to change. She describes the artist’s work to be about changing the way we move, daring to switch position and put the work into several contexts and genres at the same time.
“The concept of design has expanded tremendously in the last two decades. Like the history of craft, there is an indication of wanting to challenge the norms and moving in a different direction, in this case towards the art world. The significant difference is not in the aesthetics, but within the different systems of valuation and worth in regard to commercialization, distribution and financial aspects.”
The state of the world today could also be described as being in a transitive phase – changes are definite and necessary. But historically, a recession is often followed by a creative, artistic boom.
“We know the future holds a new way of living for us. When a feeling of chaos arises, cultural expression is often longed for as an important fundamental need. Artificial intelligence is a fact, even though it is still abstract and futuristic compared to our known fundamental needs. We work based on our traditions, implement the present tools and ideas, and create something of our present time. Within art, tradition does not oppose the future, but it is through what is recognizable that we feel sane, when otherwise a feeling of disconnect might occur.”
The designer Ann-Sofie Back was born in 1971 in Stockholm. After graduating from Central Saint Martin’s in London 1998, she began to work within the medium of fashion. Her work was described as subversive and provoking. She visualized the clichés of femininity together with a concept of shame, sex and the objectification of the female body. In 2022 she was approached with the idea of working with interior design.
“At first, I was apprehensive about it. Interior objects? Is that me? After a while I started to get some interesting ideas. The proposition gave me a chance to see my creativity in a totally different way. To be honest, it is a form of relief to not work with the human body in the way that fashion does. A liberating feeling. Now I can let myself be naive and freer, let my ideas take place in totally different spaces.”
Ann-Sofie describes the works she designs as “interior objects”: a lamp in the shape of a head with a wig seen from the back, another lamp and a cushion with long, silky fabric streaming down the table and sofa, or a rug in the shape of a fur coat thrown on the floor. She says that the significant difference between art and design is about the motif and the functionality of the object.
“There are a lot of different types of art, and a lot of different types of design. To me the most important aspect of design is to create something unique, to have that unique voice. My objects are somewhere in between collectible design and studio-produced design. The object’s original function is recognizable and every day – the lamp, the cushion, and the carpet – but the shape and form are completely unconventional. It is commentary and creates different tensions. They also do the job, they have a function, even if it would be a bit of a stretch describing them as purely functional.”
Saga Sandström was born in 1996 and recently graduated from Konstfack in Stockholm. She describes her work as a relationship between softness and sharpness in which there are encounters between identity, body and personality.
“To work with glass takes a lot of focus. It is shaped in extreme heat and in a rapid process. It gives me a clear framework, something that keeps me on my toes. The vulnerability and sharpness reflect my own personality. I often feel spiritually connected to it.”
The objects have a way of communicating with each other and the viewer. In different shapes and forms, they speak of different stages in life, emotions and relationships. In her graduation show at Konstfack she exhibited a suite of works that is based on a case of sexual assault. The sculptures are segments of the incident, with illustrations of herself and written statements given during the interrogations with the police. The form is recognizable, but the intent is personal.
“I would describe art as something that is constantly moving. A process that evokes emotion and challenges conventions. Design could be that, but it is often more final. The object has a specific function. It has an ability to communicate, but the model is something that already exists.”
The purpose of design objects to cater to the users’ needs is a significant difference. Though a piece of art could be functional, just as the design object could hold the power to evoke emotion, it is the fundamental intention of the maker that makes the difference. It has to do with the motif of why this and why now? The intention is based on history, the way we live and experience our present time. The transitive nature of today affects the way we live and create, where art holds a position of telling us about our present to a future generation. A transitive expression, switching positions within genres, might occur as something contemporary. The art of today will always reference the art of yesterday, and the different chapters of art history are defined by divergence and transitions.
An understanding of tradition and history helps to comprehend the present and to extend the ever-evolving dialogue of art and its discourse. If the concept of design is moving towards the concept of art, it has the potential to be a perception of our time, and in that case the future.
Words by Sarah Bäckbro
1) Åsa Jungnelius, Snippan, photos by Märta Thisner
2) Ann-Sofie Back For Gnilmyd Kcab, Trophy Cover Coyote, photo by Alva Lefebvre
3) Åsa Jungnelius, Queen Helmet, photos by Märta Thisner
4) Åsa Jungnelius, Snippan in Pink , photo by The Forumist Production
5) Åsa Jungnelius, Mysstake Candle Holder, photo by The Forumist Production
6) Åsa Jungnelius
7) Åsa Jungnelius, Snippan in Pink 4 , photo by The Forumist Production
8) Åsa Jungnelius, Venus Passagen
9) Åsa Jungnelius, installation
10) Ann-Sofie Back for Gnilmyd Kcab, Scalp Hanging Lampshade
11) Ann-Sofie Back for Gnilmyd Kcab, Cheers Napkins
12) Ann-Sofie Back for Gnilmyd Kcab, Gala Soft Cushion
13) Ann-Sofie Back For Gnilmyd Kcab, Gala XL Lampshade
14) Ann-Sofie Back For Gnilmyd Kcab, Trophy Cover Coyote
15) Ann-Sofie Back For Gnilmyd Kcab, Gala XL Lampshade, photo by Daniel Camerini
16) Saga Sandström
17) Saga Sandström, Caring Personality
18) Saga Sandström
19) Saga Sandström, Large Vase
20) Saga Sandström, Coveted Personality
21) Saga Sandström