A cold and wet city tells us that winter is fast approaching, this time a year Stockholm is gray and smells of burned leaves. Rushing through the city on a windy day I find comfort in knowing that soon I will be surrounded by colors of all kinds, fabric and texture, craft and creativity, but most important fashion, fashion that shows thousands of possibility’s, fashion that inspires in a million ways.
I am on my way to meet with Sofia Hedman, one of the curators behind the current show at Liljevalchs; Utopian bodies, fashion looks forward. It brings a fresh breath into the traditional art institution. She and her colleague & partner Serge Martynov invite the viewer to experience what is said to be this autumn´s most colorful adventure. When I arrive she is easy to spot in a prismatic dress with a sparkling mood. Finally there, over a cup of coffee, the conversations flows easily.
Before I came here, I read on your website that you are a fashion curator. I must admit I have never heard that term been used before. Could you explain to me what that means?
Well, I think being a fashion curator is similar to being an art curator. The work is the same, we are just specified in different fields. I have studied the history of fashion rather than the history of art. Coming from both a theoretical and practical background, curating became the obvious way to tie everything together. By working with exhibitions I get to use both my practical skills and my theoretical knowledge to create shows, as well as the opportunity to work with a diversity of creative people, both artists and designers.
A tendency lately is that fashion slowly becomes more visible at the art scene and art institutions. Do you have any thoughts on that subject?
I think it is partly because everyone has a relationship to their body and the consumption surrounding us, which is also why we choose the title for the show; Utopian bodies and not utopian fashion. People like to go to fashion exhibitions. It is a trend many places in the world right now and the big institutions make a lot of money on it. Take the Alexander McQueen exhibition, it was groundbreaking in the amount of people that visited the show.
Do you think that fashion changes when it is shown in the context of a art institution? Does it become more like art, or closer to art and maybe less commercial?
Lately a new academic discipline has appeared around fashion which also brings a new aspect to it. Though the more traditional dress exhibitions have been going on since the early 19th century, studying fashion from a academic point of view is fairly new. In some ways the history of fashion can be compared to the history of film. When film came into academia, it took time before it was recognized or seen as an art form. I think fashion now is where film was a few decades ago. We have recently started to look at it from a different perspective, and with time it will become broader. When we were planning the exhibition we talked to several history experts about using utopia as a concept, and they all had different associations to the word. One person would say, it’s the worst concept ever because one’s utopia in anothers dystopia. But for me I don`t have that relationship to the word. There have been different trends within utopian in the 20th century, and a lot of critical thinking around it, because there was so much going wrong with these utopias in Soviet and Germany. But then again there is also so much potential to it.
Even though this is a new form of showing fashion, it’s done with great confidence, and is one of the biggest productions Liljevalchs has ever made. What inspired you to do this exhibition?
When we first started working on the project the ambition was to show the importance of fashion. But we also aimed to show fashion for a wider audience, and try to somehow capture the width of fashion in a show that represented both swedish and international designers. Using utopia as an entrance opened the possibility to show where we are now, but also where we can go in the future. By presenting different worlds and different characteristics of fashion, the rooms become quite separate from each other, which gives the visitor the freedom to look for their own utopia, rather than us presenting what we think the future will look like. Both Serge and I are very inspired by the modernist movement and the freedom of rethinking things, and the possibilities and hope that comes with that.
The show holds great variation of dresses and designers. However one thing that seems to appear with a strong presence in every room is creativity. A creativity that inspires change and is crucial for development, which also makes the show relevant to the art scene. Would it be wrong to ask if that is the essence of the show?
Actually that has been our hope. The exhibition for us is about the power of creativity, and all the amazing ideas that are out there, both visually and conceptually. We wanted to put all these ideas under one roof. Instead of focusing on the history of the term utopia, we choose to focus on the possibilities of change that lies in the term. People like fashion for different reasons. Some like it for the trends, some like it for the celebrities. We love it because it surprises us in different ways and somehow makes the world a bit bigger,
If I ask you to show me your absolute favorite work / dress, which one is it? And why?
That is extremely hard, but I think right now I would have to say Hussein Chalayan´s Table dress
because it is so relevant. This dress is about immigration and getting confronted with being a refugee. When we decided to include it in the exhibition, we weren’t in the middle of the crises that we are in now, but now it seems more important every day. I love when fashion is political, and reflects the society or the situation that we live in. It is amazing these days how young designers from New York get picked up by the big magazines like Vogue, which rarely before had showed any interest in political aspect of fashion. There is this new generation of designers out there that already have done so much for both gender and identity, that in the future I am sure men will walk around in skirts.
One of the eleven rooms in the exhibition presents fashion and technology. I find this maybe to be the most fascinating room, partly because I had no idea how advanced this area was. How did you collect the works and information for that room?
There is so much happening in that field right now, and it is incredibly fun – but also incredibly difficult – to do research about. There is a waterproof wall between fashion and technology, and these to worlds very rarely meet. However, when they do, it is so interesting and important because the hopes for the future are so present there.
Words and interview by Iselin Page & Portraits by Philip Persson
Exhibition images by Mattias Lindbäck
Utopian bodies is installed in all eleven galleries at Liljevalchs. The exhibition consists of over 200 objects, images and videos that are inspired by various utopian ideas within Sustainability, Change, Technology, Craft & form, Craft & colour, Resistance & society, Resistance & beauty, Solidarity, Memory, Gender identity and Love. The show is very solid both conceptually and visually, a precious and rare combination at the contemporary art institutions. The exhibition is on until the 7th of february 2016. Cc is 120 SEK, however every Wednesday entrance is free for all visitors. Utopian bodies, fashion looks forward is curated and designed by Sofia Hedman & Serge Martynov
Liljevalchs is located at; Djurgårdsvägen 60 Stockholm, Sweden.