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Sex, Cigarettes, and Angry Girls 1

Interviewed by Alida Ivanov from Stockholm

Cajsa von Zeipel, born in 1983, is one of the more interesting up-and-coming artists in Sweden right now. She graduated from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm in 2010. For her final show, she installed a gigantic stripper on a pole in the Art Academy; after that, it seemed as though her girls had taken over. She has done several public pieces. You can’t miss Cajsa von Zeipel’s work. That would be impossible. Her tall, over-dimensioned sculptures are the future, with a nostalgic flair. High-heeled shoes, Buffalo shoes, cigarettes, rebellion, you hear a faint sound of Euro-disco in the background.  Here in Stockholm, we can see her piece, Pretty Vacant, at the shopping mall MOOD. Her latest exhibition, Lento Violento, at Andréhn-Schiptjenko in Stockholm, showed not only girls, but skinny smoking boys, too. While these lost figures (which, in some ways, represent all of us at some point in our lives) are searching for an identity, in all of their insecurity they don’t really care what anyone else thinks. Cajsa von Zeipel’s newest installation, called Shy, can be viewed on Sergelgången at Göteborgs Konstmuseum. While the Sergel collection, which consists of 32 sculptures, is draped, von Zeipel’s own sculptures live their own life. The installation is on show until the end of February. This spring she will have two solo exhibitions, one at Eskilstuna Konstmuseum and Växjö Konsthall, and a show consisting of new work for Andréhn-Schiptjenko at the first Art Basel Hong Kong, in May.

Alida Ivanov: Tell me a bit about the themes in your sculptures? 

Cajsa von Zeipel: Sex, cigarettes & angry girls. 

AI: How do you emerge in your themes?

CvZ: I guess I am all about that…

AI: So, where do their faces come from then?

CvZ: It’s that passive-aggressive or arrogant expression, which is something I grew up with as a kid. When you tried to be tough by showing no feelings or signs of weakness. It’s an ideal form of control and status -NO SMILES. My ref- library has thousands of pictures of me and my friends posing with that glued-on-sense-of-mind type of face, which is quite similar to the posing faces on the catwalks, year after year. 

AI: It feels like a party sometimes. Is it one that has gone out of control, or is it a party of the year, one that you didn’t get invited to?

CvZ: I put quite a lot of focus on trying to make the viewer feel uninvited, or uncomfortable in the room, so the latter suits better. But the nature of this party is one without an invite - the kind when you show up and it’s already morning, there are chemicals in the air and in the body, so who would bother to even care about your presence? 

AI: This feels like it goes together with the size of the sculptures. But, what meaning does size have for your characters? 

CvZ: The character that I usually work with is a young and, more or less, stripped girl. To leave her as passive and belittled, as she often is portrayed in art history, would be dull. I’m not really interested in following-up aged-out structures. Therefore, I try to prepare the object for the gaze of the beholder. Size is a classical way of marking power and hierarchy. To look up at something makes you small. I use the size dislocation in a way that you, as a beholder, feel observed by my sculptures, rather than you looking at them.

AI: Many that have written about your artistry take in the art history aspect of it; how do you position yourself in the light of art history?

CvZ: I use art history as a backdrop. Male heroes, in an oversized scale, have traditionally represented the monuments of art. So, I wanted to make an upgraded version of the depicted woman. They work as a comment on power structures and established systems of rendering. I work with references to the history of the white sculpture, but without advocating harmonious or moral ideals. In my world of imagery, someone pukes on the floor, another masturbates routinely, and at the same time, a trio involve themselves in an attempt at group sex, which actually is not that dissimilar to the Laocoön Group, ha ha!

The ponytail and the platform shoes are obvious markers to create attitude and establish youth as a specific era of time. 

AI: Tell me about your working process? 

CvZ: I start by writing down notes on what the character is doing: if she’s irritated at something and so on. I make the core of my sculptures in styrofoam. I throw my leg over a piece of styrofoam and then I draw the contours and continue to elongate the shape. First I use a chainsaw, then a knife, and then I sandpaper until I reach about 1 centimeter from where I think that the surface will be. In the beginning, the different body parts are severed at the joints, and then I puzzle them together. When everything is assembled, I go in with plaster. And then I sand, touch up, and sand… 

AI: What is your relationship to the material?

CvZ: Plaster is equivalent to oil painting - it’s extremely traditional. I was completely broken down when I presented my first plaster sculpture. I had one year left on my MFA and I thought that I had regressed to a model study stage, something that I was never interested in at all. But at the same time, I got very excited about leaving my safe zones.

My relationship to crafty materials goes way back to my past when in my teens,I helped my mom with renovating our house. It wasn’t exactly professional construction that we were doing, but we were fast. During one dinner, my mom, little sister and I started brainstorming about fixing the kitchen, and a few hours later, it was done. That impatience and getting-things-done mentality still exists in the way I work. If I didn’t get tired, I would probably still be sanding my first sculpture, to this day.

AI: What did you work with before sculpture?

CvZ: Large-scale installations. Imagine the environment that my girls would like to hang out in; scaffolding in black lights, posters, and amateur porn.

AI: The mirror played a large role in your recent exhibition, “Lento Violento”, at Andréhn-Schiptjenko. Tell me a bit how you were thinking around it and how the characters interacted with each other. 

CvZ: The mirrors were obvious for many reasons. For one, they worked as a sort of homage to the myth of Narcissus, which after a very long process, was the reason why I switched the medium to sculpture. The piece Bed Scene depicts an act of lust for sexual experiment between three young women on a bed in the middle of the exhibition space. A mirror floor surrounded it. I wanted you, as the viewer, to unconsciously be part of the filthiness, instead of just standing there, looking at naked teenage bottoms…

And even though the mirror floor took up a majority of the space, it took a long time for several posh ladies, in skirts, to realize that there was a clear view of their crotches being reflected in the floor. It’s funny to see how people immediately run back to a safe zone. 

AI: What was your safe zone? 

CvZ: I wore pants during the opening.

AI: What are you working on now?

CvZ:  Right now I’m working on my first book Pro-Anatomy, which will have the shape of a platform shoe (!!!). It will present my work in relationship to how I became interested in sculpture and anatomy. During a half-year’s exchange at Städelschule in Frankfurt, in 2008-09 I lost control trying to interlink the myth of Narcissus with the subculture Pro-Ana. Pro-Anas are people that try to redefine Anorexia Nervosa as a lifestyle and attitude towards self-starvation, rather than a medical condition. What I found was the core of both of these subjects was the extreme romanticizing of destruction and a kind of rebellion against conventions. Also sharing the same visual symbolism: To passionately study your own reflection until you literally disappear. Since I felt that I was a tourist, or rather a cannibal in the Pro-Ana subject and wanted to understand what body control really meant: I put myself on a strict minimal diet. I spent almost all my time at home, in front of Photo Booth taking thousands of pictures and started obsessing over my body. Unconsciously I was engaging in anatomical studies. I knew every muscle and where the bone appeared through the skin of your knee, etc.. When I returned to Stockholm in the spring of 2009 I started making my first sculpture - a girl with an elongated anatomy, squatting, smoking, and glancing into nothingness. The project Pro-Anatomy is funded by the Royal Institute of Art’s Artistic Research and Development program KU. The aim is to create a copy of my own skeleton in life-size scale using the latest medical scanning techniques.