During Stockholm Design Week, l´Institut français de Suède interviewed the curator and gallerist Paola Bjäringer, who speaks to us about her studio and exhibition space ‘Misschiefs’ in Stockholm. The graphic identity of Misschiefs was created by the teams at Manana and Bonconseil studio, who Paola Bjäring has been working with since her start in Paris. Paola’s practice is influenced by Matali Crasset, iconic French designer whose vision of democratic design has been a strong source of inspiration. This interview looks at Paola’s curatorial practice as she reinvents working with inclusivity, artistry and design.
With Misschiefs, you have created a platform for artists and designers in a period where the majority of galleries and cultural experiences are not accessible to the public. Is the reaction you are receiving from the public right now different from the reception you got in your Parisian gallery?
The Swedish audience is quite different from the audience I encountered during my time as a galerist in Paris. The position of culture and art in the collective consciousness of French people is much more established than it is here in Sweden. This enables a larger spread of an artistic message. Art is considered a necessity for the personal and social actualisation of the nation in France. This being said, the current pandemic has brought forward political priorities that are starting to question which activities are ‘essential’, often through an mainly economic gaze. Suddenly it is Sweden, through its policy of a more flexible social circulation, that permits a micro-window of freedom for projects such as Misschiefs to see the light.
Since this summer, the audience in my space at Linnégatan 4 in Stockholm is unanimously positive towards this initiative. The enthusiasm is twofold: discovering exclusively female artists at work in their temporary studios as well as the invitation to the audience to be initiated into new forms and artistic propositions in an area associated with being traditionally white and patriarchal.
In 2009 I opened the Slott gallery in Paris, close to the ‘Gare de l’Est’, which was specialised in contemporary designs for collection. I remember the ladies from the 16th arrondissement who had never laid foot in the area. Already at this time, my practice involved displacing the geographic zone of cultural consumption: the gallery was located in a district coded as a lower socio-economic area.
My goal has always been to make social codes tremble in order to help communicate the messages of the artists I show: to help us move towards a better world. There is no better way than finding yourself gently unbalanced to better understand and to feel more deeply. Our habits and broad range of backgrounds and lived experiences are not always conducive to the ‘vivre ensemble’ or living together harmoniously. The Swedish audience has been very positive towards this gentle destabilisation, which leads to further reflection and a more spontaneous connection. This weaves the necessary fabric of our mission as cultural professionals: to be democratic and progressive.
The Artists who you show and who have had their studios at Misschiefs come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, including coming from France. Tell us a bit about some of the French artists that you have shown and how you think their work has resonated in the context of Misschiefs.
Paola: I invited an extraordinary artist from Paris called Nsdos who had a week-long residency at Misschiefs in Stockholm. He created an original dance performance piece based on his experience on site surrounded by the diversity of the women artists. Simultaneously, he transcribed his experience via data technologies connecting to his transdisciplinary artistic practice.
Emma Marga Blanche is another francophone artist who has been close to the Misschiefs project since its inception. She is a designer, in creative partnership with Fredrik Färg. The duo, Färg&Blanche, is a leader in Swedish design and who represent, in my opinion, a new Swedish style, promessing and distinct with a fluidity between the disciplines of contemporary art and design.
You work with artists and designers who identify as queer, non-binary, trans-women and/or women in a space situatied in Östermalm, a district traditionally perceived as one of the most privileged in Sweden. Did this create a confrontation of world views between the audience and the art works? Or rather, did it question the preconceptions one could have on either the artists or the local audience?
Paola: Cultural professionals everywhere are tasked with a vital educational mission. Human rights are not to be taken for granted, even in a country like Sweden! In 2021, underlying racism is as real, tangible, measurable and as dangerous as sexism! Many visitors, including from the cultural sector, have stood in front of me and asked non-white artists showing in the space whether they spoke swedish or not: a shocking reminder of the essential work of our profession, to educate.
The fact of existing physically in a district of the city that is in majority white, male and privileged, while showing a palette of female and non-binary artists in a space of 500m2 (in the equivalent of rue Saint-Honoré in Paris) has provoqued a certain category of local visitors to machistic comments towards me, not only as the one operating the space but also in terms of the artist selection.
This confirms, in my opinion, the necessity of initiatives such as Misschiefs to take physical space within the powerful sites at the heart of the patriarchy. In order to shake things up, sometimes you need to physically move them.
This artistic rescue operation in the time of the pandemic was made possible thanks to an economic actor, a real estate company, which kindly lent me the space: one example among others of collaboration in itself being often easy to set up – an empty space temporarily hosts an innovative project in a strategic geographical area. This can then lay the foundations for a fundamental dialogue between the public and the artists.
Dissolving the middle-man, aka the prestigious status of the producer / gallery owner, is in my opinion a positive step. We all have to gain by erasing the inaccessible glamor of contemporary art and going back to basics. The source of art as a vector of societal change hinges on artists and creators. They are our future, especially women and non-binary identities who, through their historical and cultural heritages, have concrete solutions on how we can learn to better live together! In my choice of curation, I give a central place to young people whose vision and work are obviously our future. A trans-artist, 20-years my junior, blew me away with her depth of knowledge, and I thought I was well versed on progressive thinking. Everything is relative to one’s own often restricted area of reflection. My job is to identify the best female, trans and non-binary artists of all ages – the oldest are fundamental in this logic of plurality – and to give them an impactful platform for both oral expression and exhibition within a market that, as it is today, is unfortunately still very white and very male.
Is punk dead?
Punk is more alive than ever. From Black Lives Matter to Polish women shaking up the archaic patriarchal system, which is unfortunately coming back in force along with the deeply dangerous ambient populist protectionism, the punk movement is not a simple fashion trend. True punk is political, through art, music and fashion. Culture is punk at its origins, it exists to move us all towards a better world in terms of living together, a mission more urgent than ever today. Nothing should be taken for granted, not even our fundamental rights. Artists are here to remind us of this. Now it is up to politicians to give culture a primary role. As we all see now through our pandemic isolation, culture is a guiding light bringing us to what is worth living, which makes us essentially human: being able to feel.
Photo: David Camerini