In Swedish, Uddenberg means “mountain promontory.” Anna Uddenberg’s work has little to do with mountains, lakes, rivers and the like, and yet it would be a mistake to say that her work doesn’t deal with nature: au contraire it deals heavily in nature, specifically the nature of women.
Those that feature in Uddenberg’s work often wear acrylic nails — as in the two meter tall hand sculpture at her solo exhibition at Galleri Mejan — some wear clothes that one would see on racks outside a dollar store, and they usually have blonde dye jobs, though some are brunettes. One thing they all do share in common is an uncanny sexualization which is Uddenberg’s own: think the opposite of the “uncanny valley,” think human all too human.
These women usually find themselves in stations that seem unfair or unfit, be it a mother bent provocatively over a baby stroller at a depressing bar in the outskirts of Stockholm, or the rather gruesome “Power Buttom,” a disembodied, and maybe disemboweled, set of legs and pelvis, posed a top a crude block, exhibited in Malibu Creek State Park.
Uddenberg most recently participated in an exhibition with M/L Artspace at the Venice Biennale, entitled Please Respond. Other artists included Cajsa von Zeipel, another Swedish sculptor whose work deals in women and sometimes their woe, Marie Karlberg who presented a reinterpretive watercolor based on a Gustave Moreau painting, and Adriana Lara going bananas. Uddenberg’s entry consisted of another woman in a precarious position, being bent over (or perhaps bending on her own volition) between a backpack and a wheelie suitcase. The midriff is utterly exposed, and the breasts — which judging by their ghastly symmetry appear to be fake — are also nearly bared. The expression on the face is either that of someone in ecstasy, or dead. Tyler Sayles finds out which, and more.
Tyler Sayles: In ecstasy or just plain dead?
Anna Uddenberg: Full moon party ecstasy.
TS: Who is she? Why is she posed that way?
AU: I got the idea for her and her posturing from the cover of a playlist called Religion of Trance – God’s Compilation… it began with the picture of those tits in that trance setting. I thought the performative value of the kind of sexualized spirituality in that image was intriguing. I’d also been thinking about doing something with a suitcase, because I like it as an object and the squared way it represents mobility and freedom. So, Lady Unique, the woman, is all about placing these plots — tits ’n travel — on top of each other.
TS: I notice in your work that there’s this sense of sexuality being tied up with danger, or precarity… a woman vulnerably leaning over a stroller in Jealous Jasmine, revealing a backside ensconced in lingerie, or Lady Unique, in Venice, straddled over a suitcase, seemingly helpless. You as the artist put them in these positions. Why?
AU: That’s an interesting reading. I am approaching social structures within consumerist culture in relation to the performative values of femininity, class and sexuality. Coming from performance, I see my recent works as scenographic settings with overlapping narratives drawn form social media, reality TV, dating sites and online games. Rather than fetishizing items and information, I am interested in how [fetishizing] is translated and embodied. I think the performative approach (what happens on social media) has a potential of breaking out from these stereotypical readings of images of women as vulnerable.
TS: Regarding the title of the exhibition in Venice — Please Respond — who is asking that someone respond?
AU: It’s a joke about offensive PR-mails in your inbox, or spam.
TS: Who is the person(s) that is to respond?
AU: It’s pretty intense in Venice that week, during the opening of the Biennale. It’s all happening at nonce and they have these big PR budgets, but still a lot of venues end up empty, like a sad wedding party dress. In contrast to this, M/L Artspace emphasizes the agency of participants by unfolding that PR process, and I think people crave that.
TS: 2011 saw Yoga Slave with you, Marie Karlberg and Sara Litzén doing provocative yoga in front of a group of… who? Photos from the performance show people who are 60+ and everyone is in formal dinner wear.
AU: It was this Christmas lunch/art event where a number of Stockholm’s leading galleries had invited their collectors. I wanted to use this event as a ready-made set and use the audience as extras, while implanting scenes drawn from BDSM porn sites. I was interested to see the BDSM deals with power through clearly explicit contracts and to implant that kind of mindset and imagery into this formal gallery event. Looking at situations like scripts and then shifting them is I think an interesting way of engaging with power structures.
TS: It was during the day?
AU: Yeah, right? And the people who were there were just expecting this lunch.
TS: It looks like everyone was just calmly observing you guys? Why do you think that is? If that happened in the U.S. I’m sure it would get a different reaction.
AU: But I think hat the audience responded so calmly because in Sweden no one thinks that art has the potential to be anything than a Sunday afternoon leisure activity. Any talk of art is how much it costs and how much tax money is being spent on it. The critique is nearly nonexistent, and that makes the climate that Swedish artists have to work in very basic and provincial. I don’t know if it would be better in the US — I can’t speak to that.
TS: I’m assuming that you disagree with their perception of art’s power?