Snövit Hedstierna Talks About Her Art and Looking at Your Genitals
The Swedish artist has made headlines for inviting people to spoon, as well as an exhibition that featured men and women examining their private parts in public.
Snövit Hedstierna. Photo by the author
Swedish artist Snövit (which means "Snow White") Hedstierna, always seems to make art that is both funny and thoughtful, whether that means creating life-sized statues out of the jelly used to manufacture dildos or having an orgasm onstage. She's currently exhibiting a piece at Skövde Konsthall in Sweden called The Greater Harm, a video that features women describing their experiences as victims of sexual violence.
During a break from traveling around the world with her art, Snövit stopped by Stockholm this summer and I chatted with about her work and why she thinks it’s important to know your vagina.
VICE: What are you working on right now?
Snövit Hedstierna: Well, I usually have about ten to 15 pieces going on at the same time. So right now I’m working on photo, film, sound, and performance projects. One of the projects I’m doing is an interactive sound piece with about 200 female voices discussing gender issues. Another thing I do is that I’m sketching people at strip clubs—people who are masturbating, looking away, standing up, or covering their faces. All kinds of characters. Then I make life-sized statues in, you know, the jelly stuff they make dildos out of. I produce them in China to really get the mass-produced aspect of industrialized sex as a part of the statues.
Knights and kings and other men who’ve done “amazing things” like winning wars have historically got to be the statues. I think there are other subject matters and acts throughout history that deserve to be remembered. Like the people staring at you in the subway, or the drunk ogling characters you meet at night. Those guys are people who my generation has been talking about. I want to make a cultural impression where the [public masturbator] is represented as a memory of our time.
Will that be exhibited?
This is going to be an exhibition in Montreal in 2015, and I’m sure I will show them at other places as well.
Are your pieces as straightforward in terms of concept from the beginning as the finished products seem to be?
For me, context is key. The content should really be the narrative, and not just the visual elements. Although that process is the fun part, just dressing everything up and getting it all glittery, I try to look at my artistry in a more philosophical way, with a clear narrative. Art can sometimes become a bit vague when there are too many props and complicated titles. I might have gotten the idea of a more clear or simple communication from working as an art director, where you actually need to talk in terms of pitching.
Yeah, you used to work in advertising.
Well, I’ve been through a mixture of things, but I worked with advertising, perhaps with a focus on communication rather than commercials, for a few years. I’m not sure that’s the reason my art is the way it is, but it’s certainly made me aware of how easy it is for people to misunderstand things. So if you’ve got an idea or a message that you’re trying to communicate, you must be very clear, at least to yourself. What the audience thinks, feels, or how they react in the end, is not something you can control.
'To Give and to Hold'
You got a lot of attention last year with one of your exhibitions, what was all that about?
Well, in one of them called To Give and to Hold, I invited the audience to spoon for 48 hours. The performance was streamed online. I did it as an act for peace with the statement that, “I would rather spoon someone than shoot someone,” which I think is becoming more and more relevant.
Another one that got some attention in the media was a series of photos of people looking at their genitals in a mirror called Practices of Looking. That started out when I noticed, as a foreigner in Canada, that looking at your genitals is kind of—not shameful really, but that people are like, disgusted… Looking at your genitals is something that your partner does. Not you. In Sweden it’s more common to at least have a peek from your point of view. But I’ve experienced that in many countries that’s kind of taboo.
Do you feel that this is a question of age?
Compared to like, my mom, who gave birth while watching a giant mirror of her vagina and taking photos at the same time, and their generation, who in the 70s just sat in a ring comparing each other’s genitals, my generation seems kind of shy and prudish. In a way the project is striving for a kind of de-sexualization of the vagina, but also to create a photographic-based archive by [documenting] an act that that is part of our daily life and that can be very sexual.
And people got offended?
No the beef was more with my curator, who wanted me to photoshop and crop the images, which would turn the piece into some completely different. What’s interesting is that all of these people had so different approaches and postures when they held the mirrors, so I’ve also made it into a choreography called Another View which was the third work of mine that got a lot of attention.
Of people mirroring their genitals?
Ha, yeah. It goes on for 90 minutes and almost looks like a Bikram yoga session but with different postures.
'Practices of Looking'
A lot of your art deals with what you might call queer or gender issues, where do you think that comes from?
I guess my life experience in general. I grew up in a very queer culture. Many people say that I’m very girly, and that’s not because I’ve had a lot of role models who were women and girly, but rather a lot of transvestites who were very girly and who I looked up to and thought were so pretty and cool.
How did these people enter your l life?
My dad, who’s a musician, was touring during a big part of my childhood. I guess I created my own father figures around me. My uncle, who is gay, kind of became my father figure. Him and his boyfriends—there were five of them over the years—became kind of step-dads. None of them are transvestites, but I met several though them and I was always very amazed.
You’re still in contact with them?
Yeah, I’m still in contact with all of them. Then my mother had a boyfriend who was bisexual, which kind of normalized all of those aspects of life for me.
Snövit in her studio. Photo by Angela Blumen
I guess your name, Snow White, must have had some impact on you childhood. Have you been called Snow White from birth?
My dad is from Peru and my mum’s from Sweden, and they both kind of liked it, so within my home I’ve always been called Snövit. Although I've also used my other names officially.
Do you always introduce yourself as Snow White?
No, sometimes I introduce myself with one of my middle names, Linda or Mina. Like, if I’m ordering a taxi I don’t usually get into it. When I grew up I remember that I used to think that it would be so much easier with a regular name. Growing up in this kind of artsy not-very-nuclear family, bringing two dads to parent-teacher night, and being vegan, I used to feel like there was something wrong with me. But as I grew older, the name kind of grew on me and became more of a statement, both privately and in my art.
So what would you say your statement as an artist is?
I believe we should talk about stuff we don’t really talk about. There’s this idea that it’s impossible to change the world, and I don’t think that’s the way it is. There’s a myth around it, like if you don’t do anything practical or physical it can’t be done. But if I tell or listen to a story that’s been an experience of a passion or a pain, you can pay it forward and also make it part of your own life. I believe that people can connect and become part of the same reality through talking and listening to each other, if you do it in a mindful, heartfelt, and truthful way.
Snövit Hedstierna's The Greater Harm is part of the group exhibition Norm.Alt at Skövde Konsthall, Sweden, which runs until November 23. She will be hosting artist talks at Lokstallet in Strömstad on October 29, and at Atelante in Gothenburg on October 30. See upcoming shows and more of Snövit's work here and here.
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