In her practice, Swedish artist Sofia Hultén typically works by transforming everyday objects or materials into different forms, thereby imbuing them with a new functionality. In so doing, she encourages visitors to look at the works in an open and nuanced way.
‘Gatefold 10’, for example, which is constructed from vintage metal gates that have been shaped into a cube, can be read as a closed, captive space. Here, the artist has reversed the object’s function: instead of a space through which one can pass, it now relates to notions of isolation. In this way, the artist seeks to address our limited and constrained view of the world.
‘With Added Dimensions’ is a reinterpretation of the toolbox. It is made of multiple found examples of such boxes, which have been expanded into space. These toolboxes are just one example of the types of ‘found objects’ that fascinate Hultén. Such items both inspire her practice and trigger a wide range of questions. In this case, she perceived them as containers of possibilities. The title expresses this endless feeling of expansion and potential. Once again, the artist transforms an ordinary object into something new, thereby divesting it of the original function.
In ‘Nu Cave’, the artist gives items from a car workshop clear-out a final destination. Hultén presents these objects alongside a film that offers a partial account of their former functions. The objects are shadows that allude to reality and can thus be read as a reference to the allegory of the cave, as formulated by the Greek philosopher Plato. This idea is further underscored by the title. ‘Nu Cave’ also makes you think of another work in the S.M.A.K. collection: ‘Wirtschaftswerte’ (1980) by Joseph Beuys. In this installation, Beuys also assembled a range of everyday objects, food packages in this instance, to reveal two different political realities.
For ‘Particle Boredom II’, Hultén made casts of found wooden fibreboards before grinding the objects down and recasting them. The works do not immediately betray these radical and irreversible changes. This process of destruction and recreation plays with the notion of time and the impossibility of controlling its passage. Her works compel you to look at seemingly ordinary items in a new way and to question your understanding of them. We suddenly become fascinated with these banal objects, which no longer seem boring at all.
In the video ‘Fuck It Up and Start Again’, Hultén smashes and restores a guitar seven times in a row. She keeps repeating this strange action with determination, almost like a performance. As she does so, the pieces of the guitar become increasingly chaotic. Hultén considers the destruction to be a creative act that is filled with both energy and humour.
Interview with Sofia Hultén
Do you play the guitar?
No, I’m not very musical. The starting point for this piece was more about the process and the position of the object and myself in my practice at that time, than about the guitar as a musical instrument. It was more like a fight: the guitar and I were equals.
Then why did you fuck it up in your video ‘Fuck It Up and Start Again?’
The title refers to an 80s song called ‘Rip It Up and Start Again’. It refers to the process of destroying something and trying to return it to a starting point, which isn’t possible. So why did I fuck it up? I guess it’s about wanting to see what happens. It’s a bit like asking “why did the chicken cross the road?”
What is your idea about destruction in relation to art?
It’s pretty well documented already by lots of people. For me, it was rooted in my childhood experiences with kinetic artwork. It was always there as a paradigm of something one could do. When I was studying, the idea was that the larger the physicality of the piece, the more vulgar. We were always trying to make our work as immaterial as possible. Can we make something into nothing? Destruction can be a very humorous act. My work has quite strong references to traditions in situation comedy, where there’s often a standard situation with one protagonist, one opponent or an object. The comedy comes out of a struggle, a battle between them. In that sense, destruction always has a creative side in my work.
Your work ‘Nu Cave’ resonates with Joseph Beuys’ ‘Wirtschaftswerte’. What visions or aspects of Beuys’ oeuvre do you find inspiring?
This piece is not consciously related to Beuys’ work. The title combines an allusion to Plato’s cave with nu-rave, which is a music style from the 90s. All the objects in the piece came from a guy who decided to move abroad and, as a result, sold his home workshop.
Why do you work with everyday objects?
I think there are two reasons why I’ve decided to work with well-known things. Firstly, I believe that when you work with something you know well, you make different and more considered responses than you perhaps would if you hadn’t worked with the material yet. I therefore need a warming up period with the materials that I have around me. Once I know them, I can do more unusual or surprising things with the objects. Secondly, you have a kind of baseline in situation comedy. The humour comes from the fact that certain things are very familiar to us, and so we notice when something’s amiss. It’s the same with my work. If my materials were less recognisable, we wouldn’t know that something strange was happening, because everything would seem strange in that context.
The title of your work ‘Nu Cave’ is also evocative of Plato’s cave. How do you relate to Plato’s allegory of the cave?
Much of my work is concerned with a kind of transformation between one experience and another. Enlightenment is too strong a word, but I give the objects a new life. They are momentarily illuminated before being transformed in the video. A translation takes place. In my imagination, the objects in the background are akin to the cave and the video is like the light.
Your work ‘Gatefold 10’ seems to suggest captivity. Does the cube refer to a house/home or is it a cage?
Not really. I see it as more like a dimensional exercise. It is a way of thinking about multidimensionality, in the sense that you can have lots of different perspectives at the same time. It’s much more about process than about forming a cage. If you think about the works in terms of process rather than product, then your understanding of them changes.
What is the role of materials within your artistic practice?
I found all the materials for the ‘Gatefold’ series on the Internet. Whenever I saw adverts listing old gates for sale, I called the sellers up and went to collect the items. It’s important that these objects hover between their function and the fact they’re used. Personally, I’m interested in creating a kind of humour. One that comes from contrasting or juxtaposing a very banal object with one from a completely different place. I’ve chosen materials that I would call ‘aggressively ordinary’ for many of my works. Sometimes, I literally find them on the street. The concept for the work comes from somewhere else, from science fiction, quantum theory or from comedy. It’s the juxtaposition that creates the tension.
You seem to like using heavy and industrial materials?
There are autobiographical reasons for that. I grew up in Birmingham, which is an industrial city and the second largest conurbation in the UK; it’s known for heavy metal music. When I grew up, the industries and factories there were closing down, and people were out of work. This kind of material was everywhere back then.
You often refer to your work as sculpture or sculptural action. You also studied sculpture in England. How do these ideas relate to ‘With Added Dimensions’, where you transform found toolboxes into a sculpture-like artwork?
The toolboxes are like containers of possibilities. Their presence far exceeds their physical form, because they contain so much potential. It is like a visual pun, a representation of an endless feeling of expansion and possibilities. It’s a pretty positive piece, which is quite unusual for me, and it clearly comes from a sculptural tradition.
Why are you bored?
There’s something beautiful about boredom, right? A lot of good things come out of boredom, but the title of ‘Particle Boredom’ is a pun. The material I used for the piece is called particle board. The title is also related to a scene in ‘The Young Ones’, a television programme that I watched as a kid. One of the characters says, “I’m bored”, and he starts smashing things up, while saying: “I’m bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored!” It really stuck in my head.
Why are you frustrated?
Are you suggesting that I’m frustrated? No, I think you’re mistaken. The genesis of these pieces, like the guitar piece, for example, would be the more obvious expression of frustration. But it was much more of an intellectual pursuit than an act of genuine frustration. When I made the piece, I was simply concerned with getting it right, I wanted to do a good smash. I think that in the past, one would often ascribe emotional or personal motivations to works made by female artists, although this is an attitude which is in a process of change.