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LOS ANGELES — Mind-altering conversations happen by chance, randomly, when we are least expecting them to occur. Liv Bugge and Sille Storihle’s roaming curatorial/publishing/salon-hosting platform FRANK slipped into a dialogue when Storihle discovered a gender-bending photograph by Norwegian suffragist Marie Høeg (1866–1949) in 2012 when working on a film project about Norwegian nationalism. Originally discovered in the 1980s in a barn, this photograph had gone unseen outside of Norway and Sweden until FRANK recontexualized it at the ONE Archives, bringing it into a contemporary art context.
Rather than leaving this rediscovered negative where it was and stopping the conversation short, Storihle and Bugge decided to stage a discussion between contemporary Swedish artist Klara Lidén’s portraits in the handicap bathroom toilet stall and a selection of portraits that Høeg made with her partner Bolette Berg. This became the exhibition entitled Marie Høeg Meets Klara Lidén, which is now on view at the University of Southern California’s ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives. What shifts when pairing a series of slides by the artist Lidén, whose work was made with the knowledge that the public would see it, and Høeg’s portraits made and shown only privately — and perhaps intended to stay that way? I got in touch with Bugge and Storihle, who were in Oslo at the time, to learn more about their curatorial process.
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Alicia Eler: Why do Klara Lidén’s slide images, which are projected onto a wall diagonally across from Marie Høeg’s, all take place in the bathroom? Høeg’s self-portraits look more staged in nature.
Liv Bugge & Sille Storihle: The artist, Klara Lidén’s choice of the bathroom, or more specifically a handicap toilet, as the location for the creation of the work remains an artistic choice that we are not capable of answering. This is one slide show among a series of slides, many of which occurs in a public space. Lidén’s practice deals a lot with architectural interventions, often in public space. Her practice functions as a parasite on existing structures, using materials such as cardboard, corrugated metal, drywall, wood, and carpet remnants. To us, Lidén rethinks the places we inhabit and constructs spaces that deviate from their normal functions.
AE: I was thinking about discovering old photographs, and this story about early Antarctic explorers whose photographs were discovered 100 years later came to mind. Of course, the people portrayed in these photos died — and they were also all men. Do you know the fate of Marie? Did she die of natural causes? Why were the glass negatives left out there in the barn?
LB & SS: Thanks for sharing these images, they are really interesting, also in terms of Marie Høeg. Sille discovered a photograph by Marie Høeg in the summer of 2012, while she was doing for a film she was working on dealing with Norwegian nationalism. The photograph depicted Marie Høeg dressed up as a polar explorer, mimicking the national heroes at the time. The photo was most likely taken in-between 1896 and 1905, and belongs to a series of gender-bending portraits Høeg took with her partner Bolette Berg. These men seem to be out there, doing the whole “man-conquering-a-pole-thing,” while at a similar time, Marie Høeg was in a photo studio in a rural Norwegian town dressing up as a polar explorer, putting the whole male-explorer hero into question.
We haven’t gone into researching how she died, or her fate. From what we know she was an important suffragete, that ran a conventional photo studio with her partner Bolette Berg. The photos were found 30 years after her death, in an old barn, at a farm where Bolette and Marie spent the last part of their life. We believe that the photos were taken as a quite personal investigation of liberation, representation, and gender. Maybe these photos were just personal explorations, that didn’t have a context and a time where they could be shown. Maybe time was not ripe for them. Maybe Bolette and Marie never thought they would or should be exhibited. No one will ever know.
AE: Klara Lidén’s video “The Myth of the Progress (Moonwalk)” (2008), in which we see her doing the moonwalk in Manhattan, was screened in a cardboard-padded room next to the conversational photos between Lidén and Høeg? Was the use of cardboard and packing tape in that room a deliberate choice?
LB & SS: We have shown this piece once before, at UKS in Oslo under an exhibition called Possessions. We also exhibited the Myth of Progress (Moonwalk) in a similar way in that show. The installation is again, an artistic choice, and an inherent part of the piece. When the work was shown in Klara’s solo show Bodies of Society at the New Museum in 2012, it was also in a cardboarded room, wrapped in packaging tape.
As curators, we were conscious of how we wanted to construct the space and choreograph the movement of the audience. This is the last piece to meet, but you will hear the sound of the piece before you even enter the space. And you enter from a dark room, where all the walls have been painted black. The cardboard room invites the audience to a very different atmosphere, and also points to a key interest in the making of this exhibition, questioning the myth of progress through moonwalking.
AE: How do you think this curatorial project would have functioned in a space not marked as queer?
LB & SS: We have exhibited different versions of this exhibition before, in spaces not marked as queer, as well as format’s marked as “feminist,” so we are well aware of how the contexts change the exhibition. Our interest in exhibiting at ONE was very much influenced by the fact that it is within an archive, rather than it being queer, because in many ways ONE is also more “gay” than “queer.” With the exhibition we want to address issues of history, something we also do in the book, which was newly released by FRANK and also launched at ONE. To FRANK it keys to question the way in which history is being narrated, activated and rearticulated. We want to disrupt a linear reading of time and history. We think this exhibition is cutting-up and reshuffling a linear narrative of history, claiming that the queer project is not yet complete.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post referred to the portrait as a self-portrait, but the artists have indicated that the term is probably inaccurate for the photograph.
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