17 October 2020
Sunday 18 October marks the final day of Josefin Arnell’s solo exhibition Wild filly story at UKS. In this interview, she offers some insight into her thoughts on her first large scale exhibition in Scandinavia.
Nicole Rafiki: Hi Josefin, how are you?
Josefin Arnell: Good. I’m in Italy, escaping Covid-19 and trying to plan a romantic weekend at a natural thermal waterfall in Tuscany with my friends.
NR: That sounds lovely! What did you have for breakfast this morning?
JA: My daily magic potion: a mixture of six herbs diluted in hot water from the Thailand jungle that I bought from a herbalist called Panda Bear seven years ago. I’m visiting my friend Pauline in Rome and we went for a morning cappuccino di soja with another friend, Catherine. We all went to the Rijksakademie together in 2015. Not so much food but great company.
NR: Wow! I thought you were going to say “two croissants and a latte” or something like that, but a magic potion for breakfast sounds much better! The final week of your exhibition Wild Filly Story at UKS is almost over. What are your thoughts about this?
JA: That it’s over? I wish it was forever. I love it.
NR: Yeah, I get that. It’s a cool exhibition. So, this was your first large-scale solo exhibition in Scandinavia. Is it weird that your first show of this size happened in Norway instead of your native country, Sweden?
JA: No, I don’t think so. I have not really been invested in building a network and a career in Sweden. I moved to Amsterdam in 2012 and that’s when I started making art. Before that I lived in Stockholm and did fashion, so I did a bit of a scene swap. I have not spent that much time in Sweden since then. A few years ago, I was invited to a show in Sweden for artists that don’t fit the Swedish arts scene, but that show was cancelled and I’m not really sure what that means either. I guess most artists or even most humans feel like they don’t fit in. Regardless I would love to have a show in Sweden very soon.
NR: Haha, that’s funny: maybe we’re all a bunch of misfits. But, then again, maybe that means we’re all normal. Speaking of Sweden, what was it like for you working on such a personal subject as childhood trauma for this exhibition?
JA: Most of my work is somehow based on, or has a starting point from, my own experiences or lived feelings. I try to think towards healing or mentally growing while making work. I like to think about it as exorcism. But I don’t particularly think that this work was so personally challenging for me in terms of childhood traumas. Maybe it comes across like that? It was more that I was taking stories and situations from my own experiences as a horse girl to include in the script.
NR: Art as exorcism? That’s interesting. What do you think about the reception of your exhibition?
JA: You mean the opening? I was surprised people even went out to visit shows because it was so rainy and cold.
NR: Oh yeah, that was nice. I was also thinking about the positive critiques you got in the Norwegian media – there were some good ones. I’m curious about your personal relationship to horses now – do you like them?
JA: Over the last six years I’ve been documenting different horse stables that focus on working with girls. It is interesting how a small human girl body wants to master a huge animal. It’s brave. It’s a great responsibility to take care of a horse, and this responsibility is often also given to the girls at the stables. I remember feeling very proud being around horses; it was challenging and empowering. But I also remember often feeling scared. I still have those feelings today when I hang out with horses. Though today I’m more interested in the concept of what it means to be interested in a horse, the images and fantasies it creates. But I am also interested in the horse’s wellbeing and the wellbeing it offers humans. When I was younger it was more about the actual riding and the idea of how to master the horse. Now I’m also looking at the relationship between animal and human, regardless of different methods of how to care for a horse, there is always a dependency that the human has control over.
NR: Power relations between humans and animals is an interesting topic. Your work also touches on the need for safe spaces. Where do you think young teens like the ones in your films can find care and healing?
JA: When I gave the script to the owner of the stable, she was like: “your script includes all the problems that we as a youth stable are trying not to have in real life.” I believe recreation places that are outside of the family or home are important. It’s a political question and it often has to do with class: who can afford to participate and how accessible are these spaces? But even if a place is open and inviting, it doesn’t mean that you feel invited or feel you have the right to be there, or that it feels safe to be there. The stable where I shot this film is different to most of the other stables I’ve visited in Amsterdam. The variety of visitors is wider compared to the often upper-middle-class stables in cities. It’s a therapy stable, an aspect that is often merged into the riding lessons. It has a more rural feeling, rather than a city feel. They don’t exclude anyone because of financial reasons, because they are a very welcoming community, but also because they are supported by the city authorities.
NR: That’s a good point. I have a feeling questions of equality, safety, and access to spaces always come down to politics and economics. Can you tell us about your safe spaces? Where do you find healing from the challenges of stigma and childhood trauma?
JA: I don’t want to make this childhood trauma into something unique; we all have it, more or less, it just depends on how we deal with it. I have chosen to channel parts of it through my work because I think it’s important to talk about addiction, illness, and insecurities as a way to break shame. Safe spaces, for me, are where I feel comfortable and dare to express myself. Routines. I love daily routines, and to be out in nature.
NR: Yes, I hear you. Your show is in its final stages here at UKS. What’s next for you?
JA: I have just arrived in Rome after a road trip through the Italian Alps together with Max Göran. Together we work under the name Hellfun (since 2014). We have filmed material for a new video installation that will be titled The Vacation x Extra Extended: The Road Journey. It includes, for example, footage of when we stayed at a dog farm with nineteen puppies, and next week we will shoot a couple more scenes in Rome that have a mystery feeling and might include cars and children.
NR: How exciting! Thanks again and I wish you the very best on behalf of all of us here at UKS. Cheers, Josefin!
Image: Jan Khür