Insights / Art
”We need to change the conversation from the ’genius’ — often male — artist to a collaborative feminist force”
On how to democratise the art industry
22 Nov 2022

Who are you?

— My name is Paola Bjäringer. I have a Master’s in Gender Studies from LSE, worked as a journalist for French TV and opened my first art gallery in Paris in 2009. I moved to Stockholm in 2016 and founded Misschiefs two and a half years ago. Misschiefs is a method to democratize art and empower womxn artists. I take over empty spaces in strategic city locations to offer free art studios, and curate exhibitions, performances, talks, and events to push for more visibility of womxn artists both in Sweden and abroad. I take no commission on sold art. We recently moved to a 1,000m2 former office space situated in the Hagastaden district in Stockholm. With the support of a real estate company that sponsors us with reduced rent, we are currently offering rent-free art studio space for 20 selected professional womxn artists. More than a production hub, we are open to the public three days a week.

And how do you work?

— We believe in ‘caretaking’ as the key mind shift to make the art world more inclusive, vibrant, and meaningful today. To resist the white patriarchal heteronormative glass ceiling in the (art) world at large, we need to care more for each other as underrepresented art workers minorities — women, LGTBTQI+, and, especially, non-white. Caretaking as such is the pivotal force we see as absolutely fundamental for the art world to become more democratic, Bjäringer explains. She continues:

— Making art starts with having space to do just that. Affording an art studio and earning money through your art — even in privileged countries like Sweden — has become merely impossible. Paired with the growing patronaging of the art market that enforces predatory fees on artists — especially womxn — it is becoming merely impossible to pay your bills as a professional artist. Unfortunately, the common belief that artists should work for free is still shockingly fashionable. Exploiting the cultural capital of artists has become widely accepted as the norm when in fact service businesses are stealing from artists what is most valuable to any brand building: the consumer ’culture experience’. We want to dislocate traditional ways of thinking about art and challenge conventional art sites to create more immersive disobedient public experiences led by who we believe are the future leaders: professional womxn artists and cultural thinkers.

What’s the current state of artists in the Nordics?

— The current conservative global backlash against liberalizing gender values is very much alive in Scandinavia too and puts all minority voices in the art and culture world at greater risk of marginalization. The current situation for women artists, LGTBTQI+, and non-white is not good. The only way to improve this is to look at what concrete measures directly impact the daily life of an artist and art worker today, starting with how can an artist afford to have a workspace. How can we create safer rooms for marginalized voices? It all starts with a room of one’s own, a space to create with a support system capable of large-scale empowering of womxn artists in an increasingly excluding and competitive polarized way of thinking about the world.

Paola Bjäringer.

Can you share any good examples of initiatives to improve the situation for artists?

— I’m very excited to see powerful womxn in the art world like curator Fatoş Üstek launching initiatives — most recently a new platform called Letsbefrank advocating for better pay for artists everywhere — that tackle the economic precarity of artists today, says Bjäringer. We need more powerful art people at the top of the business ladder to challenge everyone involved in the art world in thinking more radically feminist. Why do we do the things we do? How can we give empowering real-life solutions to womxn artists who claim and reimagine the ways in which to represent non-conforming, disobedient and othered bodies? Take the scene in the Swedish city of Malmö as an example. It’s pushing for high levelled divergent curation with non-profit independent spaces like Lilith focusing on what I believe is the new wave of hope coming from Scandinavia at large: deviant womxn-led performance art. 

— New young womxn curators with outspoken anti-racist agendas like Hanni Kamaly are taking the stage in major institutions. Supporting local womxn artists and curators, especially non-white, is central. This is a positive sign that there is a clear strong resistance to the ruthless capitalist hegemonic artistic production mindset that excludes others while making commonplace a taken-for-granted natural order of things. It’s a rampant not so new tactic to ’make strange’ everything that operates outside of the normalizing codes. 

— Swedish-Chilean performance artist Shirley Harthey Ubilla, who recently moved in with Misschiefs, is very much representative of this new wave of womxn artists whose work emphasizes pleasure and cultural betweenness as combined weapons of empowerment. She brought back performance art to the Swedish art map with the power gang collective JUCK, has worked with Marina Abramovic, and is a true catalyser of a more raw, fleshy new type of feminist butch gaze in the upcoming Scandinavian art scene. The age of the ’Lesbian desire politics’ and aesthetics is in motion, as Cajsa Von Zeipel brilliantly proves with Alternative Milk as the new cyborg Madonna at Andrehn-Schiptjenko in Paris. 

Alternative Milk by Cajsa von Zeipel at Andrehn-Schiptjenko in Paris. Photography: Alexandra de Cossette

— We need to change the conversation from the romantic lonely ’genius’ — often male — artist secluded in his untouchable studio to a collaborative feminist force that involves institutions but also smaller-scale alternative hands-on operative art systems like us. We need more and safer rooms where central difficult topics like queerness, racism, and sexism can be collectively addressed, discussed and presented in its best light to the public. That is what art is about: pushing for a better world. And, really, what the world needs most right now, is strong womxn voices to be heard loud and clear.