by Caroline Ulvros
A late afternoon sun shines through white curtains in an exhibition hall in Malmö. Around a large table, about thirty artists are gathered. Long shadows fall over the white table cloth and the light glitters in chairs of clear plastic and a massive chandelier in gold. The room doubles as a wedding hall. All eyes are on three female artists in front of the white curtains; Jenny Grönvall, Ellen Suneson, and Julia Björnberg. Tonight, they initiate a discussion on how to use feelings of failure, paranoia, and passivity in artistic methods.
The discussion at Alta Art Space is arranged by Metood, a group working to prevent sexual harassment, expose power structures, and counteract silence culture within the art sphere in the city. The group emanates from the #metoo-movement and receives funding from the state and the municipality. Events are presented on their Facebook page, where Metood uses the hashtag #konstnärligfrihet protesting sexual harassment in the Swedish art realm and likes the page for #tystnadtagning, a Swedish hashtag about sexual harassment in acting corresponding to #silenceaction.
The three artists depict their lengthy collaboration with a focus on the joint exhibition examining the role of failure in art. Together they created a safe space to process feelings of shame as well as reflect on experiences and structures. Issues they have faced are used to comment on classic feminist notions of the personal versus the political and master suppression techniques. Relating personal stories to recognized theories about gender structures is no doubt effective. A glaring contrast to how male experiences are perceived as universal and political is inevitable for the audience. Sadly enough, the validity and durability of the theories cast clear shadows over the white table cloth.
The artist’s collaboration, predating #metoo and not centered around sexual harassment, gain political importance through emotional and subjective aspects. Except demonstrating the crucial role of personal stories for raising political awareness, what does the discussion tells us about how to achieve change? It is not uncommon to encounter separatist movements as a strategy for creating mobilization and challenge power structures. Metood is separatist for women and non-binary individuals, seeing diverse perspectives as essential for political change.
Could the legacy of #metoo be a lasting upgraded status for female experiences, or does the change lies in how these personal stories are expressed? After #metoo, the combination of hashtags, Facebook mobilization, and physical meetups seems crucial for many political strategies. Even though neither social media mobilization nor struggles to expand the notion of ”the political” are new, questions about credibility seem to become more palpable. Metood arranges events each month. The audience is interested and numerous, there is barely enough chairs for everyone. Is the long-standing feminist will to change what is political finally coming true in personal narratives masked by hashtags?
When the artists depict how their exhibition was received, I can’t help to wonder about how female artistic expressions will be perceived in a longer comparison. It may be too early to declare #metoo to be a watershed, but what would their discussion be like if they collaborated again in ten years? Or twenty? As the speakers as well as the audience tonight are mainly professionals, who will be reached by these political practices? After the discussion, the audience is invited to write down own experiences and look at an ongoing exhibition. The questions evoked by the evening will probably remain with me for quite some time. When I leave, the sun is still setting over the exhibition and in a hall downstairs, wedding guests arrive.