By Nora Renick Rinehart, fiber artist, second-year Master in Fine Arts candidate in Design Studies at the School of Human Ecology, and Graduate Research Assistant at the CDMC.
While March marked the one-year anniversary of the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was also the anniversary of Sofia Hagström Møller’s weaving residency here at UW. Initially, the CDMC had planned to install an exhibition of Hagström Møller’s work in the fall of 2020 but the team quickly decided to shift to an online exhibition instead. As a curator, this transition presented all sorts of challenges and opportunities. Thanks to Zoom, I was able to sit down this week with Hagström Møller in her home studio in Copenhagen, Denmark. We were joined by her campus host, Associate Professor Marianne Fairbanks, to reflect on that moment and to share how our plans had to evolve to suit the pandemic limitations.
Nora: Sofia, you were here just over a year ago for a residency hosted by Marianne Fairbanks’s Weaving Lab Digital Residency using the UW campus’ TC2 loom. Looking back, we feel so lucky to have been able to host you here in Madison right before everything shut down. I’m wondering if you both could talk a little bit about your experiences during that time, and your thought processes as you came to understand that the original plans for the project were going to have to change.
Sofia: I feel really lucky that it happened- that I could go there and make my work and everything was as we planned it to be. Of course it was a very strange situation when everything just shut down and I had to sit here, you know? I started to think: how can I do this? How can we work this out? OK, if I’m going to do this [as an] online exhibition, I have to think [about] photography. I had to get a space [or] room to present my work in. Here in Denmark, everything was shut down. So finding a gallery or a room to hang everything up- everything was closed. That’s why I have one of the pictures out in the garden, because where [else] to take photos, you know? And well, you better use what you have.
Yeah, another thing: Sometimes you realize how fragile the connections are. Through a pandemic and related to my project that is Weaving Threads Through Time and Space. That was also a time when it was very difficult [to make] connections, when the immigrants came over to America. And now we’re in the pandemic, you know? So that’s just some thoughts that are quite interesting. I’m working with this whole concept and now we’re stuck in it again. It’s another way of thinking [about] my work and how [I had] to represent them in the photographs. I’m not the photographer but I have to make them representable in a photo. Yeah, I think that’s the most [difficult] and also interesting change from in-person to online.
Marianne: I’ll just start by saying that I agree with Sofia and that when she was here, I feel like everything went off without a hitch. Sofia was very productive on the loom and, for not having used that technology before, I feel like she really was able to generate a lot in a little bit of time. But also, the breadth of her visits to classes and meeting the undergraduate students, for me, was such a huge success. I think they really enjoyed meeting an international artist and understanding Sofia’s process. I felt like that was all such a huge success in terms of the whole residency. And then. I’m fascinated to hear Sofia’s challenges about how she documented [the work] because I guess I didn’t really quite understand the challenges. I’ve never heard you talk about not being able to find a space to document. So when you sent that picture of you holding it up in the garden I was like oh, it’s kind of cool and a little bit quirky. I found it to be kind of refreshing. I didn’t know the context of not being able to put it on a white wall, I just was like, that’s an alternative method that seemed really fun. Actually, I love it. I think you’re wearing red boots? I found it to be such a playful presentation. Now I’m reflecting on the content of the work [which] has to do with a floral motif and here you are in the garden surrounded by this luscious green, holding up this weaving that has a floral motif. I don’t think that fully resonated with me until just this minute. In hindsight, when we look back at this place in time, we’ll say, oh, that’s really representative of where we were at. How to connect it with the other work in an online exhibition is a whole other can of worms…
Nora: I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of the potential of chaos. The positive aspects of a break in normality is that it lets you rethink so many different methods that you have been taking for granted.
Sofia: And you can have [multiple] pictures in an online show If you go into a gallery you can only see what’s there. It’s on the white [wall]. Here, you can see both the photo in the garden and also with the white background. I also really love that it was possible to bring in so many sketches.
Nora: Another [benefit of an online exhibition] is the number of people who have been able to view the show. We have over 1400 views, which is- could we ever get 1400 people in and out of the gallery on campus?
Marianne: Yeah. It’s a different community of people that are viewing it, but it’s but it’s big and it’s international and it’s so exciting.
Sofia: It’s so easy to just click away and to share and to invite people. But, Did anyone see it? It’s been harder for me to reach people. I haven’t gotten [many] reactions or heard people talking about it- because you don’t meet people. When you’re in a gallery you talk together but, [when it’s online], you’re not phoning someone to say hey, I just saw this show. That’s not really happening. But it’s a new thing, so I don’t know how to think about it.
Marianne: [There’s a difference between] engagement and resonance. Right? I don’t know, [there’s] that piece of the puzzle [that] is something that we don’t quite know yet. If you’re not getting a lot of feedback, it’s difficult. I’ve been to a few [events] now where artists have shows and then there’s a lecture or Gallery talk or something and I’ve showed up to that, to listen to them talk about their work, which I’ve really enjoyed. But again, it’s a really bizarre situation. It’s a zoom [call] where you don’t know how many other people are there watching and you can ask a question, but are there 500 people here? I think that right now that technology is not conducive to community because you don’t know who else is there.
Sofia: Agreed, yeah. [But online forums are] really good to network [through]. I mean, I met Marianne through social networking [but] It’s [different] when you meet people.
Marianne: Sofia’s point is good: we started communicating through Instagram back in like 2017. But it was all anonymous so I didn’t really know who she was. A year later, when I was traveling to Scandinavia, I reached out, kind of out of the blue, and Sofia offered to meet me. So that kickstarted something that is still manifesting today. if she hadn’t taken the risk to meet this random person who messaged her on Instagram and I hadn’t taken the risk to reach out, this current collaboration would have never happened. Again, I’m not gonna downplay what’s possible online because I think there is so much possible. And yet there’s something about the physical, in the meeting in person that is critical.
Nora: Yeah, for sure. It feels like there’s a holistic overlap between the digital availability and the tangible in-person experience that’s expensive, right? I mean, if we’ve been thinking about them as separate tracks, thinking about them as overlapping tracks only expands the possibilities.