Foreword by Tone Hansen
This is the largest presentation of Marie-Louise Ekman’s art ever featured in the form of a book. No is not an Answer aims to show the contemporary aspect of Ekman’s works and to examine the wider international context surrounding the start of her career. No is not an Answer is the result of a collaboration between Tensta Konsthall and the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter and an offshoot of the exhibition Doing what you want: Marie-Louise Ekman, Sister Corita, Martha Wilson and Mladen Stilinovic.
Today, Ekman is best known as the Director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, where she currently works. Indeed, the fundamental, driving metaphor in Ekman’s art is the theatre. The transition from visual art, and a position as professor and dean at the Art Academy in Stockholm, into theatre, and the directorship at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, is perhaps not as great as it may first appear. Even though the publication concentrates on a close reading of Ekman’s artistic works, these can hardly be set apart from the scenography and the level of detail in her films and costumes for the stage. This is clearly visible in the film Hallo baby (1977), with a script written by Marie-Louise Ekman, in which she also plays the main role. We follow a young woman and her education from a teenager to adulthood and motherhood, with particular focus on family relations, betrayal and relationships with men during the young woman’s process of liberation as an artist. The same theme is evident in Mummy, Daddy, children (1977). Ekman’s long career in films as a director, actor and scriptwriter, as well as a costume designer for the Cullberg Ballet Company in collaboration with choreographer Mats Ek, where she has created radical costumes which modernized classical opera ballets, has given her a wide, transdisciplinary practice.
In 1969, she had an acting role in Öyvind Fahlströms film Provocation and in 1975; she played herself and wrote the script for the film Hallo baby, directed by Johan Bergenstråhle. Her films, TV series, theatre productions and costumes for ballet deviate from classical categories: the films make use of theatrical tableaus, but break with the linear dramaturgy of mainstream films. In her art works, we find role-play, masks, cross-dressing and scenographic design. Her doll houses resemble small, sculptural dream scenes full of desire, longing and exhibitionist sexuality. Ekman has converted her series of smaller paintings, such as Striptease (1973), into animated film narratives. She has also written an accompanying text to the series of paintings entitled The story of the Lonely Lady (1977) and published it as a children’s book. Ekman’s objects and works evade in other words categorization and are equally ambivalent and receptive to change as she is herself.
Three theorists have written new essays about Ekman’s work for this publication. Kalliopi Minioudaki gives a detailed analysis of Ekman’s art seen in a larger, feminist and international perspective, with focus on a little debated aspect of Pop Art in “Feminist “Bad Girl” or Sweden’s Bad Feminist? Thoughts on Marie-Louise Ekman’s Intimate Revolution and its Misunderstandings”, where she also examines how critics in the Swedish press reacted to Ekman and looks at the ensuing debates about the artist, who, rather than collectively fronting a political issue, brought fetishes and dream scenarios into the open.
Katharina Wadstein’s contribution, “Body, home, object: the Living Room in Marie-Louise Ekman’s work” also investigates the early period of Ekman’s work in relation to contemporary artists, gallery owners and colleagues and shows the artistic milieu that Ekman’s works stem from. Silvia Eiblmayr looks back at the debates linked to the feminism of the 60s and 70s in “Marie-Louise Ekman. A Rebellious Uprising Against the Mythologies of Everyday Life” and at the origins of performance as a genre, not as a confirmation of an order, but as a tool for undermining established concepts of the body. Key impulses in this connection were magazines such as die Lövin (the Lioness), erotic self-staging, personal desire, the destabilization of the art history canon and ambivalent burlesque. Maria Lind gives a conceptual framework for the exhibition Doing what you want: Marie-Louise Ekman, Sister Corita, Martha Wilson and Mladen Stilinovic.
Although it took time for Ekman to become recognized in a larger artistic context, she has and continues to influence a generation of Scandinavian artists and filmmakers. Her use of pop art, theatrical and verbalized effects in body-focused, revealing pictures and films has, directly or indirectly, had an influence on the cultural landscape. Ekman’s utilization of everyday object can be regarded as a precursor to the Slacker art of the 90s, which made a breakthrough in Scandinavia with prominent artists such as Peter Land from Denmark, with his films Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994 (1994) and The Cellist (1998) and Mattias Härenstam from Sweden, with vulnerable portraits of everyday life in the Scandinavian welfare society and objects made of cigarette butts in the 90-ties. And not least the circle of artists associated with Galleri Struts in Oslo during the same period where a group of artists established themselves through running their own exhibition space, to mention just a few. These artists’ ability to produce works of this kind is indebted to a strong feminist legacy.
Another characteristic feature of Ekman’s art is the transition from the cool and controlled aesthetic of Pop Art to a more unrestrained use of all kinds of effects and objects in assemblages, paintings and sculptures. Rather than differentiating between techniques and genres, a more useful approach is probably to follow the predominant theme which underpins Ekman’s films and art projects: a personal, humorous, revealing and ground-breaking exposure of the female and male body, which takes the slogan “the private is public” seriously by laying bare the most intimate of subjects in the exhibition room. The artist and filmmaker Lene Berg has singled out Ekman as one of her references on several occasions and her film Kopfkino (2011) continues the tradition of making public what might not be accepted, through the use of the camera, but with strong reference to the theater stage. Nathalie Djurberg’s ongoing projects involving burlesque clay animations are a further development of the theatrical tradition within the art world, and with a clearly feminist perspective.
Doing what you want: Marie-Louise Ekman, Sister Corita, Martha Wilson and Mladen Stilinovic aimes to present Marie-Louise Ekman’s work in the context of three central international peers, who explored similar issues of gender and identity. It is Ekman’s boundless approach to traditional techniques, her will to do as she likes and express what she feels is necessary to say that set her apart from many of her contemporaries. Being your own personal liberation project is equally as important today as it was in the 1970s. Although liberation as a concept has perhaps changed its meaning since then - it has become the quintessence of our individualized consumer society. It is therefore all the more important to look at the concept afresh and consider out what liberation really means today, and what boundaries we are frequently up against in regular intervals. The exhibition as it has taken shape through a juxtaposition of Ekman’s work to different and equally challenging artistic projects, rather than creating a regular retrospective narrative, it aims to open up for a discussion on different aspect of the function of both the museum as an institution as well as the art historical canon. It is evident in all the contributions to this publication that, rather than having an interest in writing an artist into a canon, one should look at how an artistic practice can work the canon.