Frida Fjellman is one of Sweden’s most prominent Craft Artists. Her creations in ceramic and glass are very different from the aesthetics of minimalism and form following function that we have come to expect of Swedish Craft Artists and Designers, blurring the line between Craft and Fine Art. Her ceramic animals take us into a dreamlike world of myths and fables, of human interaction with animals and nature, most of them originating from the Swedish Northern landscape. Her glass chandeliers are sparkling gem like prisms that are suspended jewels in a room. In the exhibition “Being Frida Fjellman” at Gustavsberg Konsthall, one walks in to a dramatic stage set, red velvet curtains as a backdrop, and engaging with the artwork, her animals move and trigger different feelings within the visitor.
Frida has exhibited very widely at home and abroad, has won numerous grants and awards, among them, Residence Magazine’s Craft Artist of the Year 2010. Her art is in the collections of major museums in Sweden and there are numerous installations in public spaces.
You studied ceramics and glass design at Konstfack, how did that become your choice of material as an artist?
It was ceramics that had the biggest influence on me. I used to accompany my father to Ceramic classes when I was little and always had a fascination for the material. When I later attended an introductory course at the Community College Helliden, I had a wonderful teacher, Inger Persson who previously worked as a designer for Rörstrand. She taught me a lot and she really made me love ceramics. So it was without any doubt that I would choose that line of study. Even though I had thought that it would just be for a little while.
In your exhibitions you seem to create a very theatrical atmosphere, bringing ceramics, light, glass and lamps together in a very dreamlike scenario, what is the story that you are trying to create?
It differs from time to time. Often I have a clear picture of the whole thing from the start, and plan all the materials and elements from a very early stage of the process. I see the exhibition space as a three dimensional painting which you are also able to experience from within, adding certain elements that will trigger the senses. It is a mixture of symbolic meanings, aesthetic experiences and my own personal take on it. I have a certain object as a “base”, like main characters (after I have set my own frames and rules for the show) and it grows from this. It is a slow process and it takes time. I guess that the story would be some kind of essence of what has actually been on my mind over the last year transformed into something tangible.
You use a lot of animals in your sculptures, what do they represent to you?
They represent so much… It can be my signature, myself, our relationship to nature, myths and tales, our cultural heritage, our relationship to things of the past, general emotional states of being and so on.
Could you describe the process you go through in creating your animal sculptures?
It is quite a challenging process. Firstly I need to choose the type of animal. It can come from an idea that’s been brewing over time. Then a pose that will match my design objective. I would also have to decide what the animal will project. At the same time I will have to read up on that particular animal, both facts and people’s private experiences. Once I have decided on the pose, I start looking for pictures, then comes the time to start building… I begin with a rather brutal process, I start by spiralling up a base that is a lot smaller than the intended sculpture of the animal, so that I can start adding a lot of clay while pressing and bending into shape. Then I wait for the base to be stable before I can start to sculpt the animal properly. I make it hollow from the start. It takes time and it is a laborious process but it’s also beautiful and rewarding. I really feel the animal when I am working with it. After that the last step is moving it to be glazed, and that is another whole process.
You studied light and neon at the Pilchuck School of Glass in Washington, what attracts you to neon and is it challenging to work with?
Only because I just loved it!
What is it that you want to project with your art to those viewing it?
I would like the visitors to go close to the objects. I would like to trigger curiosity and sometimes fascination. There are times I have worked with questions surrounding what we have come to believe and try to demonstrate that through my sculptures but mostly I would like the viewer to be sucked in and think about something else for a moment. I would like to move the viewer into questioning why did this happen? Why am I sad to see a mole curled up on a cushion?
I love your chandeliers, what was the inspiration for the design?
Thank you! Emeralds were the inspiration. And the prisms on a traditional crystal chandelier. I needed an element that would symbolise something magical and captivating. A focus point, like a large treasure. And I needed something to be up in the air, and that’s how the idea for the chandelier was conceived. The last chandelier was made with the prisms itself as the building part, they are leaning on each other.
How do craft artists merge craft into the world of Fine Art, especially in Scandinavia, where craft is known for its minimal aesthetics? Do you find this a challenge?
I see that as an opening and an access. A long time ago, after my graduation from Konstfack, I worked more actively with it. For example I did my own version of “Scandinavian Blonde” but for me it contained the Northern Swedish mountain landscape, Mountain Owls, Lemmings, Ermines, more drama. And I have been working with people’s preconceived opinions as well. I found it interesting, with the beaver’s shape for example. The big belly, rounded back, the short neck and big yellow teeth. Qualities that we mostly consider ugly or unattractive. I think those are ideas that we have taught ourselves. But for a beaver, this look is perfect. They are perfect animals for its purpose and I wanted to demonstrate that in some way. And that’s how it went, one thing led to another.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a public commission at Eskilstuna for a new Bath House and I am also starting to work on a public commission at a new sport arena in Varberg. Also something The National Swedish Association of Art, SAK, and a few other projects.