Utopian Bodies-Fashion Looks Forward is not your ordinary Fashion Exhibition. Spread over eleven galleries in the Liljevalchs Art Museum in Stockholm, the 5 month exhibition ended its run last month. While most fashion exhibitions tend to focus on just one designer, this multi sensorial exhibition, with 200 pieces, explores eleven themes: Sustainability, Change, Technology, Craft and Form, Craft and Colour, Solidarity, Resistance and Society, Resistance and Beauty, Memory, Gender Identity and Love. Displaying work from a wide variety of designers and with many specially commissioned pieces, along with the attention to detail in the galleries created to showcase the themes, the exhibition invites us to explore fashion in the present and the future. I had spent hours in that little fashion universe, and would have loved to have gone back. And then there’s the catalogue, a 300 page tome with interviews and contributions from scholars and prominent people in the field of Fashion Studies covering all the themes and exhibits, a total treasure in itself.
I interview Fashion Curator and Exhibition Designer Sofia Hedman, who together with her husband Serge Martynov are the Curators of Utopian Bodies-Fashion Looks Forward.
How was the concept for the fashion exhibition Utopian Bodies born?
We have a huge love for many modernist art movements. This was a time of bright ideas, spirit and hope. Even the late 19th century was a time of incredible inventions.
Utopia is so much about hope and desires. In the exhibition, we wanted to present some of the most amazing ideas in the world under one roof. We want the visitors to be inspired by all these ideas as much as we were. Today, many people know a lot about problems when it comes to both production and consumption. In Utopian Bodies we wanted to focus on the solutions available to us now, or in the near future. The exhibition highlights fashion’s possibilities and the power of human creativity. Clothes can mean freedom to a certain extent. The exhibition is about breaking stereotypes and conventions.
The exhibition is one of mammoth proportions, could you explain the complex process for an exhibition of this scale?
Different parts of the process of making an exhibition carry different complications. The beginning and research phase of the project is somewhat of a code breaking period. A very exciting time! We always collect everything relevant that we love, put it in front of us and try to find connections between objects and inspiration for the exhibition design. It normally takes a while until it becomes a clear and with an understandable picture. Thereafter follows a time with a lot of administration.
Making an exhibition is very much a group effort. It was probably more than 400 people involved in the making of Utopian Bodies, from the small curatorial team to the museum, designers, artists, agents, photographers, editors, printers, shipment organisers, craftsmen, light specialists, installers, press, guides, to name a few. So many people have put in so much time and love into the project.
Sometimes it can be hard to communicate your vision in the best way, so a lot of presentations are required along the way. The most exciting stage is when everything comes together during the installation which also is the busiest time. We often work very long hours, but it’s a very thrilling time.
What is the message you want to deliver and the experience that you would like the visitors of Utopian Bodies to have?
We wanted the visitor to leave the exhibition feeling that change is possible, and that can start here and now with me as a consumer.
Due to the fact that fashion has not had such a long history of being exhibited within museums and galleries, there are not as many strict rules concerning the making of fashion exhibitions. We work a lot with the exhibition design. We use it in conjunction with the wall texts and graphics to guide the visitors through the exhibition space. In Utopian Bodies, each of the rooms is inspired by a utopian idea, art movement or technology. Here the exhibition design is used to let the contemporary objects resonate with their past. We built up different worlds for the visitor to travel through. We tried to create a rhythm between the rooms, resetting the visitor when entering each new room.
As in your previous work with exhibitions, you have specially commissioned pieces, why is this so important to you?
When building the exhibition design, we commission artists and craftsmen to help us to tell the story. Their work becomes invaluable in the way that they visually translate the missing links for the curatorial narrative.
What is your view on the fashion world as it is today?
There are so many great ideas within fashion, but the fashion world has huge problems, from unethical production, underweight models to overconsumption. However, something does seem to be happening right now. Even though there is still very much that needs to be done, influential figures are starting to question the status quo.
This wave of self criticism should perhaps also be introduced to other fields. As fashion has traditionally been seen as belonging to the female sphere, it is often assumed that it has greater potential to be 100% ethical. And it is seen, perhaps, more from an economic perspective rather than an important cultural expression than any other form of design. Do we question, for example, the conditions our cameras are made to the same extent?
How did you start your collaboration with Serge Martynov?
I was making a sunglasses exhibition with my friend Karolina Kling in Tokyo. We asked Serge to do the graphic design. He joined us in Tokyo and since then we have worked on many projects together.
It is amazing to have the opportunity to work with my partner. It allows us to be very open and test ideas. In the beginning I was very worried that we might get tired of one another if we worked together every day. But it is just the opposite! I would highly recommend it. It is so amazing being able to see your partner when they are at their best. He is the one that inspires me the most.
Do you have a favourite item or section in the exhibition?
It is such a difficult question as we appreciate and admire them all for different reasons. One piece that has become so incredibly relevant right now is Hussein Chalayan’s table skirt from AW 2000. It looks at the traumatic experience of refugees having to flee their homes and leaving their possessions behind.
Will this be a travelling exhibition?
Yes hopefully! Our American partners would like to tour it around the world for five years. It would be very exciting to rethink and refine the exhibition for so many different venues. We love working abroad, it’s such a lovely way of experiencing a country and absorbing cultures.
Is there a dream project that you would love to work on?
It would be a dream to make interdisciplinary exhibitions for the V&A or The MET one day. They both have the most amazing collections to work with.
It is difficult to define a dream project. Some projects are easier than others. For example, it is easier to make exhibitions for well known institutions as it is usually more straight forward to borrow the objects that we would like to exhibit. But even making a small exhibition can be a hugely enjoyable process. There are always new themes to explore and it is always possible to stretch ideas in different directions. The task of a curator is to make the exhibition exciting for the visitors and therefore, most often, you will have a tremendous amount of fun and fascinating discussions along the way. We always think that if we really enjoy a new insight or experience, most likely, others will too. We try to listen to our gut feeling and then go all the way.
Are you working on anything right now?
We have started on another wonderful fashion-related project, but unfortunately we cannot go public with it just yet. Otherwise, we are just in the process of redesigning Utopian Bodies and another one of our exhibitions A Queen Within to make them easier to travel, and Serge is also designing a cosmic series of products.
Below is short video presentation of the exhibition from Liljevalchs Art Museum.