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Cajsa von Zeipel’s Insulting The Archive
Courtesy the artist and Arcadia Missa, photography Tim Bowditch

The artist sculpting her friends smoking, fucking & dancing

By casting her friends and their hedonistic behaviour, Cajsa von Zeipel uses her art to return the viewer’s gaze

Over the past ten years, Swedish-born visual artist Cajsa von Zeipel has been carving out a name for herself – quite literally – thanks to her transformative talent for turning mounds of malleable materials into towering sculptures.

If you are familiar with her work, then you will know that things are never as they seem, and von Zeipel’s work both utilises and subverts traditional sculpting techniques in order to redefine disciplines such as painting, performance and of course, sculpture.

Currently on show at Peckham’s Arcadia Missa, von Zeipel’s latest exhibition (and first London based solo), debuts as a series of colossal women, all brought to life through a very physical sculpting process that gives way to nude bodies, “smoking, fucking and pulling-hair,” from von Ziepel’s vision. Best at their biggest, her sculptures call out with energy and vibrancy despite the rigid materials from which they are handcrafted. For all their bright-white bravado, von Zeipel’s artworks have an otherworldly quality which is best seen in the unfiltered light of real life.

Intrinsic to Insulting the Archive is a conversation about what it means to be a woman amongst friends, and as such, every sculptural character is in constant dialogue with the woman she stands alongside. However, it is the undercurrent that is most pertinent for von Zeipel’s artistic subversion: “It’s frustrating. The approach to classical sculpture has always been to reduce the scale and form of women. Don’t believe what they say - this classical approach is still very much in practise.” There is no denying that diverse representation and gender equality in high-art has been unbalanced, something von Zeipel spells out as she continues: “The female form is scaled down and the male structure is exaggerated. No more of that please!”  

Fresh from the opening this weekend, we caught up with von Zeipel to find out more about her London debut, and why she is hell-bent on rejecting sculptures archaic gender imbalance.

“The women featured in Insulting the Archive return the viewer’s gaze, they refuse to take the historical role of women in sculpture; passive, dull with plump lips slightly parted” – Cajsa von Zeipel

This is, in your words, your "most personal" show to date – can you expand on why that is?

Cajsa von Zeipel: The project has been the most challenging for me in many ways, and one because, yes you are right, it is my most personal exhibition to date. The characters I am working with here, are my best friends, they haven’t been invented, they are ‘real’ women. It’s me and it’s my girlfriends actually and I’m trying to capture a sense of change, both in terms of individual identity but also in group dynamic.

It’s been very interesting working with specific people in mind, because portraiture is something that is inherently very classical. However, I found it really hard to condense 10 years of friendship into a static millisecond. This concept of time was difficult to articulate through sculpture making the process all the more personal for me.

For those who can't make it, tell us about the show.

Cajsa von Zeipel: I have created a group of sculptures, each one a character, but unlike my previous girl-gangs, this is a group breaking apart. Schisms form, group identities split, tribes become divided. Individuals come into focus and then they fade into the background as personalities move away from one another. Insulting the Archive balances fierce female defiance with desolate isolation.

What's the thinking behind the title Insulting the Archive?

Cajsa von Zeipel: I wanted the title to feel challenging because that’s exactly what I am doing, I’m challenging and exaggerating classical sculptural tropes. The women featured in Insulting the Archive return the viewer's gaze, they refuse to take the historical role of women in sculpture; passive, dull with plump lips slightly parted. Women are never portrayed with the same kind of force or wildness as male sculptures. I'm just trying to correct that with fierce inspiration from my sisters.

So, you are encouraging women to return the gaze defiantly?

Cajsa von Zeipel: Absolutely. I love women. I want to play my part in making sure they have all the resources they need to be women, not merely bodies. This is why I only choose to work with female galleries like Arcadia Missa, because naturally, they understand this concept.

You made a conscious decision to enhance the scale of your sculptures. Can you tell us more about that?

Cajsa von Zeipel: Well, size matters, that's no big news! I think it's really important to be aware of form and size in any body of work, this gives or takes away from any art piece immediately – more so than colour does. Traditionally there has been a striking difference in scale when it comes to gender equality. No more of that please!

Why do you think the female form is still facing objectification?

Cajsa von Zeipel: It takes time for real change. I believe we're all seeing that in the world right now. As soon you think stuff is really changing the world steps backwards again. A couple of years ago I remember feeling like we were getting somewhere with female representation and LGBT rights - now I realise we are not. You know when the bubble you’re living in makes you believe there has been real progress? But, I’m realising my world has been facing a backyard of like-minded neighbours.

Cajsa von Zeipel is on show at Peckham’s Arcadia Missa, Wednesday – Sunday, until 29 July 2017