– I’m moving from one studio to another, so it’s kind of unfinished and messy in there. But come on in, I’ll put some heat on. It’s cold in there.
Josefine Lyche – the artist – strikes me as a woman of few words, although her body language tells a different story. She is restless, as if her body is speaking on her behalf.
It’s ten to one. I’m ten minutes early. I’m never early. The reason why? It might stress people out. I’ve always thought it better to be a couple minutes late, as to give people a few bonus minutes – to relax, gather their thoughts. It might even make them feel like they have one up on me, and consequently make them more comfortable.
– It’s been crazy with openings at Lynx almost once a week, and having my own exhibitions at the same time. Right now I’m sleeping at my other studio in Frognerparken.
While I’m wondering why she isn’t sleeping at her Bislett apartment, Josefine finds her keys and opens the door to her new studio. Located at Tøyen, it is bright, white and somehow still colourful. Maybe she is the one bringing the colour.
Josefine graduated from the Oslo art academy in 2004, and had her breakthrough at the Carnegie Art Award in 2006. Through her solo and group exhibitions, as well as through curating, Josefine has been active in the arts for years. She also runs Lynx Gallery in Frognerparken.
Despite all of this, and the impressive fact that she manages to live off her art – she asks; “But why do you want to interview ME?”.
While turning on the heater and the lights, tidying up a bit, she confesses why she didn’t sleep that much last night.
– I was seriously on a mouse hunt last night. My cat dragged in a living mouse in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep knowing there was a mouse in the room, so I tried to find it. To get it out. It ended up with me accidentally killing it.
Josefine holds her hand in front of her mouth, embarrassed.
– I killed a mouse! That was not my initial intention, but the cat didn’t complete her job.
I agree, while reassuring her that things like this can happen, and that the mouse might even be happier now.
– I can’t have the cat in my apartment, it’s too small, and so the cat doesn’t live there. It came to me one day in Frogner, so skinny and hungry. I named it “Katten”, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It had an owner, but she chose a new owner. And I really love that cat.
I like people who like animals.
She points me to a steep staircase, bringing the heater along. It looks heavy.
I’m comfortably sitting in one of the beds on the second floor of the studio. Josefine is making tea, and I’m considering whether or not she sleeps in here. I’m surrounded by art, small pictures, books and wigs. She sits down on the other bed. We breathe. I’m trying to give back to her the time I stole by showing up too early.
– These things make me nervous, she says.
– Yes. I never know what I say until I see my words on paper.
I tell her that I never know what I’m doing.
– But being an artist, it is so… revealing? It’s bold to show your work like that. It’s so visible, vulnerable. Scary. How is that for you?
– It depends of course, but sometimes it’s like being naked in front of someone you like and realize that “fuck, I haven’t shaved my legs”.
I think that’s a rather fitting way to describe nervousness.
The bright light is flickering above us. If Josefine hadn’t been there I would probably feel uncomfortable. But she is calming, though fidgety. As if she is waiting for me to judge her, at the same time not caring if I do. I can connect. I think.
– I feel that your art is personal in a different sense than many other artists I’ve seen.
– It is personal. Everything is connected to something, has a source. Even the object itself has a narrative.
– But it is so eclectic?
– I know. My style and technique varies with the idea behind it.
The idea decides the technique. And the idea differs. So the technique follows.
– I know sometimes my choice of colours or use of glitter etc. in my work make them not seem “more than meets the eye”, like in a blinded by the light situation, at least for some. If I had used another aesthetic language to express the idea, I guess it would have been seen as more “correct” in the art world.
– That’s also a point – there are rules and trends, but I don’t care about them.
– But you make beautiful things?
– That’s exactly it. That makes it wrong somehow. Its not grayscale and boring. It’s like the flare makes the viewer blind, at least blind for the layers behind the “first glimpse”. When did beauty become “light” and even subversive? It’s kind of funny actually.
There’s definitely something to what she is saying. For some people beauty is defining in a way that limits them, they might not be able to see beyond the obvious.
Although our conversation is going along fluidly, I’m still looking for similarities. Still looking for that connection.
Josefine’s blond hair is perfectly shaped with long bangs over blue eyes. I think she is waiting for us to connect too.
– Why do you make pretty, beautiful art then? If you feel that it’s less appreciated.
– Well, it’s me, you know. My main mission is to create a dreamscape, or a different reality. People are always searching for alternative realities – I want my art to be that. A mental free zone.
I think she is pink on the outside, while hiding something of a different colour inside. I want to understand why Josefine wants what Josefine wants.
– When did it start? This urge to create alternate realities?
– Well, I remember when I was in second grade. My best friend and I created alternate realities all the time. We performed this absurd theatre play for instance – a fantasy world in which we could escape. The other children in our class thought we were crazy!
– You wanted to escape reality that early?
– Well… you know, she looks at me as if I do.
And I did.
– We even made up this fictitious aunt. So that we had someone to wave at from the parades on the 17th of May. All the other kids had family there.
I feel my heart aching a little. Not from sympathy, but from something else, something similar. Compassion maybe.
We talk about how kids have this amazing capacity for make believe, just so they can feel better. They seem to just grab on and go with it. Sadly, a lot of people loose that ability growing up… because… youre supposed to, or something. We agree that the way we learn to be an “adult” can be very limiting.
I tell Josefine that I used to escape, and make pretend too. I tell her the story about my first essay. In first grade, my teacher told us to write a true essay about our summer vacation, it was supposed to be one page. I ended up delivering 34 handwritten pages about “Sophie”. She had ridden a unicorn, fallen in love and travelled with her mum and dad.
– Great! What did the teacher say?
– She asked me why I didn’t write about myself, that this was untrue. My answer was, “what if it wasn’t?”
– Words are magical. My mother used to read a lot, and she read The Lord of The Rings out loud to my sister and I before we could read ourselves.
– My mum, was, an eccentric, a handful. A free thinker to say the least.
– Anyway, the house was stacked with books. To read is the best way to escape. I always wanted to be a full-time writer.
– Why arent you?
– I’m not ready yet, I guess. And it’s a bit scary to follow THAT dream. I never did sit down to draw or take art lessons at school, I read books and took computer programming instead. So visual art was never a passion for me until I started at Strykejernet in 1998.
I reach for the cup of tea, take a sip, and move from the bed to the bench between my bed and hers. Closer.
– I wish I knew at a younger age how difficult life can be as an adult, and then maybe I would have been less considerate and careful…
Just like that we were only separated by floor.
– So a lot of your work with esoteric topics derives from your childhood?
– Yeah, I mean. I grew up with a spiritual mother, she was a healer and she painted religious icons. But it became a New-Age overload, so I kind of distanced myself from it. But I learned a lot anyway. She brought my sister and me along when she was visiting gurus and all that. So, now, it’s an important part of my art, as well as my life. But that has taken some time.
Josefine’s mother died in 2009. Her father passed when she was 15.
– It’s really a unique feeling… having no parents. No matter how grown up you are, the thought and feeling of being an orphan… no safe place or unconditional love.
I dot down “safe place” twice.
– Now, all the family I have left is my sister. And I aim to be a mother, father, sister and best friend to her, all at the same time. Nobody is able to fill all those roles, and at the same time we both have these needs.
I realize that Josefine’s art comes from her heart. Though the inspiration lies outside it, in her family, experiences and knowledge, all of which generate feelings that can be interpreted through art. It’s weird how hard it is to feel sometimes.
– How did it affect your art when you mother passed away?
– I used to exhibit everywhere! A lot of spotlight. After mum died it was quieter for a while. All of a sudden I realized my father was gone too. So I have this thinned out years in my resume up until 2012-13. I mean, I did a lot – I just wasn’t that visible.
She had a stint in Berlin, but was finally able to start over when moving back home. In 2013 she was awarded a much sought after 5-year contract with a studio and pavilion (lynx) in Frognerparken. In January 2014 she ventured into “One Night Only” at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo, followed by “Pink Cube” and “Noplace”, artist-run spaces with low or no budgets and no strings attached.
– Nothing to loose right?
– Yeah. And then you just have to believe in what you’re doing. I feel free. I have nothing to loose, also because every exhibition is divergent, they’re all different.
– Are you thinking about categorization?
– Yes. It feels so good that people have a hard time putting me into a category.
I can relate. I look around the room. Although it’s a new space, trails of different exhibitions are scattered around. I see a lot of wigs in different colours.
– Youve used hair in your art recently, why is that?
– There are many reasons. Hair carries a force, and is vivid. Thick, shiny hair is a symbol of health and beauty, and is considered holy in some religions or communities. During the Vietnam War, the US government kidnapped Native American scouts because of their amazing tracking abilities. Then they shaved their heads, and the Indians was like “our hair is our antennas, we get the skill through the hair”. They couldn’t track anymore.
Josefine also tells me about this group of female mediums during ww2 who claimed they got information from space through their long hair. I decide to close my computer and just listen to her stories for a while.
– Hair is a lot of things. It’s a good way of sending signals too.
– Yeah, you can really use different looks to make people see what you want them to see.
– A facade, a disguise.
– So I still have my long, blonde hair and I like wearing dresses.
– And your art is pink and glittery and shiny.
It makes sense. To me.
– Maybe it’s your way of letting people in. Into something painful?
Painful… I might be transferring my own experiences into my interpretation of her feelings. But it felt right.
Josefine has taken me through beautiful stories, ranging from the personal to the platonic explaining the extensive use of geometry in her art. I now know that she bursts into laughter when reading Dostoyevsky, and that she has a weird connection with a retired mathematician. But in the end, it all comes down to if what she’s doing is making her happy.
– You have to write again!
My voice is a bit over-engaged.
– You know what, almost each exhibition I’ve done could actually be a book – I’m just telling it in another way.
In the beginning of the interview, I thought to myself, this interview is not going to be about art. But I was wrong. Her art is so interesting, and for me, her art is all about the idea – but the person behind that idea is even more compelling. I needed to know if there was something behind all of the pink and glitter. And my god, it really was. It really is.