Art, activism and psychotherapy - An interview with the Swedish, Copenhagen based artist Kajsa Gullberg
an interview by Milia Wallenius
Artist, feminist and activist Kajsa Gullberg (b. 1977) does not shy away from artistic field work where she uses her own body to map human experiences.
Kajsa Gullberg is a Copenhagen based Swedish artist, photographer, feminist and psychotherapist. Her experience and research based practice often deals with topics related to body, sexuality and human existence. Using her own body as a starting point she investigates and questions structures, norms and roles placed upon us by western society. We had a chance to talk to the artist about her work and latest book project The House of Mirrors.
Your latest photobook The House of Mirrors depicts scenes from a sex club. Why a sex club? What was your inspiration?
My latest book The House of Mirrors (Dewi Lewis 2020), was released in February 2020. The process started in fall 2017 when I first entered a sex club in Copenhagen where I live. I went in because I was curious about what would happen to me entering a place I reckon would be quite overwhelming for me to be in. I was sure something would happen to me that would change how I saw myself and things around me in a way I couldn't figure out on forehand. And I wasn't disappointed. Already the first evening I was there, I had conversations that really surprised me that made me think about the culture I’m raised in, how it looks at both sexuality, gender roles and how safe, or rather unsafe, I’ve been and felt in many situations. It was interesting to enter a physically house, an explicit sexual space, where there where a lot more men than women, and for the first time feeling actual safe.
In your opinion, what are the most important topics and themes in this book and how does it relate to your previous work?
I was a user of the club for one and a half years. I started to make photographes in there, under very controlled and staged circumstances of course, after being in there half a year and photographed during a period of nine months and made the book during my last three months there. Even though it wasn’t my purpose to make an art project going into the club, when the book was finished, so was I.
The three headlines of the book is:
1. The club is the ultimate sexual safe space for women
2. The club is a shame free space for female sexuality
3. The club is a shame free space for the diversity of female bodies
This book and headlines resonates with, for example my third book Unravelled (Dewi Lewis 2014) with it’s topics on bodies, body shame, shame, different kind of capitals and feminism.
Your work is often quite research based focusing on experience and body. Can you say something about your artistic methods?
My projects and processes are always experience based, they are always born out of topics that are relevant for me where I am in life at that moment. Unravelled came out of one of friends suicide, The house of mirrors from leaving a longer relationship and questioning how I’m culturally raised relating to romantic twosomeness and sexuality. During my process in the club I had loads and loads of conversations with myself and everyone around me on these topics. I say that I am what I do and do what I am. I’m exploring what it means to be a human, a woman, an artist, a parent, a child and a person in this culture. I’m obsessing on specific topics for longer periods, trying to understand through my thoughts and feelings and reflecting that in the thoughts, feelings and actions of people around me. This is what I call the perspective of the prism. It comes from a personal need for and love of complexity.
You have a background in psychology and work as a psychotherapist. Is this present in your work as an artist? How?
It’s the other way around; I’ve become a psychotherapist because I’ve worked so much on the existential aspects of life. I’ve been called a photo therapist so many times that it made sense to put this extra layer on my pracsis.
I read in another interview that you see yourself as sex positive. How is this reflected in your work as an artist?
I guess a journalist have called me sex positive, I rather not define myself in labels. But I really do think that the conversation on sexuality and sex is fundamentally important and I want to be part of and cintrubute to that one. And I can do say that at least I’m not sex negative, haha.
Is your art activist?
Yes, the three legs I stand on are art, activism and emotional work (psychotherapy). This is how I am in the world. This is how things make sense and feel meaningful to me. Guess it’s how I’m programmed from political parents and environments.
The House of Mirrors (2020) is Kajsa Gullberg’s fourth book. Her earlier books include Unravelled (2014), Eyecatcher - Portraits from Roskilde Festival (2009) and Familjealbum (2007). She was born in Gothenburg Sweden, but has since 1996 lived in Copenhagen Denmark, where she studied at The Danish School of Art Photography and The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Since 2022 she has been working as a professional psychotherapist alongside her artistic practice.