Cajsa von Zeipel, a Swedish visual artist, has devoted her career to showing that art means conveying emotions, and that the term high-brow is absolutely outdated and not a reflection of the social and cultural advances we're fighting for.
I believe the art of sculpture is the most difficult one because it means creating a figure that follows all the dimensions of our world and be masterful enough to make the piece look like a real person frozen in eternity while still exuding life. Naturally, with contemporary art and all the trendy currents in the last century, sculpture has evolved so much that this notion might be outdated. However, still the core essence of the discipline is the idea of giving life to a block of solid material and molding it, even if it looks as if it goes against physics. Now, classic sculptures seem to belong to the realm of elegance and high art. They represent the beauty we're taught to appreciate as sublime and unreachable. The characters they portray are superior beings, and for that reason they become untouchable. But what gives them that status? The mastery with which they were crafted? The characters they're portraying? Or simply that long and traditional discourse that sets the norms of art and culture?
Perhaps the answer is all of the above, but we'll focus on the latter, since the sculptures we're about to see go against, or at least satirize, the high brow essence of sculptures. Cajsa von Zeipel, a Swedish visual artist, has devoted her career to showing that art means conveying emotions, but at the same time, that the idea of high brow art is absolutely outdated and not a reflection of the social and cultural advances we're fighting for. On the contrary, it reinforces all those behaviors we want to abolish: discrimination, racism, classism, and sexism.
Von Zeipel achieves this by adopting traditional art techniques from each discipline (like painting, sculpture, and performance) to subvert their pure essence and meaning. The results are projects like Insulting the Archive in which she challenges centuries of objectification of the female body through huge sculptures of women. The name of the project is pretty self-explanatory. It means taking the long history (or archive) of classical sculptures and exaggerating them to expose their repressive nature. It is subverting their tropes and what they wanted to convey and turn them into the opposite, to what classic art lovers and scholars might even consider offensive. To do so, she portrays characters, similar to goddesses and classic figures, in not so refined activities, such as smoking, having sex, or simply behaving wildly.
The size of her sculptures holds a very important meaning behind, and it is probably one of the most important elements of the whole project. She has noted how, in classic art, female figures are always been represented on a lower scale compared to male characters. Classic high art chooses to scale down the proportions and size of women to denote their delicacy and, most importantly, their inferiority and submissiveness. Contrary to that, in the case of male figures, all their features are magnified and sometimes exaggerated to show their greatness. As she explains, in high art there isn’t any representation of diversity and gender equality. On the contrary, it’s all set under an unbalanced premise that’s no longer the reflection we want for our society.
Von Zeipel’s sculptures are extremely relatable, since she manages to remove that cultural barrier between us, the mundane, vulgar people, and the untouchable nature of high art. We can actually feel related to these gigantic figures, instead of feeling inferior as it happens with classic art. She achieves this by portraying normal people, everyday characters. Actually, she used her friends as the inspiration to create these statues. Although each of them is meaningful by itself, together these pieces create a very interesting and down-to-earth reality we can all relate to. They’re also our friends and that closeness is her most audacious way of insulting the archive.
Her female characters are strong and bold. Their attitudes and poses are defiant and fearless, and the best way to see this is through their gaze, how they look at the audience and defy them. They’re no longer the innocent woman who hasn’t realized she's being observed. No, they know you’re looking at them, judging them for their wild behavior, and they don’t care. On the contrary, they want you to feel that way, to be challenged and analyze why you’re feeling like that. They’re no longer passive characters waiting to be admired. Now, they’re actively challenging you, and by doing so, they’re also encouraging all women to follow in their steps, applying that defiance, to look at the world just like they look at you.
If you want to see more of her defiant work take a look at her website: Cajsa von Zeipel
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