January 20, 2019
Karin Kakan Hermansson
A feminist, TV host, podcaster, DJ, writer, and an artist whose main focus is ceramics
Her career as an artist has been prolific, though in the public eye it is the lesser known part of Kakan’s undertakings. She has had several solo exhibitions as well as shows with her art collective Den Nya Kvinnogruppen (New Women’s Group). She has found it nearly impossible to separate her art from politics and therefore makes work that is continuously conscious of the privilege in being an artist. Our Art Director Minda Jalling, meets Kakan in her studio in Norsborg, a southern suburb of Stockholm. The two were initially introduced at Konstfack (the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design), the largest fine arts university college in Sweden, where they both studied.
Why did you choose ceramics?
When I work it’s like I become a hippie. I was diagnosed with AD/HD very late in life. It was my choice to pursue the diagnosis and therefore it felt good because it was a confirmation. I’ve always been energetic. Younger me was incredibly social, I had a lot of friends; my social life didn’t have an end and I continued to socialise and socialise until I was completely depleted and became ill. I constantly had a fever. In order to sooth this hectic state I signed up for this ABF (Workers’ Educational Association) course in ceramics. Soon after I began to take clay with me home, because it felt therapeutic to work with.
How old where you at this point?
I was 20. And I have more or less worked with ceramics ever since… But I’ve also struggled with my relationship to ceramics. I mean, you can’t work as a ceramicist. At least not anymore. Today you have to be an entrepreneur to even have the slightest chance. Or be a dude.
Not long ago you told me that you love ceramics, but also that you hate it.
Yes. It’s just like a family member. It feels uncontrollable at times. Clay is super annoying but also simultaneously incredibly wonderful.
But then I did a year-long art foundation, because I thought I should do something fun. After that I had planned to become a midwife, but I kind of got stuck there, in the art bog.
You have been a political activist for a long time and I feel as though you had an early feminist awakening. Did it feel natural to use your art as a medium to discuss your ideas and opinions? It could be argued that it is a radical decision for a political activist to pursue an art degree.
Initially it felt impossible that I might be offered a place to study art. That’s the way it is when you do an art foundation, it’s everyone’s shared goal, and everyone knows that there are only a select few who will make it. But while I was doing my art foundation at Öland, I realised that it was actually my thing, that it was making me feel good. I always performed well in school, but because I lacked concentration I was made to feel somewhat stupid. During my art foundation I was able to independently stitch together a mode of work that suited me. So, I decided that within five years I would be accepted at Konstfack’s undergraduate degree in glass and ceramics. It took me four years and after enrolling the class shock was severe.
When you work with ceramics you’re concerned with questions surrounding class, gender, sexuality, anti-racism…
How does your practice deal with these questions?
I was never encouraged to work with these issues during my degree. I was met with a lot of disapproval and shaking heads. Yet I’ve always thought that ceramics is such a good medium to work with, since it’s so de-dramatized. No matter what your class is or where you come from you’ll be familiar with utility objects, like a plate. Compared to other art forms ceramic’s accessibility is easier to create a relationship with. I don’t think there is a problem with explaining to the viewer what an art piece means. To me the most important part has always been that my art embodies my values. It took me a very long time to come to approaching ceramics from a purely aesthetic perspective. Today I can occasionally treat myself to making pretty things but even then they often stem from something political. Of course, if I want to make something simply stunning I will! A woman has got to live, a woman has got to live.
Yes, that was the one you did in…
That’s right. Can you tell me a bit about that show?
I visited several women’s aid organisations in Norrbotten. I constantly asked myself why I was doing this. It was horrible. I interviewed many women who told me that their husbands had abused them and raped their children. The scale of domestic violence isn’t common knowledge and the effect on children is barely discussed. In most cases where children are involved the man not only beats, he rapes too.
What did you do with these interviews?
Two of the women I interviewed I recorded and transcribed to make into monologs for a script. Then I made this into a video piece with two actors. It was a lot of work. The exhibition was called Jag ska begrava dig (I Will Bury You). I called it this because one women’s husband had threatened to not only kill her but also to bury her. She was so fucking scared and continuously debated if she should kill herself. And if she did she wanted to find a place where she could be found in a state that would illustrate why she had done so. It was a very emotional exhibition and during the private view people left because they were crying. Often when you approach these subjects you’re considered to be exaggerating or hysterical. But with the approval of the women’s aid organisations I felt validated.
A few years ago I came across Den Nya Kvinnogruppen’s manifesto and was swallowed by it. It was the first time I was given an insight into the thoughts of female artists. The manifesto discusses the extensive solidarity amongst men and encourages women to continue making art, despite the glass ceiling.
It was an email exchange. So, in that sense the manifesto is very stripped down. It’s a project I’ve worked a lot on for the last few years. Almost to the point where everyone involved felt that we needed a break, and so we declined offers to exhibit together. No one had time to create their own stuff.
How did it begin?
I was fucking tired. I was tired of studying in the environment that was Konstfack. It happens too often; girls enrol at Konstfack, work their ass off, hit a wall. No one was acknowledging this pattern. These girls are considered to be ‘good girls’, but really it’s their way of surviving. Even male students who identified as feminists rarely allowed women to integrate. They remained a closed network. So I just felt that it sucked that my opinion didn’t matter, because the world does not belong to me, and I wanted to do something about it. That was how I came to ask the women around me, who made art I liked, if they wanted to create this group with me. And they did.
We were so stoked and we worked hard. However, we’ve remained self-critical. Our whole group are white and have gone to art school. At least we are not all straight and from the middleclass… Criticism within the feminist movement is essential but sometimes it reaches a ridiculous extent. It’s only feminists that do this to themselves. Are feminists the biggest threat to the patriarchy? No.
Can’t we just have an art group without being so self-critical, without having to take reasonability for the entire world? Such a big part of being a feminist is taking responsibility, and that’s important, but as I said earlier, women need to live.
Does Den Nya Kvinnogruppen function as emotional support as well? Or do you focus purely on making art?
No, no. I don’t think it’s possible for a functioning group of women to not support one another. A significant part of the group’s structure is to be there for each other, to listen to each other, to learn how to collaborate. I think subconsciously women are taught not collaborate. But collaboration has given me so much! And also, I adore every single one of them as artists and it’s fantastic to be able to gather the people you admire the most and create a collective.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
Not at the moment, and I’m quite pleased about that. Sometimes it’s nice to be in the studio without working towards something specific.
What does the studio space mean to you?
It’s my second home.
This article was published in Nuda #2 2017