Currently reading : Salong Flyttkartong Studio – An Interview with Controversial Artist Linnéa Sjöberg
Linnéa Sjöberg is the swedish artist who has succeeded in causing a healthy amount of controversy over her art project named Salong Flyttkartong Studio, translating into Studio Moving Box.
This project saw Sjöberg take on an alter ego and perform crude homemade tattoos in the form of a succession of art performances on to her friends in domestic spaces. The tattoo world didn’t react too kindly to Sjöberg’s direct approach to the craft of tattooing. However the brutal aesthetic and nature to the creation of these tattoos, and to her own identity shone a light on to the all too often patriarchal and traditional nature of the tattoo world.
To find out more about Sjöberg’s motives for this project and the stories which amounted behind it, we spoke over Skype during the summer.
Reba Maybury: I was quite surprised that I’d never heard of your work before.
Linnéa Sjöberg :People say that in Sweden too, I think that this is because of the way I work. I take a long long time on each project that I take on and they become very personal, I change my identity into a new character who becomes the artwork. For example I did this with my business woman persona, and then again for Studio Moving Box. I’ve never been one for trying to get a lot of media attention onto myself either. I suppose I’m a bit under the radar, I enjoy working underground.
When did Studio Moving Box start?
It didn’t have an exact start date, but I could say that it started once I bought my tattoo machine off a friend who didn’t want to continue to tattoo anymore. He had tattooed me a lot, I’ve personally never been tattooed in a studio, only by friends. I’d wanted one for a while but I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t get on until I’d graduated from my Masters degree as I would have been too distracted! I’ve been getting tattooed for ten years but always from friends homes. I’ve always enjoyed having a certain aspect of control over my body, for example I hate going to the dentist so the setting of being in a domestic space with friends suited me. I started getting stick and poke tattoos then a friend of mine got a tattoo machine and I was happy for them to practice to me. I always liked getting text based tattoos, and they were always spontaneous, I never had ideas prior to getting tattooed. So my idea for Studio Moving Box began through my lifestyle with my friends. But two years ago I realised that I could do it myself.
What is it about the aesthetic of these home made tattoos that you like?
I don’t know if I was interested in the aesthetic for me it was more about this concept of Act before thinking.
Can you explain your concept of Act Before Thinking and the part it plays in your work?
The concept began three years ago, after stepping out of the Business Woman project’s identity and having an identity crisis. I had nowhere to go apart from going back to intense performance. I bought a tattoo machine and started spending time with the hardcore graffiti guys in Stockholm. I drunk beer and acted like one the guys and this raw energy was the opposite of what school wanted me to do. The tattoo machine created a platform of physical moveable space with the guys and it connected us closer. They were drawn to how I worked with my tattoos. We have similar ideas and practice, I work on skin and others’ skin and they work on the wall.
Act Before Thinking was inspired by the immediacy of these men.
Have you experienced any aspect of regret with being involved in this project?
I’ve never regretted anything. I’ve said stupid things but I would never work like this if I was going to regret something.
People expect me to regret. They’ve said I’ve developed a method and, as a performer, they said my next project’s scope of possibility would be narrow due to my tattoos. I disagree. I already see myself in the public space, I see an interesting group of people accepting me because of my tattoos when they wouldn’t have had before. I see the tattoos, a result of my Act Before Thinking concept, as something that is opening doors to new people and projects. The tattoos follow me in new directions.
The Government tried to stop your Studio Moving Box project from happening, why was this?
I’m hated by the professional tattoo world in Sweden. The official tattoo group came out with a press release saying that they aren’t trying to censor art but they see Studio Moving Box as something that is romanticizing home tattooing and that it has the possibility to mislead young people.
I work with a raw aesthetic. This is evident with my photography on my Facebook. A lot of folks on Facebook are aggressive and have a tone of pretty hardcore fucked up people. They think of those images of true images without any reflection of whether its fiction or [an art] project.
They want me to have a moral issue about the young people in Sweden who tattoo themselves.
But what you’re presenting in an art project more than you tattooing in someone’s home?
For me it’s a different thing, because I’m an artist. I work with tattooing as a tool, for my performance. Of course it can mislead young people, but that’s not my problem. That being said, a lot of tattooers are from the country side in the Sweden and not located in Stockholm. They have reported me to The Health Department, claiming I have an illegal studio. The Health Department say I have opened a studio without a license and that it’s open to the public.
That’s not how it is, though?
No, no, I tattoo myself and close friends; either in my home or in the space of an event. That’s not forbidden, you don’t need a license in Sweden for that.
What is it that you think the tattoo world doesn’t like about you? It can’t simply be that they think you’re spreading Hepatitis and that you are a bad influence. There has to be more than that?
The people who say that have never seen how I work. I think its my playing with the name: “Salong flyttkartong”, if not “Sjoberg super-tattooer” and I’m a girl. I got this media attention, people got interested in me in culture magazines and blogs.
You created a new type of attention to yourself that most tattooers aren’t used to. Most tattooers are used to a certain league of attention in the media, but you really opened up the barriers. I’m interested in knowing how much of the controversy you think is because of the fact that you’re a woman? Considering that unfortunately much of the tattoo world is still inherently patriarchal.
100%. That’s the top reason and to do with me playing with the name. And then there is the media attention. The tattoo world has this small community to be able to higher the prices and to be super specialists in their genre. I didn’t care too much of this – I never was interested in having a tattoo studio. But when they start bullshitting me, I felt I need to bullshit back. But in the beginning I didn’t care about them at all.
It’s interesting that as home made stick and poke tattoos are becoming increasingly popular. Everyone knows someone who’s gone to a party got someone to give themselves a tattoo. And what you’ve done is an extension of that. It’s completely personal though, you tattoo friends and it’s not like you’re going public. The tattoo world is so closed off still, there’s so much testosterone in it still. And a lot of arrogance with some of the male tattooers, which makes it closed off and quite inaccessible.
A lot of girls are afraid of going to a tattoo studio.
My female and gay friends say they prefer to be tattooed by women. There can be so much arrogance when you walk into a tattoo shop.
The most famous tattoo studios in Stockholm creeps me. Because I’m so hated through the internet: On Facebook somebody said that they wanted to shoot my head off. You know people can get so aggressive, so I get paranoid and can’t walk past tattoo shops. I take big detours around the block! But I know these guys don’t care about me, but it becomes a projection. It’s crazy how the internet hating can fuck up your mentality. I’ve never been a part of that before.
How did your boob job tattoo come around?
I lived in New York for three months and would sometimes get pretty lonely. Then I thought that this could be a piece of art work which could mash up the ‘business woman’ and the ‘studio moving box’.
This was a transitioning period for you?
Yeah and when I did the tattoo I understood that the tattoo machine is not a hobby but more of a vehicle for performance. By then I’ve had the [tattoo] machine for over half a year. I realised it with this tattoo. It was basically me booking a meeting with a random plastic surgeon in Manhattan. I googled it and he came up. I didn’t lie to them or anything, I just said it as it is: “This is going to be a tattoo, and I’m interested in how it looks. And I want to know more about this procedure.” We had a lot of meetings and they were super interested in my way of working. So he drew up lines, marking the lines he needed to follow during surgery and I went home and tattooed them.
Why did you decide on tattooing it on yourself rather than having someone else do it?
I work with myself, on myself. If my best friend were to do it, it might’ve been easier as tattooing in the mirror is quite tricky. You have to think extra all the time. But I didn’t know anybody in New York who could do it.
How long did it take?
Two or three hours? I had a really thin needle, so I had to really go over and over. But it didn’t hurt – only the next day when I tried to continue. Because I was so focused on the project, the work, which gives an extra drive. It almost gave me an outer body experience and a strong drive. In Stockholm I couldn’t have done this. If I were to contact a plastic surgeon I would have to get on a waiting list, which is four months. It was also about being in New York where everything is accessible all the time.
You also have a lot of tattoos with writing. What do some of them say? Is there a regular strand within them, are they connected in some way?
A lot of the tattoos I’ve had I’ve had for over seven years now and a lot of them are type. And they are often linked with my art work and my projects, so they become small mantras, inspiration words or funny words. The ones from the ‘business woman’ are ‘The smell of fear and champagne’ then I have ‘High and low life’ which is a group exhibition I was part of in Norway. Then there’s ‘GTD4s810’ which is ‘Getting things done for Satan’. This is all the ‘Business woman’ project. Then I’ve got a Swedish poem that I call it, for everybody in Stockholm. Translated, it goes ‘Hipster from Hell fashion blogger’. On my stomach, from my view I have ‘Artist without borders’ in Swedish. I also have ‘Jo fuck little’ on my stomach.
A lot of [my] tattoos have a sense of humour. Sometimes people confront me, saying “Will you not regret this?” or asking whether I feel OK or whether I’m destructive. People judge me, thinking I’m in a dark corner. My reaction is always presenting my left hand, showing the tattoo in the space between my thumb and my index finger: “Your cock here”.
Why did you decide to get that one?
For me it’s funny! The combination of the placement and I also think that the sentence is really funny.
How do women react to your tattoos? In terms of the pressure from society over how women should, quite aggressive and quite masculine in some ways. Your tattoos also challenge the expectations of how women should look and what tattoos they should have.
Older women are super interested in the breast enlargement tattoo. They often want to share their own experiences, not to have a breast enlargement though. People want to talk about themselves. This tattoo seems to be therapeutic for some.
Are people shocked or disgusted by them?
I don’t know what people who see me on the street think of them. But people who are curious often – This is something I hated in the beginning because I hid my tattoos for a year and a half during ‘business woman’. I also got more tattoos during ‘Business woman’, without people knowing. Now, people I don’t know grab my arms, just on the street. They take my hands and start twisting my arms, starting to read me [my tattoos]. In the start it felt invasive, people I don’t know touching me. Now I’m more OK with it, I sometimes even just stand there, like a doll. People just want to read all the text. The curious just want to read the text, have a laugh and know the story behind.
How do you feel the boob job tattoo has changed your sexuality and also how do you feel it has made other men see your sexuality?
I’ve fronted my breasts so many times that I don’t care about it anymore. ‘Studio moving box’ was really intense. ‘Business woman’ was all about becoming something I’m not and can never be, a super career woman. ‘Studio moving box’ on the other hand was about this graffiti guy and during this project I felt I became really a-sexual in a way. Coming out of the project, reflecting on it, I think “Yeah guys, that was something that I liked..”
Are you planning on tattooing yourself more?
Yeah, if something comes up. I don’t work with a concept, saying I’m going to stop tattooing at a certain date. Tattoos have been with me for all the years and continue to be with me. But not necessarily as a performance.
I do have a self-portrait on my arm.
That you did yourself?
No, but the only idea I have at the moment is having another self-portrait next to it. But I need help for that. Right now I don’t have any tattoo [ideas] that I can do, because I can’t reach [the body parts].
What about ‘Studio moving box’? Is it finished now or do you think it’s going to carry on?
I think I’ve said that it’s finished for over half a year now. But then I get invited to museums and various art spaces along interviews with magazines and such. ’Studio moving box’ has actually started living on its own by now and I can use that. Last summer was hard core, 24/7, to establish it and put it out there. Now it’s established, so I don’t need to act or be ’Studio moving box’ unless I have an invitation to a performance. For my own interest, I also would like to calm it down. I’m starting to enter a reflection time, to reflect upon it and see where it would lead me next. Half a year ago I had no idea I would be invited to museums and galleries.
Follow Sjöberg’s work here