Mija Renström: an archive of instinct, text by Jessica Hemmings

Writer: Jessica Hemmings, Professor of Crafts, HDK, University of Gothenburg
Date: June 2019

Swedish artist Mija Renström works with photography and the textile technique of crochet, a structure that repeatedly loops one single thread back onto itself, over and over again. With patience and dexterity, intricate shapes can be built out of crochet’s circling around a central starting point. In Renström’s practice, an impulse to circle, collect and document has created a type of archive – an archive that invites us back, as viewers, in a loop of interpretations.

Between 2004 and 2008 Renström installed Song of the Sirens in a number of iterations. The series combined pieces made of cotton crochet with ultraviolet light, but refused any fixed installation pattern. While the textile is certainly capable of offering comfort, Renström’s use of crochet is restless. Associations shift between comfort and feelings that are far more unsettling. In Song of the Sirens the changing intensities of projected light combined with ever changing patterns of installation to allude to Renström’s desire to avoid a static interpretation of the textile as a sculptural material used by a woman. If Greek mythology teaches us that the sirens’ song contains both seduction and danger, Renström seems to seek an equally ambivalent relationship with the textile.

Predating Song of the Sirens by a year, The Colours of Natural Habitat 1-160 (2003 – 2019) is a photographic archive of Renström’s individual crochet objects. Each entry is titled with the date and location that credit when the work was finished in what the art historian Yvonne Eriksson has described as “objects that function like diary notes”.1 Personal but systematic, Renström’s titling of the individual entries creates a constant reminder that we are viewing a part of a series rather than an isolated object. Optical contrast is created with jet black backgrounds for her crochet in grey thread and white backgrounds supporting the solid blocks of colour that make less frequent appearances in her work: primary colours of red and blue as well as pink and rust.

Over time, various subgroups have also become the basis for further explorations. For example, Reflecting on Patterns # 1-24 (2004 – 2016) took the first twenty-four crochet objects and subjected them to the digital eye of a flatbed scanner. As two-dimensional images, a physical distance is created which provides a new way to focus on the minute details of each crocheted object. This shift in medium moves our attention away from the rhythm of making by hand to the patterns our eyes are drawn to see when shown in startling sharp focus. Ironically, the textile feels more visible as itself in these images. Contrast sharpens our attention to detail; the stray ends of threads feel reassuringly intentional when fixed in the final photographic print.

Renström’s crochet and the images she builds from the textile suggest systems within the body, rather than cloth intended to rest upon body. And if parts of bodies seem visible throughout, they are bodies that my eye sees as specifically female. Pairs of organs such as breasts and nipples, fallopian tubes and ovaries in particular appear across Redefining Structures # 1-24 (2016), a series of photographs which mirror the textile in paired imagery. That the home of some of the works in this series is now the maternity clinic of Stockholm’s Södertälje Hospital can be understood as either a confirmation or influence of this reading.

Also in 2016, Renström produced a series of collage works titled On the Origins of Patterns. Made from the paper pages of a crochet instruction book with black and white instructional photographs, Renström appropriated the pages and overlaid them with abstract ink patterns reminiscent of the famous ink blot personality test invented by the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach in 1921. The basic premise of the inkblot test – an interest in learning what an individual sees in abstraction as an indication of personality and the subconscious – is a strategy that may also be applied across Renström’s work. Visible to my eye in the inky mirrored symmetry are the female uterus and ovaries. Or do the suggestive shapes of Redefining Structures prepare the eye to find similarities in On the Origins of Patterns?

Renström explains, “I compare my method with what you do when you scribble, for instance while you’re talking to someone on the phone and unconsciously scribble patterns on a paper. My way of working reminds me of that state of mind: to draw a mental map with a needle instead of a pencil.”2 Across her work the core structure of crochet grows into versions that repeat, but also morph – subconscious “scribbles”. What drives Renström’s creative instincts is perhaps less important for the viewer to know than a reminder of the fact that the creative drive can emerge and depart in artistic practice without much possibility of external control. Consistent throughout this archive is the distinct feeling that Mija Renström’s creations feel alive – or at a minimum alive until very recently.

Jessica Hemmings
Professor of Crafts
HDK, University of Gothenburg

June 2019

1 Eriksson, Yvonne, “The Artistic Expression of Women – potentials and limitations” in Women’s Spaces: Gender Equality in the Visual Arts; Women in Dialogue, DATE pp. 26

2 https://mijarenstrom.com/ accessed May 15, 2019

Med blicken i spegeln


Kronofobi, Motiv 2/2004

Sireners sång


Mija Renströms konstnärskap kretsar kring ett granskande och ifrågasättande av strukturer. Hon bryter ner och återskapar dem på ett nytt sätt. Med ett kritiskt, analytiskt förhållningssätt tar hennes verk sin utgångspunkt i identitetsskapande. Hennes virkade dukar bryter sig fria från sina förutbestämda mönster och omtolkar det kvinnliga konsthantverket. Likt ett upproriskt klotter undflyr de organiska, virkade objekten all form av begränsning. De undflyr kategorisering, undflyr namngivning, undflyr inordning. Lika formlös och obestämd som en amöba antar objekten nya skepnader i olika rum.
I Glasburen presenteras ett platsspecifikt verk som där Mija Renström för första gången använder sig av färgat ljus. Ljuset i utställningsrummet befinner sig i ständig förändring när det varma dagsljuset blandas med ett blått, kyligt sken. Den underliggande känslan av hot blandas med förförelse. Mystiska och suggestiva, lockar hennes virkade objekt betraktaren in i rummet, likt sjungande sirener.

Mia Zeeck, utställningsproducent

Mija Renstöm’s artistic work examines and questions structures, which she shatters and recreates in new ways. The work takes its departure in the construction of identity through a critical and analytical approach. Her knitted cloths emancipate from their predetermined patterns and reinterpret the female handicraft. Like a rebellious scrawling the organic, knitted objects escape all kinds of limitations: They escape categorisation, escape being named, escape being organised. As formless and indefinite as an amoeba, the knitted objects obtain new guises in different settings. Presented in Glasburen is a site-specific piece in which Mija Renström for the first time uses coloured light. The light in the exhibition space is constantly changing as the warm daylight fuses with blue, cold light. The underlying sense of threat is mixed with seduction. Mysterious and suggestive her knitted objects entice the viewer into the room, like singing sirens .

Att se sig själv från ett annat håll

Att se sig själv från ett annat håll

Eva Mark /Mija Renström

Vad händer när en konstnär har en workshop på ett sjukhus och en forskare är inbjuden att titta på för att sedan göra en analys? Vad ser forskaren? Förstår hon? Hur tänker hon? Och vad gör konstnären med forskarens slutprodukt?

Denna skrift ger svaret på dessa frågor och är resultatet av konstutvecklingsprojektet ”Att se sig själv från ett annat håll” vid Göteborgs universitet. Arbetet har skett inom ramen för Grundtvig institutets verksamhet.

Projektet tar sitt avstamp i ett möte mellan Mija Renström, fotograf och konstnär, och Eva Mark, filosof och föreståndare för Grundtviginstitutet. Mija bjöd in Eva att observera en workshop som hon höll på Östra sjukhuset. Evas uppgift var att begreppsliggöra den process hon fick ta del av. Begreppsanalysen skulle beskriva vad som hände i workshopens arbetsprocess och dessutom hade Eva fritt utrymme för egen reflektion. Projektets resultat är förutom denna skrift utställningen Att se sig själv från ett annat håll i gallerigången på Hasselblad center. Skriften ingår i utställningen.

Läs mer om utställningen ”Att se sig själv från ett annat håll”