Oslo-based Malin Bulow discusses body, relationships and environment

In conversation with STIR, award-winning artist Malin Bulow discusses her engagement with the spaces in between sculpture, installation and performance.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : Aug 27, 2020

Malin Bulow’s installations look like something from an otherworldly dimension. The initial feeling is as though you just caught a peek into an alien land. But then you look again… Is it human? Her work toes the lines that separate installation, sculpture and performance, bringing up questions of what it means to be. Is our existence validated by our physical manifestation? Am I human because the boundaries of my being can be touched and felt? Using body as a material of its own, Bulow explores our evolving relationships with ourselves, with each other and in relation to our environment.

Bulow takes us through her journey of navigating her creative intentions and their subsequent manifestations, “In the beginning I used my own body in the installations. I was striving for a blurred line between my own body and the objects in the installations. I layered my body in similar tones and materials as the installation. I wanted a living/human element in the sculptural landscape to undermine traditional assumptions about sculpture as being immobile, stable and permanent. Early on I found out that I was not comfortable using my own body and being physically part of the artwork myself - I wanted to control the visuals from outside the scene and started to work with professional dancers. Gradually I started to peel off the immense flood of materials I initially was working with in my installations and got more focused on the body itself. My first lycra installations embraced and connected a body with a heavy load of sand. Overarching concepts of tension, elasticity and gravity within this bodily landscape set me on the track I am working on today”.

Elastic Bonding at the Multiplié Dance Festival in 2019 | Elastic Bonding by Malin Bulow | STIRworld
Elastic Bonding at the Multiplié Dance Festival in 2019 Image: Susann Jamtøy

The Oslo-based artist continues, discussing her push-pull relationship with in-situ creation, saying, “Today everything starts with the exhibition space itself, whether it is an outdoor area or a more traditional exhibition space, I always work site-specifically. I am interested in the relationship between body and architecture and I strive for a fusion between the rigid architectural forms and the organic bodily forms. I seek to stretch the lycra into monumental sculptures that extend the limits of the dancers’ bodies until they melt into their host architecture, and vice versa. In Elastic Bonding, the bodies are stuck inside elongated elastic membranes. In Static Tension and Strained Resilience, the bodies are no longer physically attached to the lycra, but move more freely in the space, however still in direct contact with the transparent membranes of lycra. For these installations I wanted a constant tension between the lycra and the architecture even when there were no bodies performing. I wanted to give the audience an entrance to the inside of the cocoon-like structures - a white, utopian space with continuous potential to reshape… The equivocality around the body and its borders is at the heart of my artistic practice”.

Squared Elasticity - Strained Sculpture by Malin Bulow | Squared Elasticity - Strained Sculpture by Malin Bulow | STIRworld
Squared Elasticity - Strained Sculpture by Malin Bulow Image: Malin Bulow

Bulow is an artist with roots in scientifically oriented academic work, having extensively studied molecular biology and neuroscience. With four degrees in hand, she later went on to study fine art. Her studies in biology and philosophy are reflected in her approach to her artistic practice as well. While one might miss the intimacy of colour and pattern in her work, which we usually relate to any sense of identity, she explains her intentions as infused with influence of her earlier academic experiences, “I seek to visualise a generic body, one that is freed from personality and individuality. In the showroom the bodies are enclosed in monochrome membranes of textile, a common skin that makes them similar, depersonalise and de-individualise them in an attempt to reach beyond outer features toward the core of existence and universal emotions that unites rather than divides. This essentialist approach might come from my scientific background within neuroscience and molecular biology where I have been studying the human body to its smallest unit. The clinical aspects of the work might also stem from the idea that I sometimes think of the works as a diagnosis of our contemporary body and at the same time a kind of existential compass into the future. The square, just like the human body, is constantly present in my works and becomes a reminder of the relationship between the rigid and the organic. How do we relate to what may seem fixed? How do we relate to structures, norms, systems and boundaries?”.

The human, site specific sculptures create a meditative environment | Squared Elasticity - Strained Sculpture by Malin Bulow | STIRworld
The human, site specific sculptures create a meditative environment Image: Malin Bulow

Bulow’s oeuvre is informed by her observation of the continuous osmosis and state of flux we experience in relationship with our bodily realities in an individual and social context, “At a time when freedom has become the mantra of neoliberalism and capitalism and individualism penetrate every inch of our lives, I seek to visualise a dependent body, a body  that is anchored via giant umbilical cords or textile chrysalis to rigid and squared structures, superior to the human body. The elasticity of the fabric and the movements of the bodies, which continuously initiate changes in the shape of the larger structure, can be seen as an expression of resistance and initiative for liberation”.

Bulow is currently based in Oslo and has two upcoming solo exhibitions in Miami and Amsterdam in 2021 | Malin Bulow | STIRworld
Bulow is currently based in Oslo and has two upcoming solo exhibitions in Miami and Amsterdam in 2021 Image: Eirik Steindal

Bulow is currently showing Strained Resilience as part of the group exhibition Shapeshifters at Malmö Konstmuseum in Sweden. She is also scheduled to exhibit at Fotogallerie Wien in Austria with a new version of Elastic Still Lives, in a display to be opened to the public on August 30, 2020.

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