New exhibition transforms vintage furniture through colorful embroidery

Sweedish-based artist Ulla-Stina Wikander discusses the inspiration behind “Obsolescence,” running at Paradigm through Nov. 23.

Through Nov. 23, Paradigm Gallery and Studio, 746 S 4th St, is hosting a new exhibition, Obsolescence, featuring the work of Swedish-based artist Ulla-Stina Wikander. (Photo courtesy Paradigm)

Through Nov. 23, Paradigm Gallery and Studio, 746 S. 4th St., is hosting a new exhibition, Obsolescence, featuring the work of Swedish-based artist Ulla-Stina Wikander.

Marking her first solo exhibition in the United States, Wikander, who was initially trained as a painter and sculptor, uses the craft of embroidery to convert vintage furniture into abstract sculptures. Seeking inspiration in antiqued objects, the artist finds both beauty and significance in repurposed objects, particularly from the 1970s. 

1) You were born in Kungälv, Sweden and currently reside in Stockholm/Kullavik, Sweden. How has residing in the Scandinavian nation influenced the inspiration you’ve found in vintage embroideries? 

The only influence I can think of is the fact that it was common in Sweden during the 1950s – 1980s to embroider cross or tent stitch. You could see the framed embroideries hanging on walls in people’s living room. If you could not afford to buy a painting, you could embroider a copy of a famous one. There are plenty of motifs like moose in nature, red cottages, blue sky and birches, all typical of Swedish national romance. Also a painting from August Malmström (1829-1901) painted in 1885 called ”Grindslanten” is a very common motif that I have found lots of, so it must have been popular to embroider your own version. Ten years ago there were so many embroideries at flea markets and vintage shops that I only bought the ones that I thought were the most beautiful. Nowadays, I don’t find them in the center of big cities like Stockholm anymore, so I have to travel to smaller villages to find them.

2) You started collecting vintage embroideries 15 years ago in antique stores and flea markets. Although you were originally trained as a painter and sculptor, you began experimenting with the embroideries to create a new collection of art. Tell us about the process of transposing your work to this medium. 

It started as an experiment with my broken vacuum cleaner. The transformation that took place was interesting. At that time I had a big collection of embroideries but didn’t know what to do with it. It was when I saw the reaction of my friends, that I understood that I would like to continue working with the everyday and recognizable objects. Could these objects be highlighted and given a value, a new life? 

3) You’re well-known for your artwork surrounding a series of household objects covered in colorful, vintage embroideries. What, specifically, do the household items represent? What kind of extraordinary beauty have you found in these everyday items?

I like the everyday things that don’t stand out, as well as objects we use frequently. I select objects with associations to domestic life, like irons, sewing machines, or vacuum cleaners. I like to use items that are mainly associated with women’s labor, but also more gender-neutral objects like lamps, books and phones, as well. I want to give these things a second life and I like the unexpected combination of embroideries and ordinary objects. I find that the simpler and more banal objects are the more interesting.

4) You’ve been featured in solo and group exhibitions across the world. How does “Obsolescence” stand out from the rest? Are you using any different embroideries or household objects from your prior exhibitions?

This exhibition Obsolescence is a mix of different objects, in a playful way I think. I’ve included my installation, After Work, as part of the exhibition. For After Work, I used up all of my embroidery with moose motifs. I enjoy working with the combination of objects and installations. There is always the absence of someone or something in my installations. Who has left the stage and why?

5) Where does the title “Obsolescence” come from, particularly regarding household objects? What is the essential message behind the exhibition? How is this medium of embroideries the most effective way to express this message? 

The objects that I am interested in almost always originate from the 1970s. Most of them are obsolete, but I have a relationship and nostalgia with those objects because of my age. I often find them in the same flea markets where I purchase my embroideries. I want to highlight the everyday and insignificant, but of course simultaneously, I am thinking of the whole recycling process of things. The transformation when you dress and camouflage these artifacts from a bygone era give them beauty and a new status.

6) This is your first solo exhibition in the United States. How does the Paradigm Gallery and Studio space lend itself to your work in particular?  

In 2017 I was invited to the group exhibition ”Stitch” at Paradigm Gallery + Studio and I participated with three objects. It was a great collaboration and I really appreciated how professional the owners, Sara and Jason, were. After that came an invitation to show with them during Miami Art Week at SCOPE in 2018. Sara and Jason are such kind people and I also want to take this opportunity to thank their professional media team. This is the third time I’ve worked with Paradigm and I am so grateful to exhibit with them. 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano