Sofia Hedman, Fashion Curator and Exhibition Designer talks to Ben Whyman about The Queen Within Adorned Archetypes, working with Serge Martynov and about Museea, an interdisciplinary platform bringing together a network of extraordinary contributors. Sofia studied MA Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion under Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye in 2007-2009.
Tell me about your company, Museea: the mission, and what you are aiming to achieve.
We love making large-scale immersive exhibitions; experiences that involve the senses. We aim to produce exhibitions that are thought-provoking, exciting and engaging. Exhibitions that have a lot of energy, but also make the world a little more of an inclusive place to be. Recently, we have also been increasingly interested in the ways that new technology can enhance the overall experience.
Usually we try to tie the curatorial narrative very closely together with the exhibition design and graphics. We really love all aspects of exhibition making, but have lately we have been asked to do the exhibition design for a variety of exhibitions and museums, from ethnographical to music and video-art.
You work collaboratively with Serge Martynov. Tell me about the collaborative process, how you work together, and what you can achieve as a team….
I guess we fit together bit like a jigsaw puzzle. Our skill sets complement each other and it is always fun working together as we share the same interests and passions. Serge and I have been doing exhibitions since we met 8 years ago. Today, we know each other really well which creates a very easy place for dreaming up new ideas.
Upon receiving a brief, we like to start a lengthy research process which we tend to start individually, and then come together once we have developed some ideas. After finalising the first draft of the curatorial narrative we then develop ideas for the exhibition design. We use the exhibition design and the graphics as tools to enhance or amplify the curatorial narrative. The exhibition design stage is usually the most intense part of the process, where we experiment with many different ideas. Serge then goes on to design the graphics and I continue with the curatorial work.
Nowadays, as the projects have grown in size, we often bring in an extended curatorial team to exchange and distil ideas. Everyone in the team is passionate about different things – ideas, objects, exhibition design, graphics, texts etc. which creates a wonderful atmosphere to work in.
Your latest exhibition is revisiting an earlier project, A Queen Within, that you presented in 2013-14. Tell me about the process of reappraising and re-appropriating a project, adapting it to a different audience/venue/space/theme/idea. What issues/joys do you find in this process?
Four years ago we were asked by a chess museum to make a fashion exhibition. In the original A Queen Within show, we used the chess queen as the starting point to explore different types of contemporary femininity and how they manifest themselves through storytelling in fashion. Queen symbols from royal portraits were used for the exhibition design (this was shown around the time of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee in the UK).
Not all exhibitions are suitable for travel as they are made for specific audiences and times. Prior to Art Basel in Miami last year we were asked to put up the show again, but we felt we needed to make some changes – the context allowed us to do something more political which we felt was more relevant. We chose to remove the chess aspect and instead focus on femininity, storytelling and urgent topics such as sustainability, the West’s profiteering from low-wage countries and human rights. From Rachel Carson to Rosa Parks, the exhibition used fashion to honour exceptional women from American history who exemplify certain archetypal qualities, and whose personal biographies and works cast light on some of the most pressing issues of our time. The new exhibition design was based on symbols resonating with these remarkable women.
Getting the opportunity to rework an exhibition for a new gallery can be a blessing. Once the exhibition opens, and the guided tours commence, new ideas often emerge on how things can be refined.
Curation is rapidly and increasingly taking on new meanings – the process of curating is morphing and changing before our eyes. Where do you see the practice of fashion curation in general going? How do you see your practice evolving?
Yes it is so interesting how curation is ever-changing. Personally, I hope curation will be associated with long-term projects, where deeper research is possible. On a more global note, I think we are on the brink to a paradigm shift, where Western fashion museums will cease to be so Euro or Western centric–both in terms of objects and themes. As Zygmund Bauman said, we live in a global world today, but we do not yet know how to behave like it. The transition may be a process that will take many years for us as curators to totally grasp, however, the fashion world is starting to take leaps when it comes to inclusivity and diversity, body positivity, gender, fairtrade, sustainability etc. As the world is becoming more transparent, fashion is becoming political and I do think the work of the curator is beginning to reflect this, spending the extra time it takes to find objects that create diversity and inclusiveness.
Tell me about your time studying the MA Fashion Curation What did you gain from the course?
I studied MA Fashion Curation between 2007-9. Coming from both a practical and theoretical background, exhibition making allowed me to tie together everything that I had done previously. I was a student of Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye and the course was absolutely amazing. They are outstanding tutors and practitioners and complement each other so well–Judith’s passion for concept and exhibition design and Amy’s love for the objects. They gifted us with their enthusiasm and they were incredibly generous with their knowledge, constantly questioning and challenging us to rethink our ideas. I don’t think I could have had a better start.
Through Judith and Amy, Gemma Williams, Shonagh Marshall [alumnae of the MA Fashion Curation course] and I were given the fantastic opportunity to archive for the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition at the MET, and for many years after graduation, I had the pleasure of assisting Judith on her brilliant exhibitions. The MA Fashion Curation course undoubtedly became a springboard for my future.