Marie Karlberg

A Woman for Sale By Topical Cream


Topical Cream: Marie, this summer you started a collaboration with Lena Henke called M+L where you created a series of nude pantyhose with language on the back of the leg describing an awkward chance encounter a woman has with a boy she knew from her past.

What was the inspiration for this story?

Marie Karlberg: The official explanation: A collaborative project with Lena Henke that again takes conventional feminine accessories as its departure, in this case it is leggings. On each leg is a short, anecdotal narrative that details a woman’s emotionally conflicted sexual reunion with a childhood love. One leg is in English and the other German, and both styled as if the text were tattooed on the wearer’s calves. To flesh out the project beyond mere product, we staged a series of promotional photographic shoots and performances that aim to explore the potential communicative contexts this body narrative can assume.

The unofficial explanation: I got asked by Lena to do a performance in her sculpture and as my performance was a separate piece, me performing in her sculpture became instead of a collaboration more as a dialogue between two artists and their two different works. As a result of our dialogue a collaboration (the nude pantyhose) was created which didn’t include either my or her pre-existing works. The text was inspired by a friend in Paris, one night when we were stoned and had just finished watching “purple rain” she told me about an unexpected run-in with her first love, this story stuck with me for years, so I had to get it out of my system.

Your juxtaposition of language or performance with a sculptural element seems to be a recurring consideration in your practice.

This was repeated again with your 1st performance at Greene Naftali where you walked through Lena’s sculpture while performing  (sometimes the sculpture would frame your body and sometime not).  You read aloud awkward and a little embarrassing emails from curators asking for artworks in an almost creepy and sexual way. Do you feel like relationship between curators and gallerist is always a little embarrassing to the artist no matter what? Like the curator’s and artist’s power struggle is always going to be a prevalent source of embarrassment for both sides?

I did an earlier performance called “woman for sale” where I let myself be objectified as an artwork because the performance was located in a gallery. This “artwork” was for sale, and just like an art object that a collector can freely choose to install in their home, the buyer could do “whatever” they wanted with me. This desired “whatever” would then determine the price. For example if they wanted me to read them a good-night story the price would be moderate or if they wanted me to do something more perverted it would be higher etc. The performance I did at Greene Naftali was about its aftermath, as an artist if you do one thing it doesn’t seem to matter what it is as long as it gets attention, curators tend to want you to do the same thing again. So the piece became a satire of that reality. There had been a lot of provocation about the groupshow, a lot of largely unnecessary fuss around how it was organized, so I thought it would fit well in that socially-charged context.


Another L+M collaboration was a performance where men wearing pantyhose flanked a black box like sculpture Lena created. During this performance she read the story from the back of the pantyhose in German and you read it in English. You held the right leg of the panty hose in her hand and Lena held the left leg in hers. The stretched out and limp pantyhose was a slightly morbid sight. Do you think there is an element of dark humor in your performances?

There is always an element of dark humor in my work as there is in my personality.

I know you often think of the classic New York style artist’s ideals as old and boring.. like the idea of the artist studio as a sacred location where art happens. Do you think being half Iraqi and half Swedish makes you feel more like a global citizen? Like you don’t really feel the need to meet these very American and New York styles of artist’s practice?

I never felt “home” anywhere. Being half Iraqi and half Swedish doesn’t really promote fitting in, especially in Sweden. So I had an easy time “leaving” Stockholm, both moving to and traveling through Paris, Berlin, London and New York the last few years. Living in different cities under different contexts made me used to working without a structure. Video, performance and collage were all works that I could do on the computer and were all zero budget works as I downloaded Photoshop and After Effects illegally. I can relate to Duchamps quote `I discarded brushes and explored the mind more than the hands.’

Also in terms of practicality, who can afford a studio in NYC today? The mental stress paying for studio rent would definitely make me less creative and more pragmatic with my practice. I would feel so empty sitting in a studio knowing that I have to make works that sell in order to pay this rent.

I heard you had a very interesting fitness hobby in Stockholm. Can you tell me more about this dancing?

I always wanted to be part of everything as a teenager, I studied science with my nerdy friends, learned how to smoke cigarettes and make out with my cool/loser friends. I took hip/hop dance classes and hung out with rougher kids in bad neighbourhoods. It was just a way for me to explore my teen self.

Are you working on any upcoming collaborations for fall 2013?

Yes, Lena and I are currently collaborating on shows. We are planning on 3 different shows, all of them are only up for one day. The first one will be under the BQE in Williamsburg, outside at a parking lot, and should refer to the German sculpture projects in Münster. the second one will be in a nail salon in Bed Stuy, the third one in my apartment, in my bedroom, in and around my bed. We are planning to have the first opening on Sept 28th.

I’m also planning my first solo show at Gallery Sandy Brown in Berlin sometime this November.


Photography: Lyndsy Welgos
Interview: Lyndsy Welgos
Styling: Marie Karlberg