Maria Friberg (b. 1966) was born in Malmö, Sweden. She earned an M.F.A. from the Royal University College of Fine Arts, Stockholm, in 1995. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants including a five-year working grant, Bildkonstnärsfonden, in 2005. She has had solo exhibitions at Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Göteborgs Kunsthalle, Göteborg, Sweden; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; Conner Contemporary Art, Washington, D.C.; Galleri Charlotte Lund, Stockholm; Skärets Konsthall, Skäret, Sweden; Konsthallen, Linköping, Sweden; and Galica Arte Contemporanea, Milan. She has been included in group shows at Programa Art Center, Mexico City; Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland; South Karelia Art Museum, Lappeenranta, Finland; Drammens Museum, Drammen, Norway; University of Connecticut, Storrs and Stamford; Dunkers Kulturhus, Hälsingborg, Sweden; Museet for Fotokunst, Kunsthallen Brandts Klaedefabrik (now Kunsthallen Brandts), Odense, Denmark; and Centre Culturel Suédois, Paris. Her work can be found in the collection of the Buhl Collection, New York; DG Bank, Frankfurt; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Malmö Museum, Sweden; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Ringier Collection, Zurich; and many others. She currently lives and works in Stockholm.
Feminist Artist Statement
“Maria Friberg creates male subjectivities that say ‘no’ to traditional male power, therefore suggesting a different kind of relationship to femininity. She is best known for photographic work that features male models dressed in business suits. Usually perceived as symbols of power, Friberg’s suits, however, seem to function more as protective armor to cover up insecurities and homoerotic tendencies in men. In Somewhere Else, men’s legs under a boardroom table fidget and jockey for space, coming into contact with one another in a sexually suggestive manner. Almost There depicts four men in identical suits floating in a pool of bright blue water. Utterly displaced, the men have lost all decorum and social weight. In Driven a collaborative video produced with Monika Larsen Dennis two bodies dressed in black suits push and pull at each other in a strange dance of attraction and repulsion. For the past ten years Friberg’s work has participated in a broader cultural discourse examining the uniformist conception of heterosexual masculinity that until recently served as a norm against which images of women were discussed. Presented as a seamless cultural phenomenon in this way, masculinity itself was rarely rendered problematic and analyzed as such. Challenging traditional views of gender and believing in a more fluid model, in which masculinities and femininities are located on one continuum rather than at opposing poles, Friberg subscribes to the view that masculinity is culturally constructed and performative like femininity. Her work suggests how a certain representation of masculinity might link to the feminine. This overlapping sensibility expressed in her still and moving pictures throws into question the oppositions along which femininity and masculinity are still being defined today. Consequently, while Friberg’s earlier work is ostensibly about masculinity it is also centrally concerned with female subjectivity, which has become an equally undeniable theme in works like Painted View and her most recent large-scale photographic series, Still Lives. Her two-channel video installation, Painted View, points to the mutability of sexual identity and the fluidity of the spectator’s engagement with sexually charged images. In her recent Still Lives, Friberg engages the language of advertising and traditional still life painting as yet another way to examine sexual identity in elaborately staged and beautifully rich life size photographs.”—-Andrea Inselmann, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University
”almost there” is a series of seven photos.
The men in ”almost there” are fully capable of creating control, while at the same time it doesn’t seem possible for them to influence their own situation. They are almost there, nearly reaching an undecided and unknown goal.
A situation in which everything is in transition creates a kind of horrifying excitement. Or as Michel Serres writes: “man has always been afraid of wind and water and now we are afraid of disorder and the unpredictable. It is this fear that returns repeatedly in Maria Friberg’s images – loss of control and order in a context that, both literally and metaphorically, floats.”
The “Embedded” series began as an examination of the relationship between the natural world and the cultural world. Like the title implies, it’s about a feeling of security, about being enclosed and protected. But there’s an ambiguity to this condition, it could also be understood as a kind of confinement, of being isolated and enclosed. The men in the “Embedded” images and the video triptych of the same name move slowly, like icebergs floating on the horizon. They are half awake, half asleep, moving between the natural and cultural worlds, embodying a natural culture or a cultured nature. Moving like slow-motion waterfalls, polar bears on glaciers, seals under water, they are on their way, but where to? The men are part of a constant flow, they come from all parts of the world, a world where everyone is both unique and replaceable.
The images are about natural beauty, but also about the way the world is slowly collapsing. They are about knowledge and power, about the impossibility of seeing the big picture, in your private life as well as the world at large. In contemporary society, information itself is embedded – it is simultaneously out in the open and hidden away, a Trojan horse wrapped around itself.
“The ostensible image.
A wall engulfed in antiquarian books, piled tidily on top of each other. In the centre a body carefully placed in between the books, its face turned to the wall. The man appears to be sleeping peacefully, completely at ease, as if this had always been his place. Only the slight shadow that the books throw around the outline of his body interrupt the orderliness of the image. It is an image which immediately stands out through its beauty and lyricism but which also, because it is so bizarre, creates a remarkable sense of alienation. In this new series of photographs, symbolically entitled ‘still lives’, Maria Friberg, through employing a strategy customary in her art, presents paradoxical situations with extreme simplicity and levity, thus causing us to reconsider our perception of the image we are gazing upon.
In other words, in Maria Friberg’s images, beauty is the prime means of communication, which leads directly to the interior of the piece without imposing any demands; it is only after a certain time that we perceive the uneasiness and ambiguity which gainsay the apparent perfection and subvert our codes of interpretation. The artist thus contradicts the common concept of language, understood as a pre-arranged relationship between expression and content, liberating the various elements from their destiny as ‘symbols’. An example of this can be seen in the video ‘blown out’, created by the artist in 1999, in which a lone male, who is completely nude, is immersed in foaming water. Although the image is thoroughly riveting and the man’s face does not allow us to perceive his emotions, we are aware of a sense of uncertainty and danger which breaks with the stereotypes linked to the male form.
In the ‘still lives’ series, the artist’s attention shifts from observation of the universe of the male and his codes to a unique investigation of the concept of identity. In these photographs, Maria Friberg places people and things, men and women, on the same level and reinvents, obviously also in an ironic sense, the traditional beauty of the ‘still life’.
Everything is highly defined and ‘visible’ – the grand scale and the particular printing technique serving to emphasize this characteristic. The atmosphere is calm, almost mystical, although the bizarre and paradoxical equivalence between objects and bodies reveals, insistently and rather disturbingly, a certain instability and fragmentation that is a metaphor for the cultural condition of the western world. In a way, ‘boys are us’ postulates the reverse prospect: it is a reflection on the relationship between the individual and group and, in a particular way, on the difficulty of behaving (but also of portraying oneself) as single individuals, without allowing oneself to assimilate. One of the most obvious problems with our society is that of self-identification in the perception that others hold of us; hence the attempt to find new ways of creating our own individuality that will not allow recognition in images created by others. In the great ideological void in which we find ourselves immersed, the only extraordinary event seems to be affirmation of new and different ways of creating and recreating our existence in the world. Demonstrating the superficial aspect of such creations and emphasising the apparent characteristics, Maria Friberg highlights and mocks the artificiality and the emptiness of the norm and codes by which society is regulated.”
—- Cecilia Casorati, freelance curator, Rome
In her new series of breathtaking photographs, “still lives,” the artist beguilingly unravels the secure preconceptions most of us bring to experiences of visual beauty. In these inspired new works Friberg expands her conceptual scope to explore masculinity and femininity as cultural constructs that reflexively shape one another and at times coalesce.
Manipulating poses of her male and female models, Friberg reveals varying levels of passivity inherent in figural imagery. Situating her figures in symbolically charged contexts, the artist demonstrates that, like the Male/Female dichotomy, commonplace polarities of Culture/Nature and Subject/Object operate along continuous gradients rather than within discrete categories. For example, in “still lives 3 (man in bookshelf),” Friberg embeds a male figure in a context emblematic of the written word, evoking the notion of culture as a masculine force, but subverting the concept of action in the figure’s horizontal pose.
Conversely, in “still lives 4 (man by lake)” a horizontal male figure supplants the traditional identification of the passive female body with the plasticity of nature.
In her “still lives” series, Friberg brings the full power of her photographic medium to bear on the question of objecthood in art history. Imaging her figural subjects in an exacting style associated with the detached observation of Northern Renaissance still life painting, Friberg collapses the historical hierarchy of artistic genres and demonstrates how forcefully pictorial structure can objectify iconographic images, even when they represent human figures.
color, silent, 4 min. 30 secs.
Monika Larsen Dennis and Maria Friberg.
“Bodies sway, black silhouettes against a white background, blurred movements in dreamlike slow-motion. In their collaborative piece, ‘Driven’ (1998), Monika Larsen Dennis and Maria Friberg act out a brutal push-and-pull choreography, a dance macabre of equal amounts desire and violence. But despite its directness, the work carefully balances between polarities, visualizing a state of ambiguity in-between reciprocity and repulsion.The two protagonists are carefully cropped at the neck and at the thighs, their elegant two-piece suits effectively concealing all apparent gender attributes, leaving the viewer in an uneasy state, a limbo between knowing, feeling, and guessing.
‘Driven’. The title implies that these people are unable to control their own actions, that they are possessed, literally driven by some internal force. They are puppets at the hands of passion, actors in a play whose every turn is carefully staged beforehand, directed by invisible hands.
The slow-motion movements of the looped video sequence enhance its dreamlike, slightly surreal atmosphere, while extending an intimate moment into epic proportions—a quality which is given even greater importance when the video is projected in a public space.
Monika Larsen Dennis and Maria Friberg met at The Royal Academy of the Arts in Stockholm in the mid-90s, and have worked together on several projects. They share a common interest in exploring—and confusing—gender roles, or any other given set of rules for that matter.
Together, these two artists create performances and artworks which challenge notions of masculinity and femininity, but the major elements of their works are rather communication, particulary between lovers and friends, and dependency. Sometimes these themes are explored brutally, but there are also moments of tenderness in their mutual oeuvre. Their common esthetic is characterized by reduction and repetition, elements ‘borrowed’ from Minimalism but recontextualized and incorporated in a much more literary and emotional context. Whether working with performance, photography or video, they amalgamate the message with the technique, so that the final product is inseparable from the medium.
This is particularly true for ‘Driven’.”
—-Bo Madestrand, Journalist / Art critic, Stockholm
Text, images, audio, and/or video in the Feminist Art Base are copyrighted by the contributing artists unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.