By Ljiljana Maletin Vojvodić //
Last year, I launched a project titled ‘A Women Artist’s Studio of One’s Own’ during my artist-in-residence program at Konstepidemin in Gothenburg (Sweden) and ECoC 2022 Novi Sad (Serbia). This initiative extended into the beginning of 2024 at USF Verftet Bergen, a prominent hub for art, film, and music in Norway. During my recent artist-in-residence and research project at USF Verftet, thanks to AiR manager Line Nord, I had the privilege of collaborating with three women artists based at USF and a young Iraqi woman artist participating in the 3-month-long AiR Bergen residency program.
The United Sardine Factory (USF)
The United Sardine Factory (USF), formerly the largest cannery in Norway, is situated at Georgernes Verft by the seaside in central Bergen. Managed by the Stiftelsen Kulturhuset USF foundation, this cultural hub spans 12,000 sqm, housing around 200 individuals in diverse artistic fields such as art, crafts, music, dance, design, literature, film, and more. The building hosts 60 studios for 80 professional artists, two guest studios for international artists, as well as offices for various music, film, and literature organizations reflecting the dynamic spirit of the artistic community.
Maia Urstad: Intersecting Audio and Visual Art
Maia Urstad, an artist based in Bergen, whose work resides at the intersection of audio and visual art delving into themes of technological progress and communication. Her projects often feature radio as a central element, both audibly, visually, and conceptually. Through her installations and performances, she provokes contemplation on the fleeting nature of contemporary technology and the narratives it leaves behind in our daily lives. Utilizing radio, CD, and cassette radios as both mediums for sound transmission and sculptural objects, she offers a unique perspective on the transience of modern technology.
Having studied at the Bergen National Academy of the Arts and with a background in rock music, Maia has been an active presence in the Norwegian and international contemporary art scene since the mid-eighties. Her contributions extend beyond her practice as she curates and produces sound-related art projects and exhibitions, collaborating with a diverse array of artists, curators, and producers over the years.
I popped into Maia’s studio, taking in the view of the fjord as she geared up for her upcoming exhibit in Oslo. Her place was decked out with all sorts of cool sound-related stuff, giving it a real vibe. Even though Maia collaborated with other artists from Norway and abroad, she needs to have her studio at USF Verftet. It’s not just where she gets creative – it’s also her go-to spot for chilling out and doing some serious thinking.
„Balancing the demands of being a mom has never been a big obstacle in my career path“, said Maia. As the mother of two adult daughters, she emphasizes the collaboration with her husband. “When the children were small, we collaborated on the parenting role, with the aim that both of us should be able to do our professional tasks. Later we got nursery school for the children, which freed up time for work for both of us”.
Maia also notes that the gender balance is changing. While the field of sound art has grown more diverse, there is still a very small proportion of women working in sound engineering, or sound rigs. Although she occasionally encounters „mansplainers“ who find it difficult to take instructions from a female artist when collaborating on technical support for an exhibition, the field has grown more diverse and open today, more women tech are entering the field, which makes a huge difference.
Ida C. Helland-Hansen: Textile Art Pioneer
My conversation with Ida C. Helland-Hansen, a Bergen-based textile artist, covered topics from Norwegian literature, Jon Fosse’s books to her primary vocation, textile art. After graduating from the National College of Art and Design in Bergen, she shares her journey into becoming a textile artist. She tells me about the long tradition of textile art in Norway, an art form that, as we agree, is gaining increasing attention and well-deserved significance worldwide.
Ida welcomed me into her studio, providing insights into her techniques and materials. As a mother of four grown children, she, like Maia, emphasizes that motherhood has never hindered her professional pursuits. Reflecting on the evolving dynamics of her artistic journey, she fondly recalls bringing her small children to the shared studio.
Today, Ida is a successful, award-winning artist with works in public institutions. Supported by state funding, she dedicates herself to art without livelihood concerns, expressing gratitude for her husband’s early career support. Maintaining a studio at USF Verftet for years holds great significance for her career, offering a peaceful space for creativity, cooperation with fellow artists, and reflections on her evolving artistic journey.
Ida values her studio for its peaceful environment and also for interaction and shared moments with fellow artists. She notes the absence of gender-based discrimination in Norway, highlighting, „There are more women with studios at Verftet than men.“ Beyond art, she used to enjoy daily swims near Verftet, regardless of the season and indulges in the local sauna and pool.
„I think you should try our pool and sauna,“ Ida invites me with a smile.
Daniela Bergschneider: Blurring Boundaries with Art
Daniela Bergschneider welcomes me into her studio with Kannebulle and coffee. I easily connect with Daniela as we share a love for Norwegian culture and way of life, despite not being Norwegian ourselves. Originally from Germany, Daniela pursued her academic journey at the University of Paderborn, the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Bergen, where she currently resides and crafts her artistic endeavors.
Within the walls of her studio, shared with two Norwegian artists, our conversation delves into the nuances of the Norwegian way of living, movies, literature, and, most importantly, Daniela’s insightful process and ideas. In her studio, Daniela experiments with crafting unique forms and surfaces, skillfully blending fabric and ceramics. These materials engage in a subtle interplay of textures, softness, and visual aesthetics.
In her studio, Daniela dives into the world of fabrics, experimenting and letting the material guide her. „I go with the flow,“ she says, stressing the deep connection between the artist and her chosen medium.
I was curious to touch Daniela’s „Visual Tactility“ sculptures, but I hesitated to do so. „Feel free to touch them,“ she encouraged, showing me sculptures that not only evoke various emotions but also narrate a visual tale of the ongoing dialogue between the natural and the artificial, security, and threat.
Zainab Aldehaimy: Bridging Art, Politics, and Memories
Zainab Aldehaimy, a young Iraqi artist, brings her unique perspective to USF Verftet Bergen under the international guest studio program. Zainab, who holds degrees in Studio Arts and Art History from the American University of Beirut and Fine Art Practice from the Glasgow School of Art, shapes her work through critical reflections on political and social contexts in Iraq.
Independent and open to other cultures, Zainab shares similarities with her EU peers, except for the fact that she requires a visa for every journey, including the one to Norway. Influenced by her childhood experiences in Baghdad, Zainab’s desire to understand Iraq’s situation led her to become an artist.
When asked whether she sees herself as a female artist, an artist from Iraq, or if these are unnecessary attributes, Zainab replied, „I am both a female and an Iraqi artist. However, I try to avoid rigid categorizations as I have been contemplating the concept of identity lately, especially in the context of contemporary politics. I believe that attaching excessive significance to gender, race, or geographical identities may lead to more isolation.“
Questioning whether having a studio is outdated for young artists in the digital age, Zainab expressed, „I don’t believe that having a studio is outdated; in fact, I consider it necessary. To me, the studio is a space for play—whether with ideas or materials. It is essential to have a place where you can experiment because creating my work is never the result of a precise plan.“
She also emphasized the importance of having a space for experimentation and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to stay at USF for three months, enabling her to develop her work.
Instead of conclusion
Within the creative realm of USF Verftet Bergen, these women artists, at different stages in their careers, from diverse artistic backgrounds, express various poetic ideas. Despite their distinct paths, all of them share a deep commitment to their art. Their studios at USF Verftet transcend mere workplaces; they serve as resonant chambers amplifying not just individual creative voices but also encapsulating the essence of diversity and empowerment that characterizes the vibrant tapestry of the contemporary art scene.