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Isabella Chydenius | © Finnland-Institut, Foto/kuva/photo: dotgain.info

“I’ve always been a night owl”

Isabella Chydenius’ ongoing artistic research focuses on exploring the potential, but also the risks of urban nightclub culture within the context of our heteropatriarchal time. The Visiting Art/ist exhibition at the Finnland-Institut contains new artworks reflecting nightclubs as safe(r) spaces and places of belonging. In 2021, the German Bundestag classified clubs and live performance venues as cultural institutions. Below are some selected excerpts from our full catalogue, which includes an interview by Christine Nippe with the artist Isabella Chydenius.


Christine Nippe: I am very excited about your exhibition at the Finnland-Institut in Berlin. The exhibition is titled Notes on creating space; the potential of club corners. Could you comment on this a bit more?

Isabella Chydenius: The title specifically refers to my ongoing exploration of the time-space of nightclubs, particularly my sketchbooks that are filled with notes, questions and contemplations on the dancefloors, club corridors, corners, and their crowds; the opportunity and potential, but also the looming risks. I examine how light and darkness create the opportunity to be visible or to find a place to hide, to be observed or to be the observer. One doesn’t exist without the other.


CN: At the exhibition you are showing new productions. Perhaps you could briefly describe what you are planning and how the works relate to the title?

IC: For this exhibition, I focus on the thought process of my practice and display a selection of notes and drawings derived from my busy sketchbooks, accompanied by the final conclusion to the notes: a series of light sculptures. The light sculptures are the result of the de- and re-constructions of the core elements that I want to concentrate on in this body of work. Additionally, I use neon pink tape to guide the viewer in the space. I normally use the neon pink tape in my #pinksquareproject, which takes place in cityscapes: it consists of me taping a square shape on the ground or walls and documenting the location. As my practice examines social spaces in the night-time-economy; the nightclub in the urban night, I like messing with the borders of inside and outside, and sometimes bring the outside inside, especially to galleries and art institutions, and vice versa.

Sometimes I also make work with ripped clothes. Thereby, I specifically want to draw attention to the dichotomies of the dancefloor; the excitement and possibility of self-expression and momentary feeling of freedom that the time-space may offer, while acknowledging the reality of experiences that may not always be possible to undress and wash off at the end of the night.


CN: How did you come up with your ideas for the new works?

IC: The ideas are informed by an element of my broader research, which focuses on investigating (un)safety and a sense of belonging in the night and in underground nightclub culture within the context of heteropatriarchal time. In my artistic and academic research, I explore the night and intentionally created safe(r) space nightclubs as an overlooked platform that serves as a time-space for the re-imagination of the ‘Self’ and a collective agenda, and therefore argue how clubs both historically and still today may serve as a catalyst for change in society. In this body of work, I focus on the process of re-creating space and highlighting the spaces’ opposites of opportunity and risk, inside and outside. I do this by using the rigid constructs of the square shape, the medium of light, and subsequently also darkness.


CN: You have been working with shades of pink for quite some time. Could you outline this choice of colour in your own words? 

IC: A lot of my practice is approached through the lens of the colour that I’ve titled Club Pink. During my Masters’ studies, I had arrived at researching club culture, specifically from the perspective of safety and unsafety in a heteropatriarchal society. If I could generalise the use of pink from the different clubs I moved in at the time, this is how: in ‘mainstream‘ clubs – nightclubs that don’t take intentional measurements to assure safety for women and queer folk – it was often used as paint on the walls or lights in the women’s bathrooms, meanwhile in many queer spaces the colour was also used in common areas, stages and so on. In queer spaces, I understood the colour pink to be celebrated, rather than ‘hidden away for women only‘. I enjoy working with it because it does indeed force me to challenge my preconceived ideas and biases, remind me of amazing moments in time, and create space for reflection. Similarly, I invite the viewer of my work to do the same.


CN: How did you come across the subject of nightclubs and what fascination does the night hold for you?

IC: I used to go with my best friends, and I loved the whole process. The anticipation of getting ready together, to get into a club; a little world of its own, the immersive music, the crowded dancefloor, just dancing and letting go. Sometimes during a night out, we would meet new people. Sometimes there was drama, but mostly it was fun. We were of course warned of the risks. I knew women who had their drinks spiked and men who were physically violated. The symptoms of patriarchal violence were always looming.

When I moved to Paris to study in 2008, I met new friends and was introduced to new ideas, spaces, and clubs. I was shown the queer scene – of spaces where I could in fact close my eyes without constantly fearing harassment from men. I later moved to London, then Cape Town, and lived in LA for a bit as well. I remember thinking how nightclubs are a less curated mirror of the city, unlike museums and galleries. Nightclubs and life at night feel like the art in museums, but alive. I see them as places where people unite, and therefore art, culture and societal challenges and joys come together and develop as well.


CN: How do you proceed when you develop new works?

IC: I usually start with researching literature that discusses the ideas I’m interested in, but I’m often also influenced by pop culture, recent local or global events and news that have to do with my research topics, my own experiences and collected formal and informal documentation. I’m always taking notes and sketching ideas. I actively also document my surroundings, from which I then draw further information and interpret in combination with everything else that I’m seeing, reading and experiencing. Thereafter it all goes through a filtering process where I aim to deconstruct the ideas and get rid of everything extra, then reconstruct what I’ve analysed as the core idea of the specific concept, keeping only the necessary. I’m often interested in how to communicate ideas with as few gestures as possible. And at this point of the process, material choice is also critical. I think that’s why I like working with light, because it’s very minimal, yet immersive at the same time – just like the core of clubs. Then when the time comes to start a “final” artwork, I start testing if the materials actually work in reality as they did in my head. The testing period is the most fun, but sometimes also the most frustrating. At this stage I contact people that I often work with, material importers, workshop spaces that have the tools I need, and other outsourced technically skilled people with whom I organise meetings to further discuss realisation possibilities, concerns or complications. I love working with people who are experts in their skill or craft, and are equally interested in experimenting within their field and skill set. Once the testing is done, I or we basically just build and combine the different elements that I’ve landed on; medium and material choice with size, and voilà!


Editorial work: Marion Holtkamp, Ramona Tyler


This text is a shortened version of the interview published in the exhibition catalogue. The catalogue will be free to download on our website (available as of 10 February, 2023). You can order the book for 10 EUR plus postage at the Finnland-Institut: tel. +49 30 40 363 18 90; email: info@institut.de. The exhibition is on display 9 February – 9 November, 2023.

Christine Nippe is an art and cultural scholar and works internationally as an author and curator. She is responsible for the contemporary art programme at the Schwartzsche Villa in Berlin.

Christine Nippe är konsthistoriker och kulturvetare och arbetar internationellt som författare och curator. Hon är ansvarig för Contemporary Art-programmet i Schwartzsche Villa i Berlin.

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