“To give life to what is inside

Denise Grünstein’s team on Denise Grünstein


CFHILL’s ongoing exhibition with Denise Grünstein is the result of several years of material, spatial, and scenic investigations. Casting is one of her most ambitious projects. As a pioneering artist within the field of photography, she has not only reconsidered its fundamental concepts, but also introduced new methods for which other skills and professional knowhow are crucial. Meet her long-time collaborator and model, Marta Oldenburg, and the artisan Emelie Janrell, who created the “table dress”.

Emelie Janrell, tailor, designer:

Could you tell me about your professional background and training?
I’ve worked my way to where I am today. I’ve worked for various tailors, designers and creators in the art and fashion worlds, and this experience has allowed me to acquire an extensive knowledge of textile crafts.

Now, I work as a tailor and designer, on my own collections and on unique creations for performers, major events, and also in occasional collaborations with other creators.

How would you describe your collaboration with Denise, in terms of the artistic process involved?
We work very closely together, brainstorming, experimenting, evaluating, redoing. The character and the scenery come to us gradually, evolving through a series of forms. It’s a demanding process, but it’s necessary in order to get the characterisation just right. The work has to be extremely detailed, because of the way the large format cameras capture everything, every last stitch.

What is your relationship to textiles like? Do you find you struggle with them, or do you find it liberating to work with them?
I love the material!

The process of working with it is ingrained in my fingers, and my fingertips have to feel every thread in the weave in order for me to be able to make soft three-dimensional shapes.

How do you solve the technical challenges you face in your work? Artists tend to have rather unconventional ideas.
For me, to a great extent, it’s a matter of trying things out, and of not being afraid to enter into uncharted territory. Not allowing the prospect of having to do something over and over again to intimidate me.

How is the dyeing process carried out?
At first, the various fabrics are separated into different shades, but when we wanted to change the colour of the whole handsewn creation, it got quite tricky. It’s so large, and so fragile, that I had to dye it manually in my bathtub, in several stages, to get the colour right.

How do you feel about how the results turned out?
It feels amazing to see all these works together! It’s clear to me that this long, laborious process actually added depth to the character and the narrative. I really like this series, in all of its various forms. The mix of black and white and colour, hypermodern and historical, blurry and crystal clear, gigantic and minimal. And I love the surreal elements that are so often present in Denise’s photography!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your work on ‘Castings’?
One of my favourite pieces in the series is the film with the sculpted head, which actually came about quite early on. I like the suggestive quality of Marta’s movements, the shots, and the tempo – I find it quite hypnotic. We made a cast of Marta’s face, and one day, in the studio, inspiration hit me, and I modelled two of the casts into a double head, which I then proceeded to dress in the same hand-dyed sheets as the table costume. It was painstaking work as I had to make tiny little stitches by hand directly onto the sculpture.

Photo: Emelie Janrell, tailor and designer, captured by Björn Petrén while working.

Photo: Emelie Janrell, tailor and designer, captured by Björn Petrén while working.

Photo:   Denise Grünstein’s  ‘Temporary Room’ , 2018 with model Marta Oldenburg.

Photo: Denise Grünstein’s ‘Temporary Room’, 2018 with model Marta Oldenburg.


Marta Oldenburg:

Tell me about yourself!
My background is a quite gaudy one. The connecting ingredient is creativity which, has always been my medicine against destructivity. I began as a dancer, went into classic theatre, which led me to performance theatre where I found my home. I have also been involved in several bands. I have worked as a dancer a model and has always been painting, writing and composing.

What is it like to have been working in this team - you and Denise - for such a long time?
Denise and I met for the first time almost 30 years ago. She was making a short film and I was asked to play the main character. An extravagant woman who lived in a trailer where she seduced young men. Ever since, we’ve been stuck with each other so to speak. I’d say it’s a kind of a love/ hate relationship. Both pleasurable and painful.

Who are you when you become the persona in Denise's works?
It varies from project to project and I always have my own inner scenarios that I keep to myself for each picture. But I believe that my main function is to give life to what is inside of Denise. What unites all figures in every project, is a sense of alienation. Something we both can relate to. As a performance artist, I am used to be included in the production from scratch. That’s why I loved that kind of theatre and why I have enjoyed working with Denise. I need to be involved in the process. This is probably the reason we have been able to work together for so long time. Another reason is that I have the ability to stand very still a long time.

How do you cope inside the dress? Could you describe the feeling?
Casting is the first project where the set is everything. The room, the table, the dress, the masks and the figures around me.

No room for facial expression, nor much physical activity either as the dress limits any movements. This has been like no other thing – demanding. I suffer from claustrophobia even under normal circumstances. In my perspective the persona in Casting is both omnipotent as she stands in the middle of the world like a Goddess ruling over her figures, in a powerful position to do whatever she feels, but also impotent as she is trapped in a mold.

Denise Grünstein about Marta Oldenburg:
Marta is my friend and she has been my model for more than 20 years. She is funny and interesting, and she has a fantastic body language. Often, she bounces back my ideas and we need to rethink them again. Those moments always bring the unexpected.

Denise Grünstein about Emelie Janrell:
She Applies her craftsmanship and imagination to the realisation ideas, and can express potential beauty and interest in visual terms. An invaluable co-creator and collaborator on my projects.