Photography: Sissel Kärneskog
HOPE Homage is us engaging in stories, feeding our curiosity, studying and learning from different communities and cultures, raising awareness and elevating people we admire. Change doesn't come overnight but we’re committed to help tell the stories that need to be told, from people who deserve to be listened to.
Why do fashion fear costumes? Meet Sissel Kärneskog, the Swedish designer who recently graduated from London Royal College of Art that undresses the “costume” that society has placed us in.
What is your relationship to the idea of self-expression and self-fulfillment?
If these are in regards to myself, my emotional and physical body, we have a complicated yet fulfilling relationship. Most times good, wonderfully naïve with the belief that nothing is impossible. If I want to take action or have an idea, I say: ’Yeah, of course, I can do it, or I will figure out some way, that could be fun!’… But at the same time, I also go through pressure and expectations with the social constructions that were created for us. A fear of being or doing ’the wrong thing’, not wrongdoing that doesn't necessarily affect others, but one that ‘just doesn’t fit in’, or is ’just not normal’.
So there are times when my naïve side is having a swell time. But when the fun is over the fear kicks in with a – ‘wtf… WTF did I do!?’ This is a never-ending dance of emotions that ends with the reasoning: ’You’re okay, you did good’. So, in regard to these three, it is crucial to remind yourself that not to take yourself too seriously, it is for you, and if you feel fulfilled, the rest will feel less intimidating. The expectations of you should be created by you.
”This is a platform of endless discussions that shows right from wrong because it covers the whole spectra of just those two, and it feels just right to be part of the power that provokes change.”
In Another Magazine you said: ”One of many things that this year has taught me is that we need to analyze the concept of ‘success’, especially in the field of fashion, where the word tends to be toxic. I’m drawn to this field because it was the first tool I found to express myself.” In what way are you analyzing success in your work? And what have you found?
And to exist in the field I am in I keep asking myself the question – why?... why create when we don’t need more when we exist in a world where everything is quantified. Why enter a system that is so set in its way, that it is almost impossible for the new voices to be heard? Why not just accept it as it is… ? Because… Even though I have entered a broken system, it was how I found a way to express myself. Fashion might seem only as superficial, pretentious, unethical and a hazard to our climate (just to point a few out) but it also contains great innovation, strong individuals with even stronger voices, those who invoke hope. This is a platform of endless discussions that shows right from wrong because it covers the whole spectra of just those two, and it feels just right to be part of the power that provokes change.
”I am just one voice of my community. I speak for them, fight with them. And by expressing the human physical body, emotional body and how those challenge the body of society, not only exploring a constructed narrative but more so speaking a truth. I am not only me, I am Them.”
Tell me about your work and the ”I AM THEM”.
At the beginning of the final journey of my last year at the RCA [The Royal College of Art], we were given the task to present an abstract version of ourselves, a free expression of a portrait. I decided to show the most extreme customized version of myself, which is me wearing the costume from my past. This past life was me playing an act, me trying to play the role that was expected of me, and was constructed for me. By bringing my past to the present did not only challenge others, it was even more a challenge for myself. By displaying this past life, not only putting myself in a state where I am in agony, but also to explain how I often resent my physical body that would be called she or her, and how I resent it because you still do. This became the foundation, and shaped everything for what has become my practice as of now. The end consisted of a series of portraits that are highly narrated expressions of my identity, an explanation that the human emotional body is moving at a higher pace than the body of society. To show how one's identity transition acts in a constant weaving motion, that gets scrutinized, capitalized and affected by the influence from our society. It is a visual argument that explains that there is a lot to learn, but so much more to unlearn. It is an experiment of human interaction to understand and explain how we exist in a world that is still rooted in the binary, a play of the concept of perversion being the opposite of the normal. I am just one voice of my community. I speak for them, fight with them. And by expressing the human physical body, emotional body and how those challenge the body of society, not only exploring a constructed narrative but more so speaking a truth. I am not only me, I am Them.
What is your first memory regarding using fashion as self-expression, and becoming aware of being able to influence?
You started in Sweden and now you’re studying in London. How does Sweden differ from England, fashion/art-wise, structure-wise, help, encouragement and so on?
So, I finished my master’s at London Royal College of Art during the first lockdown in 2020. It is hard to have a fully clear idea of how Sweden differs from London, since a bachelor differs a lot from a master’s in general. My BA gave me a great secure foundation that gave me the confidence on how to move forward with my MA. It was a small class, so you could have a close relationship with both your peers and tutors. We had freedom within a set framework, which I believe was great for me. To then move to London into a class that was multiplied by five including people from all over the world, and be met with an attitude of: ‘you now have the freedom to do anything, just do it… but you have to be able to explain why’. In my mind I felt – ‘Sure! Sounds perfect!’… ‘Sure? What was that again?’. By entering with the belief that I was clear about what I was supposed to do, I had now entered a space that you got exposed to anything and everything, the creation of new systems, innovations, obsessions, fighters for rights, the mad and the wonderful. You were now encouraged to question the system and strive on how to evolve it. My BA provided me with the skills and foundation to create and my MA provided me with the freedom for those to thrive into something that I could have never expected. During my time on my MA, I realized that my work or my practice is not defined by a set structure. I don’t define my gender identity nor my sexuality and I don’t define my practice in one singular description, I am disrupting tradition.
“And my conclusion is: everything is performed.”