Helena is a Textile Artist Who Creates Contexts
HDK-Valand, Campus Steneby in Dals Långed gave Stockholm-born textile artist Helena Pernow a taste for western Sweden. For the last year, she has been living and working about a hundred kilometres from campus in the little village of Bärfendal. There she allows the place, the situation and the people to create a point of entry into the material she loves.
Textile artist Helena Pernow needed to leave her home town of Stockholm to find her chosen career path. Curiosity led her to apply to preparatory studies in fine art and then to Konstfack, the University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, where she discovered and conquered artistic spaces. Her first encounter with textiles made a powerful impression on her.
“I remember thinking how wonderful it was,” she says. “The tactile feeling creates an intimacy that fascinates me. The way we experience textiles is both physical and emotional, and the wealth of materials and techniques offers a rich, bottomless mine of knowledge to dig in. The knowledge that you’ll never learn all there is to know is fantastic.”
Many years prior, she had come across HDK-Valands free-standing course Textile–Body–Space at Campus Steneby and seen an opportunity to delve deeper into textile materials. She went on to earn a master’s degree at HDK-Valand, campus Steneby, and today she is a textile artist whose work includes textile collages and installations.
“By cutting up, printing, sewing and assembling, I look for new ways to see and feel the materials around me,” says Pernow. “I’m interested in everyday things – the spaces and materials that surround us, but also those that might go unnoticed.”
Pernow is based in the village of Bärfendal in Bohuslän County, where she lives together with her domestic partner, whom she met at Steneby. Their house is full of spaces and nooks that serve as studios for ongoing projects. There is linen drying in a barn. Pernow and a colleague are studying linen’s journey from plant to finished yarn. “I have no desire to always create my own linen,” she says, “but I do want to understand the long process, which takes almost two years, and to learn the technique and get to know the material.”
Pernow has lived most of her life in Stockholm, and she saw the move to Dals Långed to study at HDK-Valand Campus Steneby as a bonus. She longed to escape the big city and searched for new contexts. And she found them – several of them. In addition to meeting her partner and identifying textiles as the focus of her work as an artist, her time at HDK-Valand Campus Steneby led to new collaborations and projects. “I seldom work alone, and I enjoy putting things in context,” says Pernow. “My work is based on a particular place, situation or people. I am driven by that encounter. It’s what feeds my work. I want to have a wealth of perspectives.”
In addition to her practice as an artist, Pernow works at the Swedish Crafts Centre, which is the country’s only professional organisation for working artisans and craftspeople. “I zoom out from my own practice and look at how we as artists and artisans can organise ourselves and understand how our own work fits into the larger context – and to be able to elevate craft’s status and position in society,” she says.
Pernow shows me around the house, which she describes as a renovation project. It’s a year now since she moved here, and she’s not the only one. “A lot of my classmates at Steneby chose to settle here in Dalsland or Bohuslän County after graduating, and artists have always made a big impact in this part of Bohuslän.
Pernow is happy here. Life has become a little more manageable, more focused. She says it’s easier to understand her relationship to society in a smaller community.
She lets the local place and its conditions determine the direction of her projects.
“I’ve put down roots here and now,” says Pernow. “This place allows for lengthy processes, like linen making. In the midst of a fragmented everyday life, it’s nice to have points of connection for my work as an artist.”
By Åsa Rehnström