Lena Mattsson

“What is beyond the surface? What is it that we actually see and what is only an interpretation of what we think we see based on our social and cultural references and personal experience? There is always something unnerving about Lena Mattsson’s art. You think you know what you have seen but nevertheless you feel you have witnessed and experienced something else entirely. She is a master in playing with our perceptions and senses. She takes us to a place and introduces us to what often seems as a simple situation but wich turns out to be something quite extraordinary. This duality and tension invest her works with a very exceptional quality.”
Bera Nordal
Director, The Nordic Watercolour Museum, Skärhamn, Sweden

Lena Mattsson is a visual artist whose work encompasses a range of media, primarily film, video, performance art and mixed media installations. She has had numerous exhibitions and screenings in Sweden and internationally, including the solo exhibition In the Eye of the Beholder at Moderna Museet Malmö and the monumental outdoor video installation Perception of Time and Space at the Smögen International Light Art Festival and the solo exhibition A Small Fairytale at Malmö Konsthall. With a background in painting, she frequently alludes to art history in her work, but also to cinema and popular culture. While renowned for her both poetic and materially distinct layering and saturating of light and narrative, she is also recognized for her highlighting and challenging of societal injustices and conflicts, often by way of her own embodied performance. Through the interlacing of highly personal experiences with those of the most deeply afflicted, the works of Lena Mattsson expose the indispensable conjunction of life and art.

From 2006 to 2015, Lena Mattsson has been awarded twice the Five-year working grant from Konstnärsnämnden – The Swedish Arts Grants Committee.

Lena Mattsson (b. 1966) lives and works in Malmö. She studied at Målarskolan Forum (now Malmö Art Academy) in Sweden. Mattsson’s works, films and video installations have been exhibited in Sweden and internationally. Swedish exhibitions include Moderna Museet Malmö, Malmö Konsthall, Malmö Konstmuseum, The Nordic Watercolour Museum in Skärhamn, Nässjö Konsthall, Göteborgs Konsthall and Island of Light, Smögen. Selected exhibitions abroad are Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago, Chile; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; The Metropolitan Art Museum, Pusan, South Korea; SPARK VIDEO: BEACON New York, USA; and the Portobello Film Festival, London, UK. She has also won art prizes and grants, including the Edstrand Foundation Art Prize and the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s ten-year grant. Mattsson works as a curator, and she and Ola Åstrand co-curated Generation – En spegling av 1990-talets konstscen (Generation – A Reflection on the 1990s Art Scene) and Kultur under Covid-19 (Culture Under Covid-19) at Borås Museum of Modern Art in 2020-2021.

Your project has entered in our festival. What is your project about?
“When Hades bursts with blooms” is the title of my film documentary/HD Video triptych, a collaboration with the Swedish punk icon Stry Terrarie Kanarie, the artist Carin Carlsson and the poet and writer Clemens Altgård. We will go on a journey from the beginning of punk, through the post-punk era to this day. What did the world look like then and what does it look like now? On this very personal journey you will meet people, listen to music, poetry and poems that has had an impact on me as a person and an artist. A travel through time and space, where I highlight the late 70s with focus on the 80s and the joint towards the 90s. Where we were young and angry. Where money was not everything! Where we lived our lives like every day was the last.

When Hades bursts with blooms by Lena Mattsson Installation view Moderna Museet Malm 2017 photo Lena Mattsson 1jpg
Lena Mattsson, When Hades Bursts with Blooms. Installation view Moderna Museet Malmö 2017. Photo Lena Mattsson

The film "Not without gloves" reveal the common identity that we share in the experience and memory of the landscapes we come from, which in this particular case is also Mattson’s own origin. The film problematize a romantic nature experience through various distortions, interpretations and questioning of the original place. Instead, we are allowed to enter as visitors into a magical world. Where Mattsson highlights in a poetic way the COVID-19 pandemic and global environmental change. Music by Conny C-A Malmqvist

Poster Lmjpg
Lena Mattsson "Not without gloves", music Conny C-A Malmquist. Video still Lena Mattsson

What are your ambitions with your project?
To push the boundaries of what film can be.

Tell us something about your shooting? What pleasantly surprised you?

Finalizing "When Hades bursts with blooms" was very hard work. I wrote the script, scanned photos, interviewed participants, filmed, imported all sounds and music and edited the movies. "When Hades bursts with blooms" is a synchronized HD video triptych and as it was shown at Moderna Museet Malmö I was gladly surprised by all the fine reviews and that the audience was so interested in Swedish punk and poetry. It warmened a film nerd’s heart. "When Hades bursts with blooms” is also edited as to be shown on movie theaters and film festivals as single screen. It is also gratifying, that my experimental film "Not without gloves" has achieved international success at different film festivals around the world. Could it be maybe the crab that surrealistically appears in the film?

When Hades bursts with blooms by Lena Mattsson Film still Lena Mattssonjpg

When Hades bursts with blooms by Lena Mattsson Film still Lena Mattsson 2jpg
Lena Mattsson, When Hades Bursts with Blooms 2017. Video stills Lena Mattsson

For what group of spectators is your film targeted?
The films can be seen by most who are interested in contemporary societal issues, past such, art, film, music and literature. So, I hope they are addressing quite a different crowd.

Why should distributors buy your film?

That’s hard to say, maybe because I’m making quite different films where I try to work in picturesque and sculptural ways and that I’m trying to create a magical realism in my works.

How would you specify your work? What characterizes your film?

The answer is probably that I work with film in many different ways and that I’m pushing the boundaries of what art and film can be. For example, I often create monumental and place specific projections on cliffs, islands, buildings etc. At the same time the films and documentaries I make can be shown at film festivals, movie theatres or at art institutions as museums, art museums or galleries.

 Lena Mattsson Unexpexcted Visit Installation view Island of Light - Smgen 2022 photo Katarina Frimodig JPG
Lena Mattsson, Unexpected Visit. Installation view Island of Light - Smögen 2022. Photo Katarina Frimodig

Why did you decided to become a filmmaker?
It was at the end of my art studies in the 80s and early 90s. To my teachers great dismay, I early on started working with film and video while they were arguing that I should paint. My ambition as a young female artist was to break all norms. I still see myself as a painter but my canvas is moving images and projections instead of mere colors. I early on in my artistic career in 1998 received a major prize, The Edstrand Foundation Art Prize at the same time as artists Eija-Liisa Ahtila and Olafur Eliasson among others received it and it meant much to mee as film maker and artist. The money made it possible to develop as artist and as film maker and it resulted in a major separate exhibition at Malmö Konsthall. Another important film triptych during this time is “Anyone Breaks Fast” that has been shown at many different venues around the world.

Anyone breaks fast by Lena Mattsson Installation view 1 Copyright photo Jan Uveliusjpg
Lena Mattsson, Anyone Breaks Fast. Installation view Malmö Konsthall 2001- 2002. Photo Jan Uvelius

Who is your role model?

My passion is film, I love film in all its forms and appearances. If I must me mention some that have touched me deeply it can be Ingmar Bergman’s, “Wild Strawberries”, Andrej Arsenjevitj Tarkovskij’s “Stalker”, Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” or Orson Welle’s “Citizen Kane”. I must not forget the fantastic Swedish filmmaker Stefan Jarl and his “They Call Us Mods” from 1968. It’s the first of his so-called Mods trilogy, which was followed by “A decent life” and “Misfits to Yuppies”. As for TV series I simply love David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”. I also find personal, that one of the most interesting contemporary filmmakers is Michael Haneke. If you’re interested in movies don't miss any of his movies. I also warmly recommend that you see and reflect on “La Pianiste”, “Funny Games”, “Das weiße Band” among others.

Which movies are your favorites? Why?

This is the hardest ques-on. Is it Francis Ford Coppola's “Rumble Fish”, “The Godfather trilogy”, or is it Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” or “Vertigo”? Maybe David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”? Luis Bunuel is also an important name in film history and too few has seen his films. I recommend the epic masterpiece “Un Chien Andalou” and “Belle de jour”. And every cineaste and film historian know how film art, at least from some perspectives, reached its peak during the 1920s. “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari”, the Freudian classic is a favorite. Personally, also Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is important. It inspired me to make the film installation “Private Collection”, which was shown at my separate exhibition at Malmö Konsthall 2001-2002. Another movie that have inspired me is “The Night of the Hunter”, a 1955 American film noir thriller directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish.

Private Collection by Lena Mattsson 2 Malm Konsthall 2001-2002 Copyright photo Jan Uveliusjpg
Lena Mattsson, Private Collection. Installation view Malmö Konsthall 2001-2002. Photo Jan Uvelius

Private Collection by Lena Mattsson Malm Konsthall 2001-2002 3 Copyright photo Jan Uveliusjpg
Lena Mattsson, Private Collection. Installation view Malmö Konsthall 2001-2002. Photo Jan Uvelius

Where do you look for inspiration for your films?

I get inspired by what I have experienced in life. I highlight and make visible shortcomings and cracks in the weave of reality. My personal life has not always been a walk in the park and my path through life has been characterized also by death, grief and sickness. In the magical world of film and art I have been able to transform negative things into something positive.

Which topics interest you the most?

To think and see things in an norm critical way. To see and stress issues that highlight aspects of being human. To see beyond the surface and make visible that which we maybe don’t want to see. To see human shortcomings and our astonishing power to change and creation of new ways to survive in dystopic times, to expose bare life and the constant cycle of life and death are the most important topics in my artistic work.

What do you consider your greatest achievement in your career?
That must be two of my key works, one is “The Secret Room”, shown at Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art and as a large, synchronized video diptych at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. The other is “Breakfast for Everybody”, first shown at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark but it has also been shown in Sweden, Poland, Chile, UK etc. My separate exhibitions at Malmö Konsthall, The Nordic Watercolour Museum and at Moderna Museet Malmö are also very important in my career.

_The Secret Room by Lena Mattsson 1998jpg
Lena Mattsson, The Secret Room. Photo Lena Mattsson

My several films about the legendary and cult publisher Bo Cavefors has attracted quite some attention in Swedish TV and media. I have from an artist’s perspective followed and filmed his life during many years until his death in 2018. If you ask a major part of my audience, I think they would answer my works that has been shown at the Island of light in Smögen during recent years. There I try to push the boundaries for what film in public space can be. I was Sweden’s first artist to project film on the red granite cliffs of Bohuslän. The work “A study in scarlet” was shown as a projected film on the island of Bockholmen by The Nordic Watercolour Museum in Sweden. The music was made by Conny C-A Malmqvist, with whom I have often collaborated, it was all magical.

Lena Mattsson, A Study in Scarlet 2004. Installation view projection on the island of Bockholmen, The Nordic Watercolour Museum. Photo Christer Hallgren

What do you consider most important about filming?
That’s to create work and film that can touch you deeply. To be true and honest towards yourself and the audience and to never run for cover when confronted with difficult and unpleasant issues.

Which film technique of shooting do you consider the best?
There is no single technique that I see being the best. It depends on what you want to express in your film. Personally, I have worked a lot with green screen that gives possibilities to project film on different materials such as islands, cliffs, buildings etc.

Lena Mattsson Escape the Nightmare Installation view Island of Light 2022 photo Robin Hayesjpg
Lena Mattsson, Escape the Nightmare. Installation view, Island of Light - Smögen 2022. Photo Robin Hayes

Lena Mattsson Roots Installation view Bors Art Museum 2022-2023 photo Hendrik Zeitler 1jpg
Lena Mattsson, Roots 2022-2023. Installation view Borås Art Museum. Photo Hendrik Zeitler

How would you rate/What is your opinion about current filmmaking?
Today, a lot of interesting film is being made. I want to highlight artists who works boundary crossing with moving images, film and video, for example Tony Oursler, Pipilotti Rist, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Douglas Gordon, Shirin Neshat, Bill Viola, William Kentridge and Isaac Julien. I also want to bring forward my tragically deceased friend the Fluxus artist Carolee Schneemann. She is one of art history’s most important female artists that started to work with video and performance early on. Other important ground breaking video artists are Nam June Paik och Bruce Nauman, the list is long…..

Carolee’s Magazine 2016. Published by The Artist's Insitute, New York and Koenig Books, London. Edited by Jenny Jaskey and A. E. Benenson with C. Schneemann. Design by John Morgan studio pp. 198, 31.5 x 24 cm.

What can disappoint you in a movie?
The film critic Charlotte Wiberg and I wrote an article in Sweden's leading film magazine FLM. What can't we watch? In the winter issue 2022 of FLM, we take a closer look at the films that make us look away. Film history has been about making the world visible. But there are limits – when the camera gets too close, when the picture shows too much, when we need to leave the salon to shake off the experience. An example is the film “The Intouchables”. If you look norm critically and from my personal artistic point of view the film disappointed me. I live my life in a wheelchair and find the film insulting towards disabled people. If you want to see an interesting film with the same theme you should see the fantastic film “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (original title Le scaphandre et le papillon), directed by Julian Schnabel.

Who supports you in your film career?
The absolutely most important support in my artistic career I’ve received from The Swedish Arts Grants Committee. Another important financier is Malmö Konstmuseum that has awarded me several large grants and prize such as for example the Aase & Richard Björklund Foundation Prizes.

What are the reactions to your film? (opinion of spectators, film critics, friends and family)
Of course, there are critics, audience and others that doesn’t like my films. I think that one of the most important things for a filmmaker and artist is to create opportunities for reflection. To widen the scope of perception, to open up for interesting conversations, discussions and debate. The mission is not to create blockbuster movies. I humbly admit that I have often received very fine criticism by critics throughout the years. Also, the audience, have been interestingly commenting upon my work that has been shown throughout the world. As filmmaker and artist you pose the question, but the answer always lies in the eye of the beholder.

Have you already visited any of the prestigious filmfestivals?
I’m very proud and happy to show two of my films at London Director Awards. I have shown my films at many different film festivals, museums and art galleries both in Sweden and internationally. For example, I have been invited to show a larger synchronized video installation at the World Wide Video Festival 1999 that was one of the major and most important film festivals at the time. I also have had the privilege to show my work “The Secret Room” at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. I was also personally invited to show one of my most acknowledged works “The Unspeakable” at Göteborg Film Festival. Each year, the festival’s program group travels throughout the world as to select films to bring to Göteborg Film festival. During 11 days at the end of January there is the festival with around 250 films from around 80 countries, distributed in around 700 screenings. Göteborg Film Festival has developed and grown strong for more than 40 years and is today the largest film festival in the Nordic countries and the most important annual meeting place in the Nordic film industry.

The Unspeakable by Lena Mattsson Installation view Gteborgs Konsthall 2016 photo Lena Mattssonjpg
Lena Mattsson The Unspeakable. Installation view Göteborgs Konsthall (Göteborg Film Festival 2016). Photo Lena Mattsson

During the autumn 2023 I have shown some of my movies at for example the Tokyo International Short Film Festival 2023, Sydney World Fest 2023–2024, New York Tri-State International Film Festival, Munich New Wave Short Film Festival, Purple Sky International Film Festival, THE MAGIC OF CINEMA Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain 2023–2024 and at other venues. I also made the separate exhibition “Lena Mattsson – Unexpected Visit” at The Art Gallery at Bohusläns Museum. Further, I showed a new work with the title “Another Brick in the Wall”, projected outdoors at the museum’s brick façade.

Lena Mattsson, Unexpected Visit 2023. Installation views The Art Gallery at Bohusläns Museum. Photo Hendrik Zeitler

 Lena Mattsson Another Brick in the Wall 2023 Installation view Bohuslns Museum Photo Hendrik Zeitler_web_smalljpg
Lena Mattsson, Another Brick in the Wall 2023. Installation view Bohusläns Museum. Photo Hendrik Zeitler

What are your future plans in filmmaking carriere?
Right now, I’m preparing an solo exhibition that will be shown at Galleri Rostrum, Malmö, Sweden 2024 and with a new site-specific work for the International Light Art Festival, Island of Light – Smögen, Sweden 2024. I recently published the book “Lena Mattsson – The Window Opens to the World” at Kerber Verlag in Berlin and I am now working on a continuation: a new book focusing on my larger projection mapping art works and monumental works in public space. You never know what encounters you’ll make on the path of life. But what I’m dreaming of right now is to have a good film producer, a film company and an international gallery so I can continue to develop as filmmaker and artist.