The element of surprise is what guides the design duo formed by Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov in their multidisciplinary curatorial practice, Museea. They curate with the intention of creating immersive and engaging experiences, constructing a narrative between object and audience that is unique. Mostly focused on fashion, the duo keeps travelling worldwide setting up impressive exhibitions with pieces from Vivienne Westwood to Issey Miyake, to Hussein Chalayan and Walter van Beirendonck. If you still don’t think of fashion as an art form, just see what they do.
03 Utopian Bodies   Fashion Looks Forward Liljevalchs Craft and Colour Manon Kundig Ktz Prada Special Commissioned Room by Orlando Campbell Photo Serge Martynov.jpg
Photo: Serge Martynov
To begin with, perhaps, you could both individually introduce yourselves to our readers, and explain to us a bit about each of your backgrounds and studies?
Sofia: My name is Sofia and I am from Sweden. I started studying Psychology at university. Before going to my masters, I took a break and worked in a boutique store in Stockholm. It was at this time that I discovered fashion curation and decided to move to London to study under Judith Clark at the London College of Fashion. I then worked for Clark for several years before meeting Serge and beginning our own practice together.
Serge: I was born in Moscow and spent my early childhood there before moving to London. After graduating from Central Saint Martins, I spent a few years working in music, architecture and film. I met Sofia almost ten years ago now and we began working together almost immediately, realising that we make a great team.
I think before we really start unravelling your practice, it may be helpful to our readers to define what you mean by curation as a practice, as it seems that as a word, it tends to be thrown around quite a bit within the industry?
Sofia: When it comes to exhibitions, the curator is responsible for selecting objects and building the narrative. It’s about finding connections between different objects and the audience. Although the roles may vary in the sense that some curators create the stories and narratives themselves and others focus on mapping the exhibition design and commissioning collaborators to create the content, the underlying role is that the curator assists in facilitating the exchange between objects and audience. At the same time, it is also important to be aware of how this role is constantly changing and evolving over time.
I guess what we are all interested in understanding is how do you individualise your curatorial practice from others, and furthermore, why did you decide to found Museea? Was it as a result of something that was lacking in the industry?
Serge: I think the way that we make exhibitions is slightly different in the sense that we try to create an immersive experience. We don’t tend to work with the ‘all-white gallery’ aesthetic that many exhibitions implement.
Sofia: We are interested in assisting and encouraging the audience to engage with the objects on display. We want to guide them by using a narrative, which is not only manifested through the curation but also through the surrounding environment, including light, sound, graphics, etc. We bring in different people for different projects and special tasks, as we find that everything is much stronger when we collaborate and experiment together.
I think this is essentially how Museea was born, for it is a platform where all of these ideas and collaborations can happen within the right dynamic framework. We get to work with different people, whether it’s a wood carver to create bespoke mannequins or a scholar to write a piece. It is fantastic!
“We are really interested in being part of or encouraging collaborations between different industries and professionals, from scientists to artists.” Serge Martynov
How do you find that your individual backgrounds have shaped the way you approach your practice and philosophy?
Serge: Having worked in a number of different fields, I feel that my varied background has been very beneficial to my personal development, particularly in terms of achieving an understanding of visual matter and the creative process as a whole.
Sofia: I also think that because I studied a variety of different subjects, from political sciences to social anthropology, psychology and then fashion, it made me aware of what is going on in the world. As a curator, it has allowed me to now apply all these different learned experiences and knowledge into constructing projects that are relevant to today’s society.
Based on my research, I have seen that your most recent exhibitions have been surrounding fashion and the way we perceive the phenomena. Is this an area that you are particularly focused on?
Sofia: Retrospective exhibitions together with historical group exhibitions are very common at museums nowadays, as they are very accessible. However, fashion is an incredibly interesting place to look at to see what is going on in society, as it is so quick to pick up not only what is going around us but also sometimes to react against it. And as social media is its natural platform, messages can spread almost instantly.
At the beginning, it just came naturally to focus on fashion. However, more recently we have been getting requests from other curators to design exhibitions for other art forms. For example, for the video art exhibition We Are the Remix, which took place in Gothenburg (Sweden) last year, we were asked to create an exhibition design that would enhance the message of their curatorial narrative. We have more projects like this scheduled for the next couple of years, which for us is fantastic, as we love the design component of exhibitions so much.
Serge: As much as we enjoy creating fashion exhibitions, we are equally passionate and interested in other projects within the arts. In the last few years, we have been expanding our practice to other sectors. I think that as we have built an understanding of how to create a narrative between objects and audience, whatever the project and whether it relates to fashion or not at all, we can still apply the same principles to create immersive experiences.
I am really interested in this word ‘immersive’, that you keep describing. Could you possibly expand and give our readers more of an idea of what you mean by this?
Serge: I think the underlying aim is to inspire the audience and get them into a receptive state, where they can really absorb what the project is about. Light, movement, touch, sound, smell, – all of these things are very important in building up an overall impression and we always strive to engage the senses.
Sofia: We love things that surprise or perhaps make you think differently. The design is always there for a reason. Everything is carefully chosen and placed, whether it’s the backgrounds framing the objects, materials, or the rhythm between the different spaces within an exhibition.
05 a Queen Within Ashish Keta Gutmane Vivienne Westwood Photo Josh Brasted Co Museea.jpg
Photo: Josh Brasted
Are there any particular aspects within your curatorial practice that we can say constitute your philosophy as curators?
Serge: As we briefly touched on before, we are really interested in being part of or encouraging collaborations between different industries and professionals, from scientists to artists. On several occasions in the past, we asked to loan fashion-related objects from scientists, such as new materials, but they were not interested in participating because they disliked the idea of their work being shown in a fashion exhibition. They didn’t want to be seen in relation to fashion and the future but rather only to technology. This stigma certainly exists on both sides, and sadly, industry and professionals don’t want to be associated with one another. Yet this meeting of minds is so important and often produces amazing results.
Then have me ask you about your most recent work. I was wondering if you could perhaps pick one of your favourite or most recent projects, and give us an overview of the concept and exhibition design?
Serge: I would have to pick Utopian Bodies, simply because it was one of the biggest exhibitions we have worked on. The space was approximately one thousand five hundred square metres, and essentially encompassed eleven smaller exhibitions, where we worked with over two hundred objects. Rich with so many content and concepts, the exhibition’s goal was to look at ideas that we have about fashion and the body and how and where we can take them in the future. Each of the eleven galleries sought to present alternative ideas that challenged the audience’s perspectives on fashion, the body, and the future, looking at themes such as technology, resistance, craft, sustainability and so on.
For example, in the Sustainability gallery, we featured a prototype of an early solar panel that was invented in the 19th century, but then brushed aside once fossil makers took control. The idea here was to show that, over the years, people have come up with so many incredible ideas and innovations but many have been forgotten or rejected because they were so far ahead of their time or were not the most financially profitable, for instance.
It seems that society as a whole is justifiably sceptical of the idea of utopia. I was wondering what thoughts and feelings came about as a result of this exhibition?
Sofia: This is very personal but I believe we live in a very unsustainable and unethical time, especially when it comes to fashion production. And therefore, it is more important than ever to imagine better paths for the future. It may seem naive but inventions often start with a utopian dream that then became reality. I found it so interesting to work with the designers that made specially commissioned pieces for the project – half of them loved the idea of utopia and thinking about the future, and the other half simply didn’t want to accept the concept of utopia and instead found the idea of dystopia and the problems in society more compelling.
Serge: I find this brings us back to one of the principles within our practice, i.e. how we try to focus on the positives and on finding solutions to problems. With this exhibition, we sought to encourage the audience to find their own idea of utopia, engage with new and innovative ideas, and feel that change is always possible.
“I believe we live in a very unsustainable and unethical time, especially when it comes to fashion production. And therefore, it is more important than ever to imagine better paths for the future.” Sofia Hedman
There is this large and ongoing debate on fashion and whether it is considered a form of high culture. I was wondering if fashion’s status changes when it is placed in a museum space or in an institution? And what does this say perhaps about how fashion should or could be exhibited in the future?
Sofia: I think fashion is slowly coming into the institutions as an art form. Of course, fashion has two sides: the commercial and the artistic. With most of our projects, we aim at looking at fashion as an art form.
Serge: It can be as simple as putting something on a plinth, which gives it a different status immediately. In the last few years, institutions such as MoMA, The Met and V&A have hosted immensely popular exhibitions on the subject of fashion. This has contributed to a shift in perspectives and it seems that there are more and more people today perceiving fashion as not solely something commercial and disposable but a true art form.
Looking at some of your previous projects, it seems that sustainability and innovation are a recurring theme. Are these issues that you are interested in pursuing?
Sofia: Absolutely, these themes are very close to our hearts and we hope to continue our explorations further. We constantly come across really amazing projects and objects, but being able to bring it all together within a museum or gallery space and have people experience and engage with the objects together is another experience entirely.
Serge: Often, we have to really dig around to find these particular projects, but once you begin to highlight and bring them together, you can build momentum and challenge people’s perceptions. There are a lot of exciting ideas and possibilities for the future; the more you are exposed to them, the more you can envision a bright future.
Should we keep our eyes open to any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
Serge: We have projects coming up in Canada and South America, but unfortunately, we can’t reveal more at this stage. We are also very excited to be working on a big exhibition about the Arctic opening next autumn at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm. More will be revealed in due course!
01 a Queen Within by Serge Martynov and Sofia Hedman Tabitha Ostler Courtesy of Its International Talent Support Creative Archive Trieste Italy Artwork Orlando Cambell Photo Sarah Carmody.jpg
Photo: Sarah Carmody
01 K Fashion Odyssey by Serge Martynov and Sofia Hedman Rejina Pyo Photo Junyong Cho.jpg
Photo: Junyong Cho
01 the Swedish Avant Garde by Sofia Hedman Museea Photo Alexey Sorokin.jpg
Photo: Alexey Sorokin
01 Utopian Bodies Craft and Colour Ktz Manon Kundig Manish Arora Prada Fiona O Neill Minju Kim Nick Knight Sho Wstudio Fantasia Special Commissioned Room by Orlando Campbell Photo Mattias Lindback.jpg
Photo: Mattias Lindback
03 Somerset House Ann Sofie Back by Serge Martynov and Sofia Hedman Photo Serge Martynov.jpg
Photo: Serge Martynov
05 Utopian Bodies   Fashion Looks Forward Liljevalchs Technology Chromat Photo Serge Martynov.jpg
Photo: Serge Martynov
06 a Queen Within by Museea Viktor and Rolf Courtesy Museum Boijman Van Beuningen Photo Sarah Carmody.jpg
Photo: Sarah Carmody
06 Utopian Bodies   Fashion Looks Forward Liljevalchs Love Special Commission by Hm Photo Mattias Lindback.jpg
Photo: Mattias Lindback
13 Utopian Bodies   Fashion Looks Forward Liljevalchs Special Commission by Maja Gunn Photo Serge Martynov.jpg
Photo: Serge Martynov
15 a Queen Within by Museea Maison Martin Margiela Rejina Pyo Keta Gutmane Commissioned Head Dresses Charlie Le M Indu Photo Sarah Carmody.jpg
Photo: Sarah Carmody
19 Utopian Bodies  Alina Brane Stephen Jones Millinery Richard Quinn Hm Christian Dior by Raf Simons 2 X Dries Van Noten Photo Mattias Lindback.jpg
Photo: Mattias Lindback
21 Utopian Bodies Fashion Looks Forward Liljevalchs Change Ann Sofie Back Fiona Blakeman Chiu Chih Cooper and Gorfer Iris Schieferstein Jim Skull Manon Kundig Fantich and Young Photo Mattias Lindback.jpg
Photo: Mattias Lindback
26 Utopian Bodies Fashion Looks Forward Liljevalchs Acne Alexis Themistocleous Courtesy of Atopos Cvc Collection Anrealage Hideki SEO Special Commissions by Patrik Soderstam Photo Mattias Lindback.jpg
Photo: Mattias Lindback