It's always three o'clock in the morning

Co-curator: Lisa Stålspets
04 - 13 March


Johanna Willenfelt is a Swedish artist living and working in Gothenburg, Sweden and Cumbria, UK. Willenfelt’s artistic practice is interdisciplinary, often including literary or art historic elements informed by pain studies and philosophical discourse. She works with an art form that can be predominantly referred to as art writing.
In Willenfelt’s work the concepts of theory and practice melt into each other together with critical analysis. Theory is not a key to the work, but part of the work. Her works have a provisional, suggestive quality and often lend themselves to cultural critique and philosophical investigations. Willenfelt has a longstanding interest in the interpretation of bodily pain, its events and enunciations, regarding the pain of self as well as of others. Her current work and research explores the subversive potential of chronic and episodic pain in feminist projects and othering pain practices such as the hunger strikes of the militant British suffragettes.

The video essay It's always three o’clock in the morning consists of descriptions and evaluations of pain experiences from several perspectives and different positions. A non-linear narrative portrays episodes of pain where the pain sometimes emerges as a life form of its own. The perspective is warped. One is not sure if one is witnessing something from inside or outside. Visually one is walking through a brushy forest laden with snow while subtitles are describing a suffering woman, a creature suffering “like a woman in labour”, in other words dehumanised by her illegitimate pain. Later on in the video the perspective changes into a first person singular narrator describing a woman’s bodily condition and its consequences. “The incessant suffering outlines a border. A limit between my body and the rest of the world.” Pain separates the narrator from the world but pain also recreates her self. She is both self and other in the sense that the pain possesses her but the pain is at the same time separated from her idea of self. It becomes something she can tap into: an escape route or a tool. She describes pain as an intensive state without progress, beginning or end.

The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote:

Pain—has an Element of Blank—
It cannot recollect
When it begun—or if there were
A time when it was not—

In the work Emily’s Dashes, Willenfelt works with the dash, a sort of punctuation mark or speech mark, that is used in this poem. To dash also means to rush, hit, crush, sprinkle or splash. One might associate the dash with an attack of some sort, but also with a gasping breath for air.

Johanna Willenfelt uses small measures to express pain that lies below the surface, in blank spaces, between words. The image of beauty cracks, pain seeping out through the white surfaces that are dominating the gallery space. White as hospital walls, white as a silent scream, a void.

Johanna Willenfelt holds an MFA from Valand School of Fine Arts in Gothenburg. Following the completion of her degree, she conducted assistant research work at the joint research project and artistic research centre Matrix. Since 2013 she is a fully funded doctoral candidate in Fine Art with the Institute of the Arts at University of Cumbria, UK. Willenfelt has exhibited widely in Scandinavia and the UK. Her work has been shown in various places such as the Nordic House in Reykjavik, Gävle County Culture, Jönköping County Hospital, and the Gothenburg Museum of Art. Recent engagements include the book chapter “Documenting Bodies: Pain Surfaces” in Pain and Emotion in Modern History (Palgrave 2014). She has presented her work and research at conferences and workshops, amongst other It´s Not What You Think: Communicating Medical Materialities, The Birkbeck Pain Project, London Conference in Critical Thought, and Re-engaging Elaine Scarry´s “The Body in Pain”, A Thirtieth Anniversary Retrospective.