22/05/24 • Interview : Heather Jones

Interview: Helle Mellemstrand

22/05/24 • Interview : Heather Jones

Interview: Helle Mellemstrand

During the inaugural Open Studios Stavanger & Sandnes in 2023, CAS collaborated with OSS and Coast Contemporary to take part in an extensive round of studio visits and select a regional artist for a fully-funded participation in the 2024 iteration of Coast Contemporary. Helle Mellemstrand was selected on the basis of her artistic talent and tireless investigation of the evocative potential of textiles. Below, Mellemstrand speaks with CAS editor Heather Jones about her background in textile art and the driving forces behind her creative process.

Heather Jones: You studied at Bergen Kunsthåndverkskule (Bergen School of Crafts). I’m curious if you identify as a craftsperson or a fine artist or both – or whether those kinds of distinctions are relevant to you at all.

Helle Mellemstrand: I work with textiles, and the and/or of these terms has never been important to me.


HJ: How did you first come to work with fiber art, and why have you chosen to continue with this media for so many years?

HM: A series of circumstances, some from childhood and the fact that I chose textile studies at Agder Folkehøgskole, set me on my path, where I have continued to this day.

After graduating from high school, the expected path was to go to university: math, science, or something similar. I definitely had the grades to pursue this, but partly in protest to these expectations I decided to take an entirely different route. Pursuing art was maybe not the obvious choice, but I was looking for ways to follow my own sense of curiosity. Growing up I was told the stories of my grandmother who made filttøfler (wool slippers). My other grandmother always sewed our clothes. She was educated as a skredder (tailor), though it never became her profession. And my mother was constantly knitting. Through my childhood and teenage years I was doing textile projects that could be described as ‘unconventional’. So, having a need to explore and express myself, but without any specific artistic talent, textiles became an obvious choice.

Once I was studying and working daily with textiles, I realized more and more that there was literally no end to the possibilities that textiles offer. My formal education was all about weaving, but now I use weaving’s super logical principles in many different ways. I build with textiles, and weaving is in its own way a process of building.

There are countless ways to manipulate fiber, and the curiosity of my earliest years continues to drive me to this day. The fact of the matter is that the possibilities of working with textiles, the research of working with fibers, is never ending.

HJ: Can you describe your creative process? How do you approach making work? Do you have a specific idea before you begin, or does the material lead the way during the making?

HM: It is an organic way of working. One thing always leads to another – or another …

In my studio I have many ‘experiments’ hung up to ripen. At some point I make a decision to further develop one or more of these projects. The process is organic, so I let these textiles lead me to step 2 and to step 3. Sometimes I have a concrete idea that needs testing; other times I can be working on something totally different, but the other project demands to be dealt with, and then I am off and running. When I feel the balance is right, when I ‘feel peace’ with the work, I know it is finished.

HJ: I saw your work first in an installation at the temporary collaborative artistic project Huset, and again that same week at Galleri Opdahl. Both works were made from similar material and process, but felt dramatically different due to the settings. Can you talk about how you approach installation, and how you think about how your work is perceived in different contexts?

HM: When I have arrived at a textile ‘expression’ that I want to work with, the space itself helps decide how I want to move forward with the installation. When the textile ‘modules’ are so ambiguous themselves, the space where I am working helps guide the direction(s) the work has to go.

HJ: You state that you are concerned with “current political events in addition to universal themes such as longing, loss, joy, death, the sea and love.” How does textile lend itself to exploring these themes?

HM: Art really is life. I live my life, and everything around me will somehow express itself in the work I do. The expression I chose, ‘… havet, døden og kjærlighet’, or in English, ‘life, death and paying taxes’, are expressions of the lives we live. Everything going on, whether it is global politics or ‘everyday stuff’ affects us, and in my case, is evident in my work.

HJ: Do you have any current research or other upcoming projects you can tell us about?

HM: I will be participating in the exhibition Verneutstyr at Hå Gamle Prestegård in November 2025, featuring sixteen ‘kunsthåndverkere’ from NKVN. The exhibition is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Norske Kunsthåndverkere, and is curated by ELEMENT KUNSTGRUPPE, consisting of Linnéa Blakeus Calder, David Calder and myself. In 2022 ELEMENT KUNSTGRUPPE curated/arranged the exhibition PERSEPSJON 22 at Skur 2 in Stavanger. And in January, 2026 I will have an exhibition at Vestfold Kunstsenter.

Regarding research, I am in the process of liberating the textiles from walls, and bring them out into the room. I made a first test of this at my current exhibition at Haugesund Kunstforening (ending May 26th), and am excited about working ‘out in space’.

Helle Mellemstrand is a textile artist working in Stavanger. In her practice, she explores the endless potentiality of textiles, always searching for textiles and shapes that awaken shared memories and experiences. Mellemstrand is the 2024 recipient of the Coast Contemporary Art Prize.