Leif Holmstrand, Holy Helpers, 2018 / Courtesy of the artist
Leif Holmstrand. The Life of Termites: The End
Feb 3 – Apr 28, 2024
Malmö Konsthall
Malmö, Sweden

Malmö Konsthall starts the spring with a major exhibition featuring the Malmö-based artist Leif Holmstrand. In his work, Holmstrand combines traditional handcraft with a fascination for horror films and burlesque popular culture. The works reference his own family history, mental health, the trans identity, drag and gay culture, and provide a visual shape to the chaotic through large-scale sculptures and performances. The exhibition gathers together a large number of works and also includes Holmstrand’s artistic reference library with works by those who have inspired him.

There is literal thread that runs through Leif Holmstrand’s extensive artistic practice. He knits and crotchets objects, coverings and costumes, wrapping objects and bodies in cords, yarn and rope. His works are often characterized by a grotesque and confined corporeality and a dark relationship to sexuality and the external world. Fundamental themes include the queer body and a gender dissolution where the cultural and biological boundaries of the body are challenged. The materials remain central – the textiles, the black bin bags and prams. The boundaries between what is material, sculpture and performance are in flux, many sculptures begin or end as performances.

The Life of Termites: The End is the finale of a major art project, and the exhibition will be accompanied by several performances, programmes and events. The title is taken from the Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck’s book La Vie des Termites (The Life of Termites), 1926. The content of the book was revealed to be stolen from the South African poet and naturalist Eugène Marais. The theft, an author’s obsession with a material and the life form of the termites – neither human nor animal, both individual and collective – fascinate Holmstrand, whose knitted structures resemble termite mounds. In the exhibition we see works that compare the collective creativity and individual characteristics of termites with human relationships.

The exhibition gathers together sculptures, costumes, collage and drawing that are rooted in personal stories. Underlying themes include the ritual, the violent, the transformative, the failures of the bodily and the queer body that exists beyond all norms, but also a deeply empathetic understanding of the human condition. Many series of works are new, including Family Flight where Holmstrand has crocheted together beds and armchairs from his deceased parents’ home, and Cephalopods and Other Creatures where Holmstrand has drawn over pages from The Life of Termites. The series of works How an Insect Society is Organized, which consists of twelve large handwoven banners with text, highlights Holmstrand’s parallel role as an author. During the exhibition the audience gets to meet Leif Holmstrand in his many different roles – or rather, in his singular combined role as artist, author, art collector, performer, musician and curator.

In addition to his own works, Leif Holmstrand displays parts of his art collection in the exhibition and also presents borrowed works from relevant artistries as a personal, visual reference library. Japanese contemporary art, characterised by craftmanship and a fearlessness to blend together forms, materials and expressions, is an important part of the collection. Other artists exhibited in the exhibition are Hans Bellmer, Leigh Bowery, Chim–Pom, Nan Embäck, Oscar Guermouche, Majd Abdel Hamid, Lisa Jeannin, Lunga Kama, Sachiko Kazama, Lawrence Lemaoana, Anna-Maria Neumüller, OLTA, Pyuupiru, Meraj Sharifi, Lieko Shiga, Lotta Smed, Fredrik Strid, Per Wizén, Sakiko Yamaoka and Jonas Örtemark.

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