Stine Deja (b. 1986, Denmark), is a visual artist based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Stine’s work delves into the intricate interplay between technological progress and its impact on our psyche, the way we live, and our behavioral norms. By amalgamating deep conceptual exploration with an ethereal visual style and a sardonic sense of humor, her creations present an outlandish and thought-provoking view of what the future may hold for human society.
Spanning an array of artistic mediums, from comprehensive installations to dynamic sculptures, soundscapes, videos, 3D animations, and text-based creations, Deja’s portfolio frequently probes the juncture where human biology meets the digital realm. Her past projects have delved into the world of commercial cryogenics, in vitro fertilization methods, enhancements to the human body through prosthetics, and the intriguing concept of transplanting human and animal consciousness into digital avatars. In each instance, Deja weaves narratives of advancement and potential with an underlying theme of stagnation, restlessness, and an eerie sense of self-awareness.
Deja’s creative endeavors center around the intricate dynamics of human emotions, our drives, responsibilities, and the strategies we employ to attain our objectives. The concepts of fantasy and longing feature prominently in her work, accompanied by a subtle undercurrent of sensuality that materializes unexpectedly in subtle dialogues concerning the interplay between humans and technology. Within Deja’s artistic realm, the characters that emerge are frequently hybrids, possessing a human form but constructed from fused steel and illuminated screens, fragmented or partially shrouded, identifiable solely by their blinking gazes or vocal utterances. Indicators of distinct identities intentionally remain enigmatic.
The ambiguity present in Deja’s work extends to her approach to time and location. While some of her creations do confront the notion of today’s ecological challenges, and others allude to a vision of a post-human doomsday, time in Deja’s realm predominantly follows a circular pattern. As spectators, we step into sequences that appear to have forever been in flux and will persist endlessly, unless the surrounding setting is inundated, frozen, or consumed by flames.
Deja’s creations have found their place in the art collections of Arken Museum for Contemporary Art, Esbjerg Kunstmuseum, and the New Carlsberg Foundation. Previous showcases of the artist’s work have graced a diverse range of institutions, including Fuglsang Kunstmuseum in Toreby (Denmark), Politikens Forhal in Copenhagen (Denmark), Vestjyllands Kunstpavillion in Videbæk (Denmark), Tranen in Gentofte (Denmark), Kristianstad Museum in Kristianstad (Sweden), PINKOU in Shanghai (China), Esbjerg Kunstmuseum in Esbjerg (Denmark), Art Sonje Center in Seoul (South Korea), and Jinan Art Museum in Jinan (China).
Hi Stine! It’s a pleasure to sit down with you! First question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in Copenhagen?
I feel like it’s been a while since I had a completely regular day to be honest, so much has happened in the past few months. My wife gave birth to our second child, and the week before that we had a serious traffic accident in my close family, as well as lots of exhibitions that I had to either set up or take down. Today however feels pretty calm, I started the day with a strong coffee. I usually run every day, no exception, but there’s many exceptions recently, so I got on my bike, did the nursery drop-off and cycled on to my studio. Here I’ve been doing some research, had a meeting, chatted with some artist colleagues in the building and responded to emails. At least once a day I talk to my parents, just a little catch up and check in. In the evening I always cook meals, sometimes elaborate dishes, other times a 15-min pasta, whatever I make, cooking is a type of meditation for me. I often end up talking to my partner all evening and when everyone is sleeping, I’m back on my computer, finishing up the things I didn’t get to do during the day or watch something I find relaxing, like tennis.
I’m curious. Growing up, what kind of kid were you? What did you enjoy doing and how did you spend your time?
I grew up in the deep countryside in Denmark, and didn’t have many kids my age around, so I spent a lot of time playing imaginary games. Often in the forest. My best friend was a 60-year old Swedish expat called Ulla, I used to visit her after school, and I would sit at her house and draw all day. She was so encouraging and always made little exhibitions of my work. One of my fondest memories is when my dad and brother built me a basketball court, and I pretended to be Michael Jordan, straight out of Space Jam. My teacher used to call me a dreamer, I would always stare out of the window in school and visit some other universe. A lot has changed, but I still have those portals in my mind that I can visit. I always loved imaginary play and creating stuff, and now I live off of doing exactly that.
Alright, so when did you start showing an interest in art? And when did you start taking being an artist serious?
I always had an enormous urge to express myself through creations. It’s my native language. Both my parents are phenomenal at various crafts, and we always had the best time during projects. We would always be planning or doing a project together to be honest, whether it was building a basketball court, treetop caves or an actual house.
I dreamt of becoming an archaeologist. I never really imagined that I could become an artist, I’m not sure I even knew what that was, or related to it for a long time. It wasn’t until I got very unwell as a late teenager, and spent almost a year in the hospital, that I had an epiphany. In order to be happy, I had to pursue the road towards creating every day.
You work across various different media that includes total installation, kinetic sculpture, sound installation, video and 3D animation. My question is: What made you gravitate towards those art-forms, instead of something more traditional, like painting or ceramics for example?
Total installations are probably my favorite way of working. In these spaces, I really get to unfold and realise these rooms that exist in my mind, the mood and the feeling. My works (and total installation in general I think) sometimes have strange family ties with set design, but I also studied moving image and wanted to be a filmmaker at some point, so I guess it makes sense. Instead of filming it (the set) and making it time based works, I leave the situation with the guests, so they, themselves, can make what they want out of the scenario. The viewer almost becomes the camera operator and the editor at the same time, if we keep the film analogy. Over the years the installation and sculpture elements have started to take up more space than the actual videos within the installs, but I carry some key principles and ingredients with me, that are very related to moving image. For example sound. I guess my work, like everything else, evolves and changes. And I like that.
Ok Stine. I know you just touched on the topic, but these next questions will be about your work, where I will try to break it down to the details. Hang in there with me 🙂 So….Your work often focuses on the intersection between human biology and digital technology. Tell me a little bit about that. What are you aiming to convey? And what is your opinion on that intersection, between biology and technology?
I look a lot at the technologies that have the power to change us, our habits, interests, our inner beings, our life expectancy, as well as the very biology we share. These technologies are interesting to me, as they can kind of outline a future for us, and they express who we are right now. The tech/tools we develop reveals a lot about what our desires are and what kind of society we are striving towards. With new digital technologies creeping under our skin, (literally), it forces us to question what it means to be human? Over the past 100 years we have made huge medical advancements, we have doubled our life-expectancy, we have found ways to reproduce outside of the body and we are even attempting to cure the conundrum of death. However, as philosopher Srecko Horvat explains, our ability to construct new technologies ranging from nuclear bombs to robots and space travel is greater than our ability to understand the consequences. It’s this area, between development and consequence, that I’m eager to try and understand.
Exploring the effects of technological development, relative to our psychology, living conditions and patterns of behavior. What is it about those topics that interests you? And why are they important for you to document?
Good question. Again, I think it links back to that thing about our ability to construct new technologies vs our ability to understand the consequences. Sometimes I feel a bit like Jim Carrey in the Truman show, where a big corporation gets to set the direction of mine and everyone else’s future(s), because they make devices and tools so desirable that no one can resist. It’s interesting how for example Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his own kids use Ipads or Iphones, or how Sam Altmann the CEO of OpenAI is a doomsday prepper, and has a big patch of land in Big Sur he can fly to in case AI attacks humans, or how ByteDance, the Chinese creator of TiKTok gladly exports their app to the rest of the world, whilst protecting their own youth with a far less damaging version, (resulting in a study showing that kids in America aspire to become Vloggers vs the Chinese kids who wants to become astronauts). Data is power and I think it’s safe to say these powers have been changing us for a while. For good and for worse.
With that in mind… In your bio it says that your work offers an absurd and critical perspective on the future of human culture. Can you tell me about that as well?
I sometimes work a bit like an archeologist stuck in the wrong timeline, taking bits of information and outlining a ‘story’, about future scenarios. Often the ideas are absurd, uncanny and humorous. I try to say something about the present, by projecting it into the future. It’s a type of mind game almost, where I think humor can be a gateway to understanding subjects in a new way.
Ok Stine. We’ve gone through a bunch of interesting topics regarding your work, and I’m curious to know. When did you first start having these thoughts and ideas? Do you remember?
There’s not really a clear origin story, it feels like a lifelong chainreaction.
Can you walk me through your creative process. From beginning, to end result?
It varies from project to project, but usually if making a total installation I would start by seeing the space and measuring everything that isn’t indicated in a floorplan. Sometimes the space offers something unexpected, and sometimes I want to make the original space disappear completely. There’s probably already some theme in my mind that I know I want to address, so I start or continue an artistic research period. When something catches my attention or excites me, I can easily spiral into that universe for days on end. It’s often books, youtube, and news stories I visit. I make a map in my mind, or a physical one, with all the things I find fascinating and then at some point they are able to meet. This period is the hardest, because the doubt steps in. And then the actual creation process feels like a breeze, even though it sometimes means working day and night for many days in a row.
How do you deal with creative blocks?
I’ve been very blessed with this new coping mechanism I found – walking away. Doing something else for a while. Diving into a new craft. Last year I built a massive bookshelf, to escape the pain of a creative block. This summer, I built a studio sofa and a desk. It honestly works miracles for me to do something very hands on, I just wonder if I will have space for all this furniture…
What motivates you?
Philosophers will probably argue that death motivates us all, which is probably true for me too, on an unconscious level. As well as this. I think doubt and curiosity are drivers for me, these ongoing streams of thoughts that need some type of resolution. What if this…. How would that look… How would it feel… What does it mean… Sometimes it can feel completely out of control, a constructive and tiring force that keeps pushing me.
From what I can see, and forgive me if I’m wrong… you have about 14 exhibitions in 2023. Do you ever get nervous or do you have any kind of rituals before exhibitions?
Absolutely, nothing can make me unsettled like presenting new works. It’s my body’s way of saying that it matters. With that said, I’m much more relaxed, when showing works I already showed before (which happens a lot too). I don’t have any rituals per se, other than I buy the ugliest tourist mug I can find in the city that I exhibit in and then of course I know that my chances of having a great day increases with a morning run, to settle my thoughts.
With that in mind. Do you have any future projects in the works?
Yes, I’m currently working on a large public commission, I can’t say too much about it at this point unfortunately. I also have some shows coming up that I’m excited about. Other than that, I always have a few ideas looming in the back of my mind, that I will try to pursue when the time is right!
Alright Stine. I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?
If I had to mention one, I would have to say Manifesto by Julian Rosefeldt, I first saw it as a 13 channel video installation in Berlin. And then later the film version hit the cinemas, it’s epic. To conceptualize 13 manifestos and act them out in a film format is brilliant to me, and so on point.
The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now?
I love music, my vinyl collection is filled with artists like Alice Coltrane, Nina Simone, Patrick Belega, Mary Lattimore, Letta Mbulu etc. However right now I’m just so overstimulated by my thoughts and what’s happening around me, that I need silence. So I’m in a period of just listening to the world.