We caught up with the Swedish illustrator to talk about imperfect bodies, feminism, feelings and horses.
Scrolling through my Instagram feed a couple of weeks ago, I came across a particularly excellent commentary on the feminist beach body discussion that seems to emerge every year when the sun is out. An eyeless, ponytailed character in an ice-cream printed bathing suit is shouting: “BEACH BODY!? HAHAHA! THIS IS NOT A BEACH BODY! THIS IS A BITCH BODY!”
This character is not just an Instagram meme. It’s the main figure in Swedish cartoonist Bim Eriksson’s recently published book, Det kändes lugnt när mina känsler dog, which translates to something like “It felt alright when my feelings died”. Bim Eriksson’s illustrations came to life on the internet a long time before they were realized in book form. More than 10.000 people follow Bim on Instagram, where her gender, shape, and eye-less people have led lives of their own for a few years.
The days of idealized images of bodies, coffees and sunsets on Instagram have reached their expiration date. The counter movement is slowly gaining more and more ground—picturing the imperfectness of all of our lives and making its followers a little less self-conscious or ashamed. Girls Are Awesome already talked to Stephanie Sarley, the iconic image artist who’s changing her followers’ perceptions of sexuality, but Bim Eriksson’s universe is a rebellion in another way. It’s revolutionising the way we talk about beauty and perfection. It’s also a shout out to all the normal people out there and the emotions we all try to hide—so we took some time with her to chat about her work, her life and horses.
GIRLS ARE AWESOME: You started out as an Instagram artist and have now published your first book. How does finally publishing on paper feel in contrast to simply posting something on the internet?
Bim Eriksson: In a way, things on the internet are forever. I really like posting my drawings on Instagram because everything remains uncensored. Publishing is more direct. There’s a really short way of experiencing an emotion in publishing.
Were many things edited or censored before your book was published, then?
No, actually. My publisher Katargo didn’t change anything. However, printing my drawings on paper opened up something new. The book has been on a long journey. It took me two years to finish, so of course my style developed in that time which meant I had to kill some darlings on the way.
One of your darlings that survived the edit is the horse figure. The cover of your book has horses all over and zebras appear often in your works.
Horses are a statement of mine because they’re often connected to little girls. Just think about My Little Pony. I love the idea of taking horses from childhood and mixing them in the book with sticky ink drawings, bold subtexts and questions around politics and feminism. To set the horses in this context becomes a clash, just like my figure with a floral dress and bow, smoking and talking about sexuality. I love all these types of clashes, because really, they don’t need to be clashes. Women are complex, as are men. We can be cute, angry, strong and sad all at once. In the same way, we can have superficial attributes such as floral dresses and pink eyeshadow, love horses and also want to start a revolution.
It seems your work is overflowing with politics. Does art need to be political?
Yes and no. There are many political things in my book, but it’s also a book about feelings. In the reception of the book, the critics were split in two: one group called my book too political, the other complained it wasn’t political enough. But to me, it’s important to talk about feelings—and feelings are political. I find it extremely worrisome when we see that politicians or other people in charge turn off their emotions. Because if the people setting rules for other people don’t feel, what’s left?
In the title of your book, you talk about the death of feelings. What’s that about?
Actually, I didn’t come up with the title. It’s a line in a remix that my friend Cleo did that luckily I was allowed to use. The title has a double meaning—one good and one bad. It would be a bad thing if you were to wake up one morning without feelings, but if the feelings were feelings for an ex it would also be a good and hopeful thing to happen. It was important to me that the book possessed this shift.
Critics of your book often mention that it’s made of autobiographical material. To what extent have you used your own life as background for the book?
The book is about experiences and how some situations are perceived. Basing the book on my own experiences, I ruled out the possibility for people to argue that what I wrote wasn’t true. Because how can one say that what I experienced didn’t happen?
But does literature need to be truthful?
This being my first book, I had a lot that I needed to work through for my own sake. I needed to process this before I could just let my imagination take over and call the shots. So, maybe it’s more accurate to say that the book is inspired by truth.
In some of your drawings the people also seem almost supernatural. Sometimes they come across somewhat monstrous with their eyeless presence. Why don’t your characters have eyes?
In one way, it’s a play on the phrase, “I’ve seen too much”. But this character with the braid appeared when I first started working on a dystopian story. I wanted my characters to be more like shapes than actual humans. Therefore, they are in a way shapeless without necks and with disproportionate limbs. None of them have a gender nor a name, and this was mainly a way to make it possible for many different people to identify with the feelings in the universe I created.
Some would say that your people are, in a way, ugly. Is there an interaction between the ugly the pretty in your work?
Growing up with punk, I think I’ve always had a certain fascination for all things a little dirty. But mostly it’s about making people really feel something. If something is ugly or imperfect you notice it more. Maybe it sparks a discussion: Why do I find this ugly? Why was it made this way? This is also why the book is bright yellow. It would have been too easy, had the book been pink. I wanted it to stand out.
So you’ve made it more ugly on purpose?
There are some boundaries defining what’s possible with a pen. It’s not possible for me to express feelings the same way you can in movies. So when I want to express feelings, I transfer them to the person. For example, if my character is tired, I give it very long arms. But I also just like it when things are a little ugly.
So, what is next for your characters’ journeys from internet to paper?
I’ve already made an exhibition with the characters in a nightclub, made of plywood and more than 2 meters high. So, they have, indeed, been materialized. Also, I’ve gotten a couple of messages from people who have gotten or want to get a tattoo with one of my drawings. I think there are perhaps 10 people who’ve gotten my work tattooed. I think people wouldn’t have related as much to my observations if I hadn’t said they were true—and really, creating a feeling of recognition was an important goal of mine with my book.