//Interview: Maja Borg

Interview: Maja Borg

Maja Borg was born in Norrköping, Sweden, in 1982. She is an Artist and Film Director, additionally working as Director of Photography and Editor. In 2005, Borg’s ‘To She In Me’ was selected for the Culture Bound 7, East Wing Collection at the Courtauld Institute, London, and she so became the youngest artist ever to exhibit in this context. Her 52-minute graduation film ‘Look at Lucia’ (2006) won several awards and her 13-minute experimental documentary ‘Ottica Zero’ (2007) has had great international acclaim both within film festivals and the visual art context.

Since 2008 Borg has been based between the UK and Sweden making several short films whilst developing and directing her first feature film ‘Future My Love’, which premiered at EIFF 2012 and was nominated for the Michael Powell award. In 2009 she took part in the widely debated ‘Dirty Diaries’ project, produced by Mia Engberg, and has since partaken in several panel discussions on the importance of finding new ways of depicting female sexuality. In 2014 Borg was selected as one of Dazed and Confused’s ‘visionaries’ and premiered her experimental short ‘We The Others’ in March 2014.

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When everyone has to take time out to take care of their children, that changes everything. It’s fundamental – there’s so many levels on which you become unequal if that’s not available.

Congratulations on your new film MAN premiering at Edinburgh on 18 June. It’s an amazing piece of work: I don’t think any film has shown the pregnant body like that on screen before. It was clearly shot over several months to get the full effect – how did you develop the idea?

I don’t use my life to make films, I use films to deal with life. When we decided that we would have a child, and I would carry it, I thought “Oh fuck, am I going to turn invisible?” because I couldn’t picture myself as pregnant. It was a way to deal with that fear – I don’t think it’s necessarily a queer fear, it’s a fear any woman can have: what’s going to happen to my body, how am I going to change. I had seen a very narrow visualisation of the pregnant body. I hadn’t seen these kind of images [that appear in MAN] either, and I was looking for them.

As soon as I had this iconic female body, when pregnant, it became even more important to use male attributes to show a kind of otherness to my female being. I have never had any desire to be a MAN, but this otherness or queerness is a fundamental part of my sense of self. I think gender identity is much more complex than just identifying with one of two genders no matter what sex you were born into. My sister is trans and has a much more traditional feeling towards her female gender than I do; we both identify as 100% woman and I don’t think that’s a contradiction.

There are also things that became more complicated when I pictured myself as a parent: for example, the rebel [quoting an image of Marlon Brando], is an image of the right to die young, or to be free and take risks. But I had to promise myself: if I choose to have a child, I deny myself the right to take my life. And also the image of the egotistical artist – using the woman, the other, as a lampshade, which fits very badly in my idea of parenthood.

 

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And what was it like observing your own changing body on film over the time of shooting and editing?

I had to start before I got pregnant, which was a bit of a weird thing – but because we are lesbians, the whole process was a little more controlled, we could calculate a little more. It was nice to capture the process even though there wasn’t a physical transformation yet.

My partner [documentary producer Ruth Reid] had to become involved in this particular film because she didn’t want to be left out of this process, because she was involved in the pregnancy. She didn’t want me to go to another production company, so we kept this one in the family.

For the sequence where my body changes over time, I worked alone, though. I used a fixed camera set-up and fixed lighting rig in my studio: a digital camera and a Super-8 camera in a box to protect them, and fixed markers so I knew where to stand every day. It was a good meditation on the body and technology: you can see it in the film, I have one remote camera for the digital camera, but for the Super-8 camera I had to have a wired remote I could control with my head, so my head looks really weird because I’m taking photographs with my head!

 

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Your work has always been intensely intimate, both physically and intellectually. How has pregnancy and parenting impacted on that?

What I have found difficult is the more creative processes, where one has to focus back into oneself. I’m managing to do it now but it has taken two years. I just wasn’t very interested to go and explore anything else for a while! But that has come back, which is nice.

The practical side has worked out fine, because parenthood seems to come with the ability to cut out the bullshit and learn to be very efficient. There is very affordable daycare that starts at one year old, and they offer good food and they try to keep an open mind towards queer parenting – there are even some specialized queer daycares in Stockholm. We live in a small village, and they’re good at talking to us.

The big difference in Sweden is that you have equal parental leave: it’s still not taken up as a 50/50 split between men and women, but it’s pretty good. All my male friends take for granted that they should stay home with their children, and it’s now the second generation: my dad was at home with all of his kids. Men don’t expect a gold medal for taking care of their children. When everyone has to take time out to take care of their children, that changes everything. It’s fundamental – there’s so many levels on which you become unequal if that’s not available.

If anyone wants to move to Sweden, I can advise them on how to do it…

 

It scared me a bit going into the bubble of parenthood: that people had this kind of consumer idea about children, that you had this “right” to demand a perfect child, and that led me to make ‘We, The Others’.

 

How do you think that being a queer parent will continue to figure in your work?

I would like to make queer films for children. I feel it would be nice to have more queer parents in children’s literature, and these days you can get a lot of ungendered animal stories, but it’s still quite heavy with the mum and the dad. So I’ve been thinking if I should make something for children. It would be fun.

But since starting Future My Love, I think a lot about how the economy affects our psychology and emotions; we start to live these things that are going on in capitalism, we relive them on a personal level. It scared me a bit going into the bubble of parenthood: that people had this kind of consumer idea about children, that you had this “right” to demand a perfect child, and that led me to make ‘We, The Others’.

I got really shocked when I was offered early tests for Down syndrome, because it was very clear that there was an unexpressed expectation. It’s a sensitive subject: I think that people should have the choice not to spend the rest of their lives not having a career in order to take care of a severely disabled child, but we need to offer more than that choice. It’s linked directly to how society takes control of women’s bodies. I’m all for choice, but can you choose to have just one category of humans? It would be such an incredible loss.

I’m 100% certain that people with Down syndrome have so much to give to people who don’t, that’s my experience of working with community theatre groups for ‘We, the Others’. I recently made a music video about power with students at a secondary school [for people with learning differences], with the first ever graduating class, about how society doesn’t make a space for them when they finish school. They were standing up for their rights for a job, for community, for dignity. It was made for a Eurovision song contest for people with different kinds of disabilities, and it will be part of an online campaign.

 

In Future My Love, there was a line that I think we cut. “Don’t trust with politics if I become a mother” – but I think that’s totally wrong now, trust me with politics because I have become a mother!

 

We, the Others was made for Dazed Digital, and you worked with Distrify to get Future My Love to a wide audience. Are you committed to online distribution, or do you think cinema still has a place?

I would be devastated if there were no cinema to go to for myself, or with my child, or to show my own work – that black box, that space can transform you. I think it’s amazing, and you don’t get the same experience at home, but that doesn’t mean I’m against it. It’s really good that I can show my work online, even though my films maybe aren’t the best kind for that platform.

I like to reach an audience wouldn’t actively look for my work; I don’t just want to be preaching to the converted. Experimental work can be cliquey and exclusive, but as my work is about expanding language and audiences, I want it to be accessible.

 

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What makes it possible (or would make it more possible) for you to continue working as a parent-filmmaker?

It would help if we could dissolve capitalism! But in terms of pushing for more equality, it’s how you view the effort itself. Here, “positive discrimination” is viewed as a small counter-action against a massive historical discrimination, not as patronising. It’s about getting the people who are making decisions seeing their limitations, and about changing how they make them. If you look at it as awareness-raising, then the goal is how to get better stories or new stories. It’s not about compromising quality.

 

Future My Love is concerned with imagined and lost futures. And does having children change how you think about possible futures?

I very much think it has changed, but I don’t yet have the perspective to know in what way. Before, I lived quite a lot in the future, envisioning it and working to change it, but with a small child now I live so much in the present, and it makes me a lot more precious about the future, but in an emotive way. The child has very much taught me how to be more present, and it’s nice to feel – I don’t feel less motivated to work for a better future, the motivation comes from a bit closer to me, not “I should” but “I want to do this.” Not so much a sense of duty.

In Future My Love, there was a line that I think we cut. “Don’t trust with politics if I become a mother” – but I think that’s totally wrong now, trust me with politics because I have become a mother!

2018-11-05T15:52:11+01:00June, 2016|Interview|