Christina Catharina Larsdoter never stopped growing. She lived between 1819 and 1854, and her life and experiences of being exhibited throughout Europe have been documented by Åke Lundgren in his book Långa lappflickan: sägnen om Stor-Stina (The Tall Sami Girl: The Legend of Stor-Stina, 1981). Stor-Stina, as she was called, has also inspired Mattias Olofsson’s (b 1973) series of performances and photo documentations. In false black plaits and a Sami costume bought at an auction, he has borrowed her identity to explore the outsidership of having an unusual appearance. He has travelled in the guise of Stor-Stina to places such as Tonga, Copenhagen, Venice and the Vatican and requested audiences with secular and spiritual leaders.
Venezian Style Stor-Stina – Gondola Ride, 1999
© Mattias Olofsson
Photo: Mårten Åhsberg
The deviant attracts attention and occasional sympathy, but is usually interesting only to the extent that the deviation from the expected serves to confirm the norm. The artist’s personal biography and his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Umeå do not help to explain his choice of alter ego – it is not a quest for authenticity in relation to his ethnic roots. But one does not need to be of Sami origin to feel an interest in her fate. However, an extra dimension in Mattias Olofsson’s project is that it engendered a co-operation with the artist and Sami craftsman Lars Pirak in Jokkmokk (2003). Out of this co-operation Mattias Olofsson has developed his own narrative imagery.
The artist role itself belongs in a gallery of odd characters and roles. The idealised image of the creative genius incorporates elements of outsidership and exoticism, a life poised between social acceptability and inspired madness. To the extent that income, dress style, working hours and family life can be controlled, an artist can nevertheless choose the degree of outsidership. For people like Stor-Stina, her body barred her from that choice. Religion or sexual preferences, the things that influence what we do and what we think, may seem to be less visible parts of our identity. But these things are revealed to the people around us in the way we arrange our lives. That is when we encounter attitudes relating to “abnormal behaviour”.
Those who defend a normative taste and lifestyle may even feel threatened by discovering that outsidership can also unite people, engender new communities. It is one thing to be odd in a permanent way. But it also causes uncertainty among people when someone like Mattias Olofsson refuses to choose things like the colour of his clothes, his sexual identity or place of residence. That is also a way of exceeding the limits and norms for what is reasonable and to go too far. To say yes to more than what is strictly necessary is perhaps to indulge in excessiveness, but the very multitude encompassed by normality also demonstrates that it is anything but natural or eternal.