Soft Butch Nostrils: Sophie Mörner & Cajsa von Zeipel

In this article Elephant writer JOFF speaks to Sophie Mörner & Cajsa von Zeipel about making nostrils and who would star in their biopic

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Photo By Christian DeFonte

I’ve known these two lovers for a very long time, Sophie Mörner the longest. I met her back in 2002 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, as I was completing my MA in Fashion Design at ArteZ University of the Arts, while she was working on the launch of her fine-art photography magazine, Capricious. We met during the launch party of Jop Van Bennekom‘s 10th issue of Re-Magazine, entitled ‘Claudia’. While Claudia was supposed to take center stage as one of the tallest models in the world at 6 feet and 5 inches, my eyes were only on Mörner. I nervously introduced myself, and since then we have been close friends and were even work partners during the Capricious days. Now, more than 20 years later Mörner is the founder of Company – a contemporary art gallery in the Lower East side of Manhattan, New York, representing contemporary queer and feminist artists, such as Raúl de Nieves, Tosh Basco, TM Davy, Hayden Dunham, Jonathan Lydon Chase, Women’s History Museum, to name a few. 

In 2013 when Cajsa von Zeipel entered the New York stratosphere and Mörner’s world with nuclear force, I knew their fate was sealed. Five years later they tied the knot in Stockholm, Sweden. It was a kaleidoscopic experience: Von Zeipel entered the ceremony on the tip of a speedboat adorned with flags as coloured smoke bombs exploded in the water while Mörner galloped on a Friesian horse towards the love of her life at the edge of the lake. Complemented by performances, speeches, a 10-course dinner, and a dance party that went deep into the night, the union was celebrated by family and friends gathered from across the globe The creative direction and production was like that of a Hollywood movie. It was the wedding of all weddings. Von Zeipel is a sculptor, who creates eerie life-size sci-fi silicone figures that interrogate ideals of identity through classical sculpture, gender and queerness.

I met up with Mörner and Von Zeipel, their six-month-old daughter Atlas, and their Chinese Crested Dog, Gigi, and Chihuahua, Ciccio, last August at their house in upstate New York. Getting a meeting in place with these two is like a game of pinball, since they spend their time between New York, Florida, Stockholm and whatever art fair might be going on. Conversations these days are joyfully erratic: baby Atlas jibbering throughout, dogs barking, work calls and nannie dropping by.

JOFF: Interviewing you, feels slightly weird as I already know both of you so well. So, here it goes. How would you describe yourself individually?

 Sophie Mörner: Visually?

JOFF: Individually. But if you want, visually is kind of cool too. Or no, let’s make that a second question.

Cajsa von Zeipel: Self?

JOFF: Yes! How would you describe yourself?

CVZ: You mean, personal traits and stuff? Or more like, “I am an artist living in the world”?

JOFF: Whichever way you want to answer it.

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Photo by Christian DeFonte

CVZ: Oh my god.

JOFF: Don’t overthink it. How would you describe yourself as a person in the world?

 SM: That’s so much easier. I’m a very driven, vain …

CVZ: True!

SM:… caring person, who loves horses and creating opportunities for people and my family. At the core, it’s about creating opportunities for artists in the world with a feminist and queer perspective. Now I’m also a parent, which is really cool. I love animals, the forest and my family. I love my wife, Cajsa—so much. She is my number one.

JOFF: How would you describe yourself visually?

SM: I’m a soft butch lesbian. Really good style. I don’t mind aging as long as I can do Botox. Just kidding. I don’t want to say that.

CVZ: Say that! That was good!

JOFF: If there was one artwork in the world that would best represent you as a person, which artwork would that be?

CVZ: Is this going to be the hardest interview ever?

SM: That is such a big question.

JOFF: You can think about it.

SM: One artwork in the world …

JOFF: Maybe there’s a series of artworks.

SM: You know, it’s one of the Leonara Carrington artworks. It’s what my mind is like: dreams and visions, but also reality-based.

JOFF: Thank you, that’s beautiful. Moving on to Cajsa. How would you describe yourself as a person in the world?

CVZ: I would consider myself very much like I wake up, and “Oh, I live again!” I’m very much day by day. I’m not a planner. I like catching the end of a thought and then crawling along with it. I’m not big picture. I think this also shows in my work: “What if this, what if that?” I’m quite a loving person. I’m very cuddly and touchy. Sometimes I touch people a bit too much. Don’t cancel me!

JOFF: That makes sense. You are a sculptor after all.

CVZ: Yes, and nowadays, I’ve been the wife of Sophie for five years.

SM: 10 years.

CVZ: Wife of… We’ve been together for 10 years. I love being that. Now I’m the mom of Atlas, Gigi and Ciccio.

JOFF: Cute. How would you describe yourself visually?

CVZ: Someone wrote about me once, that I was like Penelope Cruz acting as Donatella Versace with a Scandinavian touch.

JOFF: God, I love that. So, if there would be an artwork or series of artworks that would best represent you, what would it be?

CVZ: My own, otherwise it would be weird.

JOFF: Right, that makes a lot of sense. But if there was an artwork you feel personally touched by, what would that be?

CVZ: When I was really young, seeing an artist such as Paul McCarthy, I thought to myself, “Wow, you can make art like this?” I still admire his work. But then, in contrast to that, what also really hits my soul is Bernini’s sculptures. It’s the two artists who moved me the most in my earlier years. It’s somehow shaped me into who I am today.

JOFF: I love that contrast. What practice would you consider the best practice to express yourself?

SM: God, what are these questions?

JOFF: I’m making them up as we go.

CVZ: What practice?

JOFF: Yes. People like to draw, cook, write or sculpt. In our creative practices, whatever that might be, whether we’re an artist or running a gallery, there’s obviously a certain kind of practice where we feel at the pinnacle of expressing our vision.

CVZ: I’m very good at the shape of nostrils. I feel I’m one of the top percent in the world.

JOFF: Love that. Sophie?

SM: What was the question?

JOFF: What is the practice where you feel you express yourself most eloquently? Whether that’s riding, managing your team, or conjuring up ideas.

SM: I would say that horses and the connection with them permeates everything I do. How I lead a team or how I come up with visions for the gallery, it’s all based on the way I move in the world surrounded by horses.

JOFF: That makes a lot of sense.

CVZ: I love getting in the flow of the studio. When it makes sense, I feel like “Okay, now I’m fluent in making skin … particularly nostrils.”

JOFF: Who doesn’t love nostrils? How did you guys meet?

CVZ: Okay. If you want the long story, I’ll have to tell it. If you want the short story, Sophie will have to tell.

CVZ: So, we met at the grand opening of the gallery. It was then called 88 Eldridge.

JOFF: Capricious 88.

CVZ: Yes, Capricious 88. It was my ex’s ex, who’s best friends with Sophie who connected us. I was very new to New York. I’d been in the city for a month at most and didn’t have any real community. I was unsure whether I was going to stay or not. And my ex said, “Why don’t you see Sophie?” I went to the opening and that was it. When I saw her, I was like, “Oh my god, what a hot work of art!”

JOFF: OK. Now Sophie’s version.

SM: My version is that we met through the lesbian chain of my best friend Sophie who dated her ex Siri. Siri was like, “Yeah, meet Cajsa.” When I saw Cajsa, when she walked into the gallery, I knew she was going to be the one. It took a little while to get there, but I was really in love—struck by the first moment. She was wearing a lot of make-up, short fur, pantyhose and very high platforms.

CVZ: Pantyhose?

SM: Fish nets.

CVZ: Yeah.

SM: But it was November – so cold!

JOFF: How would you describe the emotion that went through your brain when you saw Cajsa for the first time?

SM: She’s so hot.

JOFF: “She’s so hot.” Cartoon like? Eyeballs popping out?

SM: Exactly.

CVZ: I saw Sophie at a distance at first. I had googled her and thought “Who is this weird person?,” because she was in a lot of pictures with horses. And I thought, “OK, this isn’t going to be my type. But she’s really hot.” When I saw her, I recognized her from behind. I didn’t want to feel too stalky, so I was asking someone, “Hi, do you have any idea who Sophie is?,” and then, Sophie turned around and said, “It’s me.” And she put her hand forward. And then we started talking, went down for a cigarette on the streets…

SM: I don’t like this part of the story.

CVZ: I like it, because then Sophie’s ex-parents came by.

SM: No, my ex’s parents.

CVZ: Her ex’s parents came by, and I had the feeling we were busted. Even though we were just talking. So I was like “Why do I feel so awkward about this?” You know? We were just talking! So then, I knew something was up.

JOFF: How did you know something was up?

CVZ: I knew something was up because I was feeling like “Oh my god”. You know, like…

JOFF: Naughty?

CVZ: Yes. And then I remember it was really cute after that opening. I went to Reena Spaulings.

SM: You walked over with K8 Hardy, didn’t you?

CVZ: No, with AK and Katie.

SM: Oh, yeah.

CVZ: It’s so funny, because now they’re like some of my closest friends, But I remember being very nervous. I was like, “Oh my god, are they going to judge me? I have to make a very good impression!”

JOFF: Considering all of this, when do you feel you two really met?

SM: We had dinner at Lovely Day. I emailed Cajsa the day after the opening and invited her out for dinner.

CVZ: Was it the day after?

SM: No, it was cooler than that, like five days after. I’d just moved to Soho and then we got to know each other for the first time. It became clearer and clearer that we were definitely not going to date. Supposedly, it was just going to be a short thing because Cajsa was like, “We’re so opposite to one another!” But in my core, I knew: The One. But I also remember being like “OK, good. I don’t need to be in a relationship right now.”

CVZ: By that time, I was safety-pinning my panties to my trousers so I wouldn’t get into bed with Sophie. I thought it was not a good idea. So I would be ashamed to open up these safety pins if we did get there.

JOFF: Speaking of safety pins, what got you hooked on Sophie and vice versa?

CVZ: Sophie’s life is a lot. She lives three different lives. I still can’t comprehend how much she fits into a day and how she moves around in the world. And I think that’s very sexy. She thinks really big and wants to do things her way. I think, just…

JOFF: The complexity of it?

CVZ: Yes, it’s so different from how I operate, and it’s why I’m attracted to her.

SM: Cajsa looks at the world in a way I’ve never seen anyone do. I like the way she thinks about things. It’s a whole different system of how you function in the world—her wildness. She can just put the table crooked, and it will look so much better. Everything for me is very structural and it’s so nice to be with someone who isn’t like that. Her independence was super-important to me. Feeling that someone has the same drive as me is crucial and so beautiful. We both have a dedication to our work that’s more important than anything else, except of course, each other, and now the baby.

JOFF: In the 10 years that you’ve been together, what’s the most meaningful experience you’ve shared?

SM: It’s Atlas. But also when we do these huge things, like our wedding, physical things that exist in the world in different ways.

CVZ: Yes, making a baby. The wedding. I mean, it’s such a cliché, but it was freaking special. I’ll always hold those days close to my heart. It was so much fun to make such a massive project together. Atlas and the wedding are those two big milestones. I guess one thing every five years! But if we talk about work, when we met, Sophie had just opened the gallery, and it wasn’t what it is today. To be close to her and witness how she grew her business is also really major for me. And my practice has changed a lot since I met Sophie, which wouldn’t have happened had we not met.

Photo by Christian DeFonte

JOFF: It’s interesting and quite meaningful to see how you’ve managed to be together while simultaneously having such intertwined personal and work lives. Cajsa, you’re an artist represented by Company. Sophie you’re the founder and work with many artists daily. How do you navigate this?

CVZ: I enjoy it. I always fall in love with creatives. I appreciate that Sophie isn’t an artist but works within the art world.

SM: I was an artist when we met.

CVZ: Working together is a major thing. And it wasn’t obvious from the beginning we could do that—that it would be best for both of us, to take on double roles. It hasn’t always been easy. It took a couple of years to find each other’s way of working. But now, it’s pretty amazing, to be so involved in each other’s work and it’s such a big part of what we both do. I love being so involved in the gallery, even though sometimes it’s hard as an artist to know a little bit more than I normally would about people’s successes and hardships. I have much more behind-the-scenes information than I would have with my other gallery in Stockholm, for example. At the end of the day, I think it’s really cool and special.

JOFF: I believe the success of Company providing a platform for so many amazing artists has a lot to do with Sophie innately being capable of understanding how artists work due to her previous work with Capricious magazine and at the core being an artist herself. Sophie, what do you feel Cajsa has brought to your life positively, either in work or personally, that you otherwise wouldn’t have accessed?

SM: Believe it or not, I’m so much more in the now than I was before. It’s not that I don’t think about what will be happening next year, but I’m planning the next couple of weeks. Like Cajsa said, “I wake up and I’m in the now.” For me, that’s the biggest thing that could be brought into my life: someone that makes me chill, but who freaks me out a little bit. Which has been hard and challenging, but incredible. That’s the first thing. And she makes me feel so hot all the time. I think that’s very special.

JOFF: What about you Cajsa?

CVZ: It’s really hard to say, because Sophie has changed my life so much. I don’t even know if I’d be living in New York if it wasn’t for her. When I first came here, I was only supposed to stay for six months. Now it’s 10 years later. I speak a different language. I have a whole set of new friends. My life changed tremendously on so many different levels. I think I’m a happier person, thanks to Sophie.

SM: That’s so sweet.

JOFF: Closing question. If there was a biopic made about you, who would play the lead role?

CVZ: Penelope Cruz.

JOFF: Penelope Cruz?

CVZ: No, I don’t know. Maybe, what’s her name? Daryl Hannah? She’s cool.

SM: I have no idea.

CVZ: Oh my god. I know! This football player could step in as an actress, Megan …

SM: Rapinoe.

JOFF: Who’?

CVZ: Captain of the American soccer team.

JOFF: For you or Sophie?

CVZ: People always thought we looked alike. Who would play Sophie?

SM: I pick Keanu Reeves.

JOFF: That’s perfect. Sophie’s Matrix.

This feature originally appeared in Elephant #49.

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