Forget gallery walls covered in static works — a look at the pieces born from the minds of Stockholm-based artists Anton Alvarez and Gustaf Nordenskiöld shows that their focus is firmly on objects, our interaction with them and the process behind how each comes into being.
Your earlier project Foreversunset puts forth the idea of “the design machine”, which revolves around finding ways, as a designer, to recreate the reproduction and distribution of the manufacturing industry, here specifically through measures of the internet.
“Foreversunset was my first attempt at creating my own autonomy from other existing contexts, such as the manufacturing industry. I wanted to have full control over the production in my studio, in this case through the extension of the world wide web and all the employees of the web, who I called the participants of the project. Every person who uploaded an image of a sunset became part of the project and, in a way, also a part of my studio Foreversunset was also my first attempt at creating a project, an outcome, that was not as physical as the other things I had been doing up until then.”
With the noted and very publicised The Thread Wrapping Machine you continued the same objective of an autonomous path, casting yourself as an inventor as much as an artist/designer, creating a machine to make what were initially functional design objects and later architectural structures. How did it come about?
“In a way, the project was a return to the process of hands-on making, where I was again physically involved in the result. I realised at this time that it is very difficult to predict an outcome. A good result and innovation can only happen in the moment of actual making. With The Thread Wrapping Machine, after a long time of engineering, I arrived at a tool for wrapping thread. Initially I wasn’t allowing myself to use it to make functional objects, but used it to create abstract objects that had no other purpose than to let me explore and understand the technique itself. Later it became used for objects with the purposes of seating and offering light.”
“The scale of the project was the human body, since the objects were being used for physical use by people. In the end I decided to explore the scale of the architecture, which for me means the transition has been made when the object can look down on you from above, so to speak, or when you can enter the object with your entire physical presence. Take, for instance, a simple arch that is 3-4 metres tall. For me, it is architecture when the piece creates a space around your body.”
What is the actual process of making something with The Thread Wrapping Machine like?
“At the start of the day, I would choose colours of the thread that would be used during the day and my assistant would fill the machine with glue. I would collect pieces of wood from the studio and then use the machine to wrap them together with glue-coated thread. Sometimes I would have a clear idea of what object was going to be made and other times it would be a process of an object organically coming together in the process of making.”
The latest direction of your work sees yet another self-constructed machine, the ceramic press The Extruder, with which you now distance yourself from the making process, creating ceramic objects and sculptures without physically being involved.
“Here again I took the position of not really needing to be part of the actual process of creating. I can, if I choose, be a part of it but it’s not a necessity. The Extruder was first shown to the public in the exhibition Alphabet Aerobics at The National Centre for Craft & Design in England. There the idea was to bring the machine, which had just been finished, together with 2,000 kilos of clay. The staff at the museum were dressed up by me in blue work clothes and, instead of just attending the space and waiting for visitors, they were highly involved in the exhibition and the making of the ceramic objects extruded by the machine.”
Given that your work intersects design, art and invention and your role as an author and creator is so vastly multi-layered, how do you define and regard your practice?
“I see my practice as divided into several parts. When I create my machines I take the role of engineer and inventor. I sit by the computer and design the machines and collaborate with technical specialist of, for instance, electricity and programming. When I’m in the studio, later on in the process, I take on the role of artist or craftsman, operating the machine to create objects of various kinds, mostly in the context of exhibitions in a gallery or institutional space to present my work to the public.”
Lastly, what’s coming up for you in 2017?
“It’s been very hectic in the past few years, with requests to do exhibitions all around the world – I’ve been telling myself I need to find time for myself in the studio. Some of the large projects next year involve a big public commission, which will require making a new version of the The Extruder and a new way of working with machine that will see it be able to produce large-scale outdoor sculptures in cement. There will be about 16 sculptural pillars measuring 3-4 metres in height that will be placed around a new building. I will also be working on an entire new machine that I’ve been planning for a long time.”
You are currently in the process of preparing your new solo show at Stene Projects in Stockholm. What will you be showing?
“The exhibition is titled Site no.16 trail and, like much of my work, alludes to ethnological and archaeological artefacts and objects with unspecified origins. I like a certain ambiguity to find itself among the presented objects, where with something resembling a tool, for instance, it will not be entirely clear what it is and what utility it bears. I like to think of the exhibition itself as an excavation and dive into the present day, where the ancient and the contemporary intersect.”
From where do the interests and influences that are present in your work stem?
“I grew up in a home filled with artefacts and objects from all corners of the world, having world explorers among my ancestors, which I definitely think has impacted on my perception of objects and interests. I guess, generally, we are prone to digging down into our own history. I work partly very intuitively and partly by using historical references and archaeological books that set me off in my practice. I tend to react to objects that exude something primitive, carnal and rough and generally would want there to be something curious about them that inspires the mind – ideally even something queer.”
You strike me as one of a handful of artists in Sweden whose practice successfully combines functional design and contemporary art with a gallery context. Distinctive rationales that exist in functional design aside, what is the common ground running through the branches of your artistic practice?
“I like objects, whether art or design, to have a distinctive character, an air of having a physical body and its proper space. I’m very much into the idea of transitions of force between myself and the object, the imprints of what should be there. Using ceramics as founding material works so well in this regard because it’s very immediate in terms of capturing the moment where applied force reacts with the material.”
You’ve previously said your work should be seen as a collection of solitary units creating one whole. On that note, what is your relationship with the notion of collecting and being a collector?
“I think, as an artist, you are constantly working on what could be attributed as your ultimate collection, which in essence is your collective body of work, to which you are constantly adding and extending works. The objective of reaching something ultimate of course isn’t entirely feasible. As a person I’m generally the collecting kind who enjoys going to auctions and flea markets, constantly looking for things that represent a force or have something peculiar about them that titillates me.”
A distinctive element of your work is letting traces of the manufacturing process become a part of the object as a memory of its making. Why is that?
“I think it really comes down to the notion of memory and time, leaving imprints of the space in time in which something was actually made and the process of getting there, which can easily get lost in an object after completion.”
What’s next for you in 2017?
“I will be teaching occasionally at Konstfack in Stockholm and will also be presenting an exhibition at Galerie Nec in Paris, where I’ve previously exhibited before.”
Interviews by Ashik Zaman
3: Anton Alvarez. Photo by Märta Thisner
8: Portrait photo by Johannes Molin
9: by Gustaf Nordenskiöld
10: by Gustaf Nordenskiöld
11: by Gustaf Nordenskiöld
Art by Anton Alvares
Portrait Photograph: Märta Thisner
Art by Gustaf Nordenskiöld
Portrait Photograph: Johannes Molin