Whether through photography, clay, collage, paint or performance, these are the young artists whose practices are keeping the energy running through Sweden’s contemporary art scene.
Malin Gabriella Nordin
With your recent exhibitions at Gallery Steinsland Berliner in Stockholm, it appears that, over the course of just a couple of years, you have quickly become a frontrunner in the next generation of Swedish painters. What’s your background regarding art?
“My dad is very interested in art, and was throughout my upbringing, and he also paints himself, so art was always omnipresent. It was as though there were never any other options and like there was never a time when I was choosing between this and something else. I’ve just kept on going to the best of my abilities. I’ve had the good fortune of having parents who never questioned what I was doing. When I started out at preparatory art school and even at the art academy, I realised how many people really struggle to convince their parents to let them follow their path as artists, since it’s not the most secure or most financially viable way to go.”
Your practice has evolved from delicate and distinctive collage works and sculpture to more abstract-oriented painting, which you showed recently at this year’s Market Art Fair in Stockholm. What informs your work today?
“Irrespective of techniques, my work is very much about composition and feelings – feelings that arise and are liberated while in the act of creating. Feelings about how colour and form affect each other and their surroundings and how balance and tension is created, depending on composition. It’s about exploring my curiosity and how I can create a work with colour, texture and form. Painting and sculpture is very carnal and direct for me. It’s fast, intense and messy. Collage work, however, is very time-consuming and meticulously focused. With a collage I can sit for hours and only move a fraction, a millimetre. Two very different mind frames come into play and it’s nice to shift between the two.”
“I don’t want to get stuck in something just because other people appreciate it, and I try to shift between various techniques that might offer new entries and perspectives. I want a work to bear a feeling of completion but, at the same time, also feel marked by opportunities. Everything surrounding me is processed and channelled in the work I do. I’m fascinated by nature, both inside and out. The works become a notion of what I see when I close my eyes – all that is fleeting, the thoughts and imagery that flash by continuously.”
Many practices today are nondescript, insofar as there’s no ownership by visible artist figures extending to the art on display. However, you strike me as an artist who is very much out there and of whom people are aware. There is a known face behind the art. What are your thoughts?
“I’m not quite sure why that is. I imagine perhaps it’s tied into social media. For me, Instagram has become a portfolio of sorts, where I also put out quite personal photos. It can be a tricky line to draw regarding how much of yourself to share. I tend to think it’s positive when it comes to galleries and artists and you are allowed to learn more about the processes behind the art you see and the people creating the works in a different way.”
You recently collaborated with the Swedish fashion brand Filippa K and had a book published by Orosdi-Back in a noted artist-book series – which are just a few of your many accomplishments. What stands out for you as a defining moment as an artist?
“I’m very grateful for all the things I’ve been able to do and experience – all the exhibitions and projects and the people I’ve met through doing them. To have the opportunity to work with Gallery Steinsland Berliner… Jeanette and Jacob really are so passionate about what they do and give me tremendous support, which means everything to me. I love them.”
“In 2013 I was invited by Jan Verwoert to take part in a group exhibition in Vienna, which felt huge. Jan has meant a lot to me personally and for the progress of my work. I met him through the National Academy of the Arts in Bergen, where he was a guest lecturer from time to time. He opened up a lot of doors in my mind that I did know were there.”
What’s next for you in 2016?
This summer I will be working in my studio. The past few months have been quite packed with exhibitions and a book release, etc, so I’m looking forward to getting back inside my little bubble. Right now I’m planning the upcoming year, which will entail a few exhibitions and, moreover, Yundler Brondino Verlag will be releasing a book about my work, which I’m really looking forward to.
Inka and Niclas Lindergård
Your imagery sits somewhere between the mystical and ethereal, emphasising the grandeur and beauty of natural surroundings, and has often been marked by intervention. Does the process relating to travels and scouting locations need to be rather meticulous?
“There are a lot of uncontrollable circumstances that have to line up perfectly in our favour before we can start photographing for real. But going around, looking for the best spot to realise an idea, is also a part of our work that we truly enjoy. We are interested in the interplay between the view of nature and photography. So the travelling has to do with our working with landscapes and romantic scenery, but also with the kind of inspiration and chance to work undisturbed that it gives us. It sounds like a paradox, but for us, travelling has a lot to do with isolation. Our process is, in general, time-consuming. We are out working for months, and if everything goes really well, we return with a handful of photographs.”
An earlier project of yours, Watching Humans Watching, presents the dynamic between humans and animals and was also one part of a photography book of the same name that was the winner of the Swedish Photobook Award in 2012. What can you tell us about the project?
“That series was a starting point for us as a duo, and though our methods have shifted since, we are still very much on the same path. Back in 2008 we got interested in how groups of tourists in nature show flock behaviours. They move in seemingly predetermined patterns and dress in clothes that mimic the colours of unfamiliar surroundings.”
“We started to travel to places where we knew people would go to explore what is perceived as ‘untouched’, raw nature. By detaching ourselves from the groups and individuals, we found we were able to approach the tourists with the same distance a nature photographer applies when photographing wild animals. We hid in bushes and developed diversion strategies. If anyone noticed we were photographing them, the moment was gone and we had to move on. It started as an investigation of the human relationship with nature and the open landscape through the concept of humans as animals. But, with time, it also came to deal a lot with our perception of nature as the great unknown, expectations of what nature is supposed to be like, where those expectations come from and how we are supposed to act in nature. Many of the tourists in the photographs are truly mesmerised by the nature they are in, but many of them also seem to be waiting for some kind of magic to happen, like they are expecting triple rainbows, unicorns and dinosaurs.”
Being an artist duo, how does the process of working on site operate between the two of you?
“For technical, aesthetic or conceptual reasons, we often end up photographing just before, during and after either sunrise or sunset. The colours of the sky and the intensity of the light is usually good for 20 to 30 minutes or so. This means that, when everything lines up the way we want it and we start pressing the button, there’s often a bit of stress and excitement involved. We are mostly quiet and just talk instructively to each other. The shoots often involve some kind of action or gesture, so one of us is managing the camera and the other carrying out the action. Who does what just depends on the circumstances. We do, however, take turns at being the one who pushes for a couple of more shots and an extra 50 tries, when the other one wants to quit and go home. Many of our works would just not be possible to do alone.”
What excites you about contemporary photography today?
“Oh, that’s tricky. Japan is coming in strong. A couple of years ago, it was really hard finding any photography from Japan besides [Hiroshi] Sugimoto, [Nobuyoshi] Araki, Rinko [Kawauchi] and a couple of others. Now it feels like it’s new, really interesting young names and books all the time. Otherwise, contemporary photography is generally experimenting with the past and the digital present from within the realm of the medium, making use of old and new tools and responding to the mass circulation and consumption of images.”
You’re working on a new book and also preparing for your first solo show at Grundemark Nilsson Gallery in Stockholm. What will we be able to see?
“Using landscape photography as the waypoint, the works in the exhibition have their base in reworkings of visual clichés and the characteristics of the photographic medium. Our interests lie in the intersections and interplays between the photographic and physical realities. Sunsets are pulled down to earth, a cloud of glitter is suspended midair in the form of a sparkling nebula from the NASA archives, the Yosemite Half Dome is covered by a big black blob.”
“We view our actions – be they throwing powder into the wind or building a sculpture out of branches – or light briefly colouring some rocks as performances done in alliance with the landscape, the elements and the camera. This time we are going up a bit in print sizes and we are currently working on a couple of sculptural objects that will communicate with the works on the walls.”
“It’s great to be showing in Stockholm and maybe, just maybe, fingers crossed, we will also have the new book – The Belt of Venus and the Shadow of the Earth – ready by then.”
Your work while studying at the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm, included geometric-orientated collages and drawings, and has since revolved around large-scale spray paintings alluding to space and galaxies. What can you tell us about this body of work?
“During my years at the Royal Institute of Art, I was working a lot around the idea of using boredom as a creative asset. During very labour-intensive projects I used to cut and paste painted strips of paper into minimal blocks of large abstract compositions and architectural structures, where the purpose was to investigate how barely visible gradients in a complicated pattern of repetitions can trick the brain into experiencing movement – to suggest a third and a fourth dimension.”
“After many years of working with this slow-paced method, I increasingly started to feel like I had reached a point where I had got the answers to the questions I was interested in and started to feel the urge to break the structure that I had built up for myself. I really missed the more experimental part of allowing chance and accident to drive me, rather than preplanned ideas, and quite naturally, my methods of work crossed over to starting to use spray paint in a form that dealt with the ideas of trying to break the rules of the two-dimensional format but still stay within a two-dimensional world.”
“I have always been very attracted to painting, but have a weird relationship with it. The idea of being able to enter a two-dimensional object that creates a world is very appealing to me. However, I have always been distracted by the fact that a painting usually leaves behind traces of the person who made it, making it hard for me to ‘believe’ it to be something more than a beautiful object, which takes away most of the mysterious qualities for me.”
“During the past few years I have been very hooked on the idea of making paintings without actually touching the canvas with brushstrokes and such. By using spray paint, I have opened up a way of working in a more undefined format than before, but that still has a lot of connections with my previous works and touches on the topic of what is being created in the gap between chaos and order, fragment and reality.”
As an emerging artist, what’s your opinion of today’s art market?
“It is a very difficult question. Generally, here in Sweden at least, I feel like it is very hard to enter the art market today as a young, unestablished artist. There are relatively few galleries and spaces that dare to bring in such artists, which I feel is a bit of an issue in terms of making the scene more vibrant. Therefore, I am very happy to have the chance to work with Belenius/Nordenhake gallery, which I feel is one of the exceptions and at the same time a gallery that has a very nice balance between older and younger artists. That, I feel, creates something very interesting and necessary.”
“I feel like, right now, there is a bit of a transition phase, where younger artists are getting more of their inspiration and ideas about art from social media and the internet in general, which is changing the art market a lot in ways that I feel have a lot of pros and cons. But at the end of the day, it’s mostly positive.”
You’ve got a new solo show coming up at Belenius/Nordenhake gallery. What can we expect to see?
“In my upcoming exhibition – Automatic Target Recognition – I have been working further with materials such as spray paint and similar in large-scale paintings where the associations lead to the rhythm of the body, as well as between the outer and inner depths in a transition from macro- to micro-cosmos. In the process of making the new works I have allowed myself to leave more room for accidents, chances and allowing the individual qualities of the materials I work with to decide the result, rather than having a strict idea of what I want the work to look like from the beginning.”
“The title Automatic Target Recognition refers to a device that is being used to recognise objects and targets based on data being captured from sensors. This technique is being used in airport body scanners and other safety systems and is something I’ve been fascinated about mimicking in different ways to let structures in the materials decide where the paintings are going.”
What’s in store for you in 2016?
Right now I am putting all my energy into and focus on the upcoming exhibition and will hopefully get everything done on time for that. Later this year, I have a couple of shows in the States, along with some other very interesting projects and things coming up in the autumn that I am very much looking forward to but cannot speak much about at the moment. But before getting into that, I will take the time to get some very wished-for weeks of pure vacation!”
In past work you interacted in a very physical manner with your clay sculptures, almost appearing as though you were wrestling. How did you arrive at working with clay?
“It was the period where I just had my second child and my body was very weak. I thought about my great-grandmother. She gave birth to 14 children. I started to visualise the body of a woman and how theoretically she could be penetrated while she is breastfeeding a child and at the same time she could have a new baby growing in her belly. Immense energy evolved in me as I thought of this image. The clay responded to my basic needs of physical resistance.”
“Collaboration with an artist friend came at the right time. I could work with the imagery in drawings and then, later, a 24-hour performance, where the idea was to sculpt a woman out of a huge amount of clay and make her stand on her feet, both physically and metaphorically.”
“After starting my master’s I was able to make full-size bodies with the same core idea of making bodies stand up on their feet. Where it looks like I am wrestling with the body, I try to find lifting techniques to make the body stand up with the least amount of damage. The body was, of course, way too heavy and as seen in some pictures, I literally couldn’t breathe.”
After graduating from the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm, you had a very busy year, including doing shows at Galleri Riis and hangmenProjects in Stockholm and participating in a group show at Sven-Harry’s Art Museum, Stockholm, that focused on the frontrunners of contemporary art today in Sweden. What would you recognise as the defining moments in your practice and career so far?
“Clay totally opened up my practice. The nature of the clay and my limitations decided the developments. I saw the inner armature of sculpture as an obstacle, which is why the fabric skin, sticks and stands became the world surrounding the body, exoskeleton. The exoskeletons in my work represent the psychological, cultural, societal and the political environment that shape us.”
“Both my parents were tailors and I grew up in a full-on DIY culture, which extended from pig slaughtering to building houses, along with the problems associated with being an isolated family in a new country without the support offered by big families in Transylvania. I see my experience and the urge to understand as knowledge, both technically and psychologically speaking – the kind of knowledge I believe people and society don’t value enough. It feels like papers matter more than looking at what people really are made of. People’s experiences are a resource, no matter how they grew up.”
“I could also mention site-specificity beside collaboration as important steps for my development. A good example is the show at hangmenProjects, where there was a drain in the middle of the room. An old idea to make an ice sculpture suddenly became possible.”
You’re also a performance artist and did a performance during Stockholm Art Week, held earlier this year at the historic Drottningholm Palace Theatre, for which you also co-wrote the songs. What can you tell us about it?
“Hubris, dream… I want so badly to be back on that stage. When I was asked to do a performance for DTM, I was working with Jenny Palén on an intense two-week project called Eva Is the Snake in Paradise at the Royal Art Academy. We were really happy with the result of the show, so we ended up developing that project for DTM. The timeframe for DTM was 20-30 minutes. The stage floor with its three degrees inclination and mechanical thunder effects were good starting points. At the art academy we worked with installations, thinking of scenography and performance, so it was important to keep the space in mind when we developed the show for DTM.”
“We wanted to create a balance between humour and seriousness inspired by divas such as Marlene Dietrich, through the costumes, the characters and the moves. Of course it is great to have a reason to use beautiful long dresses. The timeline of the script consists of songs that I wrote with my partner Peter Holm many years ago. I wanted to work with the music duo Siri Karlsson and hear their arrangements of the songs.”
What’s next for you in 2016?
“Jenny and I plan to continue working with the show and I just sent sculptures to Körsbärsgården Konsthall, in southern Gotland, for a group show that will run until September 30. Apart from that, I look forward to spending more time at IASPIS in Stockholm, where I have a residency going until the end of September, and then continuing to work in my studio with ongoing projects.”
Interviews by Ashik Zaman
Malin Gabriella Nordin
Nordin in her studio
Spirits Fly, Fingers Curl
Through the Swells
Nordin in her studio © Erik Wahlström
Inka and Niclas Lindergård
The Belt of Venus and the Shadow of the Earth IV (2013)
Becoming Wilderness VI (2013)
Family Portraits III (2015)
Becoming Wilderness XVII (2014)
Vista Point I (2014)
Becoming Wilderness X (2013)
Becoming Wilderness XXVII (2015)
Becoming Wilderness XXVIII (2015)
The Pentagram Position XV (2014)
All works: UNTITLED (2016)
Film still Stand Up
En stund av geometrisk lycka
Ice on Rawhide (2016)
I dream of Meadows
Photography © Johan Borgqvist