Meeting Monica Lek for the first time was one of those surreal experiences that seemed almost like a movie, played back in slow motion. She appeared out of a thick veil of fog and lights, poised with the glamour of an old hollywood starlet wearing dark, crushed velvet and some form of silk robe. Though her soft voice was continually drowned out by the roar of the speakers, her lively facial expressions were marked with energized hand motions that allowed the conversation to flow without misinterpretation. It was her birthday party, thrown in bakeryby-day turned to a pulsing, underground dance affair. When she isnâ€™t planning exotically themed underground discos, sheâ€™s traversing the globe, documenting real people with the precision of a photojournalist and the eye of a painter. She discusses her work, inspiration, and what its like to live in a world that is ever in flux, where the home is less of a place and more of an idea.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Barcelona. I was born in Tarragona, another city close to Barcelona which belongs to Catalonia. But I moved to Barcelona when I was fifteen, so I always say I am from Barcelona.
What was it like growing up there? Tarragona was a really small village actually. I had to create my own role because it’s a really small village with only one store for produce fruit, one super market, one shoe maker. Which is really good, now I appreciate it. Its great to have grown up there because there is a lot of nature. Fields, mountains,. My grandma was living with me and raised me since my parents were working all the time; night, day and morning.
How about Barcelona in contrast? It was great for me, I was wishing to go to Barcelona where I can really make my dreams come true. When you’re finishing high school you’re dreaming of going to university and making this life you see in the movies. I was like a dreamer.
What made you chose New York? I came to New York in 2006 with my family to celebrate New Years and Christmas. It was like a dream. It was like that image they create in movies of New York. My parents wanted to do all these touristy things, and I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna go to 6
Brooklyn.” And I remember walking through the park, and past the video store right here and seeing all these young, talented beings, and talking with people, it was so inspiring and creating an illusion of this lived New York. I also moved for the heart. I was with my ex-girlfriend when she moved here, and at the beginning it was like, lets just see what happens.
What about photography made you chose it as your medium?
I think movies. I grew up an only child, no brothers or sisters, so I watched a lot of movies, and I wanted to create those images. It happened very naturally, I grabbed a Contax when I was fifteen years old and started to photograph. I never really studied photography ever, I studied art direction and I studied in Barcelona first, two years of cinema production, but when I was in production I decided that I needed to create. which is when I studied art direction and film for three years.
And you do some film work as well?
I’ve always been shooting small projects, music videos. Just for friendship and love, not really serious stuff. And now I’ve just started my first documentary, that I’ve been shooting in Turkey. I’m definitely going for directing documentary now.
What is this documentary about? It’s about a drag queen, he/she’s a
transgender and undergoing this process. For a month I’ve been following her, and it was incredible and exhausting and a lot of things. I didn’t know her beforehand, it was like throwing a coin. My very good friend Melie is from Turkey, he’s like my brother. I was back home and I started developing this idea of doing a documentary with him in Istanbul. He told me, “Oh there is this drag queen, really interesting, that I see at night and he’s well known in the scene, it would be nice to make a documentary about her.” I said, “Lets do it.” I came to Istanbul with the chance that she may not want to do it.
When did you shoot it? This was in August.
During all of the protests? Yes.
Your new project “My Neighbors” has brought you back to New York to capture the street culture and explore the people living right next to you. What brought you back to New York specifically to do this project? Why not Barcelona for example? I shot “My Neighbors” a year and a half ago. I wanted to define artificiality versus authenticity. I was pushed to work when I arrived here. I started working in fashion, assisting photographers and being in the fashion world I started realizing how everything is an
illusion; makeup, clothing, i don’t know what. I like to look for the real stuff, the characters. I asked myself, “What is New York? Is it this bullshit bubble really?” So when I didnt have anything to do, I decided to explore the Bronx, Harlem, not knowing what would happen. It’s super dangerous, it’s like another planet.
Where you scared for your safety? Once I had to hide in a supermarket, because there’s people that see you take a picture and they start shouting and I’m like, “Okay, Monica thats it.” Its crazy shit happening in the Bronx, its new york but were in a bubble. I like to push myself to these limits. I like to put myslf in this situation and say “until the stop me”. I wanted to portray the “other” New York, the real New York. Not this bubble. So theres these things I wanted to distinguish between a New York with no makeup, and people that you haven’t seen on a screen. People live here, and they don’t know whats five minutes outside. Drugs, people dying and starving.
Did you ask permission?
I would. I would talk to them. I have so many great stories; men that wanted to marry me, this woman that said she used to sing with Billie Holiday, that woman with the braids from the black and white series. She was singing to me. I felt she was off a little. Then there’s that guy giving me the finger. He was the one that was yelling, “Hey! Skinny white! Skinny white!”
What about the woman in the flower garden?
(Pulls out postcard) Actually I’m here in New York because the the embassy of Spain contacted me while in Turkey, saying they were doing a show in DC “Vaiven” (or Come and Go) they found me through a newspaper. And they picked ten pieces and flew me here. After I came back to New York. They told me it was like from a Woody Allen movie. (the flower photo)
Does your own cultural background influence your process and the creation of your work?
Its hard to say, my identity is Spanish, but none of my photos have a focused identity. I feel like change and I’m observing so many things, I see beauty in so many things. My background has influence but I don’t know in which way yet. I have self portraits. They are nudes, because I love the body. I love dealing with femininity, underwater, the sea, and reflections on the skin. I was with family on vacation in Turkey in the Aegean Sea, and I was shooting underwater video for two weeks, I was like a mermaid. The reflection of the sun projecting on my skin. I’ve been shooting all these patterns which are numbers, it kind of like metaphysics.
What effect has New York had on you and your work?
I’m so grateful to have lived in this city. I’m coming back in January.
Its that love hate relationship.
It is. It’s tiring. For me to really create, or have a daughter or son it cannot be here. I have to go outside of here. I’m shooting in Turkey because its real out there, and then I come to New York to show it to the world.
You have a platform here that you don’t elsewhere.
Exactly. It’s the city of chances. But the process of creation is happening outside. I’ve found the balance. I wanna spend more time here when I return. I wanna be more stable to acheive something here that I can then work and travel. For my sanity. Which is kind of happening now. But I always need to travel for my sanity.
What brough you to Havana?
My friend Armando who lives here and was actaully the first person I met when I moved here. He is my father, brother, lover, everything. He is Cuban, and thats basically how it happened. He gave me a place to stay, and I had another friend Juan Carlos. So I said, “Let’s do it.” It was super tough, coming from New York where there is every kind of yogurt, everything you don’t need and then you arrive to Cuba where y ou fight to get water, tomato. Every morning I had to boil water, wait til it cools to drink. No coffee, no basic needs. But i’m a documentary photographer, I adapt to these situations. I would wake up, boil my water, there was one fruit store everything was rotten. Living with a family of four children. And seeing the mom cooking and how there wasn’t enough food, and the children were hungry. I would go out and take pictures and when I came back they had saved me food. And I’m like no this is for you, I already ate, and they’re like no this plate has your name on it. So I learned a lot. I would wander through Havana Vieja, walk 6km every day. I couldn’t use my credit card, and had limited money so I would just walk everywhere.
In one sentence, express what you are seeking in your work.
I’m seeking mirrors. I’m just trying to show that everything is a mirror. Everything is the same. I’m trying to say that everything is a mirror, we are mirrors, if you smile at me I smile at you.
Y ou studied pedagogy in Havana, was your goal always to teach?
I never finished my university. I only did three years, and I started to read and to write. You know I realized, that I just wanted to do that. To be a writer the only thing you have to do is to write. Read, live intensively, see as many films as you can, as much art as you want, feed yourself with all the beauty, craziness and pain.
You also received the Cuban Artists Fund?
How did this come about?
All the cities are inside this one. Paul Edwards has a point that I love, it’s a verse, “There are many worlds inside this one.” Thats my idea about New York, that’s why I love it so much.
Remind me the title of your book?
Within that do you find a Cuban community or if not Cuban, one that you identify with?
Yes, two actually.
I applied for it with different projects, a book that actually came out now.
Nueva York, No Eres Tu. New York, Is Not You. Nobody’s New York. Thats my point of view. Nobody. Everybody’s New York. For me New York is all the cities of this world. That’s my belief. 17
The biggest Cuban communities are in New Jersey and Miami. Sometimes I am very careful about it, because they are very politically right, and conservative in many ways.
“There are many
worlds inside this one.
Thats my idea about New York, that’s why I love it so much.” 18
I don’t want to be involved in any issue like that. In fact I am not like that at all. I am a very free man and I believe in many things that they don’t and I don’t wanna be a part of it. You know when I moved to this neighborhood in ‘97 there was an amazing community here. It wasn’t as hip as now, it was actually dangerous but we had an amazing time, and there weren’t so many places to go out. So we used to throw parties at home, and cook it was amazing, really beautiful. Now I have a bunch of friends that are amazing. Even if I am busy, I’ll invite them over for a coffee, and I’ll keep writing. It’s something that has been increasing interestingly because many people left, but with young people we have been developing a sort of family.
And you’ve been in this apartment in Williamsburg for how many years?
In this one, ten years. In the neighborhood sixteen years. I used to live in a place on North 6th between Bedford and Berry, that I fixed up myself. It was a crack alley house. Four bedroom, beautiful, nine windows, it was a mess when I got there. Black walls, stunk like urine, holes, black curtains, really dark and sordid place. All my friends, this community of friends, would work on the place every weekend voluntarily. And I made it the most amazing place you can imagine. And I payed $850 at the time.
Do you still feel at home in this neighborhood?
Its funny, anytime I start feeling like this is a house—in the other house I started feeling like it seven years later, and I had to move because the landlord was selling the building. I couldn’t afford to buy the building, and they considered it a family house. So it didn’t qualify for the housing department rules. So I had to move. I went to court, and they gave me three months, so I moved. And I came here to this house. And I’ve been here ten years. But funnily enough, I’ve been feeling that this is my house and look what happened. They’re trying to kick me out.
Just as soon as you were feeling at home!
But I never actually had the feeling that New York was a home in the beginning, but later on I was traveling, and spent months in different places. Spain, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Mexico. But always, I said, wow I have to come back. As I told you, New York is my favorite one, by far.
What other projects are you working on?
This last year we made a documentary, with two friends Juan Carlos Salom and Maire Diego about No Limits which is a Park Avenue project, last year’s winner of Park Avenue project. Every year, since 1967 artists from all over the world send proposals for sculp-
tures placed on Park Avenue. There have only been three Latin American artists; Voltero, the Colombian, Sotu Barrios the Venezuelan artist, and this Cuban artist. Its a very prestigious competition, very well known. So we said let’s do it, and we did it. We’re now in the process of sending it to various film festivals.
What is it about?
It’s about the fabrication of these ten sculptures which are in reference to ten iconic buildings from New York. Chrysler, Empire State, City Corp, Met Life, Metropolitan etc. Some of them weigh four tons of steel. So we were filming the fabrication and installation on the Park Avenue malls. Last year my book came out, and I went to Havana to present it. It was published by Torre de Letras, an alternative publisher. Very small, but very prestigious. And now I am working on two poetry books; El Cuaderno de Olatz (The Book of Olatz) which is a Basque name that means the virgin of the three, and a book called La Muerte y Sus Ojos (The Death and Her Eyes). Both I have finished and am just putting some final touches. Also, I have a novel that I finished before, The Book of Brief Love, that BOMB Magazine actually published a chapter of.
How long did it take you to write these books?
the dialect coach for Javier Bardem. And that was the first time Bardem was nominated for the Oscars.
Is that something you enjoy (being a dialect coach)? I deeply enjoy it. Because I learn a lot about how we talk as humans. I have been learning a lot about my own accent. I can be very good sometimes, I can speak better. But I have my days. So today is one of those days.
You’re a man of many trades. I do my best.
Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self knowing what you have experienced now? Or that you want to tell young aspiring Cuban artists?
The only thing I can tell is to really live. Every single day, every single second, to the last one. Living deeply in terms of reading, absorbing everything, watching films, going to galleries, loving (very important), to love, to love, to love. Deeply. To get crazy. To lose your mind, but not your center. If you lose your center you’ve lost the beauty. And to never, be bitter. Be sad, but never bitter. No hate, ever. Hate is corrosive. Try to convert pain into beauty. All the pain, try to do something beautiful with that.
In the last five years I’ve been pretty productive. Very fertile. But at the same time I’ve been working on different things. In 2007 I worked for Che, the film by Stephen Sodeberg. In 1999 I worked for Before Night Falls, I was 21
As I stepped into Meriem Bennani’s Greenpoint apartament, I was met with the immediate scent of sage, the sounds of Moroccan music, and a cup of green tea with honey. She showed me some of her illustrations, a recently published book called Other Travel documenting her recent project with collaborator Hayden Dunham, and an amazing rug collection. Already feeling at home in a place I’d never been—yet somehow transported so far away—I sat down with the Brooklyn-based artist talk about her identity crisis, parallel universes, and her fantasies of styling dogs with human haircuts.
Where are you from originally? Rabat, Morocco.
How was growing up there?
It’s beautiful. It was very interesting being in between two cultures. Everybody speaks french and arabic in morocco. But being in French school you’re kind of in a subculture. It took years for me to make peace with the Moroccan culture, I was always looking more towards Europe like a lot of Moroccans. It takes leaving and growing up to really appreciate the culture.
Did you have some sort of identity crisis?
For sure. When I was 17 I moved to Paris for to art school. I was very influenced aesthetically by Morocco. I would draw and be inspired by things in Morocco. But I started having this crisis because visually, it’s foreign. Is it what people call exotic? Which is a word that I hate. Am I exoticizing myself? Do people
think these drawings are cool because they come from somewhere else? So I started feeling like I had something to prove. To make art that is good outside of this idea of tropical-ness. That was a big moment. It’s funny because I went from that, to not making drawings that had anything to do with Morocco. You go from one extreme to the other and then you’re in peace in the middle. I 28
don’t have to define my identity, I’m just lucky that I can pick whatever is better. I’m just in this in between, and the in between in itself is an identity.
Share an early memory from your childhood.
I have so many. I’m one of those freaky people who remembers things from when they were four years old. Although some of them—is it like I looked at a photo and created a memory from that photo? I have a lot of “fake” memories, and I’m sure that they happened, and they’re part of my identity now. I am the product of all these things that happened to me, but then I’ll be at dinner with my family and I’ll be like, “Remember this guys?” They’re like, “This never happened.” I told everybody that growing up I had five dogs and one cat. For years. I’m like, “You guys are telling me we had two dogs and one cat?” That was my most recent discovery this summer.
It shows you we really create our own past from our history. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were little (or what you remember thinking)?
I wanted to be either an astronaut— which is pretty classic—or a dog groomer, which hasn’t changed. The way I imagined it wasn’t really dog grooming, more of like giving actual human hair-
cuts to dogs. Like a hair salon.
More like dog styling?
Well for example, I would give a dog a bull-cut with bangs. I had this fantasy of my dog getting married, getting her prepared, and painting her nails.
I can imagine one day, a dog styling show, where they walk down the runway. That would be really cool.
Where is/what is home for you?
I have three definitions of home. There are some reasons why home for me is Morocco, and those are visceral reasons. It’s the place where I go and I really feel like that’s where I’m from. There are some things that are very deep that just feel right, and there’s my family being a big part of that. Then there are some reasons why only Paris can be my home. They’re more cultural, there’s something about the French culture. It’s a more mental reason, not emotional. Like thing’s I grew up learning in school. Then there are reasons why I came to New York you know, this is the home I chose. In terms of who I am, not in terms of where I come from. The parts of my identity that are not coming from my culture or my family that just feel good.
How was going to art school in Paris?
It was cool. What’s cool about having access to multiple cultures is when you realize it’s not exhausting, but it’s actually something great because you can pick from each culture. Going to school in Paris then again in New York is great because they were so different. The one thing I learned in Paris was to be very, very, very, super-critical. I think it’s great to an extent, but there’s a point where it’s a little bitter and not constructive. In school here I found the attitude to be way more positive. It opened up my taste and horizons, vthe way that I look at art, and that I think about projects—how they are actually possible even if they sound crazy.
Do you think it was because of the specific schools you went to, or maybe the culture in Paris vs. New York?
I would say it’s a cultural thing. I don’t like saying those types of things because everybody is different, but I was in two different schools in Paris and it was this consistent thing. People are encouraging, but if you’re like, “I’m gonna do this crazy thing but I really believe in it.” People are like, “Well are you gonna do it? And why are you doing this?” It’s a bit hard, and critical to the point of sarcasm. When it gets to be negativity it’s just really not encouraging and you don’t really take risks. 29
"What’s cool cool "What’s about having having about access to to multiple multiple access cultures is is when when cultures you realize realize it’s it’s you not exhausting, exhausting, not but it’s it’s actually actually but something great great something because you you because can pick pick from from can each culture." culture." each 30
l g e n s , y t u m "
It’s all about taking risks.
Yeah for sure, that’s something I learned here. Being more open in terms of what I’m doing, and being a little bit less controlling.
Is there anything you would say to young aspiring artists, who maybe live in Morocco and want to live in New York, like yourself?
I never wanted to live in New York, it’s so funny. It just happened.
Or Paris, or any other art hub city? Or be an artist anywhere, in the middle of the desert in Morocco?
I don’t think my voice has something that someone else’s voice doesn’t have that is more important. I love the idea of a young Moroccan artist. I wanna meet them and see their work. There are a lot of people that do things but the exposure of cities like here, makes everything so different. The other day I was doing research on this painting. I was like, “I wish I could see it in real life!” And obviously it’s at the Met. You know, how lucky are we? Maybe it’s at the Louvre in Paris, or maybe it’s in London somewhere, and most likely I can take the train and in a half hour see that crazy painting from centuries ago in real life. That’s cool.
What did you want to be when you were little?
Where are you from originally? I was born in Mexico D.F.
How was growing up there?
It was great even though it's a crazy city. We spent most of our vacations in Acapulco, because that's where most of my family lives. That was where I had the most fun in my childhood.
How is it different than living New York?
New York is easier to navigate and it's where I really feel independent. New York is also safer and more regulated. Mexico City is a gigantic monster, but it's also incredibly fun. It's not for nothing that they call Mexico the most surrealist country in the world.
What made you come to New York?
I always wanted to try living somewhere new after high school. Ideally I wanted to study art in New York, and luckily it worked out.
Do you identify with a community or group in NYC?
I am an illustrator, and I hang out with mostly other illustrators/artists that I met at Parsons. We are very diverse, but we have the same interests. But I wouldn't necessarily identify with a community or group at this point yet.
Do you feel at home here? If not, how would you define home?
It's hard to call a place home at 23 I think. NY has been my home for 5 years I suppose, but everywhere you live is temporary. It's a transitory life. Mexico will always be home, but I am not there. When I talk to my friends from Mexico that also left the country to study, it seems that we have the same feeling, that we don't really feel home in either place. We're in between.
Define the breadth of your work and what it is that inspires it. 36
I work as an illustrator. My commercial work is figurative and editorial. I am inspired by folk art, films, children's books and fine art. I also experiment with small scale sculpture (nowadays ceramics).
Where do you go, or what do you most often seek for inspiration?
In New York, a visit to the Met is the most effective way to find inspirations for me. It will never get old. It's so easy to get inspired in New York, you just have to go see a really good movie, or exhibition. And of course traveling, is a great source of inspiration.
How do you occupy yourself when youâ€™re bored?
I send elaborate snapchat videos to my friends. I'm obsessed. I love that they just disappear forever.
Do you dream often? What about?
Do you have any tattoos? If not, what tattoo would you want to get?
What is your biggest fear?
Illustrate an early memory from your childhood.
To categorize the Swedish born, Brooklyn based artists Josef Bull a maker or a hacker would not begin to encompass the depth of his work. He does spend plenty of time, however surfing the internet's dankest, most obscure corners for inspiration and material. In a sense his work is very DIY, although it falls solidly in the realm of fine art and less in crafts. It often deals with themes of American culture which he says, “Is all over the world now," meshing with outdoor culture—an integral part of the essense of Americana—spirituality and symbology. I met with Josef in his Brooklyn apartment to chat about his unique upbringing, his first McDonald's experience, and sacred geometry.
Where in Sweden were you born?
How was growing up like that?
I was born outside of Stockholm in a suburb called Huddinge. My family has a long history there and on this specific street. My dad grew up in the house next door to the house where I grew up, and his mother grew up in that house. So we were three generations on that lot.
My great grandmother was actually living in my grandparentâ€™s house and she lived to be 105 years old. I was fifteen when she died. I mean it was great, I have an incredibly close relationship with my grandparents because of it.
Is that typical of Swedish families?
I was thinking about it today because I actually found out that I got a grant today for a residency in an Arctic expedition.
No, itâ€™s quite atypical actually. The typical thing in Sweden is that you wanna leave your family. 44
Share an early memory from your childhood.
So you feel like more of an
Thank you. Sweden has a long tradioutsider in New York? tion of arctic expeditions, going to I do, but it’s always nice being a bit the North Pole. From the beginning of an outsider. It’s nice when you’re they had artists come on those trips back in Sweden. I always enjoy those to paint the landscape and document situations when you have a different wildlife. Then they continued to always perspective. have an artist come on the expeditions even though they don’t need someone Do you think that perspective to paint the landscape anymore. The is sort of fueling your work? artist that recommended I apply is an I think the other way around. A lot of old family friend, who is incredibly tall. my work is relating to American culI don’t know how many feet he would ture. That’s not what it’s about, but I be but it’s like 213 centimeters which work with existing materials and things is like NBA basketball player tall. I rein my surroundings. When you get to member being on his shoulders at an a new place you see those materials art fair when I was a child. The reason with different eyes. I did these campI thought about it today—because I ing chair works, and those sort of don’t have many childhood memories— chairs don’t even exist in Sweden. it’s funny I must’ve had a really good childhood if my only memories are of Talk about those chairs. being on someone’s shoulders. The pieces are called Meditation Chair Made of Folding Chair. It didn’t start How is living in Sweden different with chairs, it started with meditation than living New York, and when pyramids. Which are these pyramids was the first time you came? that people make out of ordinary First time was after meeting Amy. But copper piping. It’s a sort of DIY thing the first time I came to the U.S. was people do to make their meditation actually to visit her family in Colorado. more intense, relating to this idea of the geometry of the pyramid.
That’s a great first impression.
It was. The best thing about it was that Amy’s parents gave me a 100 dollar bill as my first Christmas present. I had a layover in Chicago and the only money I had was that 100 dollar bill and there were only like three options. I was in the U.S. I had to go to McDonald’s. So I went and bought a cheeseburger, and got this sweaty bundle of one dollar bills back. But then I came to New York a few months later. A lot is different, but there are a lot of things that are more similar than Colorado. We’ve been back and forth for five years now. Probably spending half of that time in New York.
Do you feel at home here, or what is your definition of home?
I feel at home. I very much identify as being Swedish. There’s a sort of right, extremist party that just made it into the Swedish government. There’s a lot of talk about that in Sweden, integrating, and people becoming Swedish. It feels quite a few years away for me to consider myself first of all a New Yorker, and second an American.
Like a sacred geometry?
Yeah, so that ratio is like a conductor to energy. Copper is the ultimate conductor. So it started with that phenomenon. This weird clash between a material used for plumbing, and reaching some sort of spiritual enlightening through this very mundane material. It was also the photographs on the internet of people doing this. They would have these pyramids set up in their backyard, with a crappy plastic chair put inside it. All of a sudden this chair that they thought nothing of becomes framed in this pyramid—even if it’s not the pyramid energy that they were thinking of—it draws a circle around the object in that pyramid and puts a focus on it. That was something I was trying to do things with for a while, and it never really worked. Then, last summer when I was back in New York, I suddenly saw all these folding chairs. It was like the city overflowed with them, the parks, everybody had these crappy chairs.
“I think internet is an incredible producer of synchornicity. Something about when you surf you’re constantly meeting a page you’re not expecting. You find yourself on these paths, and one thing leads to another...that’s the technology that’s inspiring me and making my work happen the most.” 47
Then there was just this moment of insight when I saw someone sitting in one, and looked at the piping and realized this was the same dimension as the copper piping. That’s when I realized that it’s not a different chair being placed within that pyramid, it’s that chair becoming the pyramid. So I made these merges where the pyramid is also the chair. How these relationships occur between seemingly unrelated objects. How this copper pyramid and these chairs are from completely different realms, but all of a sudden because of the piping having the same dimension they have the same relationship. When you start to explore that you realize it’s such a strong relationship that it almost can’t be coincidence.
It has various connections with masculinity, you know, the hardware store, camping chairs, outdoor activities. What other sort of connections have you created in this vein?
I’ve been interested in outdoor material and equipment because I think it’s this weird clash between worlds and perspectives that are embedded in these materials. I think it’s interesting how people that are living close to nature and go on camping trips are also the people that are, a lot of the time incredibly interested in technology. Especially in relation to their equipment. The closer you are to nature the more dependent you are on technical solutions. There’s so many, you know, GORE-TEX and Kevlar. I think that’s an interesting, weird, culture/nature relationship. That whole world of thinking is in those materials. That’s how I like to work. Finding these materials that are carrying those symbols. You just have to modify them, put them in a new context or change how you look at them to suddenly see what they’re about.
How does technology either bolster or impede your work if at all?
I think something that relates to that is how I use the internet. I think my practice is completely dependent on the internet. It would be completely different without the internet. That connection between the chairs and the pyramids happened in my head because I saw that chair in the park that day. But most of my works and those moments of realization happen through the internet. v
Do you feel like your work is somehow reflective of the Swedish experience, or something more personal?
The entire world is so incredibly influenced by American culture. Working with these American materials and symbols also sort of reflects on the entire world. I remember listening to a radio interview with a Swedish inventor and he was talking about an inventor’s conference somewhere. Someone has asked him why there are so many good Scandinavian inventors? His answer to that was that the climate, the fact that it’s pitch black almost every hour of the day during such a big part of the year makes you have this rhythm of working. You have an episode of thinking, typically when it’s dark outside and cold as hell. You can’t go outside and you don’t really feel like working. Then Spring comes and you go outside and you want to do something, when what you’ve been thinking about during the winter comes into being. I can definitely relate to my own practice I have these thinking periods and then I make things. I can’t imagine if I had grown up or was living in California I think it would be a different situation.
Well growing up there I can tell you we do have a lot of outdoors time. Is there something that you wish you could tell your younger self knowing what you now know?
I was working on a shoot for Roe Ethridge. This song came on by Swedish pop band, and it goes like this, “I don’t care, I love it!” You know that song?
I was gonna say is it Robyn? Then you started singing...
I think they’re called Icona Pop. I never liked that song. But it came on at the photoshoot, and Roe really like the song. Later we were in this situation where it didn’t really work and something was missing. Roe was like, “I need to be a little more I don’t care, I love it.” In that situation I really understood what he meant. Something was missing that was not so thought through. Some combination of it feeling right, and being a little bit punk. I started thinking about this approach a lot because in my education that was the opposite of what I was learning. It was not so much “I love it,” it was, “Why are you doing this?” You know, questioning, which is good and I probably do it too much to begin with. But I do think you have to trust some sort of gut feeling for what you enjoy. If you’re gonna be an artist and you have to produce work for a lifetime, it has to come easy. Of course you will struggle and you shouldn’t take the easy route always. It has to come easy, and I think that’s what i’m still trying to figure out. What kind of artist do I want to be? How am I having the most fun and having my mind the most expanded?