Silent Conditions: XXY Meets Sverre Bjertnaes
Silent Conditions: XXY Meets Sverre Bjertnaes
An artist with a grand narrative flowing through his work, Sverre Bjertnaes has become one of Norway’s most celebrated painters. His ability to weave stories through different mediums has led to high-profile installations and critical acclaim. We met at his current exhibition and spoke about elitism in the art industry, the importance of locality in his work and the effect of social media on artistic individuality.
Weruzochi Chinasa: In terms of art now, and the creative industry, we talk so much about culture and heritage, do you feel like that particularly inspires your work in any way?
Sverre Bjertnaes: More and more I think. I always felt that my generation of artists have this idea that everything is about getting international and I think locality is something much more interesting. In Norway we are sort of a young nation with young artistry, the first painters were in the 1700s – 1800s, so straight up to the 50’s, 1950’s, we have this very clear line of, for example, Norwegian painters. And that was sort of broken when everything started getting nationalised. I’m really trying to reconnect into that sort of line, and I think it’s interesting to have all these Norwegian painters that were interested in nature and social development. I still think it has a lot of value with locality. You don’t have to go too long back to really see the distinctive difference between the Swedish and the Norwegian painter, for example, and that they do have this kind of inherited identity. Which I think is an interesting thing. Of course, the identity of a young artist now looks more or less the same in New York and Norway, but I always saw this sort of equality to follow up on.
WC: That was one question I had for you, do you feel like social media and the proliferation of the internet has affected art?
SB: Yes it’s affected everybody, I mean socially it’s all very democratic, so that’s the good part of it, the bad part of it is you lose that locality which is interesting also.
WC: I mean it’s good because I think it turns the consumer to the curator a little bit.
SB: We’ve also got the much bigger audience of course, and you get to have a different way of viewing art that is very positive.
WC: True, so before this, you said you have different ways of creating and different mediums, have you always done that?
SB: No actually I started doing more different medias after I started working with Bjarne Melgaard as he’s also doing all different stuff. We discussed a lot about, for example, qualities like continuity and all those kinds of things, and I always also felt that doing different works and doing both bad and good works also has a quality – bad artworks can also be interesting in a way. That kind of risk-taking involving in doing different media always attracted me so I feel very free to work now with the writing, movies and sculptures.
WC: That’s something I think you find with really inspiring creatives – the ability to take something that’s a little bit difficult or ugly and bad and create from it.
SB: Yeah, I also give up this idea that everything you do is yours, I mean I worked with a lot of people doing a furniture piece or having a playwright for my sculptures, that collaborative thing that is giving up control is really helpful, for me I think.
WC: I think that’s actually important to say because young creatives now I think want to own everything.
SB: Yeah and also because you have this sort of hierarchy in the art world and we also have this sort of branding mechanism; it has to be branded in a way and so feel that I’ve exhibited a lot abroad and it’s sort of a problem as a lot of my work is so different. I also think it’s a good thing that it looks more and more like I lived life, I mean it isn’t just lines, it’s more ups and downs and I sort of think it’s worth it.
WC: Rather than something static
SB: And also what kind of human being you are, and I know artists that do the same work their whole life and it’s great and they are great artists, but for me wouldn’t work.
WC: Speaking of exhibiting all over the world, why did you decide to exhibit in England now?
SB: Everything is also a little bit about coincidences. I mean I think the gallery owner saw some of my work in New York and so I was contacted by the gallery and I think it’s the kind of gallery that I can connect to, the artists they work with also.
WC: Is that important to you? When it comes to exhibiting that you have people you know?
SB: Yeah it’s important to me that I also like the people I work with, it makes it much easier.
WC: Okay, one of the questions I wanted to ask was how your friendship with Bjarne Melgaard developed and what was it like having your friend curate your exhibition?
SB: Well, I met him when I was in the academy and he’s like ten years older than me. He was already the most established Norwegian artist like abroad and everything, so he had a lot of defining power in Norway and I came out of a really classical environment so when he sort of curated me everybody was surprised by it and it sort of turned everything around. And that’s how we started working together but we didn’t do collaborative works until like five or six years ago when we started doing actual pieces together.
WC: What sparked that collaboration? Moving towards actually working together.
SB: Well actually Bjarne was curating a show at Maccarone in New York and it was this storm that raged in New York and we were locked up for some days and we started drawing together and that became like a big installation for the first Maccarone show. We thought it was fun and it all went really well together so we started doing a lot of works, like big exhibitions and installations, movies, everything.
WC: That’s quite interesting because you said earlier that your relationship with Bjarne when you work together was a bit more forceful, it came out of something–
SB: Yeah, I think what’s interesting about him most is that he has so much self-sabotage and that I really can relate to.
WC: So you kind of pull each other back a little bit or do you push each other further?
SB: No it’s just about taking it away, and everything is sort of complicated, if something works it’s also important to destroy it in a way.
WC: And see what comes from that?
SB: Yeah, so my work also has that hopeful, that sort of quality and like the works that are well done and also making them in a way some sort of sabotage.
WC: Why is it important for you to have an exhibition that showcases mixed forms of expression?
SB: I more or less like my shows to be more of a sort of experience, I mean this is not so overdone that you still have a little feeling of walking inside the artist’s head more than just seeing a picture on the wall. I like the exhibitions to work more on that level
WC: So it’s a bit more interactive.
SB: Yeah, well it’s a bit more like I always find that the emotional way of viewing art is so sort of understated, and awkward, everybody expects that you should come in with some sort of information, or resolution or something, but I think that the sort of emotional way of taking in art is the most important one. So, you come into a show like this and see the colour blue on the wall which I like, that’s good, and it’s not so complicated when it comes to meaning. I need meaning to create work. My works have a lot of personal meaning and narratives for me, but I think the most important thing is to make something that is emotionally available in some way.
WC: How do you feel about the industry now? Speaking about this idea that you have to have some kind of knowledge about it compared to when you started as an artist?
SB: I think it’s just that it’s changing a lot, and the way that we view art also is changing a lot, it has become more of a… not entertainment industry but is has been more and more about the big shows and is a different way of consuming art. A generation ago in Norway, it was very important to own artworks, it’s not so much about that anymore, it’s more about making shows. So that’s a good thing, the bad thing is that, at least in Norway, the art society is shrinking a little bit, it’s getting some more elitist and a lot of people don’t connect with it so much anymore.
WC: Why do you think that is?
SB: I think artists really have stated for their audience that art is something they don’t really know anything about. So it’s not like seeing a movie and everybody can say it’s a good movie or it’s a bad movie, I sort of think we should get back to that, so everybody can say I liked that show or I didn’t like it. I mean we have this notion that art is something we need to know something about, and you’re not in your right to mean something which I think is making it shrink.
WC: Most of our audience are aspiring creatives and aspiring artists or emerging artists, what would you say to them? If anything?
SB: I don’t know if I’m in a position to say anything, I just think that you should just like, at any point, just keep on doing what you like and just not feel so bound up about where it’s going, and the strategy. it’s very easy to get too much into the idea of getting in front in some way, I think it should be more about enjoying everything you do.
WC: You spoke about your emotions informing your work, and the difference now. Do you think that it’s important to have? I think a lot of artists now have a message before they create the art, do you think it’s important to do it that way?
SB: That could be good also, it’s all this about what kind of artist you are. I mean, I’m not that kind of artist that has this idea or this message I’m sending out than making the show, everything is just more or less in my head, all these objects mean something. I mean this dog, for example, to me it’s about this addiction I was going through some years ago so I need those sorts of things because it isn’t really going to fill a whole show but it’s also about how these different objects connect and about how you as a subject can feel something completely different from it, I just kind of open it up for a sort of open reading.
WC: So when you create do you create thinking about how everything will work together or is it just what happens to come out?
SB: No I mean it’s like a process, so when I come to the space, in the end, seeing the space, then the colours come and then everything comes together so that’s the fun part just looking at how it all comes together.
Interviewed by Weruzochi Chinasa
Sverre Bjertnaes: Silent Conditions is currently exhibiting in Beers Gallery until the 1st of July 2017.