Anja Carr and I have twin-babies together, conceived through cyber insemination: 333 e-mails. I first saw her performance and photographic work at the National Art Exhibition in Norway in 2013. They received attention in all the leading newspapers, one of them describing her work as “Animals and humans performing perverse and ritual actions depicted in decorative, glaring colors and stunning costumes. Self-staging, sexuality, infantile behavior and maternal bonding are episodic mediated.”
Sitting on the upper deck of a London bus to Camden one hot summer’s afternoon, discussing our twin-collaboration (shows in London and Oslo) we started talking about her hair, which she had very recently cut off to an elegant bob.
I don’t think I ever spoke about it actually: when I started my art-studies in Bergen 2004, a teacher said my long hair was very impractical for an artist and told me to cut it. I thought that was just so silly! Since then I became more concerned about the value of something or someone being several things at the same time. The conflicting cliché figures connected to long hair – like the witch and the princess fascinates me. So for my first performance, I took my long hair and stuck it around the room into plug sockets and wires. I could not move. Being stuck can be bad, but also nice. This was how I started using the body as a sculpture in non-verbal, performative installations. Body waste, like hair or body fluids has been a recurrent material ever since. In 2012 I made a voodoo-doll with some of my hair for a show. According to voodoo-belief the buyer of the piece could potentially hurt me.
And now ten years later, you’ve cut off a meter of your hair! Do you think this reactionary kind of performance informed your work for a time? You’ve spoken about the personal challenge of performance, but is it also charged with self-expression?
I guess the performance-media in itself can be a reaction to the art marked and it’s inherent power structures. It’s not easy to sell. Or a reaction to Today’s web-culture, because you have to experience it live.
Being on stage has always been a struggle for me, but I suppose it can be a strength too – I need the resistance to make it real. My works have a theatrical expression, but the “stage” differs from traditional theater: The colored walls, textiles and carpets surrounds the audience. With no distance between me and ‘them’ the experience gets more physical. The self-expression is a natural consequence of using your own body in performance, but also a dominant tendency in our private-public web-reality. I play with self-staging through repetitions, like the pink fringe.
Thinking about this meeting of the private and the public – what was the reason behind mixing body fluids with the paint for the walls of your gallery space PINK CUBE?
PINK CUBE is somehow the opposite of the traditional ‘white cube’ gallery. The white cube is supposed to be neutral, to make you focus on the paintings on the walls and forget about the situation you are in, but I think it’s often a failure. The sterile settings and awful bright light are not always ideal for the good art experience – it’s made for the marked. And he gallery-world is nothing but neutral – ruled by money and men. I wanted to create an alternative, non-neutral space, opposite from sterile, loaded with wild fantasies and political strategies. Pink is probably the color most divergent from ‘good taste’ – it rather triggers infantile desires. The location is also contrary to shopping-window galleries, hidden in a backyard, with the entrance in the end of a labyrinth of corridors and doors. It is difficult to find the way out and the exhibition openings tend to go on for hours. The focus is the same as in performance: physical experience and time.
So – what body fluids are actually in there?
That’s a secret. The paint was made during a private, ritual performance without audience. You know, Henry Sansom recently wrote about my London show: “It’s awesome and difficult to put into writing. Get out, see it for yourself, leave perversely turned on and confused.” In curating too I think it’s important to keep some confusion and the understanding of art as another language, different from the verbal.
You’ve done some performances for very few people too – how much is the audience a factor in the work itself?
I create intimate situations where there is no escape. When the small rooms are packed with people the acoustics and temperature changes – these are important factors. I once made a very exclusive performance-program in a 1958 Russian limousine. I invited artists to do performances inside the car, the only audience being the three people that could fit in the backseat. Monica Winther did a performance were the audience had to keep it a secret what happened and the work developed in dialogue with them. In this case the audience obviously played an essential part – as the curator I did not even know what happened. This kind of trust in the artist’s decisions and making room for improvisation is essential in my curatorial practice.
What issues do you face in handling these joint roles of gallerist/curator and artist? How are your days organized?
The combination of running a gallery by myself and being an artist is great but challenging. Working alone in your studio every day can be quite lonely and I appreciate discussions around the works. I think it’s good for my own production to take a break and focus on other artists once in a while. In Oslo there are quite a few artist-run spaces and I want to support the fact that artists have some power when it comes to who’s exposed at the art scene. The shifting roles makes me appreciate the work gallerists do for me – and I also learn what kind of gallerist I don’t want to be.
My days are quite different, some just talking, or writing, some days sewing, some days sawing – I guess this is the best thing about my job. The struggle of the double-role is that my calendar is a constant puzzle involving a lot of different people, but luckily I like puzzles!
That is lucky!
Your Father is a psychologist – how does he see your work – have you discussed the psychological issues that might lie behind your research, such a role play, Bronies, etc?
He likes my work, probably because it works on different layers – if you dig deeper you will find more connections, like in psychology. I work with symbols and a dream-like logic that develops from an improvisational approach. My works speaks to the unconscious like some of his practice – hypnosis etc. We don’t discuss my work much in detail, because of long distances, but he led me to read psychology – C.G. Jung among others. Jung’s theories about archetypes and the feminine and masculine side of all humans have inspired my artistic interests. When it comes to adult men’s need to dress like My Little Pony (Bronies) I think it’s just one fascinating approach to my blue Pony-character. Speaking about Jung it could have something to do with men’s unconscious feminine side. And maybe the mainstream children’s toy figures express the archetypes of our time? I am interested in the ever-increasing separation of boys’ and girls’ toys today. And how children refuse to follow the pedagogical based stories that come with their toys and make up their own, and often grotesque, narratives. Figures from my childhood are the starting point for all of my latest works – Miss Piggy, Ninja Turtles, Pippi Longstocking etc. Through play we discover our dark sides. The joy of digging into the past and the unpleasant is likely something I learned from my dad, who is a suicide researcher.
The Norwegian artist Kristian Skylstad, who curated a show with your works in his ‘Dollhouse’ project, located in the garden of his childhood home, wrote about you work: “References to the childhood are problematic because they remind us of what we once were”, while the writer, Vilde Horvei who you have collaborated with too – describes her meeting with your works as “…a feeling of common references from a lost world (…) It can easily go from a perfect dream to more of a nightmare when you discover the details.” Where did the interest in childhood and Role Play first come into your work? Why do you think some people find your work disturbing?
During my fist year at art-school I started using the pink kangaroo-costume my mum made for me when I was five. I find it more interesting to use costumes that have a personal story and another purpose than those resembling somebody else – like in theater. So later I involved real furries in my works – people who dress in anthropomorphic, self-made fur-costumes to find their own animal personality.
I guess some parents find it disturbing when these, often adult strangers dress like Children’s toys and cuddle their children in the streets, especially when there are associations with furries and abnormal sexual activities. These kinds of taboo interest me – the mix of adult and children’s fantasy worlds. Not everybody see the sexual aspects in my works at once. I think it is more interesting to hide nasty elements in an innocent dreamworld, somewhere you don’t expect it to be. I guess there is a bit of dark humor that does not speak to everybody. For example, my installation consisting of a huge rainbow with real human feces at the end instead of gold coins. It was a dog that first discovered it. Obviously it was disturbing to some people – particularly the dog’s owner.
You spoke about the physical nature of your performances – being enclosed in an intimate space – at your recent London show, a member of the audience yelped as she was splattered with squirting ketchup…
Your handmade costumes stick out from the canonical performance artists in that they are actively involved in materiality – your props, costumes and the scenography you manufacture yourself is an essential part of them – it’s an unconventional approach to the ‘immaterial’ transmission of experience normally conveyed in performance. And now you return to photography again (where you started out in your artistic practice, before your art-studies).
You told me you were so reluctant about producing an ‘artwork’ that could be sold…But now you are producing big photographs in ‘exclusive’ frames?
Yes, for me it’s important to separate the motivation from producing stuff that can be easily sold. It has to be real. I guess most artists are self-destructive, ha-ha. Working as a gallerist I like to make other artists happy by inviting them and work for them 24/7, but as an artist my focus is not to make the audience happy. However, the best thing is when people are really happy to be part of of my works, like the furries, or earlier this year: the turtle-bodybuilder. He was playing the 90s Ninendo game Ninja Turtles for a couple of hours, with green body-paint all over, sitting on a pink carpet, wearing a tiny turtle-shell – and just loved it! It made the performance real.
It did not happen until recently that my works fit in a commercial frame so to speak – however I’m surprised that some of my bacon-sculptures sold earlier! In my ongoing photography-series the ‘exclusiveness’ has to do with the selection: I pick just one photograph documenting each of my performances so you only get idea of what you missed. Presenting the photographs together in new combinations for each show, also with physical remains from performances, I want to make new narratives possible.