Curated by: Karolin Tampere
With: Egill Sæbjörnsson
Period: 12 September - 12 October 2008
Location: HISK, Ghent, Belgium
Supported by: De Vlaamse Gemeenschap, BE
Interview between Karolin Tampere and Egill Saebjornsson
(I have much grief because my brother the Neanderthal is dead … but I am happy that my brother the cat is still alive. Last night I had a talk with my grandfather the tree … he spoke through wood … and leaves … he spoke the tongue of dragons).
K: Hei Egill, It looks like we have come up with a collection of some common threads, in different colors and qualities, and that we now found a possibility to put it all into a combination. So, let’s start knitting some nice patterns and paths.
While playing with the forces of the earth’s magnetic field of gravity through combining objects and video animations, in one of your pieces ‘The Ping Pong Dance’ (2006), you talk about something that I believe is the core of all of your work. You say : “I get pleasure out of playing with the expectations we have and breaking them. Finding new ways of living life interests me. I think that is a very old human wish to find new ways”.
E: For me the quotidian life and every day objects is what I deal with the most. In other words: my own normal life. The walls in the room, chairs, tables, doors, things I see in the street etc. I think that the everyday situation is what everyone deals with, even if it is a high philosophical discussion, new theories in mathematics or politics. All of it is connected to the life we live. If we are poor or rich, from the east or the west, south or north, we all deal with the same dilemma: two hands, two legs, one head, left and right hemispheres of the brain, heart and a stomach. I think we are all cells in the same body, the human body. It is not many individual bodies, it is more or less many copies of the same body. The same origin multiplied. We are all part of the same system. There is only one human being. That is us. There is only one animal kingdom. That is us. There is only one world. That is us. There is no division. I find it interesting to work with everyday objects such as buckets, ping pong balls, lamps, cardboard boxes etc. I am also trying to bring in new ideas for the future to realize. If we turn and twist reality we find new ways. We are not only investigating what exist, we are adding to it, we are creators.
K: Finding new ways of living life, creating your own universes through your artwork, or really transform these into real life? Have you broken any of your own expectations lately?
E: No I am mostly stuck in the same situations over and over again. I think though that with in the span of like, 5 years, certain things do change. Some things advance while others stay still.
K: What about mathematics?
E: Mathematics are logical, but they are fiction as well. They do make a model of the world but they also create new things. In mathematics we are creating new worlds that didn’t exist before. We are inventing new spaces as we make new formulas … like we are creating new space inside the internet. The internet is just as real as the physical space …
K: You mean what we call cyberspace?
E: Cyberspace is theoretically larger than the universe … NASA is going to spend more money on investigating the internet in the future, than investigating outer space. Since cyberspace is simultaneously theoretical and real, who knows if the physical world isn’t as well? We have seen a lot of movies about these things, and according to ‘What the bleep do we know’, we are not speculating right now, but rather creating. Meaning that when we think these thoughts we actually affect the world.
K: So, you mean that with our little interview here we are creating a new world?
E: Yes … he he he …
K: What about the theory of relativity?
E: Albert Einstein invented the theory of relativity … it is not a final explanation. Einstein said that the world is endlessly crazy … and that we will never discover what it is all about. He said that all theories, even his own are like photographs of the world, not the world itself. As an example if we take a photograph of a coffee mug on a table, we see a two dimensional reproduction of the actual mug not the mug itself … the photo is never the object itself and is always incomplete. The same is to be said about all theories, they are an image of the situation. They are always incomplete because they are not the situation itself.
K: And what about the use of a Donald Judd sculpture within your work?
E: The sculpture has the same role as the portrait of Harry Potter, or the statue of the Internet Kid. It is a transmitter of information. I do that to bring in the point that all styles and all objects have an effect on us. The Donald Judd sculpture, just like the other objects in the room has affected human mankind. All the people that have read Harry Potter have a ‘Harry Potter’ point of view on the world, even though it is supposed to be ‘a fiction’. We all know that scientists today, are hugely influenced by old Science Fiction books such as ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley.
K: So you mean that Donald Judd sculptures actually do radiate information that can change the world, like the books about Harry Potter did?
K: I got a bit interested in a quote I found from you talking about your piece ‘Lampi’ (2007):
“Looking at an object is a mixture of memory and the new experience. Half of what we see is constructed from information based on former experiences stored in the nervous system. This information helps us to identify what we see, and help us to find our way through the world. Because of this we don’t see everything in the environment. Reading the environment is a great talent that is trained communally by the human race.”
E: Yes, I think that we are trained. I am tired of the everyday sometimes, because it is so much repetition. I feel obliged to be kind and prudent. Being revolutionary seems so bloody difficult and so bloody hard to stand up to.
K: That is something that ‘Mr Piano & Mrs Pile’ (2005) are discussing, the daily life, the repetition in their existence, issues related to the core of the materials they are made of. A situation one can look upon as limited, but while observing them, it opens up for something more. Perhaps a new way of looking at things? Like here for example (excerpt from Mr Piano & Mrs Pile’s dialogue):
“ – Mr Piano, how is it like to be a Piano?
– Well, I don’t really feel like a piano.
– No …
– How do you feel then?
– Yes, you …
– Well I, I feel a bit fake.
– Do you ever get the feeling that you are never really what you are, that you are not really a banana if you are a banana, or an apple if you are an apple?
– That the whole world is just a projection, and that our three-dimensional world
really is not there.
– I know what you mean, today I feel completely two-dimensional I feel like I was made out of chip-wood.
– But we are Mrs. Pile!
– I suppose so. ”
E: Yes. Mr Piano & Mrs Pile talk about everything they can talk about which is their environment. Using dialogue in that piece was also to point out that talking is one of the languages. Using colors is another. Or using forms is another. A Donald Judd sculpture is a pouring non-verbal dialogue. It is a shower of words, radiating at a slow but constant speed into modern society. Everything talks, a painting talks, walls talk, every day objects talk, people talk etc.
K: In the work ‘You Take all My Time’ (2002) which is an installation-stage-like-world inside a bubble, in the middle of the floor, based on one of your songs, you point out that there are visual elements that take on our preconceived ideas about certain icons from history, and the way they can control us through fear and myths.
E: O yes, it is kind of showing how certain images and issues control us even though we would have liked to have nothing to do with them. There are elements in the piece like the atom bomb of the Cold War terror, fear of being a racist, etc … The work is also pointing out myths and preconceived ideas of modern life.
K: About fear and myths, it was really funny to read your email about the Snowman, because I had just been thinking about it, of course, still while I was walking in the mountains, but also before that. I like the Yeti, the huge found foot-prints, the big hairy creature. I clearly remember the first time I got to know about Yeti, it was through the ‘facts pages’ in a cartoon, I think it must have been The Phantom. There were detailed drawings and a text about the Yeti that during that time had been seen in the Himalayas. For me it was kind of amazing to read this on the ‘facts pages’ as a kid, I mean, I really wanted to believe in it. Still Yeti foot-prints sounds surreal, the idea of a huge hairy man in the mountains. But it is, I guess, narrow minded to not believe in the existence of these creatures …
E: The Yeti is also a bit of a 60’s and 70’s phenomena from the James Bond era of the Cold War. No one really believes in it anymore. But then I saw an article in the newspaper about scientists that recently found hairs in the Himalayas that they cannot genetically identify to any other animals of that area. And there have also been found large footsteps recently. So the myth of the Abominable Snowman still keeps groups of scientists on their toes. If we would find the Yeti and he stopped being such a myth he would just become one of the animal kingdom and no wonder any more. We would say: Ah, yes and then there is this big monkey in the Himalayas that they only found 2008, incredible they found it so late.
K: From my point of view I still have expectations from those childhood far away places, cities one only know by name, small dots on the map, that in the core of the expectation remain containing something magic, different and real.
E: Exactly, I also think it is nice to have expectations and to hope and dream … what a boring world it would be without it. I have always wanted to rewrite ‘The Little Match Girl’ by H.C. Andersen, I wanted to change her fate. It seems like we are living in a story someone wrote. It is all a hoax. We are merely two-dimensional figures, an illustration in a book. Who cooked me up? I guess Dali did.
K: I was thinking of stones, in several of your sculptures, you have been combining animation onto objects, creating projections with light, shadows and colors on the wall, which, along with a soundtrack, often created with sounds created using the same objects. In your sculpture / installation ‘Three Stones’ (2007) you make three stones float and take on different colors. I experience these stones as your volcanic Iceland, resembling something ancient.
Talking about Moving Rocks, there are those at Death Valley California. The reason why they move along the 10,000 year old dried up clay lakebed is still a mystery. Several teams of scientists have tried to explain the movement, but the actual moment of migration of the rocks has never been witnessed by anyone as far as one know. This is a very interesting phenomenon. Experiments have been done to separate rocks ‘walking together’. By moving them long distances away from each other, but after a long period of time, the rocks have still managed to locate their ‘partner’, and continued their journey. One can see their movements because they do leave tracks. There are trails moving up-hills and in directions not made possible by the wind for example … The size of these rocks are also quite amazing, they are not small stones …
E: I have made works about stones a few times. The oldest piece was made 1997 in Iceland. It was something like 18 photographs of the same stone from different angles. The stone was on a hill near the farm where I spent many summers as a kid and teenager outside Reykjavik. I felt that walking to the stone had a magical effect on me and walking around it also twisted my mind. I showed the photographs in an exhibition and made an animation out of them where the stone rotates. I was perhaps trying to move the stone or to give it the power to move. It does move even though it is still. Still life images have the element of time in them, just as moving images do. They ‘pour information’ silently, like TV does violently. The stone moves in its stillness, if you know what I mean. It is all magic. The most quotidian things are magical.
K: What about dragons?
E: I was thinking … that dragons might have been still existing around the year 450 … Maybe we killed them all. I think that Loch Ness did exist too. I think that these myths might be true. Who knows? And I think that all of these creatures have something to do with us. We are all related, I mean, there must be an original start of all living forms … right? ONE forefather, a kind of a god … but he or she or it is more theoretical than real … just like the genetic Eve and Adam are theoretical, not real … and cyberspace is kind of theoretical.
K: Who are Wall to Wall?
E: They might be the same person. I am not sure. I guess they have taken on a life of their own. We have created a Frankenstein figure … a Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, doppelganger phenomenon. The doppelganger is a well known phenomenon in literature and as well within visual arts when we pose two objects together. They also represent the left and the right hemispheres of the brain. When you are in-between Wall to Wall you are dealing with yourself … we are always facing ourselves as we face others.