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19.03.2013 INTERVIEW

Henrik Eriksson & Magni Borgehed at Charlottenborg. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Swedish Painting Now

At the occasion of Magni Borgehed’s and Henrik Eriksson’s exhibition Swedish Painting Now at Toves Salon - Charlottenborg Temporary Exhibition Space, Janus Høm sat down with the two artists to talk about Städelschule, Cologne painters, Lattenkunst, the objecthood of painting, sincerity/irony and how to make it possible to paint (once again).

AF Janus Høm

First of all, the show is called Swedish Painting Now. Did you come up with that pompous title?
Magni Borgehed: No, absolutely not. [Everyone laughs]. On the one hand, I believe Tove's Salon means it kind of ironically in regards to the tropes of 'Painting Now', 'Fashion Today', etc., and on the other it's serious and to be taken literally: this is Swedish painting now as we see it. Why? Because these are the two painters from Sweden we know and are interested in, so let us make it sound like we made a huge research, and came up with... Swedish Painting Now.

Henrik Eriksson: It's very informative; it says we're from Sweden and that it's painting. Its good information. And it's "Now".

It definitely locates the show into a conversation about painting. And you certainly both deal with this. Without going into too much detail, my stereotypical preconceptions of an aesthetic of 'Swedish Painting' would point to a certain ethereal lightness, a non-gestural brushwork. I am reminded of Mamma Andersson and Jockum Nordström and this tradition. The painterly legacy of, let's say, Neue Wilde is certainly not very apparent in my conception of Swedish painting.
Henrik Eriksson: The artists that you name are actually influenced by some other Swedish artist that were even more influential. And still are on a lot of Swedish painting I would say. Someone like Dick Bengtsson; he has really influenced Mamma a lot.

How do you feel about this type of 'Swedish' painting, if we can call it that. Is that something that you have had to deal with as Swedish painters?
Magni Borgehed: Yeah, cause we got too much of it, haha.

Henrik Eriksson: I am really inspired by Swedish painting. But maybe more the early generation like Sven "X'et" Erixon and Olle Olsson.

Magni Borgehed: There is a lot of German painters like Baselitz and this school that was influenced by C.F. Hill and Strindberg for example, but it took another turn in Germany and the rest of Europe than maybe in Sweden. A different tradition. At the Swedish academy, I remember that if I showed a painting I would get comments like "Oh, I don't know if this is good or bad, if it is ugly" and so on. But if I showed the same painting in a German context, people would never say these things. They would look at it as painting.

To me it is pretty clear that in 'contemporary painting' there is a repurposing of exactly the 'bad' 80s Cologne painters, like Michael Krebber and Martin Kippenberger. And recently everybody seems to be talking about Albert Oehlen. I am thinking of how these attitudes are re-contextualized as for example in the article Provisional Painting by Raphael Rubinstein: sloppy, un-done, bad, provisional painting. Do you recognize this?
Magni Borgehed: Yes, all those "bad german painters" that had this punk attitude towards painting. But it's not solely the punk attitude that is so interesting, it is the result and the way they were so successful with it. They were deeply involved with the materials and they actually stood many, many years in the studio working. It was somehow a happy coincidence that all those super good painters were there in this particular time in history - something had to be done.

But nonetheless, I maintain that their current 'popularity' has to do with something more than their competences as painters. The way that I understand Kippenberger and Krebber is that they were a challenge of the autonomy of painting; in saying it's a social endeavor. So you have Krebber always talking about the social context he's part of. People like David Joselit can then theorize today about these artists. Why? Because what the artists did for one reason at some point rings true for another reason today: the artwork as a nodal point in a (social) network. I'm not implying that this is conspicuous, just an observation.
Henrik Eriksson: These kind of ideas are the kind of ideas that have always been there. But you have to translate them anew again and again.

Magni Borgehed: But it becomes really unflattering when young artists figure out "Oh yeah, I have to do paintings about my network". When the post-60s artists were in school, they just hated their professors after a while. They were like "Fuck that shit, I don't want to do the same thing that they're doing". But today a lot of young artists really celebrate their teachers. And that's a problem, I think, because then you produce something that becomes quite opportunistic. The reason why this movement of new conceptual work in that particular 80s context is so successful is, roughly said, because its really easy for people to recognize.

But Magni, maybe for a second, I can turn these suspicions towards you. Because my first impression was that you tap into these exact strategies.
Both:
Hahaha

Are you familiar with this blog called Lattenkunst? It is quite amusing. It is a collection of a ton of art where artists have taken beams, wood, paintings, etc. and leaned it up against the wall. To make contemporary-looking art, this is the easiest trick in the world. And I have to say, when encountering your works, Magni, my first impression was this loose, painterly painter thing going on. Very much in the tradition of Städelschule, post-Krebber. And on the other hand exactly the Lattenkunst thing: a certain contemporary installation attitude - that also has strong roots in the Städelschule environment. To me, you are clearly employing these contemporary tropes (read: trendy gestures). If this is not opportunistic but critical - whatever that means - how is it so? Is it ironic?
Magni Borgehed:
Well, I use these gestures that I am criticizing. I've found out, that you have to put these tropes into your artistic inventory, and put it into your work to not become anachronistic. I want to use these gestures, that everybody does, but use them as a material instead of statements. Because there is absolutely no statement anymore in doing something like that. When I was a student at Städelschule it was still super important to show which side you were on. It was so important to lean the paintings against the wall. It really didn't matter what was on the canvas. And I wanted to find a way out of it. The last two years I have instead been taking all of it into my work and using it as material instead: to take something that I am criticizing and do the exact same gestures, but to use them as material instead of a statement.

I am curious of your idea of using it as a material rather than statements or as a tongue-in-cheek joke. A lot of people that I have spoken to who use these gestures tell me "I'm making fun of it". And then of course it is implied that they are somehow subversive in doing so. My only response to them is: "Look, if I have heard a joke two hundred times, it is not that hilarious". A worn out joke just starts to confirm a norm rather than subverting it. So I like the way you are talking about using it as part of an inventory. But then I guess one has to qualify how it is used; is it used interestingly - to what ends?
Magni Borgehed: I describe the process of painting as a "växelverkan" (interplay) between all kind of history, knowledge, philosophy and the intellectual world of your own. And you counter this with a material reality; with your body and with your idiosyncrasies. You go in and out between those states of mind maybe 100 times every second. If I draw something on a canvas - at a certain point I realize that I am looking at myself painting and then I have to stop. In juggling with all the quotes of "it looks like that painting", "it look like that kind of shirt", "it looks like pop something", "it looks like this...", you try collaging or bending it with your own idiosyncrasy. Your body memory, your psychology, your biographical things. All the things you can't really control and you put yourself into a state of mind where you're letting that thing happen.

Your attempt to make good paintings is sincere?
Henrik Eriksson: Irony and sincerity is not really two opposites. Irony can be incorporated into the very sincere.

Sure, a camp-ish attitude... A synthesis of irony and sincerity, celebration and critique.
Magni Borgehed: If you treat the gesture as a material as I propose, I would say you end up with being both and nothing of it at the same time. And that is a super strength.

Henrik Eriksson: That's something that we found in each other, because we are both very ironic. But still with our work we want to be absolutely sincere.

We talked a lot about Magni's relationship to certain contemporary gestures. Let's give you, Henrik, some time of the day. Could you describe your engagement with painting?
Henrik Eriksson: Well, I really love painting. That's something I should say. And something that struck me, was that I haven't done a painting show since the 90s. I have an engagement in painting but it's a problematic relationship. When I started using this aluminum foil, it opened up being able to make images. As a tool, it started something off. You have to have your right tools. It's extremely difficult to use this material: you have no idea how to see what you are doing, because of all these reflections and all these structures. You quite easily get lost. That made it interesting. And possible to start to paint. These problems of knowing what you're doing are keeping me working. And somehow you can continue a bit longer, being sincere in trying. Its quite a simple thing. Sometimes when painting you start to do something, and then it starts to resemble certain things; it's like your thoughts are going ahead of your actions. And then something happens which makes it impossible to continue. The foil helps with this.

The first impression I had in regards to the use of the aluminium is that it makes your surfaces malleable; it draws the paintings towards objecthood. And secondly that it creates a structure to make paintings, as you said. Then, it dawned on me that your painterly gestures really have an impressionistic touch to them. Which is doubly funny because of the reflexive foil: the viewer's impression of the work is very subjectively experienced by the body moving in space.
Magni Borgehed: For me its more like Kiefer.

Henrik Eriksson: Well he is kind of an impressionist, isn't he. But in terms of the impressionistic and phenomenological: you have to act with my paintings. Actually - from the beginning of my praxis - I was very much engaged in Minimalists thinking. There's something super interactive about an object on the wall because you have to engage with it. When you watch television you just have to sit down and it's happening to you. With a painting on the wall you have to go there and do something to make the thing speak.

I'll just shoehorn back to the 'Lattenkunst-strategy', because it relates to the issue of having to make things 'speak'. As we deliberated: leaning things against a wall is often done as a joke by a lot of people. But I think that the reason the gesture became 'trendy' in the first place, is because it is truly a very good solution to an aesthetic problem of objecthood. It is smart; you're connecting the floor, which somehow is the 'sculptural field', to the wall, which somehow is 'representational space'. As an audience you will always have to stand on one leg going "Okay I'm looking at a representational space" and then on the other leg, where you have to treat it as an object; a thing in the world; a thing amongst other things. And I think that your engagement with the aluminium foils tackles the same questions of objecthood, albeit in a different way.
Magni Borgehed: That was one of the basic things we picked out - it IS an object, it's a picture. It is an object, it is not just painting.

Henrik Eriksson & Magni Borgehed: Swedish Painting Now, 2013. Installation view. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson & Magni Borgehed: Swedish Painting Now, 2013. Installation view. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson: Untitled, 2010-2013, Variable dimensions, Oil on aluminum. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson: Untitled, 2010-2013, Variable dimensions, Oil on aluminum. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson: Untitled, 2010-2013, Variable dimensions, Oil on aluminum. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson: Untitled, 2010-2013, Variable dimensions, Oil on aluminum. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson: Untitled, 2010-2013, Variable dimensions, Oil on aluminum. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson: Untitled, 2010-2013, Variable dimensions, Oil on aluminum. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson & Magni Borgehed: Swedish Painting Now, 2013. Installation view. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, 60 x 50 cm, Gesso and ink on canvas. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, 60 x 50 cm, Gesso on canvas. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, Variable dimensions, Iron, silk paint on silk glued gesso primed canvas. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, 60 x 50 cm, Silk paint and ink on silk. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Henrik Eriksson & Magni Borgehed: Swedish Painting Now, 2013. Installation view. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, 60 x 50 cm, Ink and gesso on canvas. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, 60 x 50 cm, Silkpaint on gesso on canvas. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, 60 x 50 cm, Silk paint on silk. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, 60 x 50 cm, Silk paint on silk. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

Magni Borgehed: Untitled, 2013, Variable dimensions, Acrylics on paper, wood. Foto: Honza Hoeck.

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