UNSTABLE VARIABLES JUNE 2011
INTERVIEW AT MAGNETIC MAGAZINE www.magneticmag.com August 2011 What percentage of your skills were you born with; as opposed to being taught by others or selftaught? How did you cut your teeth so to speak? I was stimulated to use my eyes and hands. Skill is a difficult subject, because it won’t work if you show off. If you are really interested and work hard your skill will develop and maybe reach a point where you should forget about it. I like the idea of hidden skill. Like a Zen tea house looking like an abandoned shack. There is much skill in repairing a motor with a toothpick and a safety pin. Function is a key word. Favor us with a moment in life that changed the course of, or defined, your aesthetic philosophy? At art school the teacher showed me Klee and Kandinsky (1958). I hitchhiked to Madrid and saw Velázquez in the Prado (1959). The black room of Sol LeWitt at the Venezia Biennale (1976). Discuss an artist or an era which has influenced you. When and how did you come upon what moved you? Bauhaus artists, Russian Suprematism, De Stijl discovered as a student, but I wanted a classical training so I worked all through it for many years. At the age of twenty- nine, abstraction took over. All use of symbolism and references to real things disappeared. I don’t want to nourish associations, the mind should be empty when you observe. Speak about the hierarchy of skill (craftsmanship), style (your unique aesthetic) and emotive content in your work—and/or in the work of those you admire. At first I believed art came from a life of suffering and strong emotions with an uncontrollable temperament. So I tried that out for some time, suffering in Paris. But then I got hold of Van Gogh’s letters to Theo, where he said: l’art doit être sain. So I changed my strategy at once; not burning my candle from both ends. The emotive content in my work, I hope, is dominated by joy. I don’t believe in the concept of style as a personal formula that you protect with copyright and oblige yourself to follow. My “style” is abstract with a tendency towards constructivism, minimalism, conceptualism, mostly linear, limited use of colors, but I never think of it. I do not refuse myself to work in other “styles” if I feel the urge. That comes under Freedom of Expression. There should be no hierarchy in my art. Inform us as to your typical creative arc. Take us from alpha to omega with a project. What, if any specific environments, conditions, materials, etc. are required? I have just finished an installation in a room in a gallery. I found two nails in the wall after the last exhibition, where I could hang a large frame. From there I improvised for about six hours without much hard thinking or planning, and then it was ready. My welding for short use is not very solid. A leg broke off the structure that looked more interesting without it. The leg came to use in another part of the installation. Accidents are often favorable. My installations are flexible, they develop according to circumstances.
If you were to describe your style as a scent, a signature fragrance as it were, what would it be called? If it were to have a tagline what would it be? Welded iron rust in the garden, I love the color and the smell. How would you describe your work to a blind person? The blind person could touch it and smell the iron of my sculpture. If you were starting out now, would you do anything differently? Absolutely! So much has changed since I was a kid. The flow of information, the easy traveling, modern art museums all over. But hard to tell if my work would have given me more energy or if I would have worked more. What’s the secret to your success? We will accept any secret if you have not yet found the former. Success or not, I love to work and it gives me energy and joy. Joy is the key word. Take risks. Make art as if you were a millionaire. What was your favorite toy as a child and when/why did you stop playing with it? A pencil. I never stopped. Have you ever had a brush with the paranormal or supernatural? I enjoyed very much reading Castañeda. Do you think there are any commonly held societal beliefs that are false? Religion, faiths and beliefs are overestimated. How will you feel six months after your heart stops beating? Indifference. Does character invent style or does your style invent character? Or is there a mysterious X factor only you are privy to? You don’t invent style, it comes to you, or not. It is not important. Rauschenberg said so. Character is to follow your preferences all the way. It is not invented, it is accumulated. – See more at: – http://www.magneticmag.com/2011/08/kjell-varvin-norwegian-minimalism/#sthash.IMn0oWBg.dpuf
On Fragile Structures. A Conversation with Kjell Varvin Interview by Sabin Bors Sabin Bors: There is a constant attention to form and composition in your work, yet the sculptural approach to composition makes no use of symbolism or reference to actual conditions. It is more like an imaginary landscape given to pure observation. Why is it that you back away from symbolical associations? Kjell Varvin: I am mostly using neutral elements based on geometry, resulting in images that do not contain much symbolism. Of course, a disc may give ideas of the sun or the moon, and a rectangle could refer to architecture, but that depends on where they are placed in the composition. Symbols are communicating concentrated meaning that will catch your attention and dominate your thoughts. I like the things as they are and I really have no story to tell. Our minds are eagerly producing associations, we compare and judge and value things and situations constantly. When you observe your mind should be empty. I want the eyes to be able to wander through the installations without hanging on to elements that can generate ideas about something already experienced or fantasized. It would be nice if there could be created an open space where the thought stream could rest for a while. Sabin Bors: Though there is no symbolic association in your art, you are nevertheless exposing the frames of ever-new relations. Are space relations more important than symbolic associations? Kjell Varvin: Composing is my passion. How does this element coexist with the other elements, and together with the total environment? I enjoy it in the same way that chess players may enjoy their game. Every step is a challenge, and new combinations are thrilling and there is enthusiasm and beauty. There are no narratives in a game of chess, only the function of positions and relations. The different stages are exciting the senses: -What comes next? Maybe the spectators can foresee the next move, and the next, in a row of logical sequences that stimulate the interest, until a moment where there is satisfaction. Sabin Bors: The title Unstable Variables given to your works is particularly expressive. It stresses both a condition and an endless pursuit for a certain perfection art does not reach. How do you see this relation between our conditions and our pursuits? Kjell Varvin: If your goal and meaning in life is the fulfillment of the potential of every moment, you have to accept and enjoy the
whole process. My structures are fragile and short lived; I build and rebuild to approach such a state of plenitude. With the variations I try out other paths that may lead to the same goal. I like the thrill of observing the elements on the limit of disequilibrium, the suspense just before collapse, where a fragile stability still holds the structure together. Sabin Bors: You previously said that the result of your work “should be understood as proposals, not final statements”. What exactly does your art propose? Kjell Varvin: I invite the visitors to continue the exploration into this game of composing. Pieces of modest materials are forming open structures that correspond with their surroundings. I leave openings for further solutions. Others may want to evolve the themes and find new ways that serve their purposes. If I should search for the sublime perfection, I would rapidly close myself in a prison with no escape. Sabin Bors: I see your work as a field of constant interpretation. Inside this field, existence bides against the unknown and the unexpected. But what I really like is that in your art, it lies in a sort of lucid, tranquil tension. Why this tranquility? Kjell Varvin: I do enjoy the quest for new and unexpected solutions. We are explorers. There is no technique or method that will make music or poetry or any artwork lucid and tranquil. You cannot force it or fake it. You cannot refuse it if it comes to you. I am satisfied if others can enjoy it. Sabin Bors: There is an interesting approach to time in your art. Time is never seen in terms of a display, but more as a lapse, a suspension, a fragment. How did you become interested in the idea of impermanence? Kjell Varvin: Everything is developing from one condition into another, there is a constant movement, slower or quicker. I try to capture the short moments in this process, where a certain harmony is active. Developing structures go either towards order or towards chaos. It is this movement that represents time. Impermanence is not an idea; it is a fact. The inevitable is always present. Sabin Bors: I know you worked as an assistant to Sol LeWitt, who also had a great influence on your art. But there is also an obvious difference in it. Your harmonies are vulnerable, your geometries are on the verge of a silent collapse. How did you come to this interpretation? Kjell Varvin: Sol LeWitt established perfect written rules that however may include hazard and even failures from his assistants during the execution of a wall drawing. That makes his assistants feel like they are part of the creating process. Small imperfections are not destroying the main order of his idea. My idea of order permits larger deviations and imperfections. On the way to chaos there is still some kind of order far out. Artists in general have a great sense of humor and a generosity beyond limits. They permit others to drink from the same source; they share experiences and enjoy each other’s successful results, all for the common cause. Sabin Bors: Another aspect I find very interesting is the relation between nature and construction. While you describe patterns and structures, you also refer to the influence of nature. How would you define and interpret this relation? Kjell Varvin: The presence of nature is manifest in the proportions of the manufactured elements that always derive from the human scale. All that we create and construct is adjusted to us. All that we can imagine or invent is human; we interpret the
world to our advantage and put a meaning into everything. Sabin Bors: There is an obvious functional approach to art in your work, but your works are also meant to create an ambiance. How do you bring function and ambiance together? Kjell Varvin: The ambiance is created by the calmness of the scene. There is no great drama or petty conflict going on between the participating elements. They adjust to each other like old friends or like musicians ready to perform. The light, coming from windows high above, is clear and white on overcast days, giving a minimum of shadows. In winter I use lamps on very dark days. The light will be blue on sunny days, green when the trees outside have leaves. That gives a different ambiance. In order to function, things must coordinate and please stay in place until I have taken a snap shot.
Sabin Bors: The accidents your art describes are never violent, though they are implacable. I see here a certain subtlety, an acceptance almost. Is it also a relief, something that brings forth a certain wellness? Kjell Varvin: Sometimes I arrive for putting up installations in unknown venues and must adapt quickly to the environment and the special circumstances that I could not know of beforehand. Improvising is necessary and exciting, combined with risks of failing. The tension can be high and I have to trust my intuition and fantasy without calculating rationally too much. If there are accidents, I sometimes have to include the damage in the composition. I use no elements that are so important that they cannot be replaced, the result will be different, and that is all. There is no fight against the matter; it is a play with it. Sabin Bors: The reason I asked you about this idea of wellness is that there is an obvious enthusiasm in your approach. To what do you owe this enthusiasm? Kjell Varvin: Things I see or hear lift me emotionally, and I harvest energy from details in nature and art. Joy and enthusiasm is the result. https://anti-utopias.com/editorial/on-fragile-structures-a-conversation-with-kjell-varvin/
KJELL VARVIN [email protected]