Both have lensed teen boys from London to Tokyo, New York, and Moscow in their respective projects but now artists Julian Klincewicz and Grace Ahlbom have joined forces in a shared vision of Icelandic boys, boredom, and beauty for their new project, PURE, DESIRE.
Admirers of each others’ work before eventually meeting in Paris last year, Klincewicz recalls, “I remember seeing pictures of Grace’s senior exhibition and thinking, ‘damn, this is a real artist”. Ahlbom explains, “Julian had seen some kids in front of his hotel (in Paris) whose aesthetic he liked and with whom he had been in contact, so he asked if I wanted to shoot them together.”
It was 16-year-old skater Snorri whom Klincewicz had met briefly and asked to star in a 30-second video for him – he says, “It felt that it was one of the purest and most human moments I’d ever been lucky enough to capture.” The artist asked Ahlbom to collaborate and together they trekked to Iceland in pursuit of that feeling, with Ahlbom shooting on a 35mm and developing her film at a one-hour lab while Klincewicz captured the boys on video. The culmination is PURE, DESIRE, and a segment – or what Ahlbom describes as “a trailer” – of a bigger body of work is debuting in a multi-art show at Tokyo’s District 24 on 18 March.
As for the rest of the series, we will have to wait. Klincewicz and Ahlbom tell us it’s likely to follow in the summer in the form of a book or a more expanded show back on home turf, but for now, they premiere a selection of the images here and go head-to-head on adolescence, boredom, and beauty, below.
What made you want to work together? Do you find similarities or a kinship within each other’s work?
Julian Klincewicz: For me, it’s almost the opposite in terms of work. I look at Grace’s work with a lot of admiration because I know that I could not do what she does. I think that’s kind of what makes for a good collaboration; our work is different, our styles are a bit different, but I think in terms of concepts or curiosity, our mindset’s have enough overlap that we can build off of the others work.
Grace Ahlbom: The first hour into our trip we realised that we were both Virgos, after that, I knew we were going to be able to work great together. We were both meticulous in our own ways. We have separate styles but our work hones in on a similar thread. Our work is different but definitely complementary.
“There are many aspects of a teenage boy’s life that I don’t feel I need to discover anymore as a queer woman. Still, sometimes when I go on these trips and immerse myself in their lives I lose perspective about the identity that I’ve formed. Instead, I begin to see through their eyes” – Grace Ahlbom
Tell me about the title, PURE, DESIRE.
Julian Klincewicz: Grace and I sat down and just thought about what the actual experience was like; what we saw, what we heard, what we noticed from our outside perspective… and eventually, we came to the conclusion that what that feeling is – the feeling we saw in all the boys, but specifically our main guy, Snorri – was this very pure desire to be something... to do something with his life.
I remember being 16 and watching The Strokes MTV $2 bill show, and crying because they were everything I wanted to be; they were cool, they were stars, they were tall, they had a sound it felt real… It’s that feeling of being a teenage boy... maybe just being a teen. I think that PURE, DESIRE is really what that feeling is. As we get older, ‘desire’ translates into all these muddied and often sexual shades, but at 16, I think that feeling of just wanting to be someone is very, very real. It’s pure.
Grace Ahlbom: As Julian said, teenagers have so much desire in them. Not desire in the alluring sense, but desire as in a yearning to be something that you’re not. When you’re a teenager, you’re at this point in your life when you can still fantasise about the ways your life might turn out. Snorri had burnt Courtney Love’s face out of every one of his Kurt Cobain pictures hung on his “heroes wall”. Seeing that, my intrigue with the idolisation of famous musicians was ignited.
Masculinity has such a culturally obsessive hold on our society, and in so many parts of the world. A good amount of my work has focused on the arbitrary idolism of masculinity and the mystery of what makes these adolescent boys yearn for these traits so much, to the point that they burn the faces of their idols’ girlfriends out of the photos on their wall.
Tell us about the process of shooting this series.
Grace Ahlbom: Sunrise and sunset were our magic hours. We would get up early or drive out to our location to chase – literally, chase – the last moments of light. Iceland is so much about colour and the natural landscape, we really wanted to see and capture the region in a surreal way.
One afternoon they asked if Julian and I wanted to document them beating up a kid. We didn’t do it, but that kind of young grit and radical freedom of expression was what I loved about them. Earlier that day Julian and I had been watching a Dr. Phil episode while our car was snowed into the driveway. During the episode, Dr. Phil had a crew follow two twin sister addicts in their day-to-day lives. Dr. Phil said, “Our filmmakers are, simply, flies on the wall. They do not comply or discourage their actions.” Julian and I chose to abide by that.
Tell me what your roles were during this process? Grace, did you photograph and Julian, did you film?
Julian Klincewicz: I mostly filmed, but also took a decent amount of photographs. I thought of my photos more as documentation of the project than the actual project. I think my film stills will be more of my “art work”, and my photographs are more to supplement that.
Grace Ahlbom: I shot 35mm and used a one-hour photo shop. I got so sick of shooting digital – I had started getting too caught up in producing the colour and technical aspects. Everything began to feel more sterile and further removed from what I was trying to convey. So I decided to have regular snapshots made and live with the colour, however it came out. I don’t want to photograph the same way, over and over. I use different equipment to accommodate different attitudes and feelings.
Grace, you use photography as a means of living an alternate life. Julian, you mention that you are looking in finding a piece of yourself you may not have had before. What did you both gain or learn from these boys through this process?
Grace Ahlbom: The male adolescent experience is a prominent theme in this series. Porn, video games, and music are all major influences. There was definitely a mental and physical age gap between the boys and myself. There were times that I could have fun and get into whatever we were doing, but I was also bored by the juvenile aspects of the experience. There are many aspects of a teenage boy’s life that I don’t feel I need to discover anymore as a queer woman. Still, sometimes when I go on these trips and immerse myself in their lives I lose perspective about the identity that I’ve formed. Instead, I begin to see through their eyes.
Julian Klincewicz: Usually I look for very real “humanness” when shooting a video or a person, finding a moment where you can really see someone else as a person – a moment where you can see empathy. With shooting Snorri, in a lot of ways I saw some of my 16-year-old self in him that I didn’t even realise I’d moved away from, and in a lot of other ways, someone distinctly different from me – someone who’s experience of being a teenager is so vastly different from what mine was.
“It was really eye opening because when I think of Iceland I think of one of the most beautiful places on earth, but that’s really so opposite of what being a teenager growing up there is like” – Julian Klincewicz
What is the general climate for youth like in Iceland? Compared to life for young people in America.
Julian Klincewicz: I think it’s a bit dull for them honestly. It was really eye-opening because when I think of Iceland I think of one of the most beautiful places on earth, but that’s really so opposite of what being a teenager growing up there is like. I think a lot of the boys really felt stuck.
Grace Ahlbom: One thing I noticed about Iceland versus America was that they’d really have to go out of their way to skate. In Los Angeles, you can get a board anywhere and skate out of the shop with it if you wanted to. The boys took us to one of the few skate shops in Iceland and one of the only brands they carried cost twice as much than it would in America. A lot of the skating they did was at indoor parking garages because it was one of the few places that was free of snow.
I noticed that they were influenced a lot by American youth culture as well. A lot of them dreamt of leaving Iceland and wanted to be somewhere else, so they adopted a lot of America’s culture. I think that may just be part of adolescence, though. The-grass-is-always greener-sort-of-thing. The boys have amazing lives; they’re living in a beautiful place, they were humble, open-minded, and friendly. It’s a unique place and I’m happy I got to experience it in such an authentic way with them.
Grace, in your artist’s statement you mentioned Ari Marcopoulos’s book Transitions and Exits as a reference point, what did you take from that? Julian, are there specific books or artists where you find your own inspiration?
Grace Ahlbom: Transitions and Exits is all portraits of professional snowboarders. What I especially liked about it was that the photos were all in anticipation of snowboarding instead of the action shots themselves. Ari showed the lifestyle and culture of the snowboarders instead of the actual snowboarding. I wanted to approach the boys with this same kind of eye. I’m more interested in the aesthetic they have and their lifestyle so that’s what I chose to portray.
Julian Klincewicz: While I was shooting I didn’t really have many references in mind, but looking through everything it gets me thinking a lot about Raf Simons’ Isolated Heroes and Teenage Summer Camp.
What, to you both, is so interesting about teen boredom?
Julian Klincewicz: Boredom doesn’t really interest me. What interests me is the world, and in particular with this trip, Snorri’s world in Iceland. So if boredom is a part of his world, it becomes a useful tool to try to understand it, to observe it, and find what’s beautiful about it.
Grace Ahlbom: What’s interesting to me about boredom and teen restlessness isn’t so much the actual boredom. Instead, it’s about what they do when they’re left to their own devices, when they have to make something out of nothing. I think exploiting boredom is a way of seeing who someone really is. When someone’s bored it can be easier to see who they are by what they choose to do. It’s a more organic expression of who they are, because they’re left to create something with that they have, or don’t have, around them.
PURE, DESIRE, a new collaborative series from Julian Klincewicz and Grace Ahlbom, will be exhibiting on 18 March at District 24, a multi-art show in Tokyo, Japan
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