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Photo by Tobias Bernstrup

Göteborg International Biennale: Klas Eriksson

We speak to the Swedish artist about his move to New York and the burgeoning art scene back in his home town before the Biennale

Swedish artist Klas Eriksson talks to DD about his upcoming work at next month’s Göteborg International Biennale and his fascination with English football subculture and societies visual depiction and fascination with violence. Erikssons work includes group performance pieces and site specific interventions and the artist has become a vital force in the burgeoning Swedish art scene. Included in two biennales this year (Shirayeva Biennale in Samara and Göteborg International Biennial) Erikson will be moving to New York in the autumn to begin a new phase in his productivity.

Dazed Digital: What are you working on for the upcoming Göteborg International Biennial?
Klas Eriksson: I take an interest in control, power and limitation, through the expressions of performance, video and sculpture. My point of departure is mass culture. By employing various strategies, my work explores notions of authenticity, power and artistic expression. For the upcoming Göteborg International Biennial I will do two performances with emphasis on group dynamics and group mentality. One performance will take place on Älvsborgs bridge where 150 participants, at a given signal, will light flares that are commonly used at football games throughout the world. The performance is titled ”Who are ya?!".

The second performance will take place during the opening party. I will DJ music and sounds from the subculture surrounding British football. The sounds played have been transformed from youtube videos into over 250 burned CDs. Violence, chants, police reports, music and more will be mixed live to the audience. The performance, titled ”No One Likes Us – We Don't Care”, has been performed before in public squares, galleries and clubs. I am attempting to establish communicative immediacy that is both visually and conceptually innovative.

DD: Tell DD about the Volvo-Doner Kebab (‘’I am rolling - rotating kebab’’ [2011]) piece that you recently exhibited at the Kalmar Konstmuseum (Kalmar, Sweden)?
Klas Eriksson: "I am rolling - rotating kebab" was a site specific sculpture, made out of combined readymade objects found in the area of Kalmar during April 2011. My artistic practice is characterized by semiotics, a use of symbols in order to create new meaning. By using well known symbols in popular – and mass culture I want to create an easy accessibility to my work, only to, in the end subvert the viewer’s expectations. In my later work I am interested in approaching a collective sub consciousness.

DD: Is the pedagogic aim of explaining art generally put too high?
Klas Eriksson: I’m against the whole idea of mass thinking, the idea that you see people as a thinking mass that you can control. Even though this sounds like some theory from the 1940s it’s really the same case today. But talking from a local context in Sweden I think the pedagogic aim at the larger institutions is too high. There are always explanations in text to everything, the role of the art as something that communicates by itself totally loses its point in this case. The fact that art has to be explained to the spectators before even entering a large institutional gallery space is something that I never understood. I think the idea of art is to communicate on different levels to the spectators, and that the individual mind and references it triggers. There are no given answers, which is somehow the beauty of it. Everything else in the society is explained in one way or the other, and it’s becoming a “safety” society, where you are not supposed to do anything wrong or politically incorrect. There I think art plays a crucial role in order to be misunderstood and understood at the same time.

DD: Can you explain a little more about your series of collective/group performances?
Klas Eriksson:
The collective performances very much have to do with a highly individual act that is made in a collective way. During most of the performances people are not allowed to communicate via spoken language, there are always some limitations and matter of control. For the performance “Collectively Smoking One Cigarette” the participants had to smoke a single cigarette. There were 31 participants and it worked out, some found that they have to take longer drags in order for the idea to succeed, no one talked to each other and it kind of appeared as a collective mind in the individual act of smoking one cigarette.

DD: Why are you fascinated by violence?
Klas Eriksson: I’m fascinated by violence in the sense that how it’s used visually. I find it interesting when the ”reptile brain” takes over. When the layers of social agreements are pushed aside by the reptile brain, and how that is depicted visually. For instance my DJ act ‘’No One Likes Us – We Don’t Care” has a lot to with putting a highly visual subculture into sound. The terrace culture is allot more than violence, I would say that violence is really a small part of it. But for the uninitiated - images of crowds, singing supporters, screaming fans - implies a kind of violent behaviour or aggressiveness, which for the ones taking part of the subculture of course isn’t the case. My idea with the DJ act was to use the sounds of that subculture in total different “arenas” and see how people respond to it without the visual elements. There is something about being part of something that I think people always are striving for, whether it’s the terrace culture, church choir, bridge clubs and so forth.  

DD: What do you think has changed in Scandinavia since the attacks in Norway last month? Is there an underlying current of violence in Scandinavia (or England for that matter) which is starting to rear its ugly head?
Klas Eriksson: I think it’s a bit early to start talking about actual changes. The thing I’ve understood is that the recruits to the young Social Democratic Party (Sweden) have grown bigger as an effect of the things that are happening in Norway, something that the bombings and killings were meant to prevent from happening. The Swedish Nationalist party immediately used twitter after the bombings and the underlying meaning of the tweets was that the Muslims were to blame, which really shows their ugly head. I think the tragic action in Norway was a mad mans fiction that became reality. Nevertheless, I guess society as a whole is moving towards a more violent nature, Sweden, Norway or Britain cannot be seen as an exception to this case.