Lars Nilsson


Phantasy by David Neuman, director Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
A vein of grief… by Gertrud Sandqvist, critic and director Malmö Art Academy.
A conversation between Lars Nilsson and Jérôme Sans, director Palais de Tokyo, Paris.
Catalogue no 25. ISBN 91-972986-9-7
81 pages, illustrated, insert, color, hard cover. Texts in Swedish/English.
Published 2002 by Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
Price: 300 SEK (approx. 31 EUR)

A conversation between Lars Nilsson and Jérôme Sans (excerpt from the catalogue)

Jerôme Sans: In your installations, you mix the intimate/private and the public, the physical body and the social body.

Lars Nilsson: I think it all began in Hässelby Gård, which is a suburb of Stockholm where I grew up. As a little boy, I was a dreamer and in my head I was always somewhere else. The ability to fantasize has probably always been one of my greatest assets, at the same time as it’s never given me any peace. It wasn’t easy to know where I belonged, given as I was to self-invention and cobbling myself together from literary and cinematic role models. An unrepentant conceit got me to move on again and again. When around ’94 I began to literally use my biography in my work, I finally acquired a tool for seeing myself the way I was. The blending of fact and fiction seemed in a somewhat creepy way to be a precondition for this.

JS: Your pieces often use your body as their point of reference. Why your own particular dimensions?

LS: Around ten years ago it struck me how much stronger my experiences of film have been compared to the visual arts. My conclusion wasn’t, however, to switch mediums. Rather, it felt more like a challenge to try to attain that level of intensity using other means. The moment of illusion you get with a wax figure was one component, but more important was my experience of seeing myself haunting the ”Fördomar” [Prejudices] show in Helsinki in ’93. I had hung my clothes, which had taken on my shape because I had worn them. This indexical impression had the paradoxical authenticity that I was looking for.

JS: The first pieces in these series had you in them (disfigured or in a replica of a jail). Was this a metaphor for the artist?

LN: At that time, Damian Hirst was showing all those glass cases with sliced or whole animals in them, and even if I really appreciated Mother and Child Divided visually—and the title was also charmingly witty—I was repelled by the metaphor in conjunction with this total exercise in power. As a kind of response, I wanted to say ”I will subject myself” but not by focusing on my own self, which is why I used the prison metaphor. The reference to Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish together with the pretty comfortable replica of a Swedish prison cell made the work mostly about the prison as an overarching structure for organizing and controlling our bodies at every level in society. And back then I also thought I deserved to do a little time…

JS: You often use casts of bodies. What does casting mean to you (casting characters, casting bodies)?

LN: For me casting bodies is a kind of plastic photography. I’m always videotaping myself or other people so that I can use the still images to freeze movements in that unconscious moment that you can never produce on purpose. With the help of Niklas Malmström, I’ve developed a very fast casting method that lets us do the whole body in one go, which is very important for achieving that creepy likeness of a living body.

JS: These bodies have been empty shells for quite a while now. Are these clothes for desexualized people?

LN: Again, it’s about presence. Seeing the empty shell of clothes with an exact impression of my body, as if I had just gone up in a cloud of smoke, can be a kind of surreal fantastic experience, but because the thin fiberglass sculpture is hidden in the clothes, there’s no physical representation—no ”art”—that stands between the viewer and the work, I hope.

JS: You address a number of textual issues. Isn’t that a specifically male attitude?

LN: We are moving here in a world of male fantasies and desires where women play a very large part and where I myself become the arena for the confusion that I think many men, especially younger men, experience. They’re victims of their own gaze, and constantly caught in a conflict between a putative collective consensus and a traditional form of identity production that is always mutating across the gender divide…

JS: How do you see the relationship between art and fashion?

LN: Maybe I can put it like this: fashion interests me but I am occupied with style. Art, fashion, and clothes all operate in the same way—it is usually entertaining and completely necessary for understanding the present. Style is obviously a vast topic and can mean so many different things. I don’t even need to divide it into its various senses but I have to acknowledge it all the same. If, on the other hand, it’s sensitive to the winds of fashion, with the distance that’s vital for its essence, then it has—where art is concerned—detached itself from the group sensibility of trends that often obscures or replaces its content. If we look at clothes, this becomes clear in the difference between the uniform and personality.

JS: You are often described as a dandy. What do you think of this?

LN: In the romantic fog I was wondering about when I was 20, the dandy was a component in how I went about constructing an identity. And then I didn’t see much of him for about 20 years, as far as I can tell in any case. It’s possible that he’s made a comeback in the form of the elaborate tailoring adventure I’ve been on for the past few years but in that case it’s only something superficial

JS: What are your references?

LN: An unholy mixture of fashion, baroque art and style, film of course, electronics, anachronism of every kind, and 60s modernism….

JS: How do you work? You have a slow and very precise way of working.

LN: In the past ten years I haven’t done anything that didn’t feel necessary, which may seem like a luxury, made possible through grants and the very artist-friendly art college where I’ve been teaching the past few years. But as is often the case when it’s a question of making art, it’s not something you choose. You do what you have to do in the only way it can be done. I have chosen to focus on something specific. I don’t know how it could have taken any other form or proceeded at a different pace.