Monday, August 23, 2010

maja nilsen: an interview

Today I will give you as a present a really precious interview to Maja Nilsen, a cool artist that lives here in Berlin. I have to say that she is a friend of mine, we met in march to the German course that I took before I started working.
The picture above are all from the same project: Zoo, or Letters not about Love (Still images from a film never made, letters to a person who never existed, words about feelings never felt) - 2009.

But let's start without loosing any more time:
Me. Who are you? A little introduction of you:
Maja. I am Maja Nilsen, a Norwegian artist living in Berlin. I work with painting/drawing/collage, and I love building big sculptures I don't know how to construct.

Me. How did you discover that you have creative tendencies?
Maja. I guess that’s a long story and it’s a bit difficult to answer myself....I always liked to draw, create and build things. To construct spaces to play in and worlds to be in. It could be in winter, when I could spend all my time outdoors making the most fantastic igloos with interior, rooms, tunnels, light… and make secret societies with its own alphabet and characters and so on… I collected a lot of things—like stamps, pictures, napkins—and I borrowed all kinds of books where I could study different images. I read all I could get my hands on about artists and how they worked. My uncle always said I was a film camera and then he would make a gesture pretending to film. So I think I was a pretty good observer. In primary school I always liked religion, history and the natural sciences, because the teachers let us draw a lot in those subjects. For Norwegian Independence Day, the class always held a poster competition; which poster would represent the class in the parade. I often won the contest…

Me. What sparked your interest in art? Did you attended to any school?
Maja. In my village the focus on art was extremely small, and my parents weren’t at all interested. So it was something I had to find out for myself, and for that reason I guess I became hard working and consistent. I used to lock myself in my room, produce a lot of stuff without people knowing it and then hide the cheesy drawings and colorful paintings. Consequently, my parents thought I was sad a lot, but I had the best time ever discovering technique, experimenting.
My first, vague memory of modern art during my childhood was when I saw a traveling exhibition showing Picasso's paintings in my village ( must have been reproductions). They were mounted in the wrestling room and someone came to tell us about Cubism, that was my first serious encounter with art. When I was a teenager, my class went to see a big exhibition in Trondheim of the works of Norwegian/Swedish textile artist Hannah Ryggen. At that moment I understood what art could actually be and how an artist worked, and I was so fascinated by her uncompromising approach. So when I was 18 I applied to a Folkehøgskole [a one-year school attended by some Norwegians after graduating from high school, usually specializing in one subject only] with art as the subject, and I finally felt I had no time to lose and a whole new world to discover. After one intensive year, learning all kind of crafts, I was admitted to a 2-year art school, after which I studied for a BA and then an MA in Fine Art at NTNU / the Trondheim Academy of Fine Art. So I guess that makes 8 years of art school!

Me. Can you please give us a definition of your work?
Maja. My work is created from memory and imagination, residing somewhere in the tension between autobiographical reference points and poetically immersed dream worlds. I work with cross-/multimedia that mostly results in site-specific projects and drawings/collages. I am interested in how people have lived their lives and how we in the course of history have variously tried to understand the world around us. How we seek explanations for complex questions and phenomena through science, religion and myths. I am interested in how we can transform and reconfigure ancient myths, as well as invent new ones. I have been especially preoccupied with how people relate to nature, and how places and scenery affect us. My own background, which has consisted of fishing families for many generations, has especially influenced my work.

Me. Where do you find your inspiration?
Maja. In my latest projects, I have been drawing inspiration from litterary works. (Marina Tsvetaeva, Ovid's Metamorphose) In Zoo, or Letters Not About Love (Still Images from a Film Never Made, Letters to a Person Who Never Existed, Words About Feelings Never Felt), I was inspired by a book by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky and his life in Berlin in the 1920s. So lately I’ve found a lot of inspiration in this era; the years between the two World Wars, where Berlin was the centrepiece of European culture with its German avant-garde, Dadaism, Surrealism, Art Deco, jazz, cabaret, films and classical music. I challenge myself in working site-specific with already existing epistemologies, local histories, tradition, myths, specific clientele or distinctive weather conditions. So I derive a lot of inspiration from when my work meets new places and situations, where the audience gets a more direct and unexpected experience of art. World history, maps, graveyards, mythologies, love letters, boats, church organs, weather, geology, wonders, time capsules and people who seek the extremes of life, influence my artwork.

Me. Tell me a little bit about the process of researching inspirations for your creations, where do the ideas come from?
Maja. I guess they come from all kinds of sources. I often employ the assemblist’s logic in the construction of my art projects, combining different elements and ideas with everyday objects and my own experiences. It could be a mix of Ellisiv Wessel’s photos, Magritte’s paintings, Kate Bush’s music, Duke of Burgundy’s parties and Queen Elisabeth I’s costumes. I work on quite a lot of projects at the same time, so its a chaotic studio and a mess of books, films, music and keywords. It could be things and scenarios I see on my way to the studio, stuff I dream, and often it has more to do with coincidence than anything. Like books I read referring to other subjects or books, or someone's random slides I find in a charity shop.

Me. Are you a full time artist? Can you describe your typical day at work (since morning till night)?
Maja. Yes, I have been a full time artist since I graduated in 2005. After my graduation, four friends and I decided to open a studio/showroom for young and emerging artists in Trondheim. Together we ran ten studios and put on several big projects and exhibitions, trying to make our own space in the city and set the agenda ourselves, in an attempt to create a meeting place for different art forms. We had concerts, readings, performances, talks, discussions, guided tours, and bizarre events. So that was a full time job, but of course on a volunteer basis. At that time, I also studied to become a projectionist, and I worked part time at the cinema. Then I got a two-year working grant for young, Norwegian artists, and decided to move to Berlin. My three last months have been weird, as I started attending an intensive German course. So now my days are quite different from how they used to be. Usually I bike everyday to my studio deep, deep in the heart of Neukölln.

Me. What are your plans for future? How do you see it years from now?
Maja. Oh, years from now, that’s so difficult to say… What I know is that I will continue to work on my new projects: a sculpture project connected to baroque poetry, a film project about invisible people, a collaboration with a Norwegian band, and a series of new paintings and drawings. I have some exhibitions coming up, an artist residency, a commission to be on a jury and I am also planning a book of drawings and a catalogue. At the moment, I am mostly active as an artist in Norway, so my mission for the future is to establish myself here. So, two friends and I are planning on opening a showroom here in Berlin.

Me. Which are your favorite artist by the moment?
Maja. I fancy artists like Giotto, Bosch, Lotto, Uccelo, Cranach, S. Anguissola, A. Kircher, A. Altdorfer, Hilma af Klint, Magritte, Fellini, G&U Tobias, Goya, Herzog, L. Fini, Memling and Leonard Richard. My last great experiences at exhibitions were Walton Ford at Hamburger Bahnhof, Lady and the Unicorn, tapestry on display in the Musée du Moyen Age, and Jane Cardiff and George Burges Miller’s last exhibition/walk in Hau 1 in Berlin. Last week I saw some fantastic works of Rousseau, Kahlo, Magritte, M. Klinger, L. Bourgeois and A. Kubin, which made me love what I am doing even more.

Thank you Maja!

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