Oslo’s art scene has been getting a much-needed facelift with the opening of independent galleries and a brand new art neighbourhood in the making. We stopped by the studio of big-time art rebel and writer Matias Faldbakken to find out what he gains from living in the city.
“I moved into this studio space near the centre of Oslo a few months ago. In the past I haven’t really needed a studio or an office – I make much of my art on site in galleries – but I decided it’s nice to have a place where you can try things out and take care of the practical side of things.
These days, I travel quite a lot but if I’m here in Oslo I’ll walk over to the studio from my flat, which is just 10 minutes away. Ideally I spend the morning writing. I like to get it done before I get on with the rest – mundane things like emailing, shipping, planning. Recently I haven’t been getting as much writing done as I’d like to. The art has taken over and the writing is suffering a bit. My art has strict deadlines because of the shows but writing is easily postponed as my publisher can’t force me to deliver.
I studied visual arts in Bergen and Frankfurt but I more or less decided to quit art the moment I graduated. I lost interest when I understood that the art world was so institutional, that you had to kind of play the system to succeed. But I still had this surplus of ideas so I put them in a narrative and wrote a book instead. The book did well here in Norway and got translated into some other languages, too. I was invited back to the art world as a writing artist and that’s when I started doing shows. Writing and making visual art fulfill different needs but I’ve always considered myself primarily an artist and then a writer.
I’ve often talked about my work in terms of ‘negativism’. My three novels, the Scandinavian Misantrophy trilogy, are satires about man’s hate against man. The same negative drive is present in my visual arts but I try not to spell it out in the same way. My interests are focused on art-historical narratives, from avant-gardist mentalities throughout the 20th century and mixed up with counter-revolutionary impulses from the culture industry.
At the moment I’d say my art is more about trying to be productive in a minimal, almost regressive way. My current art pieces are almost as much thefts as they are contributions. I often work with cheap, disposable materials such as bags, tape, carton boxes or videotape. The choice of material has to do with pushing the notions of art’s commercial value. Sometimes I might exhibit a framed work of art and next to it something similar but unframed; the framed one will go for a high price while the other one is often disposed with.
I produce a solo show for each of my prime galleries about every other year, which means I do two or three gallery shows per year plus institutional shows. At the moment I’m working on a show at the Simon Lee Gallery in London. I’m going to make a row of sacks, 12 to 15 of them, which I’ll paint on. There will also be five sculptures made of car boots, most of which will be delivered right from a wrecking yard to my studio. When I’m working on a piece of art I always have a principle to follow. The execution of the work can be kind of accidental or haphazard but the premise is always strict. One of the advantages of showing and making art is that you learn by doing it. The downside is that you have to be careful not to overproduce or water it down. I often make series of work, such as three to five sculptures with the same idea, and sometimes a collector or a museum might want an additional one. If I feel there’s still some urgency in making it I will do it, but if it’s just for the sake of selling it I won’t.
Living in Oslo is very OK – nothing more, nothing less. I’m here because of my kids. I still don’t have a close relationship with the city because I’m not from here. On the other hand, I’ve never been attracted to living in bigger cities like Berlin or New York. The fantasy of the metropolis is too ambitious for me. The art scene in Oslo is getting bigger and it’s probably more vital now than it’s ever been. There’s a lot of grassroots activity, artist-run spaces and more artists working internationally.
My number-one priority right now is to get my writing going. The other important thing is to control my artistic output and keep it slowly developing on a high er level. Last year, I had a gallery show in Hong Kong titled Maintenance. That’s what you discover with age: things start to be more and more about maintenance, sticking with the good stuff and making it better.”