Peripheral Vision Is Real
While many people regard sci-fi as escapism from reality, artist Niklas Wallenborg stresses that it could rather be viewed as resistance; an offer to change the face of the present reality and the pending future. "It’s important that sci-fi can be more than just an aesthetical vehicle in art and rather serve as well as an intellectual work tool", he says.
Self portrait artist, studio.
C-P: We were talking in your studio not long ago about how when you were studying at Konstfack some ten years ago, painting was hardly “trending”, all the while it’s very much omnipresent at art schools in the city today. It’s interesting how cycles go around this way. Since you were still at art school during a time that predates the upsurge of social media, I’m compelled to ask what sort of changes most notably come to mind for you in the artistic landscape today as opposed to then?
N.W: I imagine and think that there is actually room for several art scenes now, as opposed to before and that an artist finds it much easier to set forth a platform outside of the traditional white cube. I’ve always found it paramount to embark on a path of your own, to create interesting contexts and intersections for art.
C-P: I ask as well since you appear to be one an artist who can “roll” with and integrate at least some parts of your practice with social media as a platform, and use the possibilities it affords you. The way I perceive your practice is as bearing several branches, of which one is technically primitive and seemingly very spontaneous, and “accessible” in so far the visual language. I think of textual art and digital prints that occasionally come my way through your feed, which often strikes me as being underpinned with clever humour and copywriting.
Niklas Wallenborg - Civilization has fallen
N.W: Well, you could say Instagram serves as an open studio, of sort. I try to be generous and open in my process of creating, which similarly is how I perceive you (C-print); very open in your interactions with art and artists. This I appreciate and enjoy. The digital prints are a part of my artistic practice but for which the domain has come to be Instagram and sometimes stays at just that; a digital print, wheras other times might evolve in a more tangible direction into something physical and then unreliant of the mediation of the internet. Instagram enables me room to play with letters and words and puts me in a pretty instant and direct contact with an audience.
I think social media largely is adequate to perceive art through; I myself have found and gotten to know many interesting people through Instagram. I have two young kids and a day job that makes for my primary income so there is definitely limitations as to physically being present to see art, but by way of the Internet there is a scope to keep updated and informed about what’s going on in the art world.
Niklas Wallenborg - Tomorrow...
C-P: On that note, I love that you are among the few artists who sometimes give prints away for free, digital prints downloadable as jpgs for self-printing. Very sympathetic. What prompts these offerings?
N.W: I make use of copying, sampling and copy/paste in my practice and I’m no defender of copyright, rather on the contrary. It’s my personal belief that arts and cultures should be very accessible and to some extent be “free” which is a realm I think these prints become a part of. There is something nice about the gesture of acquiring something digitally over the internet and then print it yourself at home. It boils down to both to the notion of something digital and that of an object and act.
Niklas Wallenborg - Space Blanket / Survival Blanket (Södertälje Konsthall)
C-P: Although your body of work as a whole draws inspirations from a string of sources, most notably science fiction and alternative/peripheral realities finds itself in the midst as distinctive signifiers. I would assume an interest in sci-fi stems back from your childhood, whereas for myself it was always something that almost completely evaded my own interests. The closer to reality, the better, was how I felt about things as a child.
While I’m not necessarily less prone to rebuff it today, I’m more open to the idea that alternative realities could be applicable to learn things about global challenges and problems the world is facing today, or at least inspire ideas about measures to take to battle them. Surely there will have been fictive displays of science fiction over time that looking back today will appear to have been prophetic as to where the world is found today. What inspires you about sci-fi?
N.W: To me sci-fi is a way to dream but also to prepare and work towards a future. The genre is a lot more complex than it’s sometimes given credit for; it is ultimately a survey of the human essence, identity and existentialist conditions in future spaces, alternative societies and mental conditions. I’m interested in the human relationships, the sociopolitical aspects and the creation of worlds that is omnipresent. I think it’s fair to view sci-fi as an archeological excavation of the future. I have to add a penchant as well for the downfall and the postapocalyptic and the visual culture that informs these notions. The end is fond.
Niklas Wallenborg - Utopia Now...
C-P: Arguably a certain distance that will previously have existed between sci-fi as a popular cultural fixture and the realm of contemporary art has minimized because of the emergence of AI and VR in art. However, I still get a feeling that the intellectual part of sci-fi beyond its form is largely absent. Where do you see sci-fi seated today in this context?
N.W: Large parts of the art that departs from AI and VR that I’ve seen seem to relate to what it can do for technology rather than what that technology does to us; how it affects us and our relation to others. It’s important that sci-fi can be more than just an aesthetical vehicle and rather an intellectual work tool as well. What happens when your work is mirrored in sci-fi, transformed and remolded, twisted several notches and suddenly opens up an angle to view it in a different light? What does it give an artist to use sci-fi, its realm of thought, visual language and history to scrutinize and address our surrounding realities? To approach the real from a point of the unreal? Sci-fi is not as is commonly thought merely an escape from reality but rather a resistance; an offer about an alternative reality and an opportunity to change the face of the present reality and the pending future. Fictive realities can help shape tangible realities.
Niklas Wallenborg - Hello! I´ve been looking for you. If you are there, please pick up and talk to me
Sci-fi never really found proper ground here, which is why it's commonplace to relate to sci-fi through exposure from Hollywood. Sci-fi has largely been excluded from literary discourse and academic research. Although it appears to me that things are slowly changing in various corners and I think it may have to do with our reality increasingly starting to look like a sci-fi world.
C-P: One of your projects is a zine called Sci-Fi Is For Real that recently saw the release of its 15th issue for which I also contributed alongside an impressive list of other people from the local art scene. I love the zine format as a labour of DIY-love; something that was killed by the Internet beyond existing as collectibles and renders me almost nostalgic. Tell me about the project.
N.W: Zine is a do-it-yourself platform to make art; an alternative to showcasing in galleries and the likes. Sure, there is a nostalgic air about it and the tactile production aspect of it but it also creates a cultural context to what is ascribed with the zine. Zines are a cheap way of working and get art out there. This zine allows me to work with questions like what room sci-fi can have in contemporary art and the idea I mentioned of sci-fi being an act of resistance. It’s always very exciting to see what invited artists end up doing and how they relate to sci-fi.
Niklas Wallenborg - Sci-Fi Is For Real zines
C-P: There must be quite a few memorable moments relating to the production of the zine and all the issues published by now and the create people that were involved. What is a good anecdote to bring to light here and now?
N.W: I mostly think of how generous all the contributors have been with their time and effors. No one I asked to participate ever declined their invitation and people seem happy about pariticpating. There is no fee to offer, and I mostly make nothing out out of the zine. It’s a break-even situaiton. All the contributors get only a copy for their efforts, and yet people render impressive works which feels super nice to me.
Niklas Wallenborg - I was there , the pleasure - the privilege is mine
C-P: I know you are working on several projects, of which one in the pipeline is due in fall in Uppsala at Köttinspektion, which you are curating and also taking part in yourself together with artists Timo Menke, Lina Persson and Hanna Ljungh. The show is called “The Word For The World Is Forrest” and brings to mind that you recently did a print with an ingenious paraphrase on a track by the Smiths; “The Climate Collapse Such A Heavenly Way To Die”. I take it the show will tackle the climate threat?
N.W: Thanks! That particular print about the climate crisis was growing in my mind for a while and I had been trying to find the proper “copy” for it and then suddenly I remembered that old track by The Smiths and it finally came together; The Climate Collapse Such A Heavenly Way To Die, which is the way it feels sometimes. We are finding ourselves in the middle of havoc and it doesn’t seem to boggle our minds enough.
The exhibition at Köttinspektion partially is about the climate crisis. We are living through the Anthropocene; a new geological era promopted by our own actions. The consequences are climate changes, rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions. This ecological crisis will change the earth forever. A problem is our short-term perspectives on time which prevents us from seeing how our actions will have devastating impact on a distant future. It’s almost impossible to visualize a distant future beyond two generations ahead. I started thinking about nature and plants and their perception of time. In the wake of that, the idea about a group exhibition emerged and I got in touch with Lina, Timo and Hanna who all in various ways work with the trichotomy between nature, time and humans and relate to an intersection between science and art.
Niklas Walleborg - Utopia Now
C-P: What else will you be up to this year, in 2019?
N.W: There’s quite a few things going on as usual but at this stage it’s not clear what will come out of it, if anything at all. Like usual it’s a question of time and resources. What I do know is that I will continue to work with Sci-Fi Is For Real; for example by start publishing the work of other artists as zines but also planning a new thematic issue in ongoing series with an open call and invitations. I’ve also entered into a collaboration with Kristina Albelli Elander and will publish and design her new graphic novel about Sir Alien. Another ongoing project which is up in air for now and hopefully will cement is one about human presence in space and a possible interplanetary future, that I’m working on with Timo Menke, Robert Stasinki and Svante Larsson.