GESAMTKUNST WITH CONSTANCE
Norwegian-born artist Constance Tenvik belongs to a younger generation of artists who in recent years have made a mark on the local art scene in Stockholm. In our latest feature, she talks to us from NYC about being smitten with Athens where she’s currently exhibited at the city’s blue chip gallery The Breeder, and her very own stint at curating peers at Loyal, the gallery which launched her to a Swedish audience back in 2017.
C-P: First of all, my apologies for delaying this interview. It’s been in the making ever since I saw your first solo show ‘Gesamtkunst With Myself’ at Loyal in 2017. I remember attending the opening and being thrown into a surprise performance as a rotating disco ball. What I also remember about that show is how you had really used the space, quite limited, and turned it into a museum show in the mini format. Your breadth as an artist was evident even back then and things have been moving forward since. But let’s touch base a little with the present first. Where are you at the moment?
C.T: Right now, I’m in New York. I was supposed to do a little residency and reconnect with this place and my peers, etc. but ended up in self-imposed house arrest. My total installation from last year is gaining new relevance! 'Voyage Autour de Ma Chambre' based on a book from 1794 with the same title by Xavier de Meistre. Do I put on a travelling coat before crossing the room? No, but in-between the devastating news and the loss of the pillars of the world, our grandmothers, I am finding ways to spend the days. For example, I recently discovered that I can make live portraits over video calls.
C-P: You are currently exhibited in the group exhibition ‘Construction Site of Exceptional Feelings’ curated by Sofia Stevi at the Breeder in Athens. How exciting! I love that gallery and also the city itself. How did your participation come about?
C.T: Isn’t it great? I love what they do and the space itself. So elevated. I really got smitten with Athens too. I met such hospitable people, saw such magical objects, ate so well and walked around feeling euphoric. The street I lived in was named after Aristophanes who wrote 'The Clouds' and 'The Frogs'. There was a lot to appreciate. Sofia Stevi is an artist represented by the gallery and she put the artists together in a very poetic way and made sure we all came to Athens to meet eachother. I was in good company - besides Sofia Stevi, with Agnieszka Polska, Nana Sachini and Marianne Vlaschits. Sofia’s thoughts for the show was to create a situation where she’d like to co-exist. The works share dealing with being human in different ways, notions of ’’otherness’’ and individuality as part of human nature. I am showing two large paintings and four small. All portraits actually. I began making portraits in 2017. It has become an integral part of my practice.
C-P: Speaking of curation, last year you curated an impressive group show titled ‘A Seed’s A Star’ at Loyal, inviting among others peers who also studied at Yale. Very much in line with the gallery, the show featured works by artists such as Tschabalala Self and Sanya Kantarovsky who we don’t get to see around here. Also, notably, there were some amazing works by the late Moki Cherry. As an independent curator myself, I'm curious to know how you found the experience?
C-P: Yes, and I included peers from my art community in Oslo too. Basically it started with a mind map, a network of artists that felt interconnected to me, through my experiences studying and being in conversation in various ways. The experiment was to see if the mind map could become the floor plan of the gallery and that the connections were possible to experience for a viewer from the outside entering the space. It was an intersectional mix of artists losely connected through being engaged in life, being curious, having a love for making and radiating sparks of meaning. It was exciting to put artists that haven’t had the chance to meet or know about each other next to each other, like Tschabalala Self next to Moki Cherry. I was doing research on Moki Cherry at the time. The Cherry family was so generous with me that they invited me to Tågarp where I could be in the living legacy of her and her art work, and also what she built with her love Don Cherry. In their world the bookshelf is close to the sewing machine, the stage is in the living room, the piano serves as a canvas for vibrant paints, the ceiling piece for the son to have over his bed is as ellaborate as a piece for the Modern Museum. Things coexist in meaningful ways. The title came from a Stevie Wonder song that appears on 'The Secret Life of Plants' in which he is singing things like "...In myself I do contain. The elements of sun and rain. First a seed with roots that swell. I gradually burst through my shell".
C-P: I’m currently also working on an interview with Swedish artist Olof Inger who like yourself studied at Yale. Pursuing a MFA there strikes me as quite rare among Nordic artists. How did you find your time at the school?
C.T: I wanted to do my MFA at the most hardcore place I could think of and thereby only applied to Yale where I was in the company of excellent peers. After each studio visit I would check out books from each artist that was name dropped and flip through them in the arts library. Out of sheer curiosity I would check out odd mystical things from the Middle Ages and such at the Beinecke library for rare books. Every department was open to me. Of course I spent most of the time in the spacious studio I had but it was fantastic to get the chance to attend a class in architecture or art history with specialists in their field. A lot of exciting artists like Michel Auder, Huma Bhabha, Leigh Ledare etc. would come through - some of these I put in 'A Seed’s A Star', as mentioned earlier. It was good to have two years in the monastery.
C-P: You directed a great music video for an artist we are very fond of – Norwegian musician Jenny Hval. She’s so cool. Tell us a little about working with her.
C.T: Oh, thank you. I have listened to Jenny’s music since I was a teenager. A few years ago, we met at a small dinner in Oslo in honor of and with Chris Kraus. I was working on my show 'Soft Armour' and Jenny offered to do a performance at my opening. She ended up doing that, but also playing the main character in my video piece. A few months later I made the cover art for 'Spells' and made the music video. She trusted me completely with everything and gave me total freedom. She is quite dear to me, we are still in contact and I get excited everytime I experience her output. Last thing I saw was 'The Practice of Love' at HAU in Berlin quite recently. The thing I loved with doing a music video was to be able to just listen to the song and trust the images that came up in my head and just to try to pursue that. I was liberated from the limitations I’ve put on myself within video work and had an excuse to work with a larger team than ever and be playful and intuitive. It also reaches people who don’t go and see exhibitions. It was so much fun.
C-P: Your practice really encompasses quite a lot; from your characteristic figurative drawings of friends to performance. Regardless of artistic expression; colorful, theatrical and playful are some of the adjectives that come to mind. In your own words, how would you describe your practice?
C.T: I move through a lot of formal and conceptual questions. While doing this I often create worlds within worlds. Many of my big solo exhibitions have somehow questioned if we have a world in the head or a head in the world. A writer once said that it felt like I was using tropes of theatre to get closer to understanding our reality. She argued against Marina Abramovic who seperates performance art from the theatre by saying that one of them uses blood and the other uses ketchup. Maybe I am using ketchup to show the blood?
C-P: What might be some of the artists who have served as inspiration for you?
C.T: It usually feels like I’m sitting on a long table with dead and alive weirdos and philosophers and punks and masters and dandies sharing their thoughts and sentiments. They enrich my inner life and make it more exciting to wake up in the morning and harder to go to bed at night. It’s a never ending beanstalk. I can be inspired by the dedication to painting in Agnes Martin despite of our expressions not matching. And maybe I could be disinterested in Matisse and yet appreciate some of the same colours. Does that make me more inspired by Matisse? Yesterday I rewatched a video of Louise Bourgeois peeling an orange.
C.P: As I’m typing, the COVID-19 virus is stalling everything but do you have anything coming up later in the year that you would like to share with us?
C.T: As so many others, I have experienced cancellations and uncertainties. Yet I have a collaboration within the field of interiors that will be launched in April and a fashion thing that will launch in the fall. In May,
I have been invited by Bergen International Festival to make my project Tête-à-Tête Bergen, where I am inviting a limited amount of performers and artists from the festival to join me for a meal at one of the restaurants at Bergen Børs Hotel to be portrayed by me while we engage in a one-on-one conversation. Rather similar to the series of portraits I did with people in the cultural sphere of Stockholm at Riche last year.
1. 'Gesamtkunst With Myself', video (07:18 min). Photo: Raza Kazmi
2. 'There's No Seduction Without Big Listening Ears (Self With Ear Filter)', 2020.
3. Installation view of 'Construction Site of Exceptional Feelings' at The Breeder Gallery, Athens, curated by Sofia Stevi, 2020.
4. Installation view of 'A Seed's A Star' at Loyal, Stockholm, curated by Constance Tenvik, 2019.
5. Portrait by Pierre Björk.
6. Jenny Hval playing the lead in the video 'Soft Armour' (16:35). Film photographer: Marte Vold.
7. 'The Buffet', soft sculpture, 2017.
8. Installation view of 'Voyage Autour de Ma Chambre' at Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo.
For more info about Constance Tenvik, please visit: