• photography by ANNICA ZION

    HE EXPLORES THE HE(ART) OF (SUB)CULTURE

    Written by Chava Krivchenia by Stephanie Cetina

    Edit: Marge Grossfeld

    He brings nightlife into the art space through performance and installations, but conversely, does experimental art projects inside his nightlife arena.

    Esben Weile Kjær, known as a DJ, party organizer and activist, creates and fulfills our constant need for reminders about how we are all connected - without demeaning or underplaying our individual differences and site specificity.

    Through arts events and his refusal to limit his expression to one medium or approach, Esben, with his sister Anna Weile Kjær and other collaborators, explores the importance of subcultures or community.

    – I want to examine how strong a cultural identity can be, he says.

    He and his sister are now working on a show, which you can experience April 27th in Copenhagen at Future Suburban Contemporary.

    Odalisque was able to ask Esben Weile Kjær some questions about his life and artwork.

    CK: Can you tell me about your background?
    EWK: I am originally from Aarhus but I moved into a squat in Copenhagen when I was sixteen. I was doing activism and went to punk concerts and had a lot of fun.
    My DJing began in my hometown with one of my best friends. We played at some parties where the organizers were letting us in from the back door because we were way too young. It was really cute – our parents picking us up after the gig.
    I remember how fascinated I was by the energies at the club. I think that maybe it was the same that I found in the punk scene - like how music can transform the space totally and be a strategy to let bodies act differently and more autonomously.
    Of course, I was too young to get into the clubs and that’s why I started doing my own parties. My friends and I got some help from some older friends and we did some of the first queer raves in Aarhus.
    I don’t know how queer they actually were but we felt it was super queer at the time and maybe that is enough when you are 15 years old and you don't know anything about sexuality and gender and the only thing you want is to instantly run away from categories and norms.
    All this was a big inspiration and is now a big theme in my art practice. The movements of youth culture and the aesthetics of different sub cultures, and how pop culture all relate to each other. Subcultures can mutate really fast - through capitalism - and be something else.


    CK: Please talk about the difference between your subcultural educational experiences and more mainstream arts education background.
    EWK: When I moved to Copenhagen I thought that I would never go to high school. But eventually I attended one anyway, called Det Frie Gymnasium (Free High School). The school looked like a squat and it was a democracy - all of the students had as much to say as the teachers. Study there changed my mind of being a part of an educational institution. I felt comfortable and happy staying there. 

    Right after high school I started at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory and meanwhile, as I studied there, my practice changed into something that was more comfortable in an arts space rather than a concert hall. So, I started exploring culture studies, performance theory and music theory through the ideas of sound. I have a BA from there, but now I am at an art academy which fits me better.

    CK: What groups and communities has inspired your work?
    EWK: I'm inspired by movements and subcultures and how they are communicating. I have been djing in 9 years now and have been playing in the most of the world. Visiting all the different clubs has been a kind of research that I use to produce art. Of course I also look at other artists. I'm a big fan of Mark Leckey, Evian Christ and Juliana Huxtable to name some artists who also have a DJ background and use it in their art.
    I can also name The New York based collective that were active in the 90's called Group Material. I am excited about how they used the art spaces as a social space. At the moment I really like the Spanish artist Antoni Miralda. I'm really interested in how he works with participation in he’s work. But this is only a few I like, the list could be forever.

    CK: What is your planning method for your projects?
    EWK: A lot of my research is from art theory and discussion with my sister who is an art historian. She has just finished a thesis about rave culture, and how its’ aesthetics have been implemented in the art world and have affected pop culture. I am reading a lot, going out, and am studying issues close by.
    For example in my performance How 2 Neo-tribe that was shown first time at Tranen Contemporary Art Center, I wanted the purpose to be questioning the identification of the attendants. I created flags working as ID tags for individuals at the show, each being a label of subcultures around the world. These flags were going around the exhibition space on people walking around and were a part of the performance. The labeled subcultures interacted and moved around depending upon who was choosing and adopting the identification on the label. There wasn’t a set plan or choreography. Humans are already naturally really choreographed without planning. That’s a method I often use. To add some elements or rules on a social situation that already exist.

    CK: Do you prefer collaboration or working individually?
    EWK: My practices are really social. I prefer to work together with other people. I’m interested in the collective. A big part of my practice is to do interventions of other institutions. You can maybe call it brand hacking. I try to fade into the structure of the place and use the way that they advertise (can be on social media for example) as a place for art. I did one last year called Institute for Success. It was a performative intervention where I acted as a curator and invited different performance artists to show pieces. Now we have turned this “Institution” into an art collective of seven artists and we will do a new intervention called Institut for Success 2.0 at the National Gallery of Denmark the second of June.

    The person I have been working with most, and still do, is my sister. We have been writing and organizing anthologies. Some months ago in fact, we had a show in Basel called Radical Togetherness. We also run an exhibition space together called Adult in Copenhagen together with our dear friend Mikkeline Sofie Larsson.

    CK: You also like to photograph the people around you?
    EWK: I do love taking pictures of my friends. Now I am starting to get asked by friends and art connections to photograph them. I really don’t see myself as a photographer, but I really like portraying specific people. I don’t really know why or what will come of it eventually, it’s a personal project for now. I see my portraits as a family scrapbook in a way, with nice memories.

  • A Discussion with Kristina Tjäder of House of Dagmar about Ethical and Sustainable

    Written by Rocío Garrido Rus by Stephanie Cetina

    It is hard to believe that at the point in time we are at, sustainable fashion is not a more comfortable topic to deal with. Not that there hasn’t been a change: brands are speaking out about it more and more every day. It seems that the more it is spoken about, the less one seems to be able to believe in such a contradictory concept. To make fashion more environmentally friendly is a challenge, and it is necessary to know what it is that one can do. An article or event on sustainability and fashion is still not as attractive as the launch of a new and unnecessary product. There is a need to talk about this more, because there’s a lot of work to be done still.

    Swedish fashion is one of the voices that need to be heard when it comes to this global conversation. We spoke to Kristina Tjäder, Founder and Creative Director at House of Dagmar, about her approach to sustainable fashion, the steps small, yet firm steps Dagmar is taking, and other miscellanea that a conversation on sustainable living has brought up.

    Who is the House of Dagmar woman? How do you relate to her?
    The House of Dagmar woman is sensual, sophisticated and progressive. She combines her private and work life with her personal interests in a successful way.

    How does sustainability relate to House of Dagmar?
    Sustainability has been one of our ground pillars since we’ve started our brand, we want to leave as few traces as possible on the environment and do our best to help saving our planet.


     

    Does House of Dagmar have a sustainability plan it follows? Could you elaborate?
    Yes, we do have a plan. First, we are always improving the environmental performance across our supply chain. Secondly, we have a progressive take on sustainability and always search for new and more sustainable ways to produce. Thirdly, we want to inspire our customers and their consumption behaviours. Lastly, we strive to create traceability across the supply chain.

    There are many different ways to approach sustainability in fashion: design, production, reusing and recycling are just some of them. How does Dagmar relate to each one of these?
    In terms of design, timelessness is a key word. Most of our producers today have closed systems where they handle and recycle all waste, as well as finding ways of using as little energy as possible. We are continuously searching for recycled, organic and sustainable qualities and aim to find new and better solutions.

    How do you think sustainable approaches to fashion have evolved recently?
    There are more discussions today than a few years ago, however there are unfortunately still too few alternatives. The fashion brands must push their suppliers to develop more sustainable ways of production.

    Even if innovative and sustainable materials are always attractive to the fashion industry, they’re not as explored as more traditional materials like cotton or wool – proved to have a greater cost for the environment. In what ways does Dagmar experience with them?
    When using traditional materials, our aim is to make products that are timeless, both in design and in quality. The amount of clothes that become trash today is enormous. We would rather have people pass items they don’t want any longer to someone else, instead of throwing them away. We are using alternatives to traditional materials, such as a fabric made of recycled PET bottles or recycled cashmere.

    What is the biggest challenge for a fashion brand these days, in terms of sustainability?
    It is still difficult to be able to control the whole chain as well as finding good sustainable qualities that can also last for a long time.

    How does sustainability affect the design process of a garment? Is it just a matter of fabrics, or rather a production issue, or both?
    It is definitely a matter for both design and production. In terms of production, we have to collaborate and to have a progressive mindset since the traditional ways are usually cheaper and easier for the suppliers.

    How do you manage to offer products made of animal materials but still label them as sustainable?
    We are trying to find alternative ways, such as the 100% animal friendly mohair fur that we have in the Fall 2016 collection. We have also made the statement of using  only leather and fur products that are part of of animals that we eat.

    Do you think that the fashion industry is ready to cut off the use of leather?
    No, I don’t think so, since there are no really good alternatives yet. But I am very interested in following the development of meat and leather made in laboratories.

    What is, in your opinion, a reference to you in terms of sustainable fashion brand?
    There are different levels of sustainability and it’s up to each brand to say how sustainable they should be. The most important thing is to set up a goal and to work your way up towards that goal. It’s better to start from a low level that not doing anything at all. Being 100% sustainable would be very difficult today, but hopefully all of us will be in the future.




    In a fashion system – and a society – so inherently linked to timing and abundance, would you agree that producing less garments and collections would be one of the most effective ways of being sustainable?
    Yes, I do. My philosophy is to rather buy a few really good products that plenty not so good.

    What’s the role of consumers when it comes to the impact of fashion consumption?
    In general people don’t ask for sustainability so much yet. However, I think that will change. So many of us already only eat organic food, for example. I think this greener approach will affect everything we do.

    Do you think that fashion brands are ready to produce less “needs”?
    I think that each brand needs to find their unique offer and focus on that. We also have a responsibility to make sure that we leave as few traces as possible on our earth.

    Do you think that there is an urgent need for a change of mindset when it comes to consumers and brands, regarding sustainable production and consumption?
    Yes I do. We need to be out there and educate the consumers and to inform them that they can make a change by doing the right choice.

    What’s your opinion on the common phrase “sustainability is just a trend”?
    It is a very good trend that we should really stick to and develop in new and inspiring ways.

    What is your hope for the future, in terms of sustainability?
    My hope is that there will be a bigger request and awareness from both the end consumers and the suppliers. Today we need to search very, very hard even to find nice sustainable qualities that can make a good alternative to the traditional.

    What do you think is the biggest step forward that House of Dagmar has taken in order to be more sustainable?
    So far we have produced recycled, organic and sustainable products, we will continue to increase the amount of these types and will communicate this to our customers. 

    What would be a dream “sustainable scenario” in the fashion business to you?
    My dream scenario is that people will care as much for what they buy as for what they eat.

  • REN HANG interview

    Written by Marie Brunnberg

    REN HANG: “Everybody is the same but different”

    When I met with Ren Hang, he had been in Sweden for four days, preparing for the opening of his current exhibition; HUMAN LOVE , at The Swedish Museum of Photography (Fotografiska), in Stockholm, (17.02.17 - 02.04.17).
    Sadly, he took his own life just over a month shy of his 30th birthday,on February 23, 2017. This was less than one week after I said goodbye and wished him a pleasant trip to Berlin, where he was making a pitstop before headed hometown, Beijing, where his last days would be spent.

    Hang caught me a little off guard at first with a cheeky one-liner that I normally would take offence to, as we were taking off our never ending layers of winter clothes, he says to me, “It feels that we should have sex right now”. Breaking the ice with some giggles, I felt like we both experienced the initial connection like a kind of ritual. I have read that Hang is shy, but this was not the impression I got - and of course not when one sees his art.

    Presumably, his humour and mischievousness is one of the reasons why he was always surrounded by friends wherever he went in the world. Apparently, it was hard to get bored in his assembly. Many of his friends participated as models in his artwork, if you look at the pictures they are quite captivating and provocative, you can tell that he is connected on more than just a superficial level with his subject(s).

    Some of the photos in HUMAN LOVE are more existential, showing naked bodies in front of nature. Others are more conceptual and direct, with rhythm and forms. Hang’s more controversial images are not in this exhibition, perhaps to cater to a wider audience or due to censorship issues in Sweden at such a public venue.

    I understand why Hang preferred to work with his friends, it’s hard to direct someone you are unfamiliar with to perform like he wanted. In some of his pictures it feels like his friends were like his second family - their relation feels warm and intimate with love - HUMAN LOVE.

    Hang did not like to place his art in contexts, so it was difficult to get him to talk about his art. He explained it like this:

    “People are different. Even if I tell you that this is my finger you don´t think the same. Everybody see everything different and we all experience it individual. Everybody is the same but different.”

    I am grateful I had the chance to meet such a talented artist. We met six days before his death, as I read our my notes over, I can't help but to keep thinking, this very well may be the last interview he gave. He didn't seem depressed, he could have been hiding it well, like many people who struggle with depression. He was so alive.

    Interview with Ren Hang, February 17, 2017. Rest In Peace.

    MB: I’m so curious, tell me a little about your family life.
    RH: I have answered this question so many times. My family is a normal family and I´m the only child. My parents are not artists or anything, they have normal jobs.

    MB: Are you happy with the exhibition at the Fotografiska?
    RH: The Museum have been curated HUMAN LOVE almost all by them self. I think it’s good - I like it. Otherwise, I would have changed it.

    MB: Can you tell me about the idea of the exhibition?
    RH: The idea comes from The Swedish Museum of Photography. Not me.

    MB: So, you think I should ask them?
    RH: Yes. (laughs) It’s a really good question that I don´t need to answer.

    MB: Are you always looking for models?
    RH: Always.

    MB: What kind of models are you looking for right now?
    RH: I don´t know. I just use my feeling. Nothing else.

    MB: You must get sent a lot of pictures sent to you.
    RH: Yes, a lot of pictures, everyday! I get 2 to 10 every day from all over, not just asian countries.

    MB: Do you reach out to any of them?
    RH: No, I just look at the pictures - it´s very easy. Maybe I choose 1 of 100. I shoot my friends or friends of friends most of the time. I am more comfortable with photographing friends.

    MB: What kinds of things do they write to you?
    RH: It´s very simple. Name, phone number and: Hey, I want be a model... Some of them write: I love your work and I want to be a part of it…

    MB: Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process behind your photos?
    RH: I never plan before I shoot. I choose a place that looks nice, from a feeling that I get. Sometimes, I have been at the same place before and return to the same spot because I think it´s beautiful. I decide how the models are going to be shaped in my images.

    MB: Do you memorise the places you've been that you like for future projects?
    RH: Yes. I usually try to remember places I like, but unfortunately I forget sometimes.

    MB: How much time do you put into a photo project? How long does it take to shoot a typical project of yours? Hours, days?
    RH: I don´t really think about it, because I don´t work for anyone except myself and my friends. If the photograph is not good, we don´t care. If it´s really good, we don’t care. It´s just a shoot. It all depends on me or my friends mood. If we shoot one hour and we get tired we go and eat or drink and it's over. If we are happy and have a lot of energy,10 hours of working is not a problem.

    MB: I have read that you think that erect penises are beautiful and powerful.
    RH: It´s a half joke and half real. I consider that everybody thinks the same when they having sex with someone. I base it on the reaction of human beings.

    MB: Do you think the same way about vaginas?
    RH: Yes. Open pussy or erected dick, it’s the same.

    MB: Who likes your photos and who invests in them?
    RH: For now, the public collectors, like museums.

    MB: Are you selling your pictures here?
    RH: I do not know. It hasn’t been discussed yet.

    MB: Would you like to sell them?
    RH: I don´t care. If I´m selling that's good because I get money, so why not? If I don´t sell, we have a beautiful exhibition.

    MB: Have you been arrested creating of your art?
    RH: No, but I have learned how to run.

    MB: Are you not scared?
    RH: For now I´m not scared. In the beginning I was a little bit scared. Once, when I was in New York, someone was calling the police. If you get caught in N.Y. you could never come back into the country. But, I ran!

    MB: There is an exhibition here in Stockholm with Ai Wei Wei, at Gallery Forsblom. He has curated one of your earlier exhibitions. How was it to work with him?
    RH: It was easy to work with him. We had a meeting at his place and he said that he loved my work.

    MB: Why did he loved your pictures?
    RH: I didn´t ask. Maybe because I´m good? (laughs) No, I really don´t know.

    MB: When are you going home?
    RH: To China, on the 21st of February.

    MB: What are you going to do until then?
    RH: I´m going to Berlin to dance. I like dancing.

    MB: What kind of music do you like to dance to?
    RH: Techno

    MB: Berlin has such an amazing nightlife scene! Where are you going to go dance?
    RH: Techno at Berghain!

    MB: How would you like people to interpret your photography?
    RH: I don´t want to decide how one should see my photography, and I don’t care if you decide or not. I haven´t lived my whole life for this exhibition, it is only two months of my life - everything will be gone.

    MB: What´s your next project?
    RH: Staying alive.

    MB: Do you want to be alive?
    RH: I wish I would.

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