from the september issue of DANISH CULTURAL EVENTS IN NEW YORK, published by the DEPARTMENT OF CULTURE, PRESS AND PUBLIC DIPLOMACY, CONSULATE GENERAL OF DENMARK IN NEW YORK.
We ask, they answer –every month we bring you a short interview with a current Danish artist or musician.
The Danish director of films and media objects Christian Svanes Kolding is currently exhibiting at The Museum of Modern Art as his film THE THINGS WE KEEP is part of their summer exhibition, Talk To Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Objects.
THE THINGS WE KEEP – a two-minute story features part of the song “Corporeal” from Broadcast, a lesser-known electronic band from Birmingham, England whose popularity might have peaked in the mid 2000s. Described as dream pop, minimalist neo-psychedelic, and “blissful electro-pop music,” they were fronted by vocalist Trish Keenan, who graces the film with her hypnotically confident voice that rises above a sea of distorted sounds. Both song and image work seamlessly together to portray a disjointed narrative about the relationship between friends in absentia and the souvenirs that become their proxies. Trish Keenan died very suddenly of pneumonia in January of 2011, leaving behind legions of heartbroken fans, including the director. Five months after her death, and sixteen months after THE THINGS WE KEEP made its online debut, the labour of love project was plucked out of obscurity by MoMA, who invited the Brooklyn-based Kolding to contribute the film to their widely anticipated summer exhibition, TALK TO ME.
What is the story behind “The Things We Keep”? The message or underlying thoughts?
We’ve all been through the experience of packing and unpacking our belongings and at some point, all of us have to decide what stays and what will be discarded. I made THE THINGS WE KEEP after moving to New York City two years ago. I realised that most of our keepsakes and souvenirs have meaningful stories and that each object, in essence, represents a relationship. Furthermore, I’ve always wondered what it would look like to walk into someone’s home and discover that their objects could on their own reveal the mystery of their origins, their reasons to be, as well as their journeys. This is a question of technology and design, so I decided to explore these ideas in a film, and that became THE THINGS WE KEEP.
You live in Brooklyn – what is your relationship to NYC?
I’ve had a very long relationship with New York. My father worked here (at the Consulate General of Denmark) and then I went to university here before moving back to Copenhagen. I never thought that I would return to New York but two years ago, I came back for love. My wife (who is American and speaks fluent Danish) was offered an opportunity in New York that neither of us could say no to. It was the right time to come back, and now, I absolutely love it.
Do you use NYC in your art?
Everywhere that I have lived has an impact on my art. Copenhagen is still very present in my work, as is Los Angeles, and certainly New York. New York has changed my work. The competition for an audience is very intense over here; therefore living in New York compels you to become a better communicator. You have to be very clear about what you want to express. Of course, I make art because I have to, for myself, but I also need that relationship with an audience. My work depends on that.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
Yes, all the time – when I’m not doing work for clients! I’m finishing a book right now. The book is more like an object rather than a traditional story of words and pictures. It is a bit like an interactive book of cards with fictitious characters; there are maps and short stories, and the book has digital and analog components. It’s called THE FRIENDS WE KEEP. I’m also working on a longer screenplay about growing up in a community of ex-patriate Scandinavians and Europeans, most of whom have some connection to the UN in New York. This is based, in part, on my own experiences, but also on the common experience many Scandinavians have over here through immigrating and integrating. I have a detached, comic view of my upbringing, and I realise that I need to explore this area. The story really comes down to questions of self-identity. All of the Scandinavians that I’ve known who live in or near New York are looking for something. They left Scandinavia for different reasons, myself included, and by nature, most of us are very outward looking (otherwise we wouldn’t be here), but many of us over here are looking for “home,” and what that means, and therefore, what it means to be Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, etc. So that’s an important part of the screenplay, which I am now writing and will one day direct. I also make films almost every day. I photograph and shoot short films and studies, documenting our time here in New York.
Do you see a difference in how art is perceived and recognized in the US versus Denmark?
This question raises a lot of issues about who we recognize as artists and how we ultimately value works of art. Costs and education aside, it’s hard for me to generalize the difference between Americans and Danes in the way that they perceive art. It feels more appropriate to compare New York with Copenhagen. In this sense, the way that art is recognized in Copenhagen is definitely more festive and possibly more democratic than in New York. In most corners of Copenhagen, such as in Kongens Have and Rådhuspladsen but also smaller squares, there is public art, big and small, permanent and temporary, that asks you to engage with it. There is nothing holy about art in Copenhagen. On the other hand, in New York, while we have a fair amount of public art (such as what we might find in Madison Square Park), you can’t touch it. You can’t get close to it. I know there are many reasons for this, but I think this reflects a general feeling over here that art is beyond the reach of most Americans. It’s not meant for them and there’s a strange anxiety and distaste around that. Danes would never accept that, even if they don’t understand what the work of art is trying to communicate. In Copenhagen, art is accessible to everyone. That said, I made a short documentary in which I asked New Yorkers on the street, how do they feel about art, and I can promise you, New Yorkers are not shy! Many of them feel great passion for art, and that is one of the reasons that make New York an amazing place to be for art.
Do you compare yourself to any American artist? Where do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from everywhere: not only design and film but also in music, literature, urban planning, and tribal culture. In all of these fields, we see evidence that we live in an extremely interconnected world that is undergoing incredible changes. Ironically, despite the fact that we are more connected than ever, we may feel increasingly isolated, both as a by-product of seeking solace from all of the noise (as we continue to define and redefine our experience) but also because we might feel left out because of the pace of change. I’m interested in how we function during these times of great change and how we embrace the change. My Danish grandmother from Skive and my Norwegian grandmother from Lillehammer would probably not understand this life that we lead today, they would think that it’s all nonsense and chaos, but I want my world, and my work, to be understood by them. The designer Nicolas Felton and filmmaker Sofia Coppola, both Americans, work with these same themes that I’m drawn to, but, again, this is New York, and there are so many domestic and international artists working here who influence what I do. At the same time, I’m also more likely to connect with Scandinavian filmmakers, such as Nils Malmros, Lukas Moodysson and Martin de Thurah, and Danish designers Henrik Vibskov, Sara Keir Wright and Louise Campbell; even Björk: we all draw our influences from everywhere but try to refine it into clear ideas that can be expressed in many ways. Ideas from the American-born writer, Nella Larsen, are also an important resource for me – in that her work very specifically explored identities that were both Danish and American.
Interview by Amalie Sophie Butze-Ruhnenstierne for the Consulate General of Denmark in New York.
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