Inka & Niclas
Inka & Niclas (I&N): Hi Grant! As you know we love your work. Last time we met, you told us you were working with pig blood, how did that turn out? Are you working on something right now? We feel it is interesting that we, as Scandinavians, have done a lot of our work in the States and when we met you the first time in New York, you were working with your Black Metal series and doing photography in Norway. Why do you think we seem to be fascinated by what’s on the other side of the world?
Grant Willing (GW): Hey Inka and Niclas! How’s your current trip going so far? Where are you headed to next? Hahaha, I unfortunately flushed all of my pig blood when I moved apartments earlier this year; I never seemed to figure out how to work with it especially well and wasn’t super thrilled with the results in the long run. I’ve been keeping up with painting and drawing in a more general sense, though, but have been working with grease pencils and oils. I’m still in a sort of flux state with my work, but am feeling pretty excited that I’ve started to develop a new way to tie a lot of my interests together in a more meaningful way.
I really like that idea of us seeking each other’s home, but I feel like we’re using it as a way to work in a new, foreign location so we have a fresh perspective on things. I became interested in Scandinavia through my family heritage and then by way of music, art, film, etc. There is something about the culture in general I really respond to well, so when I had the chance to go to Sweden and Norway it was sort of an interesting mixture of a totally foreign place that still felt quite comfortable.
How did you come up with the idea to photograph a large part of your work in the US? I remember when researching for my trip in 2009 to Scandinavia, that the idea of a national park is pretty different in Sweden and Norway than it is in the US. Was it this sort of idea that drew you to the US? How it’s generalised that American’s respond to a national park versus how they do in Scandinavia?
I&N: That’s funny, we didn’t know you had Scandinavian ancestors but you feel a bit Scandinavian in a way. We are in Tulum in Mexico right now. We are working with the ocean and using an underwater bag for our camera for the first time. It’s interesting but kind of technically hard. We don’t have any clear plans where to go after this, except to keep on working. We just found out about this butterfly forest where they meet in millions each winter, but unfortunately it’s on the other side of the country. We haven’t decided if we should drive 36 hours to get there yet or stay here and focus on the ocean.
In Sweden we have the saying ‘all man’s right’, which basically means all nature is for everyone to walk, collect berries and camp etc (which is a great thing!). So national parks aren’t such a big deal in Sweden; honestly we don’t know a lot of parks in Sweden, but there are many and they are great. It’s just that they’re not very different from the rest of the nature. A national park in Sweden is basically a piece of land where no one is allowed to interfere. You have to hike with your cameras and all that stuff to get to the nicest scenes. We like the fact that your parks are so accessible by car and easy to reach. We can start working on something at this amazing location, drive to a big Walmart or something to buy supplies, get something to eat, have a shower, and then just go back again. Also as you mentioned, you have another kind of focus on working when traveling. All the everyday-doings are far away.
How does it feel going out of your comfort zone (or maybe you always been painting while doing photography)? We produced a sculpture last year for an exhibition in Copenhagen and a 3D-video piece for our last show in Berlin. For us that felt a bit like deep water at first but in the end it turned out great and made the exhibitions stronger. Do you like that deep water feeling or do you like to be in control while working?
Last summer when we travelled to the states and you gave as a tip via Instagram of a community in Colorado, we went searching for it but ended up driving in the mountains for two hours and then found this ‘Brotherhood of the White Temple Metaphysical Church’. Unfortunately it was closed but the sign was interesting, hahaha. We wonder if we ended up in the right spot, tell us more about it!
GW: Yes, my father’s side of my family has Scandinavian heritage- apparently his great grandfather built a barn somewhere in Norway in the 1800s and is still standing. Beyond that, our heritage is never really discussed or embraced; I think I’m the only one who has shown an interest. Besides the culture, music, etc. that I’ve grown to like so much, I think it also has to do with a similarity to the landscape I grew up in in Colorado.
It’s funny you bringing up when you were in Colorado- I totally forgot about that until now. I thought that I had recommended visiting Shamballa, which is where the Brotherhood of the White Temple is located. I grew up only a few miles from there and never knew about it until high school. It’s a pretty wild ride trying to dig up information on that place; as far as I know/have heard, it is a seasonal retreat centre for some kind of a cult, but not really a cult in the most extreme sense of that word. I know it’s meant to be a place for people to meditate and do astral projection, among other spiritual activities. Nobody I knew in high school ever really talked about it, even the kids that lived right near it. I think they try to maintain a pretty low profile even though they sell their own literature on their website.
Your trip in Mexico sounds pretty great so far, I’m excited to see what happens with the work you’re making. That drive sounds pretty intense from one end to the other, I have a feeling it’d be worth it though if you can deal with the long hours and gas money.
Similar to your underwater bag (is it really a bag? or is it a hard plastic housing?) and your sculpture you made last year, working in a new direction for me felt, and still feels, quite foreign. It’s pretty humbling to not be able to make the seemingly simple marks you see in your head on a canvas or paper. Whereas with photography, I’m technically adept and can pretty much figure a way to physically create any photograph I can imagine if I have the desire to. With painting and drawing, it’s just sort of like learning all over again. So I guess to answer your question, I would probably say I prefer being in control… but I need to experience that ‘deep water feeling’ in order to appreciate and direct the control I have. It’s sort of like I need to go way out of bounds first in order to hone in on a more focused idea and process.
The funny thing is that, in a way, my plan to branch out to other mediums has kind of backfired since it’s making me want to photograph a lot more. For a long time I haven’t been the type of photographer who actually photographs on a very regular basis. I would construct my ideas, and then go execute them in either a few frames/a few hours, or it would be a planned trip where I’d work for a couple of days at a time. I used to be shooting so much more frequently and just recently I’ve been really craving that again.
I feel like you two maybe have something of a similar process? Your work tends to be so focused on travel or location to an extent; when you’re back home in Sweden, do you still make a lot of pictures? From my perspective, too, it seems like working together might help to draw out the actual time spent photographing, since you’ll be conversing with one another rather than making quick decisions in your head. Do you feel like you’re photographers who work in a spontaneous manner or do you tend to shoot in a more planned and controlled way? Your work has that really distinct quality where it leans in both ways; you can’t tell if something has been staged or if you happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Inka & Niclas
I&N: Yes, it’s kind of a thick plastic bag made for cameras and was a bit scary using at first since we don’t have or carry spare cameras around, but it turned out to be really safe. We ended up having it more as a protection when standing among waves than doing actual underwater photography. That might be something we go into in the future though.
We totally agree. When working with our moving image, and particularly with the sculpture, we really felt the urge to do photography afterwards. But we worked on the sculpture at a studio where there was not much chance going on, so the final result was really up to us and how much time we would spend on learning the techniques to get the details right.
For us, working with photography outside, one of the most interesting parts is that the final result is going to really differ from the dreamed-up result even if everything goes perfectly as planned. We are usually quite clear on what to do before we start work and go out traveling with a certain set of ideas. But when working with photography, outside reality is always going to mess with those ideas. It is a constant negotiation between where we want to take the work and what reality decides to do with it; winds blow, clouds come and go, mountains or trees obstruct the view, etc. If we want a picture of a green bucket and a mountain, we have to actually physically find a green bucket and bring that to a mountain. Even if we are very technical, the photograph is not going to look like the image in our heads. So it’s a mix of both; we try to plan and be in control as much as possible beforehand, but while actually on location shooting we work very spontaneously with what we are handed at that moment. Also, since we’re traveling sometimes, we end up on these great scenes with perfect conditions and have no idea what to make of it, so we just tend to start doing something random to see where it takes us.
It is is quite liberating that it is virtually impossible to be in total control. While shooting, we do not communicate that much except technical stuff. But when away on our trips, while driving between locations, eating dinner, having a beer, etc., it sometimes feels like we don’t talk about anything else besides our work. The feeling of everything else being on hold and getting to totally focus on our work is really necessary for us.
We can also really understand what you are talking about with the urge to photograph more often; we have started to do shorter trips in Sweden in the last few years (for a weekend or so). We almost never work in Stockholm, with the exception of the beach Torö (an hour north of town) and the island Gotland (which you can reach by a couple of hours by boat), but still it works best for us to be somewhere else.
You have curated a lot of shows during the years, or at least that’s the picture we have. How did that start? Is that something you would like to continue with?
GW: I’m jealous of your working relationship and just the overall amount of effort you put into everything. I feel like I haven’t worked in that way in so long (where you’d be on the road and focusing so hard at the task at hand). Contrastingly, it kind of makes me think of when I went to Norway to go work on my Svart Metall project in 2009. I had made the first part of it in the US and Canada and had won the fellowship to make the trip to Scandinavia. I set up the trip in my mind as this grand experience where I was going to shoot so much film (I think I brought like 50 rolls of 220 film) and come back with so much new work. Once I got to Norway though, I was sort of overwhelmed by everything I was seeing, Bergen in particular. It was almost too much for me to take in and photograph at the same time, so I ended up actually shooting relatively very little and just spent my time looking. I was a bit nervous about this decision when I was there, but when I got back to the US I had so many new ideas and a whole new drive for completing the work. I’m not sure if you’d ever run across something like that since your work is more location-dependent in a sense?
For the curating, it started just out of the desire to be looking at so much work all the time. I loved seeing what everyone else was up to, especially since I was in school and wanted to free my mind from both my own work and the work of other students I was around. So I started to become very familiar with a wide array of work, which eventually led to me wanting to curate or organise small shows, online publications, etc. I really wanted to be involved with seeing work and meeting new people. After a while, the more trendy aspect of curating began to pick up all over the place and seemingly everyone was a curator, curating things. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (especially since I pretty much started in the same way) but then it seems like the trend started to take a turn where curators were getting the same or often more recognition than the artists themselves. This, to me, was a pretty absurd scene; when you’d go to a five-person group show and the curators name was in larger type than the artists. Around this time, a bit after I graduated from school, was when I really wasn’t feeling the curating thing as much anymore. I didn’t have as much to contribute as I used to think I did, and now that I was out of school I didn’t have quite as much free time either. So I chose to focus more on maintaining some kind of a pace with my personal work instead of trying to balance both tasks.
Maybe someday I’ll start curating again, or at least just organise something. More recently I’ve actually thought about trying to form some kind of publishing type thing instead, but always get a bit tripped up on the logistics of that. That makes me think, how did you go about making your book? Do you like making work that will end up in a publication? And do you ever work with that as the intention (or even with the intention to have a show of the work)? Or do you tend to just focus on making the photographs alone and eventually decide where they’ll end up and how they’ll be shown?
Inka & Niclas
I&N: Back when we started working together one of our big goals was to make a book. We are both such photobook fans and collect a lot of books and love the intimacy and focus the book-format gives the work. We thought we would spend a year or so photographing and then put it altogether and get it out there. But we ended up spending four years gathering material before we even started laying everything out on the floor to see if it would hold up for a book. During those four years, we photographed and exhibited parts of what is now the book and that became more important than the goal of making a book.
At the time when we decided to put everything together, we had begun to move pretty far from our older work and we realised that if we didn’t make the book of all this material right now, we would never do it. For us, it was a big and very necessary decision in the editing process to mix the project Watching Humans Watching and our more recent project SAGA in the book. It wasn’t the plan from the beginning but understand that mixing up a lot of smaller series didn’t make the bigger body vague, but, rather, more interesting and more energetic. It has had a quite a big impact on how we work now.
We released the book Watching Humans Watching at the opening of our first solo show at the gallery Swedish Photography in Berlin (now called Grundemark Nilsson Gallery). At this point, we tried to connect the book and show as much as possible; we had graphic elements of the book on the walls, the placement of the photos in the book where similar to the placement of the pieces, and you could walk around the exhibition reading text from the book for more context.
The past two or three years we have been working more towards exhibitions and have started doing smaller series of 4-8 photographs that are presented together. We are planning to do a book again in 2015 or so, but when we make work we are not thinking in terms of a book, that would be too hard. A book is so final in a way, you have to live with it and you need quite a lot of material to fill 80 pages or so. So if we thought in terms of making work for a whole book while shooting we would probably completely lock up and not get anything done.
However, we actually just sent in the finished file for a smaller limited edition publication in collaboration with Conveyor Arts as part of a book series called The Visible Spectrum Series. We are super excited about it and we will send you an invitation to the release. We think it is going to be held at Printed Matter sometime this spring. Also, we are coming to New York in May. Looking forward to grabbing a beer then!
Thanks for doing this interview with us. Keep us updated on your upcoming works.
GW: I definitely agree with how you go about making a book, but I feel like I get sucked in to wanting to focus on the publishing aspect of things much too early a lot of the time. I kind of like the idea of making shorter, faster bodies of work to fit into a publication. But at the same time my overall pace of working has been getting slower and slower. I kind of like this split personality of working, but at times it makes me really anxious because half of me wants to be churning out new stuff all the time, but the more pragmatic side of me is really caught up in taking my time. As much as it makes me anxious though, it also gets me excited to be making new things and gives me a lot of random ideas all of the time that I have to go back and sort through later.
I’m really looking forward to seeing this new publication of yours, and definitely excited to get in some hang time real soon!
Inka & Niclas