Miriam Stoney: If you were given the opportunity to talk about your work, what would you actually want to say? Is it more interesting for you to talk about your work in relation to the objects, or would you rather say more about the process?
Albin Bergström: If we’re going to have an interview about the interview, the one thing I’m nervous about it is that sometimes I just start talking about this stuff, and I don’t stop. And maybe that works in casual conversations, but you put that on paper and it’s scary. And also, because we know each other, I’m very comfortable saying things to you, and I need to remind myself that I’m talking to other people through you. But maybe you will write something… and we will look through it together, right?
MS: Of course.
AB: I think I end up talking about the process even if I’m asked about the works, because I think that’s just what I can provide as an artist. That’s also why I write specifically in this autofictional way about my practice. People like you, or art critics, or whoever, can really contextualise the work, which is something I can’t do because I don’t know that craft, of writing or talking in that way.
MS: What I understand about the way you’re working is that the split between your work and you as a person, even if it’s not clear-cut, still means that you don’t necessarily embody your work all the time. I envy this, to be honest.
AB: I speak about this with other people too, about autofiction, and the desire to be generous, but with that also arises the need to hold back. Which is tough, you have to find a balance in what works for you, and for your work, and for you as a person, and which is sustainable. Wow, that’s strong. But I prefer church coffee.
MS: What’s church coffee?
AB: Weak, thin coffee.
MS: They give you coffee in church?
AB: In Sweden, they give out coffee afterwards.
MS: Do you have a sense a grouping or do you see your works existing in the same continuum?
AB: I think I do see them in a continuum, because I can always relate them to each other somehow. That’s maybe only for me. With these chairs sculptures I made, the desire to make them very much originated from the fact that I’d been making very small works for a very long time, and I just wanted to go up in size. The smaller works were these tiny weavings, which was very interesting for me, because it’s almost like writing, being focused on an A4-sized thing. But they were just so small and tedious, so after that, I just wanted to make something bigger. The works had nothing to do with each other, but I still see them as a – even if I’m the only one – …
MS: Like a chain reaction?
AB: Yeah. And then the carpets, of course they’re different in a sense from the sculptural works. Still life, interiors or domestic objects recur, and of course textiles are very consistent across my work.
MS: How did you actually come to textiles?
AB: I think it’s very much part of my family history. You know, all the carpets we had in our house were made by my grandmother or my great-grandmother. My grandmother used to look after me as a child, and she had a loom in her living room. I sat on her lap and helped her make carpets.
MS: So, you really learned it…
AB: No, I learned nothing, I was four years old. But it was always a part of my life, crafts in general, and specifically textiles. I got this sewing kit from my grandmother, and I never used it, so it sat in my apartment for four years, and then when I started working from home, I thought maybe now’s the time. It feels very honest to me; I feel like I have an intimate relationship to the craft, to the techniques and to the material itself.
MS: I think that’s what you see in the work itself. It doesn’t come across as a sentimental approach a medium; it’s still a way of meeting the medium on its own terms, and not through a specific lens, like familial domesticity. Where do the materials enter into this? For me, they’re almost an iconographic part of the work: they have a lot to say.
AB: Well, it’s different with each work. I am obsessed with material. And I’m also obsessive about material lists. When you look at artworks in a museum and you have the title, the year, and list of materials, I think there’s a certain poetry to that. And that’s very important to my work as well. It’s never worked out, but sometimes I try to sketch out works with a list of materials that I think work together well on a semantic level. Although it’s never worked out, doing a sketch for a sculpture in that way. Many of the materials I have used are not directly/traditionally connected to a sculptural art practice. I’m interested in combining different materials, or forms, or images in a forceful way. With the hay and the candelabra, it’s a stark contrast. I like the idea of lamps as sculptures. They obviously have a function, and there’s this idea of something happening with them. But you can only turn it on and off. In that way, it feels closer to other art objects than design objects, or functional tools.
But then I think hay is charged with something existential, it’s very erotic and it’s very much about death and decay. I think decay is present in a lot of things I do.
MS: How do you work with texture? If I look closely at one of your hay sculptures, there seems to be a Baroque sort of charge, in the way the hay flows around and over these vegetal forms. It’s like the material has been magnetised, it has direction or an orientation.
AB: I think it’s because when I do things, I like to be very systematic. I’m very habitual.
MS: Do you make sketches?
AB: Not really… sometimes. I almost only do sketches when I don’t have the materials to make the actual sculpture. That way I feel like I’m on my way with it. I don’t do mock-ups or tests, I think when I do things it has to be the real thing. I’m quite insecure about that, about not doing research, I feel like one should do research.
MS: Well, what would research look like?
AB: Reading? Read into the history of the candelabra, or something like that. When I drew on other decorative motifs, I didn’t read about them, but I always feel like… maybe I should. But then I have been reassured about this since I heard that Olivia Coleman doesn’t do any research for roles! So, I’m in the clear, it’s me and Olivia Coleman, not doing research!
MS: I wonder how, when you conceptualise or conceive a work, do you just have one idea that you just follow through with? Or does the process not contain its own deviations, is it not itself a way of thinking?
AB: In my work there’s always something that resembles a structure, or a system, that refuses to bend, to have leniency or mercy, and that’s very much what the chair sculptures are about: the utopian, modernist design, with the standardisation of furniture came the exclusion of certain bodies. The candelabra is a symbol of a system, or a hierarchy, and I wanted to do something that resists that or parodies it. But it always starts with the hands. And a silly idea. Putting the hay and the candelabra together was an impulse. I have to make the work to realise what it’s about and what my interest is. Maybe that sounds romantic, I don’t know. I think it’s a way of processing certain interests or desires. I also choose tedious labour. For example, turning all these yarn braids into yarn balls takes forever, it’s all very monotonous. Sometimes I hate it, it’s boring. And when someone says, »Wow, this must have taken such a long time,« I think, »Yeah,« but that shouldn’t add to the value of the work. Even if doing this work does allow me to think about why I’m doing this and what I’m actually making.
MS: Maybe I have a very liberal understanding of the word ›research‹, but this to me seems like a process by which you are finding things out. Maybe I shouldn’t psychologise too much, but you must find something out about these materials in the time you spend doing these things.
AB: A few years ago, I read this book called »Writing« by Marguerite Duras. In this book she says she writes to find out what she would write about if she were writing. Something like that. And when I read that, I thought, this is the only artist statement that anyone will ever need. It’s so true, and I really have this. Part of the magic of making art is surprising yourself, making something you find beautiful, and for five minutes you’re amazed with yourself.