A Studio Conversation with

Max Ockborn

Installation artist Max Ockborn rents a workspace in SVT – Studio Verksamma Tillsammans, a large studio complex located in Stockholm’s Värtahamnen, but that’s not where we meet. As he uses the small office space in SVT mainly for writing and administrative tasks we decide to stage our meeting at a more spacious locale in which we can take a proper look at his sizable sculptural installations. That’s what brings us to Cigarrvägen 13, an artist run project and exhibition space in Hökarängen, where we have our talk about the palpable and mystical properties of objects.

How would you describe your working process?
There is this one long process in which I don’t really know when things are done or not and then there are these projects where I work towards a deadline. Also, everything I have done, or am doing or probably will do, is always up for potential editing. In fact I’m not so interested in artworks as such, but more in the way that they can provoke thoughts and act as elements for discussion. When putting together a show I always aim to make it an accurate reflection of my current thinking and writing.

IASPIS Open house, autumn 2013, Stockholm

IASPIS Open house, autumn 2013, Stockholm

Do you ever re-use components of your artworks?
Not everything made in the past is relevant in the now. Whether I take a work apart and re-use elements from it depends on how much I dislike the piece. If I really don’t like it then I just throw it away or smash it, but if there is something I find useful then sure, I recycle it.

Judging by your work, that often contains a myriad of peculiar details, I assumed you would be a collector type.
I do collect things but in a very slow way. Actually there are two simultaneous graphs. The amount of personal possessions I have has been going down for some time now; I don’t get more things, rather, I tend to lose stuff. But with the art business, well, I would’ve liked to sell more works, but I haven’t, so they kind of accumulate.

Is writing for you a freestanding creative act or a support for an artwork?
So far I haven’t written anything that I would consider an artwork. If my writing has anything to do with art then it is complimentary in a sense that it is trying to explain something.


Your texts often refer to an “aura of an object”, can you elaborate on exactly what you mean by that?
Even as you have your subjective viewpoint of things and I have mine, we both relate to furniture and other stuff around us in a way that implies there is something more to them than meets the eye. Now take a table for example, one thing is the purely material part of it, but there is also all this space underneath and around it that somehow belongs to the thing. That, for me, is the social aura of an object. I’ve tried to explore this in my works “BLACK BOX #1 & 2” and “GLASS BOX #1 & 2” where I cut a sofa and a table into pieces and put them inside small black boxes, and in one case a standard white pedestal. By doing so I could see exactly how much the physical volume of the object was and compare it to my image of it.

If objects have an aura then doesn’t it mean rooms have an aura too? And what does a viewer bring into the equation?
It is interesting to think about spatiality, the way people inhabit spaces and how various different elements impact one another either by working together or against each other. Still, in a way I don’t think it matters which kind of space I’m working with, because all places have their individual characteristics. More important is the presence of living things. If nobody sees the work then there is absolutely no point to it; I would never make things just for the sake of my own enjoyment.

"Black Box #1", 2009

”Black Box #1″, 2009

The title of one of your recent sculptures reads: “Oak in the shape of water, a table in leather, a stick stuck in fleeting motion and materials pretending to be signs for information”. What is it that you want to communicate by pointing out the materials constituting the work?
Naming the materials is a way to describe the work without writing what exactly it is about. In general I’m very interested in different materials. Each of them has their own unique set of abilities. I’m not the kind of guy who looks at ten different computers when I need to buy one. I would just go and buy a computer, and then I would think: great, I have a computer, now let’s see what I can do with it, instead of being sad that I didn’t get a computer that was little bit faster. I approach materials the same way; I just want to get to know them, see what they are up to.

"Oak in the shape of water, a table in leather, a stick stuck in fleeting motion and materials pretending to be signs for information", 2014

”Oak in the shape of water, a table in leather, a stick stuck in fleeting motion and materials pretending to be signs for information”, 2014

Can you say something about the inverted pyramid shaped textile sculptures of yours?
Originally I did three of them for the Master Degree Exhibition in Malmö. They were all made according to the size of the gallery space: one narrow, one square, and one really big measuring 11,5 x 6 meters. The tips of the inverted pyramids were supposed to show the exact centre of the room. Making them I needed to refresh my mathematical knowledge and work together with my aunt Katarina, who is very good at sewing; she makes costumes for ice skaters. In a way the inverted pyramids made the rooms feel more spacious because they eliminated the ceiling. Another thing that was very successful about them was that they improved acoustics. Because it was such a massive amount of fabric it absorbed the sound and made it possible to have two hundred drunken people in the gallery during the opening and actually hold a conversation. The pyramids also acted as gigantic light boxes. The turquoise and red reflections that you see in the installation pictures from that show were a lucky accident. It happened because – and I wish I could say I had planned this – I had used turquoise and red cotton fabric on which there was a lot of more pigment than on the other, more plasticy fabrics.

Installation view from Master Degree Exhibition, Malmö Art Academy, KHM-gallery, 2012

Installation view from Master Degree Exhibition, Malmö Art Academy, KHM-gallery, 2012

Do you have any artistic role models?
I had a very favorable grant from Konstnärsnämnden for assisting Jimmie Durham, a sculptor and poet, from whom I learned a lot. Jimmie sure knows how to tell a story. He is also very knowledgeable about inner qualities of materials, woodworking and such.


I can definitely spot many parallels in your work.
I assisted Jimmie from 2012 to 2013 and I think it should be possible to notice a difference in my work before and after that. Actually I knew Jimmie a bit from before, though Gertrud Sandqvist, my theory professor in Malmö Konsthögskola, who is also like a role model for me. First, I assisted Jimmie in Rome. After that we worked together in Berlin and Kassel, where Jimmie showed work at the Documenta; he read poems in a bar, which was both really funny and good. Then we were back in Italy, working in Naples on a sculpture exhibition titled “Wood, Stone and Friends”.  For that one we made something like twenty-one sculptures in a month, I think. We worked a lot. I had a nice time.

What is it that keeps you busy at the moment?
There is of course always this ongoing process of making material tests and maintaining old works. Also, I’m trying to put together a draft for a book that will contain some existential matters, observations of daily life and short texts that I’ve written before. It will be part fiction and, I don’t know, I’m not going to say poetry, but perhaps something that sniffs around poetry.

The conversation between Max Ockborn and Mirja Majevski took place in Stockholm on February 12, 2015.

Text: Mirja Majevski
Photo: Lena Bergendahl, Jean-Baptiste Beranger, Max Ockborn, Olof Nimar, Anika Schwarzlose

Name: Max Ockborn
Born: 1983 in Stockholm, SWE
Based: Stockholm, SE
Education: MFA 2012 Malmö Art Academy, SWE and an exchange year 2011 at Maumaus escola de artes Visuais in Lisbon, PRT
Info: Sculpture project as part of the Cultural Documents Program (Documenti Culturale) in the Filignano area of Molise, ITA
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