When I meet Nanna Nordström in her studio in Hökarängen, a suburb of Stockholm, it’s the beginning of June. Although she’s in the beginning of a new working process, her studio, a light ground floor space, is full of objects slowly taking form. We talk about the terms ‘sculpture’ and ‘installation’ in relation to the works in her studio, and about the importance of having an initial working process with no focus on a deadline or outcome.
You refer to your work as sculpture. Often the size of your works makes me think of them as installations. Do you ever question how your works should be categorized?
It’s maybe not entirely obvious to refer to what I do as sculpture. I sometimes describe the different parts as constellations. But I want the different constellations, which are always in relation to one another, to also have their own integrity, that you walk around them and relate to them with your body. But I always work with the installation of the sculptures in relation to each other and to the room, they also form a piece that one enters. I guess that both words can be relevant, or neither of them. There is some kind of ‘both’ or ‘neither’ that often recurs to me. To be ‘in between’ is an important aspect of my practice. But there’s still something about the word ‘sculpture’ that I like, so I find myself preferring it if I have to categorize at all. Maybe there is something with the association between installation and the theatrical that I feel does not fit to describe my work.
What importance does choice of material have to you?
Most of the time I begin with materials or objects that already possess an inherent movement. Something presses, pulls, lifts and so on. In that movement I find a narrative that I can build upon. The choice of material is the starting point for me.
What exactly is it that interests you when it comes to sculpture and installation?
The fact that I’m drawn to the three-dimensional probably has to do with complexity for me. Objects and materials take up actual space and so many relations are created; directions, scale, movements, the meaning connotations of the different materials etcetera. Just the simple fact that the work is different from every point in the room.
I like to work with that, and I also like that there are always levels that I can´t control.
What are your thoughts on space and spatiality?
When you work three-dimensionally the space becomes very significant. It defines what you have to work with. There’s something raw in my choice of materials and a kind of simplicity in the gestures that emerges when a space is clean and pared down. But it can also be interesting if a space has a specific character, if it isn’t a white cube. For me the room is always a base to work from, something that shapes the work.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m in a period where I’m working intuitively and trying not to think about the outcome so much. Later, when I come closer to a deadline, my work gets more direction, then I can start making some parts that takes form in relation to that particular space. But this period, where I can experiment without thinking so far ahead, is important. That’s when things evolve, and that´s usually then that I make the parts that I like the most in the end.
What’s your working process like?
I’m not consciously, but constantly, looking for material. When I see something I usually know immediately that I want it. I always work simultaneously with multiple sculptures in relation to each other. It is often the case that the sculptures made during the same period of time belong together, but I also combine older works with new ones, all depending on the situation and the exhibition space. When I have a deadline and a new space in mind I start directing my work towards that given context and I also work with models of the space and the sculptures. But exactly how a work will be is determined during the installation, it’s always in the exhibition space that it gets its final form. The ultimate way of working for me is to, as I’m doing now, have the time to experiment and try new things without a given context and then at a certain time start working towards a specific space.
What inspires you?
Inspiration can come from anything at all that interests me. But there is an interplay in my work, when the work itself is inspiring. The act of making generates thoughts just as much as the reverse.
Your sculptures seem fragile but controlled. If you were to add or change something the entire constellation could collapse.
The balance itself is a boundary condition which is also a kind of frozen motion. It is an actual kinetic energy that is at the same time still. Those of my works that are based on balance are as they are because that’s the only way they can be. If I add, change or remove something the entire constellation collapses. Sometimes I feel that they are solutions to problems that I have forgotten.
You simply solve problems?
Sometimes it feels like that, but I don´t know… there are also other parts of the work that are very different. The feeling of problem solving is maybe just relevant when talking about the balance.
You talk about movement and balance. I think of bodies and movements when I see your sculptures. It’s almost choreographic.
I also see a lot of physicality and movement in my works. The scale that I work in is in relation to the human body and the different constellations get their own characteristics. When I work here in the studio I’m quite aware of my own way of moving amongst my sculptures, I know where they are fragile and what to avoid in order to not destroy them in the working process. The fact that I am so aware of my own movement pattern also becomes evident when I get visits in the studio. I notice that I then observe the visitors way of moving amongst the sculptures.
Have you always worked with sculpture?
No, I haven’t. I tested various different mediums. I painted for a while, but poorly, and I did some video works. It took quite some time for me until I found the three-dimensional. I used to think that what I did before I found my current way of working was very fragmented, but now when I look back I realize there’s something quite consistent in that fragmented way of working that has followed me into how I work today. The way the work oscillates in different directions, and that it’s precisely this movement in between that makes sense to me.
Do you feel that you found your medium in sculpture?
Yes, at least as a starting point. But it’s not the medium that determines what I like, for example. Focusing on what is, physically speaking, in the space, how something is presented regardless of the medium is important to me. To understand the exhibition itself as a medium. That’s probably what I would take with me even if I would choose to do something completely different in the future. But I also think that I could be interested in other forms of expression and have a dialogue with them without having to change medium myself. I am interested in putting my work in relation to others by letting works come together physically, to work together, not necessarily at the level of creating individual work together but to actively work with how your different practices are met. It becomes a possibility for reaching beyond your own intentions.
The conversation between Nanna Nordström and Olga Krzeszowiec Malmsten took place in Stockholm, SWE on June 5, 2014.
Text: Olga Krzeszowiec Malmsten
Photo: Linnea Svensson Arbab, Oscar Furbacken, Patrick Christe Sandmeier, Kimberly Sikora, Olga Krzeszowiec Malmsten