Karl Larsson’s current exhibition R, A, I, N (Consensus) at Signal – Center for Contemporary Art in Malmö is dedicated to the notions of verticality, falling, rain and the reader. Here, Larsson continues his work in the intersecting margins of writing and language, poetry and installations. As part of the exhibition the book Consensus (The Room) – a play in two acts, not destined for the stage – is published by Paraguay Press. The project also has a third part, the upcoming exhibition, P∞L (Consensus) at the art bookstore/publisher/non-profit gallery castillo/corrales in Paris. Larsson has had solo exhibitions at the Index Contemporary Art Foundation in Stockholm and the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein in Aachen, and has participated in group exhibitions at NGBK in Berlin and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Karl Larsson divides his time between Kristianstad and Berlin. He has published three collections of poetry and is a member of the editorial board of the poetry review OEI.
Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?
I tried to ask myself the question whether a show could be a rain. Of course it is a stupid, clumsy question, and yet it turned out to be productive. I started out with three basic assumptions: that an exhibition should be able to be anything, that rain is something that affects everyone, and that a vertical movement is a fitting figure to illustrate a cut in a horizontal conception.
As was the case of your solo exhibition at Index in Stockholm, you are releasing a literary work in conjunction with the exhibition. Are you not afraid that the book will be absorbed in the economy of printed matter in which artists’ books on the one hand seem to have become so important that they exist everywhere, and on the other hand – by means of inflation and a certain predictability of the genre – that they have been reduced to something like an expensive business card?
I understand what you mean, but no, I’m not particularly afraid of it. Or perhaps I suffer from a much larger, chronic fear that overshadows this. The art world is obviously flooded with printed matter, but I don’t think my books have the function of business cards. Quite the contrary, they might even lead to a kind of annihilation of myself as a creative entity. Every book I’ve written has been written more or less from the first line to the last, and then edited very hard, resulting in that I have read the books hundreds, sometimes thousands of times. After a while, it becomes impossible to be the author of such a work. I’m also terrified of saying too much when I write, something you almost always have to do in the process of making a work of art.
How does writing relate to the spatial exhibition in your practice?
The only thing that would possibly bind them together is the trace of an editorial principle or method, something I might use while working on a piece destined for a certain audience. There are statements, forms, and shapes which I believe has value even beyond my private sphere: I can then make use of these both while writing and working spatially. But when it comes to poetry, for instance, I am of the view that there is no poetry outside of poetry, and that the very reason for this is that poetry by definition invents its own form. In other words, nothing can be «poetic» and poetry is not an empty container (like a room) that you could fill with meaning. Poetry works deep down within language: it generates reality. Art, as well as prose, and other consumer goods in society requires more or less pronounced conceptual frameworks to be understandable (and they must be understood to have a value). Thus they to some extent become allegorical, and this is where fiction seeps out of them.
Which comes first: the work on the text or the idea of the exhibition? Or both at once?
My studio work, if you can call it that, consists of reading and writing. My daily routine is very much the poet’s. Text controls all development in this sense. But there is a problem with reading, namely that the body becomes passive. Thus, one can not act while one reads. I want to continue working even when I get up. And I think that the poetic experience – the memory of a clear and radical change – can have a value beyond literature.
But doesn’t the exhibition enjoy some kind of primacy, at least to the extent that most people will probably experience the room before they read the book?
No, not at all. All parts must be able to stand for themselves. The reason that I made this project in multiple parts is that I tried to avoid stating anything too explicit about that which was the original field of study of the project, namely stupidity.
What kind of infinity fills the pool of P∞L (Consensus)?
It must be the infinite silence that remains when someone avoids answering a question.
Have you had any particular sources of inspiration in the work of the Consensus project?
It is difficult to answer to that in detail, because this work has evolved over a rather long time. In 2009, after Night Song – my second book – I moved to Brussels, and really only at that point, I began to feel comfortable working as an individual artist. Before that I had isolated myself as a poet for three years, and even before that I more or less entirely collaborated with other artists. The Consensus project has emerged from an elusive feeling that something is not quite right and that I can’t put my finger on what it is. Writing three books in a language other than one’s mother tongue is extremely strange, and feels simply dangerous. The focus of this project – a focus on figures without outlines, leaking containers and rooms that are both populated and depopulated – is derived from the experience of, in some sense, having lost oneself. This probably sounds egocentric in relation to your question, but I’ve always found it difficult to be enthusiastic about individual artworks, and instead I’ve always been fascinated by the methods of artists. Which is probably why I think it is relevant to mention all this.
Consensus (The Room) is a play. How is it that you have chosen this format, and what drama do you read yourself?
I simply couldn’t write any more poetry in English. Even my last book, Poetical Assumption, was too much. Writing drama instead became a way to end this linguistic life of a parrot which I was leading, while at the same time I could give shape to this shift in a new and constructive way. I’ve certainly read a lot of drama during the writing process, but still more poetry. It is difficult to access contemporary literature without being in the right context. To give you some examples, I’ve been reading works by Pinter, Koltès, Kane, Mueller, etc., and a lot has obviously happened since these playwrights were in their prime. I wonder where one would find the most interesting drama right now. It’s hard to get there on your own! Imagine if you would start reading contemporary poetry and you would began to look for things yourself. It would be incredibly tricky to get past even the seventies. I mean, recent history is not yet written. You could easily get stuck on, let’s say, Ashbery.
In your work as editor of the review OEI you made a special issue on the term «paratext» , defined by the literary theorist Gérard Genette as all the text in a book that surrounds its literary work: table of content, publisher’s name, copyright information, and so on. How do you, as an artist, relate to the equivalent of the art exhibition, i.e. press releases, wall texts, titles, descriptions, etc?
I try to stay aware of their potential influence, without trying to cover every single area of sense. Once I was chided by a critic because I, instead of doing it myself, had let the exhibiting institution write the press release. He thought I should know better. But at the same time, this can’t be about patrolling all the confines of your work, securing all areas. I want to give the best possible conditions for the viewer, but that does not mean that we have to have the same point of departure. I really think that too a conceptual practice becomes allegorical, and that this is a current problem in contemporary art. It’s not like we are the only ones who are dealing with transactions of ideas. The whole economy is based around this by now. An idea is not purer or more politically powerful than a broom cast in bronze. But it always gets a bigger impact, which is not always a good thing. In the end, you get a situation where you walk around an art exhibition thinking, «oh well, (s)he thought about this, but did not seem to have thought about that. Oh, and that, yikes what a boring idea.» And so on. But then there are no open surfaces at all, just claustrophobic rooms.
What materials are included in the exhibition?
Paper, bronze, concrete, copper, wool and cotton.