Noplace, Oslo proudly presents:


Nicholas Riis

26.05.18 - 17.06.18

Opening: Saturday 26.05.18, 14:00 - 19:00
Opening hours 14-17, Saturday and Sunday

An interview with Nicholas Riis
May 2018

Rope, that’s quite a peculiar title. The only two references I can think of is..


And bondage.

I met a guy in Berlin. He saw my work. I showed him my work on my phone. He said; “Ah.. Fetish.” He could actually see that in the work. That’s quite amazing.

You kind of squeeze this material resembling something like a marzipan cake, but also a body, into these squares.

It’s body, but it’s body without form. They’re cubes. I do not define them as anything. You could call them crates, you could call them travel wear, you could call them chests, but they never refer to a specific form as in body as form. They don’t refer to being something specific as glasses or cup or wheelchair or anything. They’re minimal in that sense.

They’re attempting an escape from its own form; the cube, as a defining form in the art world.

And for a long time, no? That’s why minimalism always comes up in studio visits.

Even though they’re maximalist in a way.

As if something is inside out. You’ll ask what it's made of. All the materials come from several sources, body decor such as pearls, knit made by my mom, mixed with cosplay materials, which is basically fan art. If you have anime characters, drawn illustrated worlds, or video games, there’s a lot of materials that are fictional materials. Not metal. Not wood. But something in between. Something strange. These are digital and virtual materials. These are fictional materials. Now you have a whole generation of cosplayers growing like crazy. I think it started in Korea and Japan in the 90s, but now it has spread all over the planet. It’s an amazing thing to suddenly have access to this binary substance. How can a DIY youngster copy these digital materials? How can I make my suits similar to Iron Man's, or whoever. How can I as an artist copy these materials? So you have companies figuring out how they can take industrially produced matter, what you pack your TV with; thermoplastic and polystyrene, both very simple old technology, copy this and make it very easy for people to use at home, to recreate a fictional armor and objects. When you photograph this again you bring it back into the digital world. What fascinates me about this phenomena is that the material returns to its home, which is the digital sphere, as if they never left in the first place. It’s about craftsmanship and the digital and the real, that bounces back and forth, like that vintage video game Pong. And that fascinates me a lot. It’s a trick. That’s the beauty of it. I’ve become a big fan of epoxy, mainly the one used by fan artist, rarely contemporary artist. Two component epoxy you can turn into whatever, and it basically turns into hard plastic. You can add it to any other plastic, such as toys or tools, and in this way change an industrial fabricated object into your own.

It all goes back to the birth of conceptual art; the discussion between Donald Judd and Michael Fried about autonomy and theatricality. Are these objects theatrical or autonomous?

I believe they’re theatrical in their essence, because they tend to show off, I think. The problem with them is that they might be reduced to props, which is a bad word. People at times refer to Matthew Barney when seeing my work, but to me his sculptures are totally just props sold as art.

Leftovers from some movie.

And they’re poetic in their essence. They pretend to be objects. They act as objects. So I asked myself; how can I make an object that can survive next to other objects as object, not sculpture. Fuck sculpture. The first work where I felt I managed to do this was called Buttercup, and it’s just a stupid looking object similar to a trash can or an Apple Pro 2013, though made in a different way. I could put it anywhere and it works. It starts to question objecthood, not art. These objects functions somewhat similar to that as well, though they’re talking more about a fantasy world maybe, or maybe the other, or even abjectness. They’re abject, because there’s body, there’s fur, real and fake, there’s a lot of braids, which I find enormously fascinating. Braids is something strangely similar to rope, like rope are braids on objects. Both has been around for such a vast amount of time. It’s a body decoration that you can do with such a human material. What I use is real wool. It’s cheap. It’s fantastic.

It looks exclusive. Is that a point in itself?

The objects?

They look exclusive in a cheap way and cheap in an exclusive way. There’s an ambiguity there.

That’s nice. Yeah, they are exclusive, because there’s only one of a kind. It’s an extremely long and complex process to make these objects, where I put myself on the verge of insanity. Pretty much similar to Santa's workshop in China, just without the elves. I make catalogues on the side. Because when you’re stuck in this studio and you pick up these books, product catalogues, all these objects deep etched into a white space. You put these images next to each other, especially when you’re limiting yourself to one color, skin color or something. If you do that with thousands of objects, the same size with no text, you generate a hierarchy that disappears between the different objects. You start to see some kind of strange truth somehow.

Which is probably what Duchamp wanted with the Fountain originally.

The stupidity of objects, or the beauty of the relation between them, also has something to do with the digital. Objects in reality doesn’t work the same way, because there one is more prone to focus on the material, size, scale, body. In the catalogues I made out of found footage I took away materiality, the hierarchy between objects, and I found that mesmerizing.

When I look at these objects, I was thinking of sheep, different kinds of sheep. You can easily imagine these objects being fenced in on some field somewhere.

It’s a herd of black sheep. Individual fetishized sheep. There’s only a select few left on earth. A threatened species. They’re usually based on characters, which is what makes them individuals. One is based on my mother, another one is based on Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, a girl in that book which I found extremely fascinating. It was read by a woman, the audio book I listened to, so it’s also about this other woman that does the reading. I was listening to the book because I fell in love with her voice.

There’s a video on YouTube, I watch it all the time, where this girl is unpacking this Voigtländer lens, which I discovered because I was buying one for my Sony.

But then you fell in love with her voice..

I never see her, because she’s unpacking this object, but her voice raises the hair on my arms and neck.

I’m not sure if I fell in love with the voice, or the character, or if they’re intertwined.


But it’s also nature. The wax part is actually leather. It’s based on pattern of skin, animals mostly, or fantasy creatures. It’s blown up skin. You have skin, you have pearls, and there’s handicap wear, or ablewear. I collect ablewear, which is an extremely expensive hobby. You go to these old peoples home, and they have this store where they sell ablewear. These are hidden protectors of joint, bones and muscles. There’s a lot of this, and it’s not something you ever see, because it’s hidden beneath their clothes, though still an integrated part of the body. This applies to breast lifts, these things that are very physical, though hidden. And it originates in armor. I just bought this beautiful book in Berlin; European Armor From the 18th Century, they also show what’s under the armor. That shit is simply amazing. The technology is fascinating. It’s all taken from nature, from animal. Another thing I look at is Miu Miu, which is a sister brand of Prada, though more for teenagers than grownups. They make a lot amazing purses and bags, where they produce a crazy mix, similar to a post middle ages monster, where you take the head of a lion and the tail of a dragon etc. Then you blend it together. The more they knew about medicine, the more complex the monsters became. We used to believe, because we didn’t know that much, that the soul was in the stomach

In Indonesia it’s still in the liver.

These bags are made of fictitious skin. Expensive bags back in the days were made out of crocodiles with their eyes still on. Now you use a crocodile and make it look like cow leather, you use plastic and make it look like crocodile, and you use snake skin as if it's plastic, though more expensive than real snake skin. You fuse these things together..

And you generate artistic assemblages within fashion..

Potential futuristic materiality.

How does your work relate to science fiction?

Science fiction?

Or do we live in Science Fiction already, so it’s not really a question anymore?

I think we’re still living in an extremely nostalgic era. People are not thinking forward.

You don’t appreciate nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a big problem in Oslo. There’s a romanticism going on here that’s a bit dangerous. You’ll see it on the website of galleries. You’ll see it in titles. A bit of poetry with a dash of conceptualism mixed into it.

A Frankenstein project.

Maybe it’s an educational problem.

I see your point when looking at Godard and his three latest movies; Film Socialisme, Goodbye To Language and The Story Book, he’s rejecting the notion of nostalgia completely.

Not caring?

Using the means and technology available to him to project an image of the times we’re living in. He just makes his assistants carry this bag of different crappy cameras that he can play around with, on a cruise ship, in The Middle East or Paris, making movies that almost no one wants to see.

We have new mediums available now. Ed Atkins,for instance, are using them. If you understand anything about 3D animation you can recognize everything they use, because there’s only an archive of so much; faces, objects and so on. It’s a generic language, with these 3D artists, when they present their work. The closer to Dreamworks the more amazed we are. It’s almost an effect which is seemingly the opposite of the nostalgic, because it’s supposedly new and fresh. “Wow! You work with Pixar or what? Though with an artistic and poetic mind..” It looks really neat. The problem starts when people are not able to see content, because they see surface. They see a sexy image. They see wealth. They ask; “how do you do this?”, instead of “what is this about?” They don’t see content, which is the same problem as nostalgia, because the message is hidden beneath the structure. So where nostalgia blinds certain people, the new medium blinds others. It will be a decade or more until it’s materialized, before it becomes material itself, because what we see is aesthetics. It fools us. Content is hidden, or not there at all. Instead of witnessing what it really is, you see a mirage. You have a completely new material at work, a medium that becomes available for a new generation of artists, and we spoil it. Slowly the same might be happening to sculpture.

I was watching Phantom Thread by Paul Thomas Anderson thinking; “I have to use film. Film is superior.” Then I remembered five minutes later that I’d seen Happy End by Michael Haneke in the same cinema a couple of months earlier, thinking; “I’ll go digital. We don’t need film. It’s obsolete.”

It’s too easy to say: “Let’s not use the old mediums.” That’s not what I’m proposing, but if you go to Japan, you’ll see how they recreate the 60's rock scene in America. They’re doing it the right way. It has to do with the image, how it’s regenerated, what Baudrillard call Disneyfication, done in an understandable way. It’s super honest. There’s no irony in it. It’s done as a tribute, not as a fetishization. It’s not nostalgic. It’s futuristic, because it is a tribute. They are fan artists.

Talking about Japan, you’re using the anime character as a defining element in you show.

I went on, which is a website where you can ask anyone in the world to do a job. Their slogan is; Don't Just Dream, Do. You have professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs. The prices varies. I asked a guy in Japan, a semi-professional anime guy to make me some fan art, as if he was a fan of my work. Fan art is quite fascinating, because it’s another fiction of the real.

You asked for an image of a baby and a pregnant woman?

I gave him pictures of the three sculptures I’m going to show, and I said; pretend you’re a real fan. I turned him into a fan. I made a fictional fan, but it also has to do with body and object, how fan art works on so many levels. But it also has to do with changing the fictitious thing. Fan art is mostly way more fascinating than the real thing.

Deviant art?

Deviant art is brilliant, because it doesn’t refer to capitalism as such. It doesn’t refer to a market. It’s pure fucking love, which is extremely fascinating, because most of these stories, most of these fictions, are made to sell. And if the creator doesn’t start there, he’ll be forced to go through a few steps, where it’s going to be something he’ll have to change. There’s enough content in the world, it just has to be reimagined. Just look at the movies from Marvel. They didn’t come up with a character for ages. Deadpool is vaguely new and working well, but mostly everything is just recycled. It’s quite sad and very strange. It’s the same nostalgic problem as Chris Marker has turned into in the arts. Repeating old formulas. Disney fucked up STAR WARS. There’s probably going to be another Titanic within the next decade. The only one creating new content might be the Japanese market. Maybe. There’s a lot of political problems in Manga, especially when it arrives here, because the western mindset can’t comprehend what’s going on inside these cultural spheres.

Schoolgirl fetishism.

All these things are quite idiosyncratic. They were closed off culturally for so many years, which generated these very unlikely narratives. Netflix is packed with Anime now, which is great, because the stories are mostly much more complex and deeper than western stories.

I believe there’s a nostalgia in your work as well, but a nostalgia connected to the eighties or nineties. Do you allow memories from your childhood to drip into these objects?

It’s impossible to avoid that. At best my work is fan art for something that doesn’t exist. The honest creation is eternal, much more than what we recognize as contemporary art. You know what I mean. Fuck art.

Your sculptures evokes the notion of pregnancy and birth, but it’s also present in the illustrations for the show.

I didn’t know what would happen with these illustrations. I just said: “We need a mother.” And: “We need a baby.” It’s not good drawings in the end. They lack character. Maybe that’s the point. They turned out too generic. I just have to accept them. It was worth a try, just to see what would happen. It’s too easy to just stick with the sculpture. As artists we always have this problem of the “mother, see what I made” syndrome. Deep down I just want to see something wild. I want to see something that gets my decorative juices flowing, my aesthetic juices flowing. Something that surprises me a little.

You changed the Norwegian art scene for a couple of years with Kazachenko’s Apartment. Then you left seemingly for good. Your work is quite disconnected to the Norwegian idea of art.

It’s probably disconnected down there as well. In Piet Zwart I had all these people from New Zealand, Britain and the US around me constantly, that could administrate English perfectly, in a fairly theoretical situation. Most were kind of sentimental, bringing with them some heavy theory from back home, Beckett or whatever. Even though it was a great time and a very good education, to me that became a bit boring, because it was pondering on the past, romanticizing art. No one could really make anything that looked really good to me. Performance and poetics were dominant. I was a total black sheep in terms of production, doing something very different, and having to survive in a very hypothetical situation. One of my teachers questioned why I was working in polystyrene, because it was so unfriendly to nature, being a toxic material. It takes five hundred million years to get rid off that stuff. You can’t break that shit down. I told her; I hope this work is so valuable to culture it will outweigh what I trash in nature.

There’s an authentic sacrifice going on there.

I hope these objects has enough cultural signification that they’ll outweigh the environmental harm.

But back to the original question. Rope. What’s the origin of that title?

It’s a 1948 Hitchcock movie. It was a failed movie, though with eight stars on IMDB. The director hated it. The attempt was to make the whole movie in what was seemingly one continuous shot. It’s about two hours long, in what’s suggested to be one long take. Everything takes place in a Manhattan apartment. It was taken from a theater play from the thirties, which again was based on a real story, so it’s set up as a play. There are three guys in the beginning of the film, all intellectuals, part of a scene called The Aesthetic Movement. They focused more on being beautiful rather than having a deeper meaning. Two of the guys end up killing the third. I can’t remember why, but it doesn’t matter, because the matter is not the reason. It’s opposite to Hitchcock’s usual mandate, which is mostly concerned with the psychology behind a murder. They kill their friend before the guests arrives, puts him in a chest, which is the main object of the film, standing in the middle of the floor. They put a cloth over it, then puts a table there. They eat over this corpse in the chest, which is now a coffin. The guests comes in. They start eating. They start talking. They’re all intellectuals. These two guys sees this murder as an intellectual exercise. They’re hinting through the whole night what happened. Where is David? Why is he not coming? They keep going on like that. There’s no remorse. This object they’re sitting around is beautiful in its presence. So they start philosophizing on it, and one of the guests agrees that a murder can be defensible, but he changes his mind when he realizes that the theory is a physical fact. This movie depends on the tension of that object. The long takes underlines the notion of the dead body inside this box. In the sense of what an exhibition is, what a showroom is, considering the vernissage and how we relate to each other in competition with the attention of the art, the movie is highly relevant. One critic wrote about the film: “Once the characters have entered the room, there can’t be any jump in time, or the suspense will be lost.” There’s something to it, the attention an object demands, creating an object that can exist next to other objects.

There’s also the wake. I always feel a bit funeralish when I go to an exhibition.

Or the motivation for an artist to create as well. It has something to do with the intellectual exercise. The inconvenience of dead bodies, that can be applied to my sculptures as well, this carefulness. If you kill your friend you’ll still be very assiduous with the corpse, because it’s still your friend, even if you killed him. Body is half object.

When an object is still in your studio it still has potential, though when you exhibit the same thing, it dies in a way.

I hate that feeling. Things die. Then they’re documented, and you don’t have any money to make new work, so you start madmaxing out the old work. You start a selection process. Then you get an e-mail a week later saying: Do you want to show this thing in France? Sorry, it doesn’t exist anymore. I took it apart. If I didn’t it’d be dead weight. I recently stopped throwing away work, just to sustain a practice. That’s the problem. Now I need to keep the work just to have something to show. It doesn’t interest me that much to show things twice.

When I look at this work in the context of social media, this very post-internet and post-modern relation we have to anything we see online, they get another significance. I was sitting on the tram a while ago, moving between seats. On one seat a girl was scrolling #purse on an iPhone, on another seat another girl was scrolling #shoes on a Samsung Galaxy, liking with their index finger, seemingly randomly. Your work functions on the same notion in the virtual sphere.

I wonder if there’s any extreme knowledge then, relating to shoes or purses, because to tag is to archive. You have an archive of millions of shoes out there. It’s fantastic. But is it knowledge? Do you know shoe better if you look at these archives? I don’t hashtag.

Is you work post-modern?

That’s not for me to say.

Are they beyond modernism or post-modernism?

If you say you’re beyond anything you’re a stuck up motherfucker. If you say you are a modernist or post-modernist you’re busted too. My work is not ironic. I totally mean it. It’s an honest venture. My objects are what they are. I’m not trying to say anything specific. Let’s say it like this; the reason they are post-modern is because I’m a white guy, an artist, and so on.

You grew up in the wealthiest and happiest area in the world.

What can I make that’s interesting? First of all I believe it’s hard for us to make anything that’s good, because there’s supposedly no story to tell. There’s just a white guy with a white cap. Supposedly. You have to make from that starting point a fantasy, an intuition, before you can make anything interesting, as a white and male artist. It has to be perfectly honest. You have to let go completely. What it means to modernism comes later. You’re a vessel of your culture.

And time.

Exactly. If you are going to make anything that’s good today you just have to let go and accept the role as a vessel. Then let’s talk about it after it’s materialized. It’s a cliché, though probably true. Then you have to be a part of culture, not only criticize it, but live it. Watch Netflix, watch highbrow cinema, but also watch the new crap like the newest Spielberg flick Ready Player One, with 3D glasses. Be aware of what’s going on, both on an aesthetic level and related to content. Create from that starting point and you might have something to say.

Relatable to the world at large, which now also includes the internet.

Totally. Letting go and thinking about what you witness generate awareness, but witness the whole caboodle, don’t just trap yourself in a corner. When people ask me what my work is about I suggest we talk about it instead. Karla Black rejects the whole notion of explaining a piece, saying that making is consequence, not meaning. Meaning is old school. Meaning is modernism. It’s metaphors. Metaphors? Fuck representation most of all. We are forced to use a language that contains these metaphors, but it has nothing to do with my work. Everything represents something.

If you don’t take it into consideration while creating the thing it’ll be much more interesting.

I think so too. People make a lot of artworks that functions like rebus. It’s boring. I just made an enigma. You should figure this shit out dear audience.

I’m smarter than you.

At best they can make a poetic circle. What’s more interesting is to make something that people can tune into. Then I’ll be fascinated. Like a tone. Functioning more like music. I can feel it, so let’s talk about it. A tone is much more fun. Meaning is not.

When the World Wide Web provides such a vast scene, is there any point in placing an object in a room or a picture on a wall? Is there a future for this tradition which is the exhibition?

Absolutely. I make my objects virtually first, to measure size, and scale in space, and within the object itself, but I keep the virtual objects too. They live between the living physical status and the digital space. They need to bounce back and forth, as I mentioned before. There’s one physicality online and another one in reality as we perceive it.

Your objects don’t provoke me on an intellectual level, but they do on a physical level, especially and ironically when I witness them through the virtual and limited space which is Instagram.

They’re totally made for working online. They’re symmetrical as body. Bodies has scars and freckles. They completely copy that idea of the symmetric body, but with aberrations. Certain things are off. They stay beautiful and perfect with their wounds and faults.

They’re also crates.

I love the character of that idea, which is totally absurd. I never call them anything specific. They’re not crates, they’re not whatever. They are what they are. It’s an ambiguous prospect. Some have handles, some have straps, knee pads, hip protectors, all relatable to the body. They’re not specific, but the more you make, the less specific they become. That’s the problem now. I made nine or ten of these things, and now they’re becoming their own being. Maybe that doesn’t work anymore, because now they’re becoming a thing. They used to be many things at the same time. You make many and they turn into one single thing.

The pedestals you place them on, they look gingerbread dough, that are marked by these reliefs of figurative drawings.

It’s a sculptural problems first of all, then there’s a travel problem. I tried pedestals. I tried straight on the floor. But the floor makes them a bit impotent, degrades them in a way, because they don’t fully belong to this world. Placing them on the floor of this world makes them defunct. Pedestals are too pretentious, because it forces the objects to say: “Hey, guys! I’m art.” These tiles I place them on are very easy to travel with. They’re made of wax. I put these motives on them, because there’s four ways you can universally draw animals online, so I put these generic drawings on them. It’s not only animals, it’s dinosaurs, fantasy creatures, all kind of things. There’s four ways of drawing an elephant.

Like drawing Mickey Mouse. There’s a recipe out there on how to do that effortlessly.

It’s something fictitious in how we have to simplify any creature or animal. Then you do it on a traditional tile, placing four flowers in a square, then you’re halfway there, on the road to abstraction. It’s potential fiction. It’s not really important, more means for solving a problem, on behalf of the objects.

When you talk about another world, do you mean a commodity for a Utopian reality?

They’re already commodity. They’re pieces of art in a space. That’s commodity.

That’s a big discussion.

Of course it’s commodity.

Art is commodity?

I’m not saying this is art. I’m saying it’s commodity. It doesn’t matter if it’s art or not. I don’t follow modernist sculpture. I play on design, how they relate to other objects or surfaces, or at least I would like to. Sculptures don’t refer to cup, glass or ashtray, not in the same way as these things do. They’re compact. They’re compressed. They have to relate to harmony and geometry. It’s also fashion. It’s good design. Potentially.

Because all these parameters are taken into account.

For sure. All done for the sake of creating a beautiful object. Glasses is designed a certain way to look good on the face of a specific individual, and to function as well.

I always appreciated design that prioritized function over form.

I agree and disagree. I love Italian design. We can not look at design from way back as they saw it back then. Charles Eames created this technology by bending wood. You could always bend wood one way or the other, with the wood or against the wood. Then they started a company creating prosthesis. They bent the wood both ways. After the war they earned a lot of money on this. Perfect design for the body. It came from the idea of making something completely functional Then they applied it to furniture, which is also tools made for the body. The origin was a replacement of body parts.

How do you relate to standardization?

I obviously don’t believe standardization is a good thing. We all use Apple, but it’s probably not the right way to go. It’s very limited. Very standard. If you take that as an analogy; with Windows or Linux you can actually learn and participate in the world of programming. You’re closer to the truth of the machine. It’s more open source. If that was the standard for artist, we’d be closer to the flesh and blood of the nervous system of the world, and of the machine. Apple or Tesla, they cut off our intellectual relation to what happens inside the thing. It’s a perfect interface, though interface only. One thing I’m thinking a lot about in relation to my work, is that standardization forces the manufacturers to put tricks into the design that pretends to be functional. It’s fictional function and fictional form.

Design becomes art.

Or fantasy. Look at a gun. A gun is purely practical form. On the other side we make video games like Halo, where the guns are completely fictional, but based on function. How do we start designing this weapon? We put steroids on it. It’s a gun on steroids. A fascinating translation is going on here. You see it in public transport. People believe it. It’s well designed, so you buy into the notion that there’s more to it. These sculptures sometimes work on the same level, that they’re tricking the mind of the audience. It has to do with body, intellect and form.

You intend to confuse people?

First of all I confuse myself, then I can confuse everyone else.

I’m working hard to make a normal interview with you here, but I’m so intrigued by these objects, their content, what they’re about, that I keep grasping at straws. Because these objects are so confusing.

They’re not statement, or potentially not statement. It’s very open. The same goes for the politics of it. That I also find interesting in art, because who is anyone to state anything as one single man? It’s very strange. You might be wrong, you know? How can you know that much anyhow? It’s usually not valid. It’s more fascinating as consequence.

Are these objects aesthetically relative?

Or ethical. That’s a funnier question to ask. Are they ethical? It gets tricky.

Where do you go from here?

Anna Uddenburg became quite big the last few years. I started to make these things a year ago more or less. Suddenly everyone started sending me her work half a year later. They were basically saying: “It's similar!” It was kind of similar. Then I checked the timeline. I was first of course. Her earlier work is figurative, women hanging over their travel bags with a stamp over the ass. It’s political. This is how the world looks like. I appreciate her work, but mine are much more abstract. She’s talking about the society of today in a direct way. I don’t.

What do you talk about then?

I don’t know.

A future?

For sure they’re speculating on the future. The question is how much it is just bad science fiction art. How much is it relevant as aesthetics?

That’s up to us to judge.

I’m not stating anything specific. I’m channelizing a notion through these objects. It’s honesty. It’s not digesting society and putting it out there again as sculpture. It’s more indefinite. They’re not caricatures of society.

As it is.

Exactly. As it is. It’s maybe my Utopian idea of my other world.

You have an alternative reality where these objects starts living.

Probably. If I could make a world in my view they’d be omnipresent. That’s the typical artistic creation. God is always involved, but he’s not up there. It’s you. God is you. It’s kind of true. It’s stupid, but true.