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Q&A: JOHANNES SIVERTSEN ON THE UNNAMED, THE COLLAPSE OF STORIES, CORONA LOCKDOWN IN PARIS – AND HIS UPCOMING SOLO EXHIBITION

We are currently preparing the first major solo exhibitions to re-open in a newly refurbished Overgaden on September 11 and are very proud to announce the second of the two exhibiting artists – Johannes Sivertsen, who in this Q&A tells us what he makes time go with in his Parisian studio.

What are your current concerns in your artistic practice (themes, materials, processes, ideas?)

I am currently in Paris to explore oral stories from my childhood. The ones I heard in the school courtyard, but never in the classroom. I grew up in a Parisian suburb, where identities rarely match the images you put on them. This gives a feeling of not belonging anywhere, but also a freedom to question the established imagery. Images are never neutral. White men like me learn to see the world through images categorised as “us and them”, which supports our own stories about being good and enlightened. It is these stories that collapse as soon as you walk from the classroom to the courtyard, from the city centre to a poor surburb. I am very concerned about this “collapse”. It is something we have to recognize if we truly want to be enlightened. It is something that, in a very plastic sense, can happen on the surface of the painting. For a long time people have declared painting to be dead. I am then thinking that a “dead” media probably is the right thing to use when it comes to making a dying story visible.

How do you prepare for the exhibition at Overgaden? What are your thoughts behind the exhibition?

The exhibition is thought from the French word “innommée”. It can be translated to “unnamed” and is a term I have borrowed from the Algerian writer Wassyla Tamzali. It signifies the ones that are not mentioned, the ones that do not fit into the categories created by historical writing. I have studied two painterly genres, Romantic and Orientalistic painting, that both developed within the colonial heydays and both carry with them the roles between men and women, between colonizer and the colonized. I have tried to break down the codes, switch the roles to make space for new stories that tie in with with the ones I know from the courtyard and the suburb. To challenge my point of view I have asked for help and contacted Wassyla Tamzali. I asked her for coaching and if she would curate an exhibition within the exhibition with works by two Algerian artists, Nawel Louerrad and Fella Tamzali Tahari. It is a way of opening up the space for things I cannot think or paint myself.

How have you arranged your working situation during corona lockdown?

In the beginning of the year Wassyla and I were both artists in residency in France. When the lockdown stepped in we were both in the same neighbourhood, so we could continue working despite the curfew rules, etc. We met up in her courtyard wearing masks and had long conversations with two meters distance. I lived in the studio at Cité des Arts with plenty of paint brushes and colours, so in relation to my work, it was not a problem. But for a European like me it was very anxiety provoking to experience countries and borders being closed. I do not really have an issue with the general post-apocalyptic atmosphere, but I really do miss my girlfriend. And by the way, also my cat.

(Please scroll down on the images to the right to view the full image series from Johannes Sivertsen’s studio)

For further about the upcoming exhibition please visit: Johannes Sivertsen – The Unnamed

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