Breaking with ConventionFrederik Nystrup-Larsen and Oliver Sundqvist
"We want people to develop a healthy scepticism about the items they surround themselves with, and question why they have given an object a presence in their home."
Frederik Nystrup-Larsen and Oliver Sundqvist are what may best be described as a polymathic creative duo. Materialising their ideas across the mediums of design, sculpture, furniture, and site-specific installation, to name a few, the two Danes are carving a name for themselves by transcending today’s notion of the artist.
Though only in their late twenties – and a mere two years into their creative partnership – Nystrup-Larsen and Sundqvist have already presented their debut exhibition, a series of light sculptures titled SOFT BOXING at Copenhagen’s Eighteen Gallery; exhibited at Art Basel; and designed vases for the award-winning Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, with a number of other projects on the horizon.
Underlying the work of Nystrup-Larsen and Sundqvist is an innate curiosity. They share an impulse to redefine and tinker with the methods and assumptions of the contemporary art sphere, and a penchant for going out of their depth simply to explore what might come from it.
We meet with Frederik and Oliver in Bath, United Kingdom — the duo is currently based in London — to discuss their collaborative process, the role of intuition in their work, and how one determines the value of an artwork.
Cereal: How did you two first meet?
Frederik Nystrup-Larsen: We first met sitting on a windowsill at a fresher’s party at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art in the first week of our undergraduate studies. Oliver was in Furniture Design and I was in Visual Communications.
Oliver Sundqvist: The first thing we really bonded over was our shared love for the song Baby by Donnie & Joe Emerson. We hung out every now and then, but it wasn’t until the completion of our undergraduate studies that we started working together.
FNL: As soon as the semester was up, we moved into a studio space in the Nørrebro area of Copenhagen, initially working separately from one another. However, we quickly realised working together was way more fun. We started bouncing ideas off one another and began moving forward in unison.
What’s it like working together as a duo as opposed to working individually?
FNL: It’s very constructive and encouraging in the sense that we continuously test our ideas on one another. What’s interesting about working together as artists is that in the end, it comes down to what we feel, rather than what we think, is right for the project. Finding a common emotional understanding of a work can be challenging at times, but it also makes the whole process completely worthwhile once we get there.
OS: What’s important about working together is the ability to complement one another; coming from different backgrounds really allows us to do so. Being friends as well makes going to the studio more enjoyable. Working independently as an artist, you go through a lot of peaks and troughs; having someone to share the journey with can help you handle those ups and downs. You mutually support one another.
FNL: We often motivate each other to explore failure. Going to places that are out of our depth challenges our perceptions and encourages new ideas to spring forth.
How does an idea first materialise in your collaboration?
OS: It more often than not depends on the form and scope of the project, but what’s consistently present throughout our collaboration is that we quickly, and intuitively, each discover our individual roles. We spend a lot of time discussing and contemplating what we’d like to create on an emotional, or perhaps philosophical level, as well as how to get there in terms of pragmatics, such as materials, methods, logistics and so on.
FNL: I remember when we first started working together, the process was very binary; we’d each pursue our individual paths within the project before moving closer and closer towards one another as the ideas progressed. Now, it’s more akin to a duet — we perform in harmony throughout the whole process, from conceiving the initial idea to the gradual materialisation and completion of the work.
OS: In that sense, our process is very much driven by intuition—there isn’t a need to discuss who should do which task for a given project; it’s a continuous flow that arises naturally from having worked together over this period of time.
Would you say that your approach begins with the idea or with the medium?
FNL: It differs. At times, a project can arise from the idea of a material or from dreaming of doing something related to a given craft, whereas other work can grow fully from a concept rooted in extensive research. With the latter, both materials and even expression are at times secondary to the central concept or ethos that we are seeking to convey. Once we have established this, we allow ourselves to explore the interaction between the ethos and the materials, which in turn informs the visual identity of the work.
OS: As for the rest of the process, something that we often discuss is the satisfaction we derive from completing a work. It’s always hard to quantify when something is complete, but those moments where we both feel the work is finished are some of the most rewarding.
Can you tell us about your upcoming exhibition?
OS: It’s called Off License — Cash Only. The idea is to create something, a happening almost, which blurs the lines between an art exhibition and a commercial event.
FNL: We often talk about what gives art its monetary as well as its material value. Is it the reputation of the artist or the gallerist? Is it what people are willing to pay? Is it what the artist feels the work should cost, or is it defined by the cost of materials? By transforming the commercial arena of a shop into an art exhibition, Off License — Cash Only seeks to prompt people to consider the question: What gives something the value that one is willing to pay for it? We want people to develop a healthy scepticism about the items they surround themselves with, and question why they have given an object a presence in their home.