On Fragile Structures. A Conversation with Kjell Varvin

Interview by Sabin Bors

Sabin Bors: There is a constant attention to form and composition in your work, yet the sculptural approach to composition makes no use of symbolism or reference to actual conditions. It is more like an imaginary landscape given to pure observation. Why is it that you back away from symbolical associations?

Kjell Varvin: I am mostly using neutral elements based on geometry, resulting in images that do not contain much symbolism. Of course, a disc may give ideas of the sun or the moon, and a rectangle could refer to architecture, but that depends on where they are placed in the composition. Symbols are communicating concentrated meaning that will catch your attention and dominate your thoughts. I like the things as they are and I really have no story to tell. Our minds are eagerly producing associations, we compare and judge and value things and situations constantly. When you observe your mind should be empty. I want the eyes to be able to wander through the installations without hanging on to elements that can generate ideas about something already experienced or fantasized. It would be nice if there could be created an open space where the thought stream could rest for a while.

From the Unstable Variables series, 2012. Image © Kjell Varvin. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
From the Unstable Variables series, 2012. Image © Kjell Varvin. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: Though there is no symbolic association in your art, you are nevertheless exposing the frames of ever-new relations. Are space relations more important than symbolic associations?

Kjell Varvin: Composing is my passion. How does this element coexist with the other elements, and together with the total environment? I enjoy it in the same way that chess players may enjoy their game. Every step is a challenge, and new combinations are thrilling and there is enthusiasm and beauty. There are no narratives in a game of chess, only the function of positions and relations. The different stages are exciting the senses: -What comes next? Maybe the spectators can foresee the next move, and the next, in a row of logical sequences that stimulate the interest, until a moment where there is satisfaction.

Sabin Bors: The title Unstable Variables given to your works is particularly expressive. It stresses both a condition and an endless pursuit for a certain perfection art does not reach. How do you see this relation between our conditions and our pursuits?

Kjell Varvin: If your goal and meaning in life is the fulfillment of the potential of every moment, you have to accept and enjoy the whole process. My structures are fragile and short lived; I build and rebuild to approach such a state of plenitude. With the variations I try out other paths that may lead to the same goal. I like the thrill of observing the elements on the limit of disequilibrium, the suspense just before collapse, where a fragile stability still holds the structure together.

From the Unstable Variables series, 2012. Image © Kjell Varvin. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
From the Unstable Variables series, 2012. Image © Kjell Varvin. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: You previously said that the result of your work “should be understood as proposals, not final statements”. What exactly does your art propose?

Kjell Varvin: I invite the visitors to continue the exploration into this game of composing. Pieces of modest materials are forming open structures that correspond with their surroundings. I leave openings for further solutions. Others may want to evolve the themes and find new ways that serve their purposes. If I should search for the sublime perfection, I would rapidly close myself in a prison with no escape.

Sabin Bors: I see your work as a field of constant interpretation. Inside this field, existence bides against the unknown and the unexpected. But what I really like is that in your art, it lies in a sort of lucid, tranquil tension. Why this tranquility?

Kjell Varvin: I do enjoy the quest for new and unexpected solutions. We are explorers. There is no technique or method that will make music or poetry or any artwork lucid and tranquil. You cannot force it or fake it. You cannot refuse it if it comes to you. I am satisfied if others can enjoy it.

From the Unstable Variables series, 2012. Image © Kjell Varvin. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
From the Unstable Variables series, 2012. Image © Kjell Varvin. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

All that we create and construct is adjusted to us. All that we can imagine or invent is human; we interpret the world to our advantage and put a meaning into everything.

Sabin Bors: There is an interesting approach to time in your art. Time is never seen in terms of a display, but more as a lapse, a suspension, a fragment. How did you become interested in the idea of impermanence?

Kjell Varvin: Everything is developing from one condition into another, there is a constant movement, slower or quicker. I try to capture the short moments in this process, where a certain harmony is active. Developing structures go either towards order or towards chaos. It is this movement that represents time. Impermanence is not an idea; it is a fact. The inevitable is always present.

Sabin Bors: I know you worked as an assistant to Sol LeWitt, who also had a great influence on your art. But there is also an obvious difference in it. Your harmonies are vulnerable, your geometries are on the verge of a silent collapse. How did you come to this interpretation?

Kjell Varvin: Sol LeWitt established perfect written rules that however may include hazard and even failures from his assistants during the execution of a wall drawing. That makes his assistants feel like they are part of the creating process. Small imperfections are not destroying the main order of his idea. My idea of order permits larger deviations and imperfections. On the way to chaos there is still some kind of order far out. Artists in general have a great sense of humor and a generosity beyond limits. They permit others to drink from the same source; they share experiences and enjoy each other’s successful results, all for the common cause.

Sabin Bors: Another aspect I find very interesting is the relation between nature and construction. While you describe patterns and structures, you also refer to the influence of nature. How would you define and interpret this relation?

Kjell Varvin: The presence of nature is manifest in the proportions of the manufactured elements that always derive from the human scale. All that we create and construct is adjusted to us. All that we can imagine or invent is human; we interpret the world to our advantage and put a meaning into everything.

From the Unstable Variables series, 2012. Image © Kjell Varvin. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
From the Unstable Variables series, 2012. Image © Kjell Varvin. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: There is an obvious functional approach to art in your work, but your works are also meant to create an ambiance. How do you bring function and ambiance together?

Kjell Varvin: The ambiance is created by the calmness of the scene. There is no great drama or petty conflict going on between the participating elements. They adjust to each other like old friends or like musicians ready to perform. The light, coming from windows high above, is clear and white on overcast days, giving a minimum of shadows. In winter I use lamps on very dark days. The light will be blue on sunny days, green when the trees outside have leaves. That gives a different ambiance. In order to function, things must coordinate and please stay in place until I have taken a snap shot.

Sabin Bors: The accidents your art describes are never violent, though they are implacable. I see here a certain subtlety, an acceptance almost. Is it also a relief, something that brings forth a certain wellness?

Kjell Varvin: Sometimes I arrive for putting up installations in unknown venues and must adapt quickly to the environment and the special circumstances that I could not know of beforehand. Improvising is necessary and exciting, combined with risks of failing. The tension can be high and I have to trust my intuition and fantasy without calculating rationally too much. If there are accidents, I sometimes have to include the damage in the composition. I use no elements that are so important that they cannot be replaced, the result will be different, and that is all. There is no fight against the matter; it is a play with it.

Sabin Bors: The reason I asked you about this idea of wellness is that there is an obvious enthusiasm in your approach. To what do you owe this enthusiasm?

Kjell Varvin: Things I see or hear lift me emotionally, and I harvest energy from details in nature and art. Joy and enthusiasm is the result.

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