The complex yet sensical history of Mollestad abides almost always within his practice, a range of abstract paintings to conceptual pieces. Experiencing his work, we come consciously face-to-face with meditations on traditional ideologies of home, an inordinate curiosity for identity, as well the artist’s unconditional awareness within this world.
His usage of colors—at times clashes of the very extreme—as well as the inclusion of readymades of certain pieces sometimes flaunt the voice of a hyper-male narrator that doesn’t want to practice or imply perspectives of authority, but rather explore the very vulnerabilities of positionality. Mollestad is drawn to the boundaries of violence that coexist outside the conventional space of brutality. The duality of meaning, surviving beneath of it all. How the very ugly is also so absurdly lovely. His work constantly questions the nature of it all, proving his conscious existence. And, in the end, giving enough reason to temporarily fall in love with Mollestad’s pronounced humanness.
Your work inhabits a notable atmosphere of nostalgia. The past, and all of its belonging. Like the work ‘An Ouroboros Recording’ (a baton inherited by your grandfather). A tool that has served for meditation, applying wood varnish over it while letting whatever thoughts proceed organically. It’s a sculpture, containing thousands of thoughts, continuously growing.
I don’t know if I would define it as nostalgia, because looking back in time often seems like an Orpheus-like-trap. By doing so you begin to untangle all the conditions that the current is fragilely resting on. In short, it looks like we’re doomed. So rather than looking back for something, it’s a clutter of what has been that finds me or finds itself. And when clutter finds other clutter, the mess starts copulating like rats, until it eventually sinks the ship. Does that make sense? In some ways it’s related to the sculpture you mentioned. All these intentions, connotations, ideas, recorded into this object through near invisible brushstrokes, over time overwhelming/wearing it down and preserving it at the same time, kinda hopelessly so.
I think your personal history of having been born in Bolivia and grown up in Norway is crucial to your artistic practice. In ways I identity, being from Europe but raised North America. There are times I’m terrified I’ll continue to have this unconditional sense of homelessness. It’s difficult when two separate places become part of your identity. Do you experience a similar struggle, of wanting to traditionally define home?
You know, the idea of home always used to be connected to the idea of another place, more defined by where I was and not somewhere specific. Being transnationally adopted spawns a hybrid identity, a type of continuous negotiation between two identities. An enforced and confusing liminality that I’m still trying to grasp. I guess this confusion and chaotic state can be home-like too. Just like noise can calm you down because it’s supposedly similar to the womb. Though it’s seldom the idea of comfort that interests me to explore within my work. I’ve lived in a couple of places and at some point it felt right to try to reconnect with Bolivia. It’s difficult in many ways and for many reasons, sometimes I think I’ve grown accustomed to not belonging/having a place that feels like home.
Do you think it’s necessary to have an identity in order to create art?
I don’t really see the presence of an identity/background as something you can escape. Works of art aren’t created in a vacuum or by a vacuum, so I don’t see a reason to pretend. To me it’s as interesting and relevant as year and technique for the reading of a piece. Look at the case of Dana Schutz and the painting of Emmett Till earlier this year, go figure. Personally speaking, it’s a natural departure point for investigating certain politics or poetics. Things that are close to me tend to conjure excitement or fear that signifies a genuine investment in something, I think that's important. I appreciate an artistic practice that gives space for the individual identity of the artist, a presence that develops over time and is recognisable without coming off as narcissistic or a vain repetition of style.
It’s interesting and sad how identity is necessarily tied to its very limitation, the stigmatization of it all. Generally speaking, a man is not ‘allowed’ to freely explore thematics of the female, while a white woman isn’t allowed to explore the history of another race.
I don’t see them so much as limitations, artists seem to cross these lines all the time. I mean, if you want, you certainly can. But of course it can have repercussions. Art isn’t a safe word that cancels out reality in most cases. It’s not a space where none can touch you. The case of Schutz seems to be related to the idea of looking back, an awareness of history and who narrates that history moving forward.
So you don’t agree that there are silent rules to follow within the art world? Of course, we all can do as we please. But that doesn’t mean it won’t have dire consequences. And it’s often these consequences that I’m so frustrated about.
I partially agree, I just don’t think there’s a right or wrong to it. The boundaries, silent or not, need to be challenged from time to time but sometimes smacks also need to be handed out. It’s all part of the game even if it doesn’t make sense to me. But what world makes complete sense anyway.
Certain works of yours exhibit a violence that’s sentimentalized rather than met with fear. You reveal a soft beauty within violence, like the baton of your grandfather. How something loaded with such a vast history of brutality can also serve, individually, as a medium for poetry.
I sometimes think my relationship to violence is as complex/complicated as the concept of violence itself. It’s extremely admirable as a tool that can “effectively” threaten and destroy power (historically). This subversive quality holds a certain beauty that’s not limited to intention or content, but certain aesthetics of the violent.
At the same time I think it’s sort of embarrassing and absurd how far our fantasy/imagination goes when it comes to the exploration of the concept. Similar to porn/sex it seems to find its way everywhere and anywhere. And like it, there’s all these nuances between the real and the overproduced/fake, the professional/systematic and the amateur. Last year, when I was in La Paz, I saw a cop beat up some guy outside my apartment in the streets late at night. The same night I had come home late after meeting some friends to see a live stream of a MMA fight. The morning after I saw blood traces on the ground. This strange mash of very different realities of violence later had some influence when working on ‘Green Infernos’ (a series of paintings and a publication) looking at the multiplication of ideas about something, and the connections between them growing out of hand.
When you saw that incident of violence, did you stay to watch? There’s a history of humans being attracted to experiencing morbidity when it occurs to the external. Perhaps because it is serves as a immediate gratification towards our own well-being. We still watch videos of 9/11, we ‘love’ to read about ISIS and their beheadings. The element of shock. Because during those rare instances, we suddenly notice the fragility of life and want to continue living.
I didn’t really have a clear view, so only through glimpses here and there did I see the police officer raising his baton, and the other man, smaller and feeble, letting out screams of mercy and pain. This abstraction of the incident only seemed to intensify it. I think I felt a mix of disgust and fear as I tried to apprehend the situation. But before it really sank in, a car drove by and basically stopped aborted the scenario. At least enough to startle the policeman so that the man could get away, luckily. As for violence in my own work, I don’t think of it as the main discourse but as something that lurks in background, finding its ways into the larger conversation somehow, whether subtle or overstated.
To briefly revisit one of your recent works ‘Green Infernos,’ a police army jacket is at the very core of project. Could you expand on its idea a little?
Yes, the publication consisted of a text about a green jacket bought at a local market in Bolivia. Originally purchased as a tool for blending into the amazon jungle, kinda like a camouflage. Instead it created this strange atmosphere wherever it was worn, as it turns out to be a military police jacket. Related to the tense relationship between people and authority. With this unfolds a series of analogies and complications, spanning from the origins of the e-commerce site amazon.co.uk, the trope of Italian cannibal films from the 1980s, McDonalds new eco-friendly brand identity to Brazilian poets of the 1920s. It also functioned as a way to open up and expand on the connections and contents of the abstract paintings.
There’s the same sense of duality that inhabits other works of yours. The audience is introduced to a certain degree of darkness that usually is hopeful in its entirety.
I think it varies, from very nihilistic to some sort romantic idea of hope. I remember reading something about transcendental black metal (mostly newer american bands), and how the it was different from traditional Black Metal (pioneered by the norwegian scene in the 90s) by transforming nihilism into affirmation, an affirmation as negation of a series of negations and a commitment to striving eternally. In that there’s a feeling of hope and progress, something living rather than dead. Perhaps I Identify with both perspectives, clearly not agreeing with myself most of the time.
I think your work is especially hopefully especially because you explore these very matters. The type of longing that comes along with darkness necessarily attracting light. It might sound presumptuous, but in ways I think you have the potential of exploring thematics that move beyond the traditional discourse of art. Though, for whatever reason there’s an internal struggle to go there. Perhaps because you are absurdly aware of your political position—a heterosexual, non-white male. Do you find yourself struggling with wanting to explore ideas that don’t necessarily align with the rules of society and art?
It’s always a struggle not to be dominated by too much of anything when making work. Including societal rules. While it seems hard or utopian even to truly exercise a freedom that’s 100%, maybe a bit of friction and resistance is a good thing for a process. I think a hybrid of backgrounds offers a knowledge of different worlds to a certain degree, and in some sense a bit of distance from them as in some ways you’re an outsider. But yes, a certain thought of belonging to neither makes you quite aware of what you are.
Your work, at times, exhibits quite openly the voice of a male narrator. Not necessarily enforcing authority, just its conditionality. Do you find it problematic when people conceive your work as hyper-male?
Well, I think it’s naturally a part of me that my work—from time to time—explores or investigates a kind of apocalyptic masculinity. But again I don’t see my work in general as specifically focusing on being male, at least it’s not at the core or grasping the whole of it. But hey, I’m not going to school people on how to read my work.
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