Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg interview: 'all the figures we use are pretty ugly'

The Swedish duo talk about venturing into the unknown, ugly birds and what happens when art leaves the studio

  • Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

    The Gates of the Festival at Lisson Gallery, 2014

    © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery

    Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg
  • Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

    Installation view of 'The Gates of the Festival' at Lisson Gallery, 2014

    © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery. Photo: Ken Adlard

    Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg
  • Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

    'Gas, Solid, Liquid', 2014

    © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery. Photo: Ken Adlard

    Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg
  • Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

    'The Gates of the Festival', 2014

    © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery. Photo: Ken Adlard

    Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg
  • Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

    Installation view of 'The Gates of the Festival' at Lisson Gallery, 2014

    © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery. Photo: Ken Adlard

    Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg
  • Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

    'Butterfly', 2014

    © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery.

    Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg
  • Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

    'Butterfly', 2014

    © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery. 

    Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg

The Gates of the Festival at Lisson Gallery, 2014

© the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery

Swedish duo Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg create immersive installations that challenge our perception of space and time. For their first show at Lisson Gallery, they present four new works that incorporate Berg's sound compositions with Djurberg's animations, which are displayed in urns, on tables and over the gallery walls.

What informed the new works?
Nathalie 'It started some years ago when I made visuals, quite childlike drawings, for Hans's music. Then we made "The Black Pot", which was about becoming and unbecoming, stuff creating itself. Like in the studio, where you create something out of nothing. I think this show is about not knowing, which makes it difficult to talk about, well for me anyway. I like it when people have their own interpretations. When the work leaves the studio, it doesn't really belong to the artist any more, it belongs to the ones watching it.'

The music takes a more central role in this new work, is that deliberate?
Hans 'Yes, it's more direct, it isn't illustrating the images.'
Nathalie 'I think the music was incredibly important before, but now it's even more consuming.'
Hans 'It's guiding the visuals much more. In some parts of the show the music "plays" the artworks.'

So the music animates the work?
Hans 'In "The Gates of the Festival" there are static neons on the ceiling and different tones play the neons so they light up.
Nathalie 'We've been thinking a lot about waveforms.'
Hans 'It's the electromagnetic spectrum. Some waves you can see, some you can hear and some you can feel. So the neons are shaped like waveforms. There is also an animation of waveforms following another type of music. It's like two parts playing with and against each other, two versions of the same thing.'

‘It’s keeping something precious, like an idea’

There's lots of different media in the show: sculpture, light, animation, sound. Why do you work with so many?
Nathalie 'Why not?'
Hans 'I only work with one, well actually two now, music and light.'
Nathalie 'The first works that we started with in this show are the urns, "Gas, Solid, Liquid", which you can look inside to watch videos while music vibrates them. It's about alchemy, how something is changing. About different states of mind and consciousness and different states of material.'

Do the urns represent anything?
Nathalie 'I would say secrets. They're about hiding, transformation. So you have an object contained in another object.'
Hans 'It's about keeping something precious almost, like an idea.'

Animals used to feature in your work. Are there any in this show?
Nathalie 'Yeah, a bird. I love birds.'

Is it a particular type of bird?
Nathalie 'No, just an ugly bird - all the figures we use are pretty ugly. This bird is in "Gates of the Festival", he's running around the room. In one sense he's based on us and the madness of running.'
Hans 'I'm not sure if he's chasing things or running away from things.'