OURS Magazine had the chance to speak to alternative and outspoken emerging Swedish artist Ilja Karilampi about his bohemian upbringing, musical influences and his recent installation, President Room. An underground garage space turned speakeasy in Stockholm, the latest in a series of collaborations between Absolut and leading contemporary artists on Art Bars.
Today you live and work between Berlin and Stockholm, can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing and how you first got involved in art installation?
I’m from Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden. I grew up with parents who came to Sweden at a young age, from Helsinki, Finland and Zagreb, Croatia respectively. The environment was quite liberal with meditation, psychology, belly dancing, photography and lots of travel. I was always arranging small performances in school, or happenings. It was just a loose thing.
Its been a process since, but I guess I want art to be more than just a painting or object so I´m striving to create an ideal climate or setting for where my works are at home, or where they live and die altogether.
You have said before that you believe art and music go hand in hand and that creativity is very rhythmic, at what point in your career did music become a large influence?
I think art is ideal in the sense that one can bring together all interests in one stew, claiming the right for it to exist in its unique quality. It’s such an open field, so I think one can come back into interests or talents from a more un-orthodox angle than if one would have chosen a more traditional education. Music has always been with me as a partner. But the aesthetics is what I´m really interested in working with.
I know Jimi Hendrix and Dr. Dre are artists that have influenced your artwork, are there any other musicians that have inspired your work?
I was really into Swedish nu-metal like Clawfinger when I was 10 and R&B, rap music, grime, UK house. It’s too wide to pinpoint but some of the artists I really get inspired by have this strong sense of conviction, or you just feel that the vibe is right.
You have said that you don’t believe it is necessary to know the background of a work in order to appreciate it, can you explain why?
I´m more into art that presents itself in a sassy shell, a Trojan horse that could tell so much more about the context and the conceptual part later on if one is interested or gives the time. It’s intuition first and intellect second!
Can you explain what you mean by Swedish street culture and how you think it differs from street cultures around the world?
I think street culture is an out-dated word, but some cultures have that word attached to them since it came from a grassroots wish to have something new, an urban environment. Honestly I think people make something out of nothing, and the world today is accessible from everywhere, we all tune into whichever tendency is going on at the moment.
Who are some emerging artists you admire?
Skepta, ILoveMakonnen, Cherrie, AnnaMelina, Yngve Holen, Faze Miyake, Nhu Duong, Tiril Hasselknippe.
In his installation Karilampi transformed a hidden underground garage space in central Stockholm into an engaging and performative environment. The site-specific installation featured a fully functioning Swedish convenience store, ‘Mehmets’ Livs’, filled with an eclectic selection of imported snack food and confectioneries, unusual soft drinks and toiletries, as well as work by the artist, and a disinterested shop assistant will sit behind the counter. Through a curtain at the back of the ‘Mehmets’ Livs’, visitors passed through a concealed door to enter the inner President Room, a speakeasy complete with the artist’s signature distorted neon signs, reflective mirror walls, Plexiglas and aluminium relief wall sculptures, as well as Karilampi’s unique UV logos, copper signs, decals and stickers.
The President Room installation permeates with elements of the urban underground environment, what impact does this street sub-culture have on your work?
Street culture is not really an interesting concept or title to me, but there are things in the periphery of that, that I´m interested in using.
How do you think brand collaboration, such as your collaboration with Absolut, strengthens your artwork?
By believing in me, and allowing me to turn the commissioned Absolut Art Bar into something unusual, I think we both gained artistically from the collaboration. Careful selection is of course crucial when working with corporations.
Your installation with Absolut can be viewed as a temporary brand collaboration, what is your view on artists collaborating with brands for mass production?
It depends! I like to be able to have artistic freedom and fuck up the brand for its own good. I mean aesthetically, warping things, playing around. I kind of like the ‘officialness’ it brings to the art as well, like an artist working in the name of the state.
Your convenience store, ‘Mehmets Livs’; complete with a disinterested shop assistant is somewhat reminiscent of Banky’s recent pop-up exhibition Dismaland which also features employees who are uninterested in being helpful or remotely informative. Do you share any of Banky’s views on anti-consumerism and other social critiques?
Fuck Banksy innit. I mean of the works are very well made, but…I think Mehmets Livs is a statement in its own, I wouldn’t want to explain fully what it means but I´d like the artwork to do its own talking. You can discover several levels, gestural and political.
The installation featured a changing nightly program of live music and DJ sets, how did you go about curating the music selection for the installation?
Just by what I usually listen to, but also the wish to offer the Stockholm audience this kind of lineup; Kayper, Joy, Baba Stiltz, Faze Miyake, and many more!
You often work with music/sound to accompany your visuals, how do you think taste (in this case cocktails) adds to the sensory experience of your artwork?
I need and want a soundtrack sometimes! It’s essential. The more ephemeral things can only be experienced through a combination of mediums.
Who is an artist, brand, musician with whom you wish to collaborate with in the future?
I´d love to do something with Skepta, or OVOXO (Drake’s label in Toronto, run by Oliver-El Khatib), plus tons of smaller independent artists. But other than that, conceptualising or doing creative input for people like that is really rewarding.
Karilampi’s immersive installation, President Room, took place the 25 and 26 of September in Stockholm, Sweden, during the Absolute Art Award Ceremony weekend.