EM Jason, do you think in images when you write?
JD No, not always, but language feels more alive if you can watch it being written in front of you.
EM You’ve written a contemporary spell, the ultimate curse for an ex, in which the revenge is visualized in the text: “I hope you’re never able to remember your pin code again…and may your hard drives crash forever”, from the hit Resten av ditt liv [The Rest of Your Life].
JD I know people who create a film scene in their minds – how does it smell, what’s the light like – that’s how they make the text come alive. I don’t do that. For me the hardest part of writing this book was no longer being a child: how would I be able to put myself into the story? I was afraid the whole time that I was too old. But when Sam turns into a cow, then she can do whatever she wants, and besides, the dairy farm is interesting.
EM Sam is your protagonist, and her story is a voyage of discovery into what art is, an adventure that takes place during one moonlit night and the following day. What do you find interesting about art?
JD I don’t know anything about art, so instead I start with what stimulates my imagination, my thoughts. This might happen to me when I’m reading a book, looking at a photograph, and it turns into a gateway into my own inner world, even though the work is by someone else. It’s a little like magic. Dance is also magic, at that moment you are in an emotional state. Music can also have a magical effect – it’s very cool that magic exists.
EM Maria, you find inspiration in the work of other artists, and you reference specific works of art directly. The bellowing deer of Carl Fredrik Hill, the spiders of Louise Bourgeois, and Picasso’s Guernica, now set against a red background, all appear in the pictures in this book. Can you tell me more about working in this way?
MB I’m inspired by everything from medieval Italian artists such as Fra Angelico (1395–1455) to textiles, from the black and white films of the early 1920s to graffiti. There are so many women artist who’ve been important to my work as an artist. It was fun to be able to acknowledge the work of other artists in this story, because Sam is discovering art, learning to see it. It’s exciting to allow references into your own work; the themes start talking to one another. I build everything in this way. I throw it down and mix it and let it to come from different directions.
JD When my latest album came out, Sagolandet [Land of Legend], I thought about the author and illustrator Elsa Beskow [active from the 19th century into the 20th century]. When I was a kid I wasn’t as excited by her as by Richard Scarry (the Cat and Pig families in Busytown), but her pictures influenced the record sleeve. It was the anthropomorphic stuff, characters that are plants, and the way that everything is alive.
MB Everything in nature has a soul; Elsa Beskow is fantastic.
EM Jason, what does your writing process look like?
JD I think inspiration is something you create. You have to sit down for long enough, write directly, and be in agony. I collect notes for a long time, until they’re bursting at the seams, then the notes function as reminders, and I write something new. I usually set aside a specific time – now I’m going to write something.
MB I recognize that way of working. I draw and scribble ideas down in my sketchbook, and later I use what I’ve saved as raw material. I work intensively and isolate myself. I want to keep that intimacy. The images have to be allowed to emerge. Usually it’s at the end of an intensive work process that I have the most fun, when the images start to communicate with me. You get high from being involved in the process; it’s about reaching that state.
JD When I lived by myself, I could lie down without reading, nod off to sleep, get some fuzzy idea, get up, and start to write.
EM As a method?
JD It didn’t always work, but it was an open and humorous state between sleep and wakefulness.
EM A method that involves less control and rejection?
JD It’s a way of taking away your filter. It’s hard to get the text onto the page during the day. I’m no good in the mornings, that’s when I answer emails and pay the bills, so I’m too constrained.
EM Maria, how do you relate to stories and to this story in particular?
MB There are several layers of narrative in my work, both fictive and personal. For this book, I braced myself against the story, while simultaneously creating new layers of meaning. I created narrative fragments, not A to Z, just scenes that I develop, scenarios.
EM That’s similar to how you describe the pictures in the book. You say, you thought about what Sam would see if she turned in another direction during various scenes in the book.
MB Yes, I wanted to express something beyond just what Jason has written.
EM There’s a room in the gallery that you’ve designed, where it’s possible to listen to the book and also step into the world of the book. Can you tell me about how you conceived of this room?
MB I wanted to create the feeling of being able to go straight into Sam’s world and take part in what she sees and experiences. It’s exciting to literally enter a work physically. In this case, you step into Sam’s mind and enter into her inner world. The book becomes an installation, and the details become scenography. When I was working on the pictures, I thought of them as an internal theatre. The pictures are built like stages, but everything takes place inside of Sam. It’s not Sam in the world, but the world inside of Sam that is being depicted. It’s inside of her that all of the changes are taking place.
EM Jason, as a songwriter and rap artist you use a lot of words, and Maria, your pictures are very detailed, you have that kind of flow in common.
JD I always try to edit it down. It always becomes better the less there is. The power is in the spaces in between; the rhythm is the pauses.
MB I also have to go in and scale down, otherwise it can get kind of hysterical. I work by zooming in and out on certain details. The abstract pictures in the book might be, for example, a detail from inside a mushroom, which reappears on another page. In the artist Hilma af Klint’s pictures, you can see how she often worked in that way – with the micro, macro, and cosmos.
EM Jason, do you have any kind of relationship to colour when you write?
JD I don’t associate text with colour, but I do associate colour and chords. When you embellish a chord, it’s called coloration – music is colour.
EM Maria, you’ve worked extensively with colour, but you also make black and white pictures?
MB My relationship to colour is very important, even when I work in black and white. I recently travelled to Mexico, where I was surrounded by colour. It could just be the combination of the colour on the front of a house, the car parked outside, and a discarded bag – the whole street becomes an installation. I sometimes miss colour here.
JD We live in a badly lit part of the world. In Los Angeles or Barcelona there’s a completely different quality to the light: the light is life-giving. In January there’s no sun and no blue skies.
MB On the other hand, black is also a colour, and white, but I love intense colours. Out here we have mostly brown and beige.
JD And grey!
MB I’m not that interested in the grey scale, but there are beautiful colours in the forest.
EM How do you experience the Park?
MB I think it feels magical to walk around alone in the Park in the autumn. I’ve been out there at night with a headlamp, because many scenes in the book take place at night, so I was excited to see for myself. I was told to stomp and sing to keep the wild boars away. I came across the piece Dining Room, which has a very Alice in Wonderland feel to it. Being cocky, I went further in, and I heard a bunch of cracking sounds, and I ran out frightened. What I carried away with me was that special atmosphere. I felt the presence of animals hiding in the bushes and trees, and the artworks seemed to be communicating with each other as if they shared a secret.
JD There are a lot of trees in the forest, but not that many in galleries. Sometimes the trees form a room, like the one around the straw sculpture Meditation in a Beech Wood . It becomes a spiritual environment. I like fantasy books, because they transport you. It’s the same thing in the Park. I experience some of the artworks as religious – the saucer [Grey Clam] and the pyramid, where as the red wall clashes completely. Art and nature mix together. Some pieces are clearly manmade, but others you can’t be sure about. Not about when they are from or who made them. There’s one tree with very special branches.
MB Yes, the larch tree, it feels symbolic with all forms.
JD Art functions in a different way when it has nature as its backdrop. You can climb on Jacob Dahlgren’s artwork, there aren’t that many works of art that you’re allowed to do that to. You can play in a forest, but not at Moderna Museet.
EM Jeppe Hein’s exhibition A Smile For You is part of Wanås Konst 2013 parallel to your project. Hein is focusing on happiness, and he poses the question “What is happiness?” How does it smell, how does it taste, what does it sound like, and how does it look? I’d like to ask each of you one of those questions. Maria, what does happiness look like?
MB I think I’ll answer your question about what happiness looks like with a short anecdote. Some time ago, when I was abroad, I was talking late at night to a close friend of mine over Skype. She told me something that made me feel melancholy. After our conversation she sent me an email, in which she wrote that she thought I was probably feeling sad, even though I was in paradise. Then she told me that happiness existed out there for me like an enormous whale, and she told me to go down to the sea and start to swim. I actually saw a whale a few days later, very far out. I’d like to think that happiness looks like that whale, that it’s always swimming around under the surface, and now and then it looks up and becomes visible.
EM Jason, happiness, what does it sound like?
JD Happiness sounds like the laughter of the one you love.
Maria Bajt was born 1976 in Stockholm. She lives and works in Stockholm and Berlin. In 2008 she graduated from the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm. She has participated in several group exhibitions in Sweden, among others Combined Lines, Norrtälje konsthall that was also exhibited at Åland Art Museum, 2009 but also in Germany. She was awarded IASPIS’ grant for cultural exchange with Mexico in 2012.
Jason Diakité was born 1975 in Lund, he lives and works in Stockholm and Is a rap artist and writer. He has released eight albums as Timbuktu and toured extensively in Sweden as well as abroad. He has been awarded eight Swedish Grammy Awards and hosted several different radio shows.
Wanås Konst Children’s Books was established in 2011, as a series of children’s books, featuring images by contemporary artists and texts by influential writers. It is an initiative in which every book is an experiment in words and images. Each book takes place at Wanås and concerns discovering both art and the Park in reality and in your imagination. The first book, which came out in 2011 with text by Astrid Trotzig and pictures by Fredrik Söderberg, was a classic tale that featured pearl tears and a water witch in the lake. The second was a poetic picture book for all ages with paintings by the artist Anna Camner. This year’s book, by the musician Jason Diakité and the artist Maria Bajt, tells the story of Sam at Wanås – the cow who can dream.