Krister Klassman is a sculptor currently based in London and a graduate of Royal College of Art. After a series of group shows in London, New York, Turin and Munich among others, he is preparing a new solo show which opens this October at COLE in London near Whitechapel. His work takes often mundane and functional objects as starting points to explore their human elements, opening them up to much more nuanced and complex observation. His approach to materials is similarly multifaceted, taking substances like concrete or aluminium and creating fragile and yet densely layered works.
As the final stages of his new exhibition come together, Krister very kindly allowed me to visit him in his South London studio to see what he was working on. The following is an exchange conducted via email after my visit.
To begin with, perhaps it would be useful to provide some background by discussing your recent exhibitions in Munich and London. When I visited you in your studio you spoke about the importance of the ‘idea’ in your process. Can you say something briefly about what sort of ideas you were focussed on with these previous shows and how they took shape through your work?
The exhibition came about as I was asked to submit a proposal for the artist led Mars gallery in Munich Germany. My immediate idea was to somehow respond to the space and to make most of the work down there.
I had noticed the location of the gallery was in the museum district of Munich and the odd, Roman décor of the former necklace shop led me to develop the idea of a frieze running along the walls of the space. An idea I was later to perform during a 7-day residency on site ending with the show.
So the idea was, as with the show at Cole the previous year, to make a ‘living fossil’. I wanted the work to be ambiguous, historically riddled and with a human touch that would link it to the present, that would make it contemporary. That’s what the carved mop and broom handles were about, suffering made tangible.
That last point brings me to my next question, which concerns the way notions of ‘domesticity’ feature in some of your works, including some of the ideas which you have been exploring for the upcoming show in October. What is it about those objects to you that suggest “suffering?” Is this something you are going to investigate further in the works you are making now?
Certain objects speak to you, it doesn’t have to be about suffering, objects can convey many things, a broom is a tool, if you have to use it all day it can be miserable and signify a low position, so it speaks about structure.
Take away the brush and you are left just a stick, which changes its use and expresses something else, a sort of refusal that hints at something beyond what it is; the object becomes transformative.
I am drawn to objects that have these kinds of potentiality, like clothes and the series of jeans shorts I am working on at the moment.
The jean shorts in your studio that you are working on currently are interesting. Clothing is loaded with cultural signs, as well as a whole range of social and political baggage. The way you have approached those items in particular feels engaging, because it seems to trace a line between these overt references and a more abstract aesthetics, in much the same way as you describe the broom handles. Can you say something about how your focus on clothing came about and what specifically drew you to that item in particular?
A discarded old jumper tells something of the human nature that I find poetic and associative. The fragility of human existence perhaps, as the most obvious thing that comes to mind. I treat clothes as subjects, cardigans represent something particular and will have to find its own form and material solution.
The jeans shorts series was interesting to me as it was documenting the various styles that I found one may adopt in expressing individuality; short, long, folded up, knee high, distressed, high waist, stone wash, acid wash, fringed. The possibilities are endless. It is individual expression but within the given norm of the cut denim trouser.
When we spoke in your studio, we also touched on the materials you are using to explore these different objects and how they factor into your perception to them. Could you say something about how you have used the jean shorts in comparison to your work with the cardigans for example, and why you have chosen those materials to represent those particular items?
Cement which is a very is useful material, both poetic and barbaric, yet so logistically demanding that none of the works made in this material remain today. But these works are not precious and can be remade when needed.
I started to work in this manner in 2012 with a series of moulds of brooms and mops I had been collecting for some time. I was interested in the way these objects allude to human life and movement, but also the tragic element, as mentioned. I did not fill these moulds with anything; instead I left them empty. The void somehow stood in for the unspeakable. They reminded me of casts of human bodies at Pompeii, or perhaps petrified impressions from the Anthropocene.
The way I like to approach a show is as fluidly as possible where objects and concepts can migrate from wall to floor or move between material or self-replicate. Where some things may be temporary while others can take on a more permanent form, as in the case of the shorts cast in pewter and aluminium.
To finish, I’m curious what working on this particular exhibition and body of work has thrown up in terms of new ideas and approaches. What developments have come from this most recent phase, and what does it suggest for future projects?
The figurative element that I have been developing as of recent has come has come to me as quite a surprise and I guess I will have to wait see where it takes me.
By Will Gresson
Krister Klassman’s new solo exhibition opened at COLE Gallery in London in October.