Interview with Eirik Falckner: illegal public art and experimental graffiti

Interview with the writer, artist and performer Eirik Falckner, from Bergen (Norway), on the occasion of the release of his new experimental graffiti film Graa

Interview with the writer, artist and performer Eirik Falckner, from Bergen (Norway), on the occasion of the release of his new experimental graffiti film Graa

I’ve been following Eirik Falckner (HUR) on Instagram for a long time, watching and admiring his videos on YouTube and, in general, his creative way of pushing the boundaries of experimental graffiti (especially writing on trains) and illegal public art. I thank him very much for this interesting talk and for his time, and I do hope to see him in action in person one day.

Graa is more than just a film, is a collection of videos and also a book. I was wondering if you had the idea of this project first and then you’ve been working on specific performances and actions in order to include them in a film or if the idea came after

It has all been an organic and intuitive process, but I think i knew already since I finished my previous film “Ritual” in 2017 that I wanted to follow it up with a new one. Later in the process I found it necessary to divide the material into 11 shorter videos instead of one film, because there are so many different mediums, moods and ways of working. Still I would say that all the parts are connected conceptually, everything is experimentation around the theme of illegal graffiti in public space.
To answer your question I think that many of the actions are done based on the idea that I would film it for “Graa”, so many of the works I see more as a “performance for video” than a separate work in itself.

In Graa, as in your previous graffiti film “Ritual”, we see any possible kind of experimental graffiti writing, from painting a train’s panel with a window cleaner to hardcore daytime actions in the city. What is the main purpose of what you do? And what is more important to you, surprising the audience, making art, experimenting with graffiti or creating chaotic, fascinating and almost disturbing rituals? Maybe all of them?

I think what has always been the most important reason for my graffiti practice is the act in itself, for your own sake. That is why graffiti attracted me from the beginning, because you do it for yourself and the few other people who understand it and are into it. Especially in a community like Bergen where I’m from, where it’s very much a tiny subculture of 15-30 people. But after some years of painting more traditional letter graffiti, I got very bored with it and had the need to experiment and try new things. Right now I study art and work as an artist, and I don’t separate between my art and my graffiti like many writers do. The graffiti has always been an important part of my art practice.
For me it’s an outlet of extreme feelings, the adrenaline you get while painting a train or doing a quick action in the daytime. I would compare it to when I played in extreme metal bands when I was younger, I have always had the need to channel extreme negative feelings through art or music. Afterwards I always feel more balanced and refreshed.
You can say that is the “Ritualistic” side of it, where the action in itself and the experience of doing it is the most important.
There is also a more political side to it, for example in the parts where I work with “buffing”. In Bergen, most of the walls owned by the commune are grey. If somebody paints them, they will be buffed grey again very quickly, usually within a week. That’s how I came up with the title “Graa”, which translates to “Grey” from Norwegian. I’m very interested in how we as citizens want the city to look, and the discussion of advertisement vs. graffiti.

How it is allowed to pay for an advertisement billboard legally, which creates visual noise in the city. At the same time, if somebody makes an illegal graffiti it is very problematic and removed quickly. Tags can also be seen as visual noise, but they are not motivated by economic interests. The illegal side of graffiti fascinates me more than legal “murals”, because it is very directly democratic. You make whatever you want, wherever you want to make it, without asking anyone if they think it looks good enough beforehand. I think my work is often seen as provocative or ugly, especially compared to a nice and colorful mural. This discussion interests me greatly; what kind of art do we want in the public space, how do we want the walls and buildings to look, and what do we see as “decorative”?

What do you think is more exciting about being a graffiti writer?

I don’t relate so much to being a “graffiti writer” at the moment, I see my work more as illegal public art. Simply because I don’t really write a name anymore, I’m working very abstractly and often with other mediums than spraypaint or paint. At the same time my work is very much rooted in my graffiti background, and relates to graffiti culture. I really enjoy bombing, that’s the only format where I still write my name. Just for the pure action and adrenaline of it. I think tags can be very beautiful, to me it’s the essence of graffiti, where it all started. It is very raw and direct, and the action in itself is strong. Pieces can quickly become too decorative.

How do you define your graffiti and your artworks?

I want my works to be powerful, that when you see them it will have a direct impact. I channel a lot of energy and feelings into my work, which I hope can be felt by the viewer. I’m interested in the primal forces that are in nature, animals and human beings. Feelings that can be problematic to let out in our daily life or social settings, but have been present since we crawled up from the sea. The existential exhaustion of being alive, which I see for example in the literature of Albert Camus.

Your daytime performances, with passers-by walking nearby or right in front of you, reminded me of the ones of Saeio (Pal crew from Paris) while many other writers, such as Moses and Taps and Nug, have been pushing the limits of abstract and experimental graffiti. – Who or what have been inspiring you in your search for your artistic language, in addition to your graffiti style? Have you been influenced also by music, experimental theater or any other form of art and creativity?

It is cool that you mentioned Saeio, because I think he has been a super important inspiration for the actions in my new film. Also the way his videos are edited, which is very raw and quite different from most graffiti videos on the internet. Nug has obviously also been an important inspiration, maybe especially for the “Ritual” film.

I try to take inspiration from all sorts of mediums and people, the more further away it is from what I’m doing the more interesting. At the moment I work with so many different mediums, like ceramics, sculpture, textile, clothing, film, painting, printmaking, music, etc.
When I was younger I played in several bands, and I think music has always been one of the biggest inspirations. Norwegian black metal has influenced me a lot, both musically and on the way I make art. There is a very raw and primal force in the music which for me is very connected with the norwegian nature, something old and majestic. I think there is a longing away from life as a modern human being in a city, something “anti-modern”.
I’m also very inspired by good filmmakers, the last year especially by Werner Herzog and his process of making films. For example his legendary film “Fitzcarraldo”, where he manages to pull a gigantic steamboat over a mountain in the amazonas only with help from sticks, rope and the muscle power of the indigenous people in the area.
My biggest inspiration in contemporary art at the moment is Sterling Ruby, especially his big spray paintings and ceramic sculptures.

What is the funniest or weirdest thing that happened to you while painting?

I had two very strange experiences with a writer called “Miko” in Bergen.
One time we painted under a highway next to a lake, maybe around midnight. It was very quiet and dark outside, and suddenly there came a canoe out from a small hole in a stonewall just next to us. I had been there a lot of times and never even realised there was a hole in that wall. We talked briefly with the man in the boat, he seemed a bit under the influence of something and were just going out fishing. He didn’t mind us painting.

The other time we painted in an underpass quite far from the city, with no houses or people around except from a farm. For some reason we were painting really late, maybe 3-4 in the morning. Suddenly we started to hear sounds, and then a loud sound of what sounded like a chainsaw. The chainsaw sound grew louder and louder, it felt just like in a horror film. We both got really scared and started to run away to the car. We thought the farmer could have seen us, and wanted to scare us away?

Have you ever been caught?

I have been arrested a few times, but luckily never got any serious consequences. I think you have to be prepared to pay a few fines if you want to be a graffiti writer.

As a writer you started with a “normal” lettering, and then lines and shapes became more and more faded and distorted. Now that your pieces are almost abstract, do you always start with lettering? And do you usually paint freestyle or you sketch something before?

For the last 2 years I generally don’t work with letters, but sometimes with my own asemic alphabet of symbols inspired by hieroglyphs and runes. I think working with letters visually is interesting in the context of graffiti, but I don’t feel a need anymore to write a name. Most of my pieces are totally abstract, and aren’t based on any specific letters. There might still be elements of decomposed letters in the pieces, but more as an aesthetic reference to graffiti.
Most of the time I paint freestyle, that’s what I enjoy the most. My best experiences with painting is when I’m just in the flow of doing it and not thinking too much, which honestly happens quite rarely. I always end up thinking too much about the composition, and the process can be very frustrating for me. Therefore I like to use sketches sometimes, because it stops me from thinking too much. Often I use sketches very loosely, and try to be open to it looking very differently in the end. Doing quick illegal pieces can also be a way to think less and work more freely, when you only have 5 or 10 minutes to do a piece there isn’t much time to think.

You had the chance to spend some time in Italy and you painted with Dissenso Cognitivo and Void. Did you enjoy this experience and this collaboration? Would you like to paint/collaborate with other writers and artists?

I had a very good time in Italy! The work with these guys was very interesting, we share the same fascination for strange abandoned places. I think we also have a similar way of working which is quite open and experimenting. My favorite was one day in a huge abandoned highway tunnel, the three of us painted two 5 meter tall pieces, one on each side of the tunnel. We all painted at once, and switched sides regularly so we all worked on both pieces.

It can be difficult to do collaborations with people, but for me it’s very rewarding. The last year or so I’ve enjoyed doing collaborations more than painting on my own. In Berlin I collaborated a lot with “Mitt Levande Jag”, for example on the part in “Graa” called “Shadow Population”. I also had a trip to Poland one year ago and painted with Blazej Rusin, which inspired me a lot.
It’s important to mention that a lot of the works in my new film “Graa” are collaborations with Magne Andrè Sandstad, which we have developed and executed together. I think I have very strong ideas of how I want my works to look, therefore it can be very refreshing and good to work with other people and do things that you couldn’t have imagined on your own. This is also a great thing about the graffiti community, the aspect of painting together as a group.

I saw on Instagram that now you are making sculptures. Are they for an exhibition? Any other project or plan for the future?

Yes, I have been working a lot with sculptures mainly the last 4 years. Last year I had a solo exhibition at “Slakt” in Bergen with only sculptures, and I had a show at the black metal musician Gaahls gallery “Galleri Fjalar” now in August.

I’m planning a screening of “Graa” at Bergen Filmclub in November, the first official screening of the film. I’m also planning a show with my textile masks and clothing in Oslo in November. Right now there are a lot of projects, but I like to stay busy.
Would also like to mention that I still have some physical copies left of the film/book “Graa”, so feel free to send me a DM on Instagram if you’re interested!

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