Meet the Artist // Maja Lindberg Schwaner
I walk into NFTasia, the first physical object I meet – the humanesque gray sculpture precariously lying across the Majas floor, I turn. Sitting across from the computer which has become the Canvas, Maja and I settle down to discuss the world she has created, where she sees her world going and her relationship with the rising technology.
What brought you here to GlogauAIR, and the city of Berlin?
I have been here a few times, just as a visitor. It is a city which I love, and keep coming back to.
I don’t live super far, so for me it was also just a way to get a little bit out of where I am in Copenhagen. I was in Gothenburg for the last few years where I completed my masters, and I feel like sometimes in cities that are not very big you are only exposed to a certain variety of art. Often it is specific for that place, whereas here there are a lot of experimental things. It has been inspiring to have more variety.
I think with what you are doing like with your videos and stuff it’s an exciting place to be. How have you found that the city has influenced your work, if it has at all.
Maybe not in any direct way but probably in more subtle ways. Just seeing different expressions. There is just a lot of art here to soak up.
Especially in Kreuzberg Neukolln.
Yeah, there seems to be a lot of different art scenes even in one area, and a lot of room to experiment.
What is your artistic process? How do you find inspiration, and what are some of your daily activities which help you create?
The work I’m doing here is a 3D animation project. I prepared a little bit before I got here, just modeling the characters. I am using blender for modeling and animation.
Yeah, or you download it. It’s a free program. You literally make everything out of geometrical mesh.
Even the blue character with the textural looking fur?
Yes I made these characters all using the blender. You can make different textures. It can be very complicated, but there are alot of online guides, and I like to just experiment.
In the animation part you can also use simulations. In my work I had a lot of fun with the wind simulation.
How do you formulate your characters? Where do the ideas come from?
I wrote a bit of a script. I haven’t written the whole series, so this animation is the first episode.
The dog character was inspired from thinking about the look of NFTs really, I was thinking about creating a character that is, or was, an NFT and then lost it’s value, or something like that.
Maybe it doesn’t know itself that it was an NFT. Then, later on it becomes an identity crisis. I also created this teenager who’s really into YouTube stars like Logan Paul ETC
Yes, I really picked that up from the dialogue in the animation.
Yeah maybe a bit of an isolated, geeky character and also a bit naive
So you just make them from your imagination
From my imagination, but also inspired by internet culture, and the types of things I am exposed to online.
You talk a lot about mirrors as inspiration for your work, I wondered if you could expand on this a bit?
It’s something I sort of carried with me in different versions throughout my work. Initially it came from kind of thinking about borrowing aesthetics, or elements from other places. Then I would bring them into my work, combining them in different ways. In relation to mirrors, what I’m thinking about is reflection in a distorted sense. My work doesn’t just reflect something, but it takes it in and then reproduces with a spin on it.
I think it is taking in some elements from internet culture, then kind of incorporating them into the work and then reflecting them back, but in a strange way.
I think about what happens when you go into a show, a gallery or something. You have to look with more attention than you would look at a lot of other stuff in your everyday life. I feel like that’s what I’m thinking about. It is a mirror, but one where you watch more closely. There is the possibility to single out some elements and present them in a more isolated setting.
And you’re doing that in your animation also?
I think I do it throughout my works but in different ways. In the animation, I´ve taken some elements from the crypto space and NFTs, aesthetics but also ridiculous names for currencies and problems like the fluctuation of value, and then some aesthetics from internet culture and reflected them back to the audience.
Also, I like to approach some things I don’t completely understand myself. It helps me to process some of the crazy things happening in our world at the moment.
How did you start with these animations?
Before animation I worked with sculpture for a few years, and before that with fiction writing.
I wrote a short story collection as well. In some ways it’s similar to my animation.
Kind of like the Dystopian?
A little bit. Is has some elements from sci-fi and fantasy, but it takes place in everyday spaces then it sort of flows into some other, weirder spaces
Do you think you’ll continue doing sculpture? I guess the characters you create are a sort of sculpture
It is a bit like sculpting, yes. I like to switch between different mediums. Also between different methods. Then include some elements of what I already know as a way to move forward with my work.
Have you enjoyed doing the animation
Yes I have loved it. I remember when I began with sculpture I was feeling like I wanted to work with my hands, compared to writing. Now I feel like it’s actually kind of refreshing to sit with my computer and immerse myself in a world.
Less messy as well I guess.
Not so physically challenging either! I have found the variation in work stimulating.
When did you first start using this reflective/mirror idea in your work?
I started by thinking about artworks I like that give me a certain feeling. It’s a feeling of something recognizable that’s related to other things and like spaces in your life but also has this alienating element. Maybe things that already seem weird to you but in the artwork the weirdness is stronger. I started to think about how I could incorporate this into my own works.
You get to question things more in an artwork because you can express yourself in a more unusual manner. I especially like the tone of an artwork that mimics something, but it’s not a complete parody. The tone is more ambivalent: for example it can be mimicking something and making fun of it, but at the same time appreciating it.
Sort of satirical but also hopeful
Something like that, yes.
So you sort of take elements from different artworks or different spaces you see, and then reflect them in your work
Sometimes I do reflect other artworks, but this way of thinking about them is more thinking about the way they work or the tone and attitude they have than the way they look or what they are about. I think about works that I like and then I’m like ‘okay what is it that I like in its way of working’
How can I work in a way that is a little bit similar to that particular tone, or that gives me the same feeling.
You obviously work a lot with technology. What are your views on stuff like AI and chat GTP and crypto NFTs
I feel like AI is the discussion at the moment. I didn’t really think that much about AI and now the technology is becoming more for all kinds of users, and everybody’s talking about it.
With crypto I can’t say that there isn’t potential in the technology itself, but now all the optimism around it has faded a bit. There have been scandals and scams, and it has proved pretty unstable so far.
I think with NFTs like crypto, what has actually happened hasn’t been able to match the hopes and the hype there was around them. Most artists making NFTs are still struggling economically, and then it becomes something which is only profitable for artists already famous or random internet art hyped by influencers. It is this question, what do NFTs actually change?
I think with politics in general like most people have an opinion because, it’s just a lot of people are scared to say their opinion because they aren’t clued up on it.
Yes and the same applies with cryptocurrency.
Sometimes this fear of not understanding the technology is used to keep people from having an opinion.
You don’t need to be an expert in every area to have an opinion. You can still look at a thing and have an opinion. Like the most expensive NFT art – do you like it? Why is this piece of pixel art so expensive? Even if you don’t understand all of the technology.
How do you think AI will affect the art world?
I think it will probably change something in art. Already now you can work and collaborate with some different AI technology. I actually used some AI in my project, for the music and some of the small images within the animation.
I kind of see AI as tools. You can use them or you can choose not to.
I think it’s fine as long as you are aware of what you are using. To understand it’s not a neutral tool. It still carries the same biases as humans. It learns from human made text and imagery. So it draws from human knowledge and is not a completely separate entity.
Where did you get your name NFtasia from
The place in my animation is supposed to sound like something fun, like a fantasy land or something like that. But then related to NFTs. It has these promises of fun and is talked about as an amusement park but then it’s just a really boring and empty amusement park.
Do you think you would create NFT out of your work?
I don’t think so. Right now I am a little bit too skeptical of it to want to do that.
In your work you kind of bringing the kind of NFT conversation into a playground I guess
Yeah it’s more like asking questions and processing what’s happening with crypto, NFTs and Web3, more than actually creating NFTs myself.
Have you had any key moments in your life that have influenced you?
I think it’s more like a continual development over time than any single moments. Just meeting different people and having conversations can be very impactful. Some of my friendships have been a big influence I think, looking back. But a lot of doing art is just to be able to have time. So much depends on things like opportunities and funding I feel like.
Because if you have funding you have more time
Yes, you need to buy time and materials. Doing art is expensive. My arts education was crucial because it gave me some time. I had figured out kind of late that I wanted to do art, so having this time and being able to get funding for it was important for my art to develop.
Before that I did more academic studies. I did a master’s in modern culture, then I realized I actually also wanted to do something else. I also did a writing course at Biskops Arnö and I remember we did some projects investigating our writing though experimenting with other media. I did like a mini film just for that, and some other experiments and really enjoyed it. I kind of realized that I also enjoyed working with more visual arts. There were visual elements in my writing as well.
Where do you see your work going in the future?
I think I will continue with this project for a while. Maybe work in some different mediums within this project. I would like to continue some script writing and make the next episode of ‘NFTasia’ for sure.
Would you ever like to release your episodes as a series?
I think so. I would like it if my episodes would be shown in some exhibition settings. I want to create a physical world the viewer enters into, as well as having the online world which they engage with through the animation. So you have some elements from the same universe but experienced through different mediums. I’m also considering just putting them online for people to watch.
Well, we have come to our final question, just a bit of a fun one! If you could invite one person to a dinner party, dead or alive, who would it be?
I just finished this trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, “Broken earth”. She writes these really interesting sci-fi/fantasy novels, so just because you ask me right now, I would invite her.