Cultural Recovery: A conversation with Fredrik Floen

Fredrik Floen is a visual artist, and one of Norway's most versatile and original costume designers. Merging his experience from the performing art scene in Berlin, Floen is interested in work that involves creating costume design for a variety of theatrical landscapes. Having designed for both performative art and galleries, his pieces are adaptable to a wide range of contexts and have been exhibited internationally.

During Oslo Internasjonale Teaterfestival 2021, Fredrik Floen was supposed to show the site-specific performance Fictions of the Flesh along with Ingri Fiksdal and Mariama Slåttøy – but the performance was cancelled due to infection control measures.

Where were you at when the world closed down?

I got to spend more time in my home. Then, suddenly, I was quarantined because one of my roommates got COVID at her work at the emergency hospital. I was in the beginning of rehearsals of the performance Spectral, a collaboration with Ingri Fiksdal. It turned into a mashup of zoom rehearsals (never heard of zoom before, so exotic!), the bed turned into a stage for filming myself rolling around in bedsheets, it was a bit exciting and I could feel the adrenalin pumping, what the fuck was going on. But I changed my private belief into a belief in collectives and different ways of being together.

The home turned into a space where I spent all my time, and not only a place where I was when I was not working. I really enjoyed sharing a house with a crowd I really did not know that well before. Being in quarantine brought us together. During the first lockdown, it somehow made us grow into a strange family, and we found a really cute way of being with each other: one day, the other Fredrik opened a bar in his room. What started with one common dinner turned out to be a more than two-week journey through traditional Norwegian food. We celebrated the 17th of May on the 8th of April. Karina, Ulrikke and Daniel planted grass in the garden, and we joined an online quiz hosted by one of Lina’s friends. Simon and I started a reading group (that went viral). And Åsny started to date a boy in the garden (at safe distance) while we were following from the windows. Everyone was reading and discussing the books that were on sale at Ark. And my best friend Runa brought me out of the city and into the forest. I was very happy that I was not alone these days.

What has been the most challenging for you during this time of pandemic?

It has been challenging to not travel. Having a lover in another European country these days has made it even more challenging than it already is. Countries decide who they will protect and who they won’t. Who belongs where. What is an official relationship? As my lover said: Business and normative family structure was the reason that allowed people to be together more than love. It shows how easily we go into normative structures while facing a crisis, and that was scary. But love is stronger than covid, so I'm holding on.

How do you think this pandemic will impact your work? Do you have any thoughts on how it will impact the art field? What kind of changes will it produce?

Costume designers work in several time horizons: long before, before, during and after the production. They need to prepare prior to the working period, then adjust the fitting throughout the rehearsals and performances, and afterwards take care of the preservation and documentation for the future. Our job is (often) a physical manifestation. Usually, everything that we do outside the rehearsal period is shadow work. We fit this work into pockets of time in between everything else. The pandemic is giving us some suspension of time – it gives me more time to do all this work in daylight. For me, this is a very vital room to grow an individual voice and expression in.

My belief is in change. It sounds like a cliche. Before the pandemic, I felt that change was not at all possible– that the field was full of toxic work relations that seemed impossible to make different. But seeing how the society completely changed overnight was an eye opener. The field is still poisoned. The fact that politicians could cancel the flights and close the airports from one day to another shows that things are possible. We are accepting that the government makes decisions and trusts us. It is a hard balance to keep, and they several times stepped over the line. Change is possible. It has consequences, but it is possible.

I have had the possibility to travel and work abroad in my practice. I have been thinking about how to work locally and keep a global perspective at the same time. How to be local without turning nationalistic. Where does this border go? And when is it right to close the borders? Here I think it's important for us as artists to watch our steps. And have international solidarity while supporting the local scene and conditions (which will be very different from country to country, and from city to city). I will try to stay as local as possible when I have to travel. It feels more sustainable to stay in a place for a longer time and get more into the local context. Hopefully, the structures will also change and make this possible.

What do you think the art field needs in order to be taken well care of?

I think we need to work in parallel on two tracks that do not always go well together. One track is to make our working conditions better, work politically and in unions for example to get more working grants and continue the important practice with peer review (Norwegian; fagfellevurdering) in the arts council. The second track is even more important: to push and explore our artistic freedom and expression. To find ways of commenting, reflecting and expressing our time. To come up with different suggestions and stretch our imagination. For me, this is always what’s most important, and it is leading above anything else in my practice. It is important that we have an arts council runned by artistic, and not by industrial, structures.

It seems like institutions are not interested in actually changing anything; they just stack up with productions (– and will they even be interesting in 2022? When the world is changing so much?). I think we, more than ever, need new work – now when words, feelings and the world are changing rapidly around us. I hope that the pandemic will force the institutions into being more flexible and dynamic and, through that, become relevant again.

I think it would be more constructive if they spent their time on trying different production models, using their money and time to make something mastodont, to keep on rehearsing, seizing the opportunity to challenge normative production frames, arranging workshops, inviting and creating meeting points between the institutions and the independent scene. Getting into the institutions seems harder than ever. Institutions have not spent this time productively. They don't want to change, they are just waiting to open and continue doing what they always have done in the exact same way as before.

Read more conversations about cultural recovery by clicking here.