Fika with Patrik Qvist

/Interview, 2020

I had been hunting for street installations by Patrik Qvist since I moved to Stockholm. Finally, the Universe smiled at me — we were about to meet up during the very paradoxical time for humanity when the whole world was trying to keep its distance. It was an extremely sunny day, exactly how it should be on a perfect spring day. Right in the heart of Södermalm, he appeared as a silhouette in a long leather coat, carrying his bicycle next to him. We hugged each other and entered the first cute coffee shop on our way. Like a true gentleman, Patrik ordered two cups of black coffee, asking if I preferred regular or plant milk. I was up for regular. In a minute, I took out my glitter notebook with a list of question marks, pressed the record button, and dissolved in excitement to listen.

You've probably answered this question hundreds of times, but how did you get started?

I did answer this question hundred of times ︎ No, but… There were two things. I found the material, the cups, in the warehouse. I was cleaning this warehouse to get rid of a lot of shit. And among all of this trash, there were two boxes of plastic cups. Maybe five thousand. And this warehouse was right around the area with a big fence. You know, whenever you found a lot of something, like thousands of something, you can use it.

..F.e. to build a house!

Yeah, like build a house! Or make a boat. So, I saw that the plastic cups were  the same size as the holes in the fence. And I put them there. It was one thing. And another one that made it coincide was me being in a place of my life where I needed to get out and start to communicate on the streets rather than galleries or institutions. Because nobody cares about art in galleries. So, I wanted to reach out to another type of audience. And I didn’t want to be out at streets spraying, you know, because I have kids. It’s not that I’m too old for it, I wanted to..

Do something different?

Something different during the daytime which will also allow me to interact with people. Because when I put my installations up, there is always a conversation or two with passers-by.

So, it was a perfect match of a situation, a material and your urge to express and talk to people.

That’s a much better way to put it. I’m going to use it next time for one hundred and first time!

I think it’s super brave, you just allowed yourself to be visible!

I’ve been working as a visual artist for some time and primarily with the question of environment and climate change. And it’s all very depressive. When you do a show about that and you invest your whole soul, your time for a long period.. And then you have an opening, and there is  bunch of people who say that "This Is Great!" and then the conversation just dies. There are only a few visitors and maybe if you are lucky, you can be published in a magazine, if you are even luckier, maybe you sell something. But the conversation, the dialog between people is missing.  

But with these pieces on the streets, what happens is that people talk to one another, and they share it on Instagram and other social media. There is a conversation going on that I don’t know about. Every now and then, I get a kickback from people, they see the pictures of my work and then it leads to another conversation. 

You are like a bridge between these people!

In a way with more successful pieces, yes. Like the one, you took a picture of. It’s a very good spot. There are a lot of people passing it. It’s very visible. And that text has appealed to a lot of people. I didn’t make up this text, it’s a quote.

My favourite one that I spotted is "This moment just changed your life" at Slussen. I remember asking my local friends what it is. And there were like "These phrases have been around for years, popping here and there!"


Where do you get your inspiration? Your quotes are simple yet so touching..

I don’t know… I just do my daily life. I don’t read the news, I read books. Having said that, I’ve been watching a lot of garbage on Netflix. Whenever I put up a text, it’s either a place, the sight itself suggests a good text or I have a good text looking for a place. I like the words. I’m big on crossword puzzles. And, probably, now I’ll do a text about coronavirus.

Have you ever had problems with the police when placing your art in the city?

It depends on where you do it. Here, sometimes people ask me to take it down if they own the place and it's private property. Most of the installation is in public property. It’s so easy to take it down, so I’m not destroying anything. This is also one of the reasons why I don’t want to be out spraying, it considers as a crime in many places, which is ridiculous. But it is what it is. However, when I do it in New York, it’s a bit more tricky, they are very much into their private property.

Lately, I started to put some pieces up, take a picture and then take then down. Because when it’s really windy, you have to be careful. So, no, never had problems with the police for this stuff. The cups are pretty innocent.

I know that the question of the climate crisis is a big part of your art.

This whole conversation about climate change and where the world is going is full of words that we have been living in during the last 5-10 years. Sustainable, organic - all these words weren't a part of my vocabulary when I was twenty. If someone would have said "sustainable" when I was kid, I would be like "What’s that? Is it a drink?".

Yeah... I’ve recently discovered the word solastalgia…

Oh, it’s an amazing word, it’s very useful today! It was invented by an Australian philosophy professor who used it to describe a feeling of loss or grief when something in your life has changed, usually for the worst. One of the most motivating factors, why I started working with environmental problems, was that when I was a kid I could go to the Baltic and fish. And then during my lifetime, the Baltic changed so much that it’s pretty much dead. The whole ecosystem is just gone. Caput! So, this Australian professor named this term to counterbalance with nostalgia which is more longing for something tangible. This place was used to be green and nice, now it’s burned out and gone.

I believe that what’s happening right now is a sign that we need to unite and see how we can use the unified attitude to combat global problems. It’s time to stop talking but taking actions... Actually, do you have a keyword for 2020?

I think I can use this metaphor where you have the weed in a field, and as the wind blows, the grass goes back and forth. So, instead of breaking, you are sort of springing back. Like a tree. There is this softness in your approach to the world, and, I think, we have been going so hard for so long.. It sucks if people lose their jobs and they can’t work, but maybe we all need just to...

Stop and look around?

Stop. I think, my word would be «Slow». Slow down. But if I had asked me last year, I would have said...

Speed up?︎

Haha, no! My mantra for the last year was skate tricks. I needed to learn skate tricks within a year.

Did you manage?

On New Year’s Eve! I finally nailed it, so that would be my mantra for my last year.

Now we are forced to slow down but when it’s over, hopefully we learn something. Because the risk is that the companies will be like «All right, we lost a lot of money, we are going to do double.”

But maybe people will figure out that it’s nice to hang out with your family and kids, meet the spring. The spring always disappers. You never have time to appreciate it.

What is the most fascinating part when you create?

Hmm… I think when sometimes people take my words and rearrange them into other words which is great! I love that. There was one case where I wrote a text and then next time somebody rewrote it. And that person was a neo-nazi, he left his own message. And then the day after, the extreme left-wing people came up and change the text again. There was a battle going on between different opinions.

Can you imagine to document it? Film time-lapse! Next time place
a small hidden camera around. And maybe broadcast it! 

It would be lovely. We can have these cameras for hunters which are triggered by motion. We can easily put up one of those. 

Okay, my last main question. Close your eyes. What is your biggest dream as an artist?

To have just an endless amount of time. Free time. That should be my mantra for 2020. We have such a work ethic these days. If you don’t work, there is something wrong with you. One of my first texts was "I have a real job". One of my kids asked me what I am going to do today, and I say "I’m going to work". And he was like "A-ha, so you going to put cups in the fence?" I’m like "Yeah, that’s what I do". I mean... What about you?

I’d say to be able to collaborate with different people. Maybe to go to an art residence somewhere in Lofoten and do something together. 

Art residences are great! I’ve only done a few. They haven’t been life-changing but very important because you get so much time for focusing on what you are doing and also focus on nothing. I mean, just being open, For me,
it takes a few days and even a week to clean up my head, go and buy groceries, make sure that there is toilet paper… So, to get to a process, it usually take time. If you had asked me when I was 20, I would have asked like rich and famous, it would be nice but only if it buys you a lot of time. But rich and famous with no time... I’d rather be poor and unknown and have time. Like meeting you is one of the perks of my job, it’s really nice to meet someone who gives a shit.

I truly DO!

I really appreciate it. A lot of times if you go with your gut feeling and intuition,it’s so satisfying because you’re answering to yourself. You’re aligned with yourself.But then if that alignment also works with other people, it’s amazing. Because you don’t really believe in what you are doing, if it’s not rooted in you and some kind of idea you want to convey and communicate, like a vessel for your feelings, it became fluff, it’s advertising, maybe it’s fashion. But it’s going to be here today and gone tomorrow.