Interview with Jan Hakon Erichsen, Norwegian Artist
Jan Hakon Erichsen is a Norwegian artist, currently living and working out of Oslo. He studied at the Oslo Academy of Fine Arts, graduated in 2004, and has worked as an artist ever since. He has worked on many installations, exhibitions, and visual art projects, displayed in multiple countries. He is most famous for his destruction videos on Instagram, in which he finds creative methods to destroy objects. He has over two-hundred thousand followers on Instagram, and posts a destruction video every day, each of which attracts thousands of views.
The Politic: Tell us a little bit about yourself, to start.
Jan Hakon Erichsen: I’m a Norwegian artist living in Oslo with my two teenage kids and girlfriend. I’ve been working as a professional artist for almost 15 years and making similar art the whole time.
Alright, according to your website, you graduated from the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts in 2004, and since then have had over 40 solo and two-person exhibitions throughout Norway.
Could you elaborate on that experience? What originally made you decide on attending the Fine Arts academy, and produce the type of work that you did early in your career?
I wanted to be an artist from all the way back to my early teens, probably a lot because one of my older brothers was already on his way on that path. So from early on I was very focused on the goal of getting into a proper art school, but my ideas of what it means to be an artist have changed a lot since then.
I entered the art academy wanting to be a video artist, but my first meeting with the video department was such a disaster that I didn’t make a single video my whole time there and instead focused on sculpture and installation work. That’s when I started working with everyday materials and started to develop an interest in destruction and danger. After the Academy I picked up a video camera again and went on to do what I originally wanted.
What led to your current project, the destruction videos that you post on Instagram every day? Could you describe this project?
I’ve always been inspired by early performance and video artists like Chris Burden who literally risked their life doing their art, and for a long time I’ve been wanting to make art that has the same kind of chaotic energy as some of those early pioneers had, but mixing in the aesthetics of online videos. The Instagram solution happened in a very random fashion, with me just wanting to have some fun with making a balloon popping contraption and thinking “I’ll just film it with my phone and see how it works out” and then posting it just to share it with friends. The feedback was very positive from the start so I was encouraged to keep on doing it.
Most artists focus on the creation of art. Why destroy things? Is it still “creative” to you in that sense?
I think of destruction as the dark side of creativity and I’ve always been drawn to it. It’s like punk rock or horror movies in a sense. As long as I’ve been an artist I’ve had an interest in the more neglected sides of creativity, like people fixing their backpacks with duct tape because they can’t afford a new one or Graffiti artists hacking their spray cans to create a bigger mess just for the hell of it.
You’ve said previously that the main focus of your work has been “fear, anger, and frustration” – is that reflected in your current destruction videos? What is the purpose of destroying these mundane objects in creative ways?
I think there will always be traces of that in my work, but it was probably more accurate before. Now I focus a lot more on a dark humor I find in everyday challenges.
I think art in itself is purpose enough and I don’t have this big agenda for what people should get out of my work, but hopefully my viewers will look at the things that surround them in a slightly different way after watching my videos. But if people just think it’s fun and entertaining, I don’t see anything wrong with that
What attracts you to the D.I.Y. aesthetic? How do you go about building some of your more complex machines for destruction?
I’ve always been listening to music where a big production seems to not be important at all, like punk and indie rock, and I think a lot of it has to do with that. The idea is the most important thing and I think it shines when it isn’t packed up in a lot of cleverness. I love it when something is almost falling apart, but sort of works anyway. Ideally I don’t want to spend more than an hour preparing for a video, but of course sometimes things take a lot longer than that.
I always start off in more or less the same way and usually don’t know if it’s going to be a complex design or not before later. I have vague idea, like wanting to drop a row of knives on several balloons at once, and it just turns out that it’s quite complicated to make that happen. I’m always looking for the easiest way to complete a task and often get quite frustrated when something takes a long time, but I also have a hard time letting and idea stay half done.
While your art draws from a lot of distinct movements, do you identify with any particular current movement in contemporary art? What impact do you think your art is making, especially with its popularity on social media?
Today’s art scene is so diverse and I don’t feel my art fits into any certain category, but I’m not working in a vacuum and there are a lot of artists out there doing similar things.
I’m really unsure how much impact my videos really have even though I have a lot of followers, but I know that there are a lot of people who look forward to checking out my new video every day and that is more than I had expected when I started out doing this project.
Do you think you’re influencing other artists?
Several artists have sent me messages saying I have and some have even sent me pictures and videos of work influenced by me, so I would have to say yes even though it feels very strange to be in this position all off a sudden.
On Christmas Eve this year, you hit two-hundred thousand followers on Instagram, your main platform for posting your destruction videos. And you’ve already gained three-thousand more since then.
How has social media contributed to your art? Do you feel like it would have been possible for your art to be so popular without it?
Before I started posting my videos on Instagram my audience was quite small to put it mildly, putting up art shows seen by less than a hundred people wasn’t unusual, now my videos have been seen by millions. It’s quite bizarre. If anything, it has strengthened my belief in that what I’m doing is worthwhile.
You have hundreds of short destruction videos on your Instagram. What’s your favorite destruction video? What makes it your favorite?
It’s really hard to pick just one, and from the very start I’ve been quite focused on the fact that quantity is really important to this project. So rather than a single favorite video, I have favorite series of videos. And right now it’s the ones I’ve been making with tinfoil recently. I think these are taking the project in a new and even more fun and bizarre direction. But my opinion of this changes almost every day.
If you could destroy anything in any way for a video, what would you do?
It’s tempting to say something big or really expensive, but I think that one of the strengths of my project is that the things I destroy are so neglectable. So instead of destroying something spectacular, I would much rather go big and spectacular on the destroying itself. Making a more sophisticated thorough machine to destroy something you could just as easily step on.
Do you have any other thoughts that you’d like to share in this interview pertaining to your work, life, or anything that you feel readers would need to know?
Since you are giving me a soap box to stand on I’d like to shout as loud as I can that people should be nice to animals and that being nice involves not eating them.
What does the future of your work look like? More destruction videos? Do you hope to keep making them indefinitely, or do you see a new project? Does their popularity influence the direction of your work?
For now, I’ll just keep on making these videos and see where it takes me, but it’s sort of inevitable that I’ll start doing more gallery shows again and see how my Instagram work functions in a real-life setting.
Thank you, look forward to following your work and where it may go.
Thanks again for your time.