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Interview with artist Solveig Settemsdal about her exhibition "OK SWALLOW GREAT" at RIXC galerija

OK SWALLOW GREAT by RIXC Baltic-Nordic Residency artist Solveig Settemsdal.

Artwork explores the connections and disconnections of physical and digital realities. Real footage is juxtaposed with Google 3D algorithmic visualizations, and the membranes between these are pierced through text, interrogating what happens between these versions of reality. The film was shot during a research trip looking at man-made structures bracketing water in the deserts of California.

From the exhibition opening "OK SWALLOW GREAT" at RIXC Gallery

Foto: Lelde Gūtmane

How did your journey to the art world begin? 

I grew up on the coast of Norway, I spent a lot of time in a boat and my house was surrounded by water, so everything was always kind of mirrored in a liquid. I always enjoyed seeing this floating world underneath, and I would dream of how to make things in this way. 

I had this recurring dream when I was a kid, every time I had a fever I had the same dream, and it was this oval floating in space. It would slowly morph from one thing to another. I kind of made that in a way with SINGULARITY (2016) which is drawing into a fluid. It’s always been a need to show what I’m seeing somehow. 

Sea, water, and liquid in general are recurring elements in your work, what makes you want to explore this topic time and time again? 

I wanted to represent something that would morph and shift and be in a constant state of flux… and yeah, enjoy the thought process rather than the finished thing. Trying to represent a thought somehow in a space, and I think that’s also the obsession with water, what it contains and what is it carrying. And obviously, the link to life, all of life, is contained in water. 

I did a seminar on Alien liquids at the Slade (Slade School of Fine Art) which was really fascinating, it was the most interesting research I’ve ever done. It was basically looking at science fiction films where liquid is kind of an actor, so it’s carrying a message. It’s always to do with clarity and opacity, with light and dark, and also thickness. If it’s clear and free flowing it’s healthy, if it's thick and black it’s unhealthy. 


You played a lot with gel in your earlier projects (eg. BUST [2014] SINGULARITY [2016] SPHE(A)RES [2017]), does it carry a meaning in your works as well? Why did you experiment with this particular material?

Basically, it’s the only medium I knew that would be able to be transparent and also solid enough to hold a line, to suspend something in space. Also, the material itself is really similar to collagen, which is what our brains are made of, so something like, what would a meat universe look like. Then it became this obsession with the material itself, and also the way space operates. John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” You move this thing around and everything else moves with it, so it’s the idea that… well you’re looking at something that you think is empty, but it’s full. It’s full of something, and it’s holding up this thing - and I was obsessed with the fabric of space and the Big Bang, and how things settled and coagulated. Yeah, how things move, how things are connected. 

LOOP 2018

What are other topics you like to explore? 

The soundtrack for my degree show was hydrophone recordings of sound in the fjord, where I come from. Just listening to life and recording it. I think that’s still my favourite piece, and it’s not like I made it, I was listening to it. I was in a boat for four days, floating back and forth with a hydrophone, listening. These little sea snails walking around, this deep sea drone, there’s a cod barking, a rock dropping, and it was just the most amazing quiet, good listening - to nature. So life and the ocean, I’m completely obsessed with, and always have been. That combined with science fiction and space… and generally consciousness. How is it possible that we have it, where does it come from, and how do ideas appear.

TANK 2020

Why is the title of this exhibition OK SWALLOW GREAT

[Laughs] Yeah… I was starting to edit it, and I always need a framework for editing, and in this case, I was considering kind of the whole journey as an exploration of a body. I was obsessed with ASMR videos at the time, like unintentional ASMR medical exams, and there was one in particular that I was watching all the time just to go to sleep, it was this old lady doctor who was investigating the patient. There’s one point in the video when she’s giving the patient a sip of water, and she says hold it in your throat, don’t swallow, hold it… okay, swallow, great. I quite liked it because it sounds kinky, but it’s just this really sweet old lady doctor doing a medical exam. 

The work starts and ends with this hole from the Hoover Dam, one of the outflow channels, which is this giant structure, it looks like a giant eye, and it’s absolutely enormous, the echo there is incredible. So there’s this feeling of being swallowed by architecture.

"OK SWALLOW GREAT" exhibition at RIXC Gallery

Foto: Lelde Gūtmane

What do you find most fascinating about this particular artwork, and the process of making it? 

So, there was about six months between filming it and editing it. I made it for this exhibition in London at Gossamer Fog Gallery, and the show got postponed because of lockdown by about four months, I think. I was looking at all this footage of being free in the world and exploring, and then sitting in a locked room and not being able to go outside. It was the dissonance of looking at the same places in Google Earth, and looking at how the algorithm is interpreting reality, which I found so fascinating. Obviously, it doesn’t have any interest in what real material is, so it’s interpreting water like it's got a shadow on it, therefore it’s a sculptural form.

It just generates all these incredible misunderstandings, and misinterpretations. Like… how often do we, in our technology, misunderstand each other, and what’s the creative potential in there. And I was thinking about how you make a sculpture that’s based on that. Shifting between reality, the reinterpretation of the algorithm, and then back into reality again - like a bad translation. 

What is the purpose of the two different screens playing different footage? 

I did want the text to be separate, and I wanted it to be spoken by something, I don’t know why exactly, but it just felt so right that it was by this ancient lake, Mono Lake, which is one of the oldest lakes in North America. It has this like… creative presence, it’s made all these sculptures in its waters over thousands of years that are present in the video on the right. I was thinking about Solaris by Stanisław Lem like this conscious ocean planet trying to communicate. 

The videos are running completely separately, unsynchronized, and somehow the text always works. It just brings up all these new thoughts every time it loops around. For example, there’s one point where the text says “he’s always like that like a kid you know picking stuff up” and then that happened to be next to footage from the Google algorithm - And it’s like, oh the Google algorithm is like a kid, picking stuff up, and that’s exactly what it’s doing, it doesn’t know, it hasn’t learned properly, so it’s guessing. Things like that come out of it. 

What/who inspires you artistically? 

I’ve been really obsessed with physics, space physics in particular, for a really long time. Yeah, just the vastness of it, the materiality of it, with dark matter, with how things are connected… 

And cooking. [Laughs] I see these things as really closely linked somehow, like whisking egg whites and making dessert. 

From the exhibition opening "OK SWALLOW GREAT" at RIXC Gallery

Foto: Lelde Gūtmane

Are there any particular artists that inspire you? 

Pierre Huyghe has this incredible installation, it’s a hermit crab that is walking around the tank, wearing a mask, modeled on a Modigliani painting. It’s just amazing, it’s very much this natural culture, an absurd collapse of realities. 

But weirdly I think the one artwork that brought out the strongest response to me was sound, and this is why I’ve been wanting to make more sound work recently. It’s a work by Janet Cardiff called The Forty Part Motet and I saw it at the Baltic Gallery in Newcastle, it’s forty speakers at head height in a circle in the room, and it’s based on a sixteenth-century choral piece. Each speaker plays a recording of a different person recording it in their room, in their space. When you stand in the middle, and you hear all these people singing together, but they’ve never met - and if you go up to each speaker, and you just hear little sounds in the room, the kids playing in the background, there’s someone walking - and it’s just so beautiful. I just found it so profound and incredible.

Don't miss the chance to see this exhibition in Riga!


Visit RIXC Gallery Wednesday to Saturday, 12:00–18:00

Lenču iela 2.

Interview by Veronika Bátfai


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