Interview: Asger Carlsen

Interview and photography: Andrey Bold


Asger Carlsen owns the fixed stare. There is no escaping it. The artist's angular physique, which he often features in his arresting black and white body alterating works, is a statement in itself, further enhanced by his pointedly zigzagged outfit. Carlsen is in Tokyo for “Global Photo Collaborations by Vice Japan” where he presents his collaborative work with Roger Ballen. He uses “contradiction” a lot.

Artist Asger Carlsen

Artist Asger Carlsen

  • ABPlease describe your work.
  • ACMy work is sculptural—it is photography based but I guess you could call it abstract.
  • ABDo you do all work by yourself?
  • ACAll by myself.
  • ABNo assistants?
  • ACNo no no. As far as making, let’s call it building because that's exactly what it is, I do everything myself. I'm the only one who can do it. The balance between real and unreal is very personal. I have a whole hard drive of folders, shots of different models. Each folder has a different purpose—some image could have a good bone structure, skin, or you know, I even use myself in my works a lot.
  • ABThe works of Francis Bacon, who apparently influenced you a lot, are full of anguish. Your works on the contrary often come across as humorous.
  • ACYeah? That's not what everyone thinks. Some people have a different opinion about that. It says more about you than my work. [Both laugh] I do like contradictions if that's what you're referring to.
  • ABYour work is also more detached compared to Bacon’s.
  • ACOther people who’ve interviewed me said I look like my work. I think I am also the work. That's my way of seeing life. It may be my sense of humor too. I don’t know. There's a lot of contradiction.
  • ABDo you still do commercial work?
  • ACI haven’t done any for many years. I used to do ads and a lot of editorials. Now it's mostly commissions so... I did a few album covers recently, something for a band called Cut Copy.
  • ABTalking about music, what is your playlist at the moment?
  • ACUm, Tim Hecker. I prefer ambient music when I work, it doesn’t lock me into anything you know. Oh, I love Arcade Fire which is not ambient.
  • ABWhen you move on to sculpture what will be your material of  choice?
  • ACHave I mentioned it somewhere? [Looks surprised]
  • ABNo, I just assumed it’ll be the next logical step.
  • ACUm, it will happen yeah. I’m planning to. I think making something in marble will be expensive.
  • ABBut beautiful.
  • ACYeah. It could be nice to do an exhibition of marble pieces. I wasn't sure whether it was the right way to go. What's interesting when you look at the photographs is the confusion if it's a real object. When I started I really had no perception of sculpture, but now that I spend so much time developing it, I feel I obtained some kind of knowledge on how to built a sculpture from the ground up. Maybe I should use that knowledge.


  • ABYou mentioned once you're no longer interested in photography.
  • ACI used to. I liked the whole German scene a lot.
  • ABGursky...
  • ACGursky, Ruff, Demand, but I was never interested in just taking photographs. They spend a lot of time looking for their subjects. For me, the actual photographing takes like 20 minutes. I don’t want to waste time. I just want to get up in the morning, sit down and produce work. I'm not interested in traveling to the West Coast. I want to be a studio based artist.
  • ABWhat is your ideal type?
  • ACI like quiet souls. I don’t like loud people.
  • ABDoes it have anything to do with your origins (Asger was born in Denmark)?
  • ACI think it's just me. I like when people are not revealing everything at once.
  • ABWhat is your favorite David Cronenberg movie?
  • ACUm... I like a lot of his movies, but I didn’t like the mafia one.
  • AB“Eastern Promises.”
  • ACYeah, I didn’t like that one. I like “A History of Violence.” That was really good. I think the character in the end was overplayed a little. What did you expect? [Smiles]
  • ABI was hoping you'd say “Videodrome.” [Laughs]
  • ACI told you I like contradictions.
  • ABWho would you like to direct a music video for?
  • ACI'm working on one now, for Fischerspooner. I’m doing their next cover and they also asked me if I want to make a video.
  • ABIs it only me or your works have become increasingly faceless, more abstract?
  • AC It's not only you. [Smiles] There're others who have brought that up.
  • ABIs it intentional?
  • ACYes. I want my works to be more timeless.
  • ABHow does a face, a certain hairstyle or make-up aside, make it less timeless?
  • ACFor me it would be too concrete. It would be too much, like trying to form a narrative. A straight narrative. I’m only interested in the conversation, the outcome of the end result. Does it make sense? To create a mess that doesn’t lead you anywhere. Pure abstraction.


  • ABWhat is your favorite joke?
  • ACI don’t really crack jokes.
  • ABYou do it all the time. [Both laugh]
  • ACI do? I like American jokes when I’m in America. It seems unlikely when someone from Scandinavia does that. I love being a foreigner.
  • ABDon’t you think you've stayed in New York for too long to feel like a foreigner?
  • ACI just like how you can get away with it. I can say “Oh, I don’t understand this,” or “I’m not from here.” Do you like being a foreigner?
  • ABI like being an outsider. It gives you a different perspective. Insider-outsider. I know many foreigners that have been living here for many years, but didn’t even scratch the surface of Japanese culture. I like getting to the bottom of it.
  • ACMe too. I had an American girlfriend which automatically made much easier for me to understand American culture—suddenly, I'm in Virginia eating pancakes with her family.
  • ABDo people perceive your work differently depending on a country?
  • ACAmericans are more sensitive to nudity. They just tend to cover themselves more. I think Facebook is a good reference.
  • ABI had a post banned from Instagram once.
  • ACYeah! I once photographed a transsexual who happened to have these enormous tits. Put it on Instagram. Two seconds—gone.
  • ABMine took a couple of days. There wasn't even any nudity, a picture from Kohei Yoshiyuki's series “Kōen.”
  • ACI don’t want to sound anti-American or anything, but it's just a little crazy. You can go to Kmart with a gun, but you can't show nudity which is how we are all born.
  • ABWhat is your fetish?
  • ACRunning. I run all the time.
  • ABIf you weren’t an artist who would you be?
  • ACI would make electronic music. I was always inspired by someone like DJ Shadow. Have you heard “Endtroducing.....?”
  • ABOf course.
  • ACWhen I found out the whole thing is sampled... amazing. It was a big inspiration for me.
  • ABWhat do you hate the most?
  • ACLong emails.
  • ABWhat does excite you the most?
  • ACTalent, maybe. Talent. I like talent.

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Interview transcript: Shoko Tanaka

Global Photo Collaborations by Vice Japan” is on view at DIESEL ART GALLERY through February 14th.