Noah Latif Lamp sits down with Erik Sommer to talk about blowing up paint, growing up among artists, confessing to the Cloud, and painting with crocodiles.
(ES) Describe your work for us.
(NLL) My work is an amalgamation of the everyday and the extraordinary. I take the everyday and reshape it, redefine it so it peels off the social layers that have been put there by life.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Amsterdam in the ’90s with a single mom. I have to say that Amsterdam was a bit wilder back then.
My dad lives in Surinam, a “small” jungle country bordering Brazil, French Guiana and Guyana.
Where do you live and work now?
I live and work between Amsterdam and London.
How do you think this has influenced your work?
It has not.
Do you remember any artists as a child that captured your attention?
I do not recall one particular artist that had my attention. You see, I grew up amongst artists. My dad was a painter and my mom had a lot of painter and sculptor friends so I was always on the floor of studios and museums. Therefore I did not pay a lot of attention to art since it was always there. It was normal.
Any artists today you are looking at?
Everyone, no one.
You use a variety of material in your work: blood, cloth, crocodile skin, oil. When did you start doing this and why is it important to you?
I started out more traditional. My dad would come by and teach me how to paint from life. Since I always made art at one point it dawned on me that I could go beyond what was expected. Since I come from tradition it was logical that I would rebel against what I always knew and did. I began to see what kind of world we live in and started reflecting back on it. That is when all the “realistic” work started happening. It was important to me to show the reality that we live in. When I saw Prada crocodile leather handbags in diverse colors I wanted to do the same thing in a sense. I like grand dialogues already loaded with tension.
Tell us about your bomb paintings.
Having worked with controversial subjects before, making work about weapons and the war industry was bound to happen.
I knew that I had to do something with explosives and their destructive qualities. Something in the violence of it made it alluring for me. So I went on the deep web, ordered some f4, which is one grade under c4 military grade explosives, smuggled it from a fake address two boarders away since it is not smart to order explosives to your house, and started blowing up paint. I only used Old Holland oil paint, the whole tube, on linen. If I used cotton there would be nothing left.
You are able to move between painting, sculpture, performance. What is the biggest challenge working in all of these different mediums?
It is in my belief not to believe in form. It is just an expression. If the expression makes more sense as sculpture than it is a sculpture; the end justifies the means. But if you want to know the challenge of it, every time I start a new series I have to completely start from zero. Catching crocodiles to use as a brush to make paintings has nothing to do with smuggling explosives or putting phones in resin.
In form of thought it does, in a way of thinking. But not in its materiality or the actual technique of fabricating it.
You mentioned 0642764284, your iPhone digital confession booth from 2015. It caught a lot of people’s attention, and still resonates today. Why do you think that is?
The iPhone is an icon in our time. Almost everyone has one so everyone knows what it is and how it works. Therefore, if one presents it in a way where the most important function of the phone is taken away it becomes something else. Nowadays privacy is a thing of the past, so converting it to an object that takes all your information anyway was kind of an interesting way to show this.
Also the Apple logo has a kind of religious theme to it, an apple with a bite out of it like the forbidden fruit of the Bible. So transforming the phone to a confession booth that you could call but not pick up made sense. Confess to the Cloud… god is in the clouds. I am not Christian by the way, or religious for that matter.
You were a part of Indebt Studios. How did this come together and what types of projects did you work on?
That stared around 2012. Some friends and I started hanging out talking about work that would be cool to do. Eventually it grew into a gallery space/contemporary communication house that traveled around, especially between Amsterdam and Copenhagen. The nice thing is that it gave me the space to do field trips into different disciplines.
We did all kinds of projects: MDMA in a ring, planting tens of thousands of weed seeds around Amsterdam, designing interiors, hiding gold in the city for people to find, working with refugees to help them get to know art. You name it.
What about your own studio practice. Any routines or superstitions?
I have this thinking routine before I go to sleep. Well, while asleep. I don’t know how to say it. Somewhere in the middle. Where I just think without making consensus about what I think.
When it comes to my work I do not make consensus.
Tell us about your working technique. How do you start and then develop a piece?
Most of the time I just know what I want and how I want it. Every work that I do is its own entity so therefore every work requires its own process and technique. When the work first comes into my mind there is always a sense of “Are you really going to do this?” or “That is a stupid idea.” So then I know it is good.
Developing work is a whole different dimension. I work in series so every time I start I have to rethink everything.
What excites you the most about the current art world?
The accessibility of it. It is so easy to connect with people all over the world through platforms like Facebook or Instagram.
Any recent or upcoming projects?
I am releasing a collaboration project that I did last winter in the Amazon rain forest. It is a large format photograph of a site specific installation in the middle of the jungle. 22nd of June, 2020.
Finally, what is your favorite color?