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Sven Kanclerski

Artistic Uncertainty

Sven Kanclerski is a name that has been buzzing around in the German skate scene for a long time, and a couple of months ago, I finally had the opportunity to meet the person that bears this name at the 2er DIY spot in Hanover. If you meet Sven within a skate context, you’d suppose he’s just a skate rat. Conversely, people who meet him in an art context probably wouldn’t assume that he’s skating. However, Sven is interested in a wide variety of things. Between skateboarding, sculptures, photography, traveling, and building his own cruiser boards, he is a very multifaceted guy. Since that is one of the best characteristics to make a person (and their skateboarding) interesting, it was obvious that Sven had to get an interview.

You grew up in Hanover and now you’re back – how is it?

I lived in Braunschweig for five years because of my studies, which I’m still continuing now since I’m in a master’s program. The main reason for going back to Hanover is the infrastructure. All the places aren’t that played out. When it comes to the art scene, there are like 25 artists between the age of 18 and 35. If you compare that to other cities… It is obviously helpful because the city is pretty open when it comes to financing your work structure, like a studio. I also like the style in Hanover. Everything comes along a bit underrated… No one is trying to be over the top.

People sometimes wonder whether you’re still skating because you go on solo missions. Is that true?

Yes, you could say so. Let’s say I go to 2er when I don’t have enough time. I can get the necessary dose of skateboarding there, though when I have the time I prefer to go street skating. I want to take my time for it, you know? It’s slower paced, but basically nothing has changed for me. What I do less is arranging meetings with people. There’s just a certain time frame and I want to take the opportunity.

Soloskatemag Sven 5050

Jump on 50-50

Friedjof said that it can be hard to shoot photos with you sometimes because you already did the tricks when you were on your own and don’t really feel like doing them again.

Yeah, but I guess everybody knows how that feels. You already did a trick, and the moment somebody gets out the camera, the magic is gone. Sometimes that gives you extra motivation, but it feels weird to me to just do it for the camera. I feel like I want to do it for myself in the first place, but of course, there are tricks that I come up with and only do them with a photographer.

What does skating mean to you? Has that changed over the years?

I’d say it stayed the same, only the form of the output has changed. After I finished my apprenticeship, I started getting sponsors. I didn’t have a job for one and a half years and during that time I obviously did the thing I wanted to do the most, but my motivation for skating hasn’t changed. It’s the perfect balance. When you’ve been skating for 15 years, you realize how good it is for your body to activate your muscle memory.

I also heard that you skate best when you go without a certain mission, mess around for a bit, and then one thing leads to another.

A skate mission is like, you sit in a car with a bunch of skaters, a photographer, a filmer, and then someone tells you what has been done at this spot already like, “Either you go the creative way now or try to get a banger.” Being in situations like these isn’t why I started skating. Let’s say I use skateboarding to experience a city as well. When you just happen to come across a spot while pushing around with a photographer, it feels much more natural.

"I try to skate myself into a mode where I’m not one hundred percent sure of what I’m going to do, or let’s say I improvise a lot"

How much of your skating is planned out in advance, how much of it happens in your brain?

When I’m just skating around, I don’t think too much. When we talk about the photos in the mag, I definitely thought about, like, how, what, where, but it’s a little bit hard to explain how it feels to just skate around. Basically, I try to skate myself into a mode where I’m not one hundred percent sure of what I’m going to do, or let’s say I improvise a lot.

I heard artists say that as well. They try to dive into the unknown to find something new.

It’s much more vivid like this. Think about it, you have pretty much done everything you need to know for certain tricks, but you still haven’t done some of them so far. Then there’s this moment where your muscles allow you to just apply that memory of the old variations to this new trick and it works. You just need the idea.

You also build weird boards out of old roller skates. What’s that all about?

You could say I do retro cruisers. I just wanted to get something that works for me. I have this board entirely made from plastic, which has the look and feel of a BIC lighter, and I always use that when it rains. I have a bunch of different versions of boards like that. Either I buy a ready-made from the skate shop, or I can spend an hour on eBay, get a pair of roller skates, and basically build the one that comes closest to the very original. Since I’m a carpenter, it only costs me like 50 bucks. I have guides for the shapes, but I actually like the all-flat shapes the most. You are in a different mode since you can’t ollie up the curb. You have to come up with new ideas. Maybe it’s the fixie bike of skateboarding. It’s totally reduced and really dangerous to people who aren’t used to riding it, but you can see when people are. That’s why it’s so much fun to me. I mean, people like Mark Gonzales ride around on all kinds of crazy shapes as well. You just have to put soft wheels under your regular board and new spots open up. It’s interesting how different equipment changes the possibilities.

What about the outboard engine you bought on eBay to build a raft?

I bought this old inflatable marine dinghy because there is this river right in front of my doorstep and I can just silently float down it within two minutes. You start seeing things from unknown angles from that point of view. It’s nice to invite guests on a boat tour, or if you want to deep talk with your girlfriend, you go out into the safety zone.

Are you planning the things you want to do in advance or do you just let it happen?

Studying art is already a decision for a way of life that is not really controllable or predictable in itself. You don’t really know what will happen within the next one and a half years. That’s the art of it as well. When you study art, you have to accept that in a way.

"Studying art is already a decision for a way of life that is not really controllable or predictable in itself"

You started a carpentry apprenticeship after school. Why did you decide to do so and when did you realize that you wanted to do art rather than that?

Before going to art school, I’d been working for seven years. Let’s say the apprenticeship was due to the reason that the school system was not really applicable to me and I always had a thing for craftsmanship. Back then, it wasn’t a major decision though. You just flow into this thing and suddenly you finished your apprenticeship. I always kinda had to lead a different life because of that. All the others usually did their A levels and had different time frames to choose from. I always tried to keep on doing both, and then traveling came to the mix through skating. When I decided to photographically document what’s going on around me, it definitely drew me to study art. Because of skating and traveling and all that lifestyle that goes along, I got to know so many different things that I just couldn’t see myself having a regular job.

You studied fine art and sculpting. What did your studies look like?

Sculpting always sounds like you’re a stonemason. Basically, you just build images. A painter paints paintings and a sculptor takes it to the three-dimensional room. I decided to do it because I could build on what I learned during my apprenticeship and through my work. For example, I helped build concrete parks in India, so I gathered a huge knowledge about material. I applied with photographs only, but then you go there and suddenly you have five meter high studios to work in. Obviously, I don’t want to sit there and edit photos on my laptop, so I started working in other dimensions that you couldn’t think of when you only have a room in a shared apartment.

If you build sculptures that big, it’s usually not something you can sell to a single individual, because nobody puts stuff like that up in a living room. In which way does the place they’ll end up influence the objects themselves?

When I have an idea, I just start thinking about realizing it. Thinking about the size or dimension won’t limit that at all. I have done an air sculpture which you can fit into a 60 liters bag, but when you inflate, it it’s four by four meters. This definitely commented on that problem, but I have the complete opposite as well. Five tons of these coated Poroton bricks. I still exhibit them, but it’s €200 for transport and a whole lot of logistics. Working like that always depends on where you live. I studied in London for six months as well and there was no chance of realizing anything in that category. The place you’re staying at has a big influence on the way you work.

Soloskatemag Sven Drop

Drop in

There’s a big similarity to skateboarding.

Sure, the surroundings always shape whatever you’re doing. Most of the other artists I talked to when I went to London were doing performance and painting because it suits the big city. It’s the most surveilled city ever. It already happened to me twice that I took something from the street, and within minutes, I had the cops on me because they spotted me on camera. They have facial recognition and the camera follows you while walking past it.

What did you take?

A piece of an iron fence that a car ran into. Some things I actually did manage to transport to the school, but people were confused because nobody really thought about bringing materials of that size. However, I also made some good experiences with the cameras. I had this wallride spot which was at an old prison and the security told me where I can skate without being seen by the cameras because they were obliged to bust me when they’d see me.

Can you give an overview of the projects you have been doing in the past?

All the works I’ve shown were pretty much always accessible by the public. I often used everyday materials. All the works are something relatable to things we encounter on walks down the street. My photographs are all about looking closely. The older you get, the more filters you put up because it’s just exhausting to perceive too much when you go outside. That makes art move away from this romanticized image of the artist as a genius. I want the art I make to be accessible to people outside of the art world. I like to be able to explain my works to random people I meet on the street. For example, the big inflatable smiley works for everyone. It could be put up in a park and kids would be into the smiley and older ones start thinking about the formula that’s on there.

How does financing an artist life work?

Making money shouldn’t be the top priority though. Personally, I’m lucky to have received a scholarship. Selling work would be a source of income as well, but ideally you’d also get some money for making an exhibition because it definitely is a job. If you’re just starting at the bottom, it takes some time and you have to bear a lot. At the point I’m at right now, I’m getting money to buy the materials, but there’s no wage.

You got your diploma a few months ago – how do you plan to continue as an artist?

I got a studio and I’m gonna do my master’s as well, and in between, my approach will be applying to a bunch of residencies and other calls for proposals. The uncertainty of not knowing where it will work and where it won’t is definitely something you need to bear.

You travel a lot. What trips are you going on?

I’m at a point where I don’t want to be a tourist anymore. It’s more fun when I can really engage with locals and have the feeling of working towards something. There’s a difference between traveling and vacation. Traveling often leads to not really being relaxed when returning, but you just have a bunch of new images and inspiration to think about.

Soloskatemag Sven Wallie

Frontside Wallride

You were also touring with a band as a roadie and photographed the tour at the same time.

It’s a krautrock band called Faust. They’re all in their seventies and they played 25 concerts all over America. I was in charge of the video projections, drove the SUV, took care of putting up all the equipment, and in the meantime photographing the whole thing. I use photography to freeze a bunch of moments to think about what actually happened there in retrospect. It has aspects of a diary for sure. Of course, I have concepts and recurring subjects, but often I only want to freeze moments and find out what really interested me, and often the things I photograph find their way into my sculptures as well. Let’s say I have to take photographs in order to be content.

What does that mean?

When I’m at a new place or maybe even touring with a band, doing all that stuff for other people, photographing is a way of being excited enough to have a good day. It gives me the feeling of not being controlled by an external source because I also did something for myself.

Are you also taking jobs as a photographer?

At times. I did one portrait or documentary series about civil participation for this newspaper. I also photographed for this young scene magazine here in Hanover. Most of the time these things came about because of ties to the music scene, where I documented a lot. That’s the reason why I uploaded a lot of event photography onto my Tumblr because by doing so, I was able to go and see concerts for free in London.

You said that you got into art because of photography, but how did you get into photography in the first place?

I did this Interrail tour and wanted to capture it and I ended up taking like 2,000 photos, so that was definitely something that triggered me. Capturing certain moments that people look back on happily turned into something like a purpose for me. Especially shooting with an analogue camera is different to shooting with an iPhone.

Which camera do you use?

A lot of point-and-shoot, like the Yashica T4 or the Olympus mju II. They’re pretty handy and you don’t have to put all that hi-fi equipment in anyone’s face. The portraits have a different atmosphere and you don’t have to carry around a thousand bucks all the time.

You said an artist’s life is an uncertain life, but do you have any idea where you might be in 20 years?

Not really, but that’s something I like. Life is more vivid when you don’t know. Actually, you never know anyways. Everything can change any minute. Some people needed the security and then all of the sudden, the master plan doesn’t work out. When you already know everything in advance, you could start to stagnate as well. I really enjoy destroying my routines over and over again to stay fresh.

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