Do you mind telling me more about your childhood?
It was a catastrophe, but I survived. Fear from that period still keeps me awake and I often wake up several times every night just to check that I am still alive. But it keeps me motivated. My work is very much a re-creating of my story, like constructing a building, or a Homunculus. That is me - a work that needs a lot of different material and functions and strategies and relations.
MM: How so?
What I am working on is too big for me to oversee, a complex structure with similarities to my own existence that needs all those different things and much more. Not only similarities; often I believe that I am constructing a replica of my own body, life, existence and even more. Building that replica is of great importance, but even more so is finding all the components that are needed. Like if you were putting together a house or a radio transmitter or whatever.
That must make it tough to receive rejection.
I remember when my LP Flown Over by an Old King was released on Radium in 1988. Stigbjorn Bergensten wrote a rather big review about it in, Nerikes Allehanda, a small-town Swedish newspaper. He was totally furious and really hated that record. The headline was "Worse than the worst!" He kept on that theme for the whole article, how it was the worst music he ever had heard, bar none. He was so mad that someone had released such a shit. The text concluded with a claim that record had been funded by Swedish cultural authorities and accused them for spending the taxpayers' money on it. But that was wrong; I paid for the release myself with the Radium guys. We shared the costs.
I have released quite a few records of my own music, but I most rarely get reviews in Sweden. And I am not alone in that — many of my colleagues are in the same situation. There are not many critics here who are interested in this kind of music, and most of them very much agree with Mr. Bergensten.
MM: So which is worse: being completely misunderstood, or getting rejected by someone who seems to get it?
LE: I do not know. It is always terribly painful to be rejected or misunderstood. Whatever you are doing, you believe or hope that someone should take it seriously and get something good out of it. If not, why not just dream about your ideas? But especially if you are working as an artist, you have a certain belief that your work might change the world.
Or at least someone's view of it.
LE: As we talked about earlier: the immortality! The fear of the oblivion. The megalomania. But it is like taking a huge risk. I mean, you do what you must, and perhaps no one follows you in it, you might be totally alone. A lot of artists fight these doubts every day. This is one of the reasons why we form groups with people and collaborate.
MM: Does any art cause you to feel angry?
LE: I do not know, really. There is a lot of shit being made under the label art that I do not call art, so why bother?
I agree, yet so many people, not just hicks like Stigbjorn Bergensten, get completely furious when something they don't like gets called art, or even just exists. Why do you think people become insane in these situations?
LE: Art has a certain status within society, often connected to the well situated classes, and also related to the intellectual classes who have always dealt with immaterial values - which is very difficult to accept for many people. In many ways people feel excluded and, understandably, get angry or make fun of it. They are getting their revenge. It's always easy to make fun of things you feel threatened by or do not understand, and it is especially easy to criticize things that do not have a lot of societal power behind them, which is often the case with more so-called experimental or newer art - anything not generally recognized by the mainstream. Of course, the same thing is common inside the art world, which is a sort of mob itself. Beside all this, everyone knows artists rule the world.
MM: What about art and violence?
LE: Life is filled with violence. Unfortunate, but it's a struggle. I do not think there are so much violence in art, not more than in real life, but definitely less than in the entertainment business, especially in America. As with pornography and addictive drugs, users get immediate delivery of physical and emotional sensations. In Nineteenth-Century Europe, or why not in Russia, workers were often paid in alcohol. We get paid in violent movies that give us a short but intense feeling that we are immortal and have control over our lives and societies. And this has nothing to do with art. It is only a question of money and power, "giving the people what they want," as they used to say. But the influences come from the Twentieth Century during the modernist period when artists in the western world were preoccupied with revolting against bourgeois society. Artists defined themselves as outsiders and outlaws and wanted to stay close to a criminal world that created its own rules within the existing society. This was a very stimulating and creative period in the western cultural world and especially in the art world. But this was nothing related to entertainment or shit like that. It dealt with the development of the human structure, both the inner and the outer, the politics and creation of a new society.
MM: Are you familiar with Stockhausen's comments about the World Trade Center on September 11?
LE: It was interesting what he said. I believe it was true and completely spontaneous, spoken by a naive and totally egocentric man locked up in his own world, which is common all over, not only in the art world. Stockhausen's statements, too, are typical of the modernist tradition: to honor the crime, the extreme action, to admire the total dedication required of an artistic attitude. I can really see what he meant! But I am afraid also that he saw it as a formal and visual gesture relating only to the aesthetic aspect, like the great power of nature, something that reminds you of the power of God, the father. I think Salvador Dali made a similar remark about the atom bomb, and we should not forget the ambitions of the Nazis and the Soviet Union in this case - the same sort of nearness to megalomania, the same sort of nearness to omnipotent aesthetics. Artistic dreams have always been gigantic, and the limitations have always been lack of power, but the combination can very dangerous both in a negative and a positive way. The West has become a world that seeks its heroes among the bards, the singers, the poets, not among the soldiers or the violent ones, even though the intellectuals secretly admire the violence and the power of physical uproar.
(Originally published in April 2000 in Bananafish #16 magazine)