Danish designers Sofie Hannibal and Nan Na Hvass (pronounced with a silent H) are in London on the eve of their new exhibition at the Kemistry gallery in Shoreditch, stomach running until 27th February. Having first been invited to put some work together a year ago, salve Losing The Plot was completed in just six weeks. Sparring off each other in that easy way that really really good friends and work partners do, the girls describe the thinking behind their colourful work and how their long relationship with the band Efterklang came about.
When did you start working on the exhibition?
S: Well, we left everything to the last minute so the real work only began in November.
Oh no, so did you have to work really hard over the Christmas break?
S: Well, no, Nan Na was in Istanbul for the New Year for five days with her boyfriend Rasmus… who is in the band Efterklang.
Oh, I didn’t realise that was who I was speaking to when he emailed me!
N: It was our 5 year romantic anniversary but I had to pay for it [metaphorically], by working extra hard over Christmas.
S: I left her alone though, I only sent one email.
We’re sitting in the fancy boardroom of the ad agency above the gallery. I think I hear a cat. Nan Na shifts in her swivel chair. Miaow it goes. Hmmm. Not a cat then.
Do you like cats?
S: We have 3 feral cats living in the courtyard of our studio.
N: We’re quite crazy about animals – Sofie used to have a dog.
S: It died.
N: It was a fat barrel shaped one with little thin legs and a triangle head.
S: We did talk about getting another studio dog, but we have a studio elf instead; it’s made of wool and lies all stiff in a hole in the wall.
N: We picked it up in a fleamarket.
What is your studio like?
S: It’s in the basement of an old house and we share it with others.
N: It’s an old building so all the walls are crumbling but it’s a charming area with lots of little shops.
Sometimes their studio is messy. (Not as messy as my house I’ll bet). And for the past four months they have had one full time intern who helps out with research and sewing.
Was there a brief for this exhibition?
N: No, but we decided to base the designs on statistics, data and numbers; taking inspiration from the patterns. At first we wanted to collect our own information from surveys [to turn into designs] but we felt it could be confusing and might tie us down. So we decided it would be more fun to be open ended because it forces you to focus more on the media without getting lost in the content. So there is no real information.
S: It’s a very free translation, so for instance with the pie charts – you can invent yourself what each colour represents.
N: We looked at Edward Tufte, [described as the “Leonardo ad Vinci of data” by the New York Times, fact fans]. He’s done 3 or 4 books where he collects different information and graphics and celebrates their prettiness. For example the diagrams and instructions for dancing steps.
S: We started in earnest on December 1st.
N: No no we started on the screenprints before that, we were thinking about them in mid November, but it’s hard to find a screenprinting place in Copenhagen.
So where did you do them?
S: We can’t actually say where we did them…
At this point dear reader I have been sworn to secrecy. So, my lips are sealed. You’re never going to know. Can I have a free print now please? [I really really want one. It’s so bad when you just want things isn’t it?]
Statistical Insignificance. I’d like this one please. Isn’t it just so gorgeous?
What other mediums did you use?
N: Well, we’ve worked in wood before so it was a bit stupid to do it again because it’s very difficult, but we did… it’s very heavy, then you have to cut, sand, prime and use two layers of paint – so it’s very labour intensive and slow. Our studio is too small so we used Sofie’s basement party room.
I hear you met at high school. Tell me the story.
S: We became friends pretty fast.
N: I remember dying your hair when I hadn’t known you very long!
S: Then we went to an after school art class together.
N: It goes to show that you should always draw in public so you can discover that it is a mutual interest!
And weren’t you already working together professionally whilst you were still studying for your Ba in Visual Communications? I can’t imagine many British students being that motivated.
S: Well, there are only two design schools in Copenhagen so you have to be very motivated to get into one in the first place.
N: But in general I was a bit bored at design school…
S: So you seek out other stuff…
N: I started doing Efterklang covers whilst I was still at college.
Where did you meet Rasmus?
N: I met him at a Christmas party – he tried to brag about being in a band but I didn’t know them so it had no effect.
The first artwork I remember seeing by Hvass&Hannibal, for the Efterklang album Parades
Funnily enough Sofie’s boyfriend is also in a band, Turboweekend. Soon the girls were painting the walls in nightclubs during their spare time. I always dreamt I’d have the cool boyfriend in a band when I was their age. Didn’t happen though. Pah.
What instruments do your boyfriends play?
N: They both play bass.
S: They’re the cool ones!
N: They play squash together sometimes but their music is pretty different…
S: …and we all go on holiday together.
Me, jealous? Never.
What kind of music does Turboweekend make?
N: I’m not sure what you’d call it, intelligent party music? Electropop?
S: I don’t know, I’d have to ask, but it’s pop music of some sort.
N: We listen to music constantly when we are designing, especially the bands we’re designing for. We just did some stuff for Clogs, which is a great band.
The new Efterklang cover for Magic Chairs.
Your latest cover for Efterklang features ribbons being swirled in a courtyard, how did you design it?
N: We completed it just before we started work on this show. All the fabrics were hand dyed and sewn.
S: Then we practiced waving them around in the yard. (see pic below)
N: We worked on the set designs and costumes for two big Efterklang shows in Denmark last year, which was really fun.
S: Then Efterklang won an award for the best dvd release.
Did you get a mention?
S: *pulls face*
It’s a bit of a departure from your usual work, I get the sense you don’t really want to describe yourself just as illustrators?
N: We’ve been talking about this a lot lately; the illustrator label doesn’t quite feel right as we do lots of other stuff, but it’s the part of our work that’s been seen the most. We do a lot of spaces and interiors and we’d like to expand and do more art direction.
How do you actually work together, in practice?
S: To begin with we used to send digital images back and forth, but now we work much more individually on specific projects and we talk a lot to make sure we agree on certain things like the colours.
Ah. The colours. If there is one thing that makes a Hvass&Hannibal piece so instantly recognisable it is their wonderful use of colour.
How do you come up with your colour schemes?
S: We have favourite combinations of colours
N: You can see this really well on the end wall [of the exhibition]. We have preferences for what works well next to another colour – this is usually a bright colour next to a complimentary but less bright version.
S: We tried to come up with new bold combinations for this show.
N: …I was surprised when I looked back at our work and we could see that even though we’ve tried to make specific choices about colour everything does look a bit similar from a distance.
What about the all white piece you did for the Danish Railways Magazine?
S: It started out as a papercut with lots of colours
N: …but then the drawing told us to do it.
For Form Magazine.
And I’d love to see the stuff you did for Form Magazine in Germany. Didn’t you get to showcase some specialist print techniques? As you know I love to fiddle around with such things myself. What was your favourite?
S: We got to do some really nice pearly ones and glow in the dark, by my favourite one to work with was sand.
What about the food faces? I see you have one as your screensaver on your computer.
N: It was initially planned as a poster for a festival, but they didn’t use it.
Did you eat your creations afterwards?
N: No! But I think we’d like to experiment with mediums more.
I particularly like a few of the other projects you mention on your website [which is very good readers, you really should check it out] – can you tell me a bit more about your Save the Rainforest with Art project?
N: We were asked to do a project with a youth design school and wanted the theme to inspire and then we donated some of the money [from sales] towards saving the rainforest. Maybe we have a bad conscience [about the content of our art]… but we’re driven by aesthetic pleasure, and we just love choosing shapes and patterns.
S: I think you can be political in your everyday life and in how you work. We are very conscious of how we consume in a private kinda way.
Before they can attend their solo private view Sofie and Nan Na are off to the launch night of the If You Could Collaborate exhibition down the road, where they are also exhibiting.
What did you do for If You Could Collaborate?
S: We did a piece with the artist and tailor Anne Werner, sort of an Op Art tapestry.
How on earth did you find time to do that?
N: Luckily she did a lot of the sewing!
S: We need little helpers to help us.
What did you think of what happened in Copenhagen during the Cop15?
S: I think it’s ridiculous. We have a Reclaim the Streets protest every year and I once got caught between the police…
We would call that kettling here.
S: Yes, so I got away somehow but my friend got arrested, as did another one who was just going to get the newspaper. It was so ridiculous that everyone who got arrested was able to sue the police.
Did you attend any of the demos this time?
N: No, it’s quite sad but we were working all through December…
S: It’s strange, I feel we should’ve been participating but we had no time… and I actually got really frightened after the last time [being kettled] and that’s a real problem.
N: So we were just sitting in our basement, isolated from all the news.
Do you find that there peaks and troughs when it comes to earning money?
S: We’re actually talking about making a long term plan to describe what we are doing and why.
Do you have any plans afoot for the future?
S: We’re going to north China in April to do a lecture at an arts academy who found us through some books.
Do you think you are they well known now?
S: It’s difficult to know… but I think we are, it depends who you ask!
Any other plans?
S: We want to get a webshop and a blog but we’re going to have to wait till the end of January, and then we have a little helper who is going to do the programming.
N: Yes, a young man has offered himself.
Can I have one too? I really need one of those.
S: We’ll sell tote bags, cds that we’ve designed, that kind of thing.
Do you sell anywhere at the moment?
N: You can buy some stuff on artrebels.com.
Lastlly, do you ever argue?
S: Yes… sometimes
N: But it’s never very dramatic, not exactly arguments, just that sometimes we just get tired of each other.
S: It’s never physical though!
They both laugh, in that easy way of theirs.
So there you have it, an introduction to the wonderful world of Hvass&Hannibal. Two immensely talented girls who’ve found the perfect foil in each other. Get along to the exhibition if you’re in Shoreditch, buy one of the limited edition prints here or just make sure you visit their lovely website to keep updated on their many projects. As well as being super pretty it is also informative and easy to use – just how every website should be. It’s no wonder Sofie and Nan Na are on a roll.
- London Fashion Week – Ann-Sofie Back
- The Golden Thread Awards at Fashion Week Poland A/W 2011: Colourful Patterns
- Anne Sofie Madsen: London Fashion Week A/W 2012 Catwalk Review
- Making Great Illustration, by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies: Book Review