Germans Screw Better

Yngve Holen and Agatha Wara take an all-electric SUV for a test ride and talk about Holen's exhibition that opens at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo.

Agatha Wara and Yngve Holen. Photo Agatha Wara.

It only seemed appropriate to lure Yngve Holen this time with two things, cars and coffee, to discuss his new exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus, opening 1 March. It will be his biggest institutional show in Norway, with a selection of artworks from the past ten years.

Truth be told, I wrote a text for Yngve once that was inspired by a work he made called HATER HEAD (basically a sexy, evil-looking little screw). It was a fictional dark-comedy skit that took place on the wing of an airplane where Yngve, our friend Geir Haraldseth, Norm Macdonald, and I contemplated the nature of a screw. In that sketch, I put words in Yngve’s mouth, but today he’ll be speaking for himself.

We take the coffee before the car, contrary to how this is supposed to go down. Tim Wendelboe, and not because we’re ironic coffee drinkers, but because it’s right next door to Yngve’s apartment in Grünerløkka. And also because anytime you go into Wendelboe, a trendy coffee spot known for its mid-century modern decor and hyper sparse menu (aesthetically, more like a Cuban ration supermarket), you’re already being ironic. Coffee first, cars second, art third.

Full disclosure: there are actually three cars in this story. Though I don’t get to ride the third one, it makes a brief appearance somewhere else.

Car One

Yngve, a cortado; myself, a macchiato. Paper cups in hand, we get into our first car, a BMW 218i Gran Tourer that’s here from Berlin, used as Yngve’s studio car. To my American eyes it’s fancy and German, nonetheless. This car will get us to our second car, and we need to get to the second car, located a thirty-minute ride away, on the West Side of Oslo.

Yngve Holen It’s harder to drive in Oslo than Berlin.

Agatha Wara I find Oslo hard because of all the people walking and the bikes. Nobody walks in Florida.

YH Let’s stop at this light, the police are across.

AW Oh, good eye.

YH Yes, po-pos.

Yngve Holen, Hater Taillight, 2016. Courtesy the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; MODERN ART, London; and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt.

Jaguar dealership, 1396 Billingstad

We drive past the harbor with boats covered in clouds, Yngve comments on how gloomy it looks, the horizon line that separates the ocean and the air is totally gone. Everything is inside a cloud. Winter, end of February, we pull up to the building, a minimal grey building with the leaping jaguar logo clearly positioned near the top. We walk inside the the dealership and the strong smell of car glue hangs over the entire assortment of Jaguar XJs, XFs, and XEs. As we wait, I tempt Yngve to look at the different tire rims with me and, sweet as he is, he obliges. He likes the Y-shaped ones with a more triangulated design, and the one in the back, which looks more “evil” (my words). We also find a tire with little snowflakes imprinted on it, against a circular landscape of mountains.

Alas, our car is ready – the second car if you’re keeping track – the Jaguar I-PACE, the first fully electric car by Jaguar. We’re gonna take it for a spin.

The dealership guy gives us the keys and makes a dad joke about how we’re not gonna run off with the car. We give a little laugh because, c’mon, we’ve got manners.

Inside the car, the glass roof is an immediate standout feature, as it’s a solid piece of tinted glass covering the entire roof.

YH This is fun, this roof is insane huh? It’s like Oakley over the top, like a pair of sunglasses spanned all over your head, like for balding men huh? Ha ha

AW If you wanna tan that bald head a little maybe. It’d be cool if it had that window dimming thing from Norwegian Dreamliners where you push the button and it changes the tint of the window.

YH Yeah, next level.

AW Jaguar is, after all, a luxury brand.

YH Yeah, but it’s also kind of tacky. Look at this [points to the fuzzy suede covered side panels]. It’s so British, it’s like having a velvet toilet or something, ha ha. I’m sorry.

AW Also, it doesn’t last. The sun beats down on it and it just falls apart.

YH You sure?

AW Well, in Florida…

YH Ha ha. Well, this is a winter Jaguar then.


YH This seriously feels like a toy car.

AW How so?

YH The way the buttons feel, feels a little more… Fisher Price.

AW It’s because the analog feel is missing. It’s just buttons, no gear shifter.

YH Yeah, but also it feels screwed together in a weird way, feels like, it’s just different than a German car. [Both start laughing at the realization of how that came out.]

AW How does a German car feel?

YH It’s like screwed together. Everything, like the sounds, the clicking, listen to this [clicks on the blinker to hear sound]. It doesn’t feel amazing.

AW I remember whenever I used to climb into an old Oldsmobile or Cadillac, even if the car was an old junker it was always still so smooth. It was screwed-together American style.

YH But you’re a car person, I’m not. I didn’t grow up with cars at all. My parents were kind of anti-car or something like that.

[Blinker still going.]

AW You know, I read that Norwegians are lining up to get this car, the I-PACE. Something like 50,000 of them have been sold here.

Yngve Holen, Parasagittal Brain, 2011. Courtesy the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; MODERN ART, London; and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt.

YH And it’s also like, that’s the one I want. There’s no option to have a fossil car anymore, that’s what they call them now, right? Fossils.

AW Fossil fuel?

YH No, in like slang in Oslo people ask if you’re driving a fossil, it’s a bit of fossil-shaming.

[Driving through a Jon Rafman computer room / Blade Runner style tunnel.]

YH You know, in this car you can’t look backwards. They’re so big and you think you will have an amazing view backwards, but you only have a good view in the front. You can hardly see through the rearview mirror or the sides. Don’t look back, fuck what’s behind, just move forward. 2019 capitalism car.

AW The look to the future car, don’t look back, look forward. The whole thing is designed for this view.

I like the sensory deprivation nature of new cars. It’s so loud outside, just close the windows and you’re in a little comfy pod traveling through space. It’s terrible how very sensitive we are.

YH This is very Norwegian lifestyle at the moment, no? Electric Jaguar, we’re driving to the cabin right now.

AW Yes! Let’s go to your family cabin.

YH Let’s do it, yeah.

AW Think we’ll make it?


AW I was thinking of the trailer you made for the show at Kunstnernes Hus. I really love it. I watched it a few times yesterday. I see it as a mini high-production film that is playing on a perception that the rest of the world has of the Norwegian lifestyle: driving to the cabin in your nice car, in the luxurious nature covered in snow, to leisure. I mean, it’s a perception and it’s also true. And so, you’re poking a little fun at it.

YH I talked to Knut Næsheim who directed it, that I wanted to put this rim on the cabin and wanted the rim to become architecture or to become cabin. But Knut thought that it would be best just as a still image. So, we came up with this narrative where the rim mounted on the cabin is acting like it’s a cabin, and then there’s this car driving toward the cabin. So, we establish these two things at daytime, and then the car arrives to the cabin at night and shines its headlights on the rim, which is trying to be cabin, but the car just comes and says, “hey, you’re a car.”

AW It highlights the non-cabin-ness of the rim.

YH Ha ha, yes.

AW I guess I read it as a trailer, as if this was the beginning scene, while the credits are still rolling, of Batman or another dark hero going to his true hidden lair in the Norwegian countryside. He has, of course, a contemporary art collection beautifully installed in his cabin – and a work by Yngve Holen. The movie will continue by his trip getting interrupted by his getting called to action.

YH Ha, sure.

[The light has turned green, a car honks.]

AW Sorry! We’re taking selfies!

YH We’re so dumb.


AW Could you live somewhere out here? In one of these big suburban houses somewhere?

YH Sure, if I had a Jaguar.

AW Wait, but you left Stavanger when you were thirteen?

YH No, I was nineteen, after finishing high school. But [we] didn’t live in suburbia, we lived in an area that was more mixed and close to the city center.

AW How does it feel being back in Norway?

YH It’s so hilarious to be here, just re-living my teenage years, and coming back and forth from Berlin. Of course, I started speaking Norwegian again. It’s like the feeling that I know things, but at the same time I don’t because everything’s changed. It’s boredom, but never boring here. It’s boring fun. I really like Oslo at the moment.

AW I like Oslo too. But still I’m very outside in Norway, even though I live here. People always say to me, ‘when did you get back’?

YH Easter is coming up now. Oslo gets super empty and everything is so closed down for the whole week, right? And that’s when you really feel you’re not part of it. I mean, in some ways I always felt on the outside in Norway, weirdly enough, but I’ve got a Norwegian passport. I’m Norwegian but I always felt like… but that’s also why I chose the Heinzerling title. I never took Holen as a name to sound more Norwegian. That’s a whole different story. But when I’m coming here and doing a show, and getting a state grant, and they publish your whole passport name online…

We get kind of lost due to lost GPS signals going through tunnels, and realise we were driving back to the wrong Jaguar dealership – there are two of them in this area, and our test drive time is over. Don’t wanna keep dad up waiting.

Yngve Holen, HEINZERLING, 2019, installation view Kwam/Gudbrandsdalen, courtesy the artist, photo: Vegard Kleven.

Back in the Beemer, talking about blinkers, again.

AW So, basically, what you’re saying is that the German sound of the blinker is real but the London blinker sound is fake or like a knock-off.

YH Ha ha. Yeah. Yeah, when I click it here, there’s like, a different resistance.

AW This reminds me of how I think of Norwegian money as, like, Monopoly money, but American dollars are real money.

YH Yeah, but that’s true though!

AW Ha ha, how is that true?

YH It’s just how it is, cuz that’s the money that rules the world!

AW That’s fucked up! I haven’t thought of it that way. I think what we’re saying is very disrespectful to Norwegian money, ha ha. It doesn’t feel real, it’s abstract, and when I get paid I’m like, ‘okay, whatever. 1500 kroner for this scarf? Sure’. But if someone were to tell me this costs 200 dollars, I’m like, ‘wait, hold on, let me think about it’.

YH Yeah, it’s like how no one except the US has real sandwiches. When I grew up in Norway, I thought a sandwich was like two pieces of bread, a slice of cheese, and some ham; not like this Garfield hoagie with, like, four layers of different stuff on it that just falls out. That’s a sandwich.

AW Couldn’t agree with you more. Brødskiver does not a sandwich make. Sandwich implies that things are getting sandwiched together, this single slice of bread thing is something else.

YH A sandwich is something that doesn’t require a matpakkepapir.

AW Truth.

After an impassioned sandwich discussion, which lasts ten more minutes, we speak about: Norwegian cabin hopping with Turistforeningen; how roundabouts are anti-bank-robber devices and therefore, anti-individualism; how we don’t care that we are perceived as citizen mutants in Norway; and realizing that the nation state we most identity with is actually Norwegian Airlines, because they have cheap flights.

YH Cheapest way to get to Fort Lauderdale, huh?

AW I’m telling ya.

YH The thing with Norwegian Air is that there’s almost no business class, right? Only, like, Economy Plus.

AW Social democratic. Soon, maybe they will have those standing seats? You made a show about that!

YH Yeah, I made a show in 2016 called VERTICAL SEAT. It was referring to that. Might not be that bad for your circulation on shorter flights? Could be cool. I mean, we stand on busses.

AW I heard this artist say ‘Leaning is the new sitting’, for all that hostile architecture popping up to fend off homeless people sleeping. Not full-seats, but these semi-seats, for leaning.

We let our Beemer take us back to Grünerløkka. I feel that we are both comforted by the German screwed-togetherness of this car. We’re hungry and head to an Italian restaurant at an old brewery building right by the Akerselva river. We order Oxtail Ravioli and two Coca-Colas. I ask the server if they’re Pepsis, as they so often are in Norway, and he assures me they are cokes.

AW My first official question is when can we go to your cabin?

YH Ha ha, yeah. We have to wait for it to get warmer because it doesn’t have a chimney; at the moment it’s super cold. It’s super old school, toilet outside… the whole thing.

Yngve Holen, Nice cat., 2018. Courtesy the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; MODERN ART, London; and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt.

AW So not like Batman style at all.

YH Nope.

AW Ok, so real question: You have this show opening Friday at Kunstnernes Hus titled HEINZERLING, where you’re gonna show selections from your whole oeuvre, including some of your origin-story early works. How did the whole thing come about – I mean, showing in Norway on a larger scale than before?

YH I was invited! Ha ha, no. I mean, I thought the timing was good, and thought the history of the building was really interesting.

AW Yes, I heard that during the occupation, the exhibition rooms upstairs were used to store ammunition and weapons, as well as art.

So, do you see your doing a show here like a type of homecoming?

YH It’s not like I haven’t been living in Oslo. Personally, or secretly maybe, I have been living in Oslo for the last four years: back and forth between Berlin and Oslo. Is the homecoming then the return of me as an artist? I don’t really relate to that term. It just feels good to do something here.

AW Yes, sure. Home is maybe a weird word to use.

YH Yeah. Me back in Norway is more like, you know, getting a driving license, losing my passport, getting a new one, losing it again, and needing a lawyer to get a new one. Every time I’m faced with this ‘Heinzerling’, that’s my Folkeregistrerte navn, my document name. Flying back home is ‘Yngve Holen Heinzerling’.

AW You have a Norwegian passport with your German last name?

YH Yeah, it’s my dad’s name. Holen was a name I took when I started making art in a sense – my mother’s maiden name, basically. There was a moment when I finished my studies with architecture, and there was some beef with my grandad where I’m supposed to be the third-generation engineer. I was like, ‘fuck you I’m taking my mom’s name’, ha ha. It also sounded nice, and also, I felt like I had been repping my dad’s name for such a long time, I thought it was good to represent my mom’s name for awhile. And maybe also, being born in 1982 in Germany, there was this rule where if you’re a child of married parents, you just got your dad’s name, but if you’re a bastard child, then you get the mother’s name. I couldn’t be Yngve Holen by law in 1982. I was automatically Heinzerling. Fucked up.

It felt a little rough, getting this bastard name, but also a little funny. In German, ingwer holen means ‘get ginger’. Everybody would be like ‘Yngve… ah ingwer…’. In Norway, everyone could spell Yngve, but not Heinzerling. Here in Norway, it was more like Heinz ketchup + Erling [Norwegian first name], you got it!

AW Ha ha! You were a different food depending where you were…

YH And with this ‘homecoming’ to Norway, it felt wrong to be just one name. I felt it had to be both names. And also, it just sounded good. A friend of mine from Stavenger suggested it actually.

AW Heinzerling sounds sexy, like Heineken. It has authority, somehow.

YH Ha ha, super sexy… I do like the Heineken digital billboards when you’re watching football – the new ones. The letters are still, and suddenly, just the Es flip over. Have you seen that?

AW You showed me when we watched football last time, ha ha.

YH I have a lot of Es in my name. I should do that! Or they should do that?

AW Or just start your own craft brewery in Oslo.

YH Nei takk.


AW As the promo poster for your show you are using an image of Erna Solberg and Angela Merkel holding a car door. Could we call that a self-portrait of Yngve Holen?

YH Someone sent me that picture at some point in an email, like ‘ha ha, look at this. It’s you!’ The pic is funny because it’s the two heads of state for Norway and Germany holding this car door. I thought it was basically a funny way to talk about the show because it’s basically Norwegian aluminum formed into a German car door.

AW The trinity: the father, the son, and the holy spirit.

YH The show is somewhere in the combination of those elements in the photo.

AW And you’re the door.

YH I’m the door. A passenger door. A dumb piece of metal that travels.

AW Ha ha.

YH We talked about this before in Miami, remember? In Platooning Facial Skeletons, the car doors I showed there, a red one and a blue one, the idea of a skeleton that goes from birth to death. All the arrays.

AW I really like your titles and think they often have this funny edge, ironic or playful. There is also a lot of compression of language, like a hint that hits you over the head. Like HEADACHE for a magazine on neuroscience you’re about to release, or BUTTERFLY for a work that is a piece of a high-tech fence used in high security prisons, or HATER HEAD for a custom 3D printed screw that stares back at you.

YH It’s very Heinzerling of me.

AW Ha ha, born to brand. It’s in your genes…

Yngve Holen, Rose Painting, 2018. Courtesy the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; MODERN ART, London; and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt.

YH Yes, very condensed. I’m not really interested in doing, like, ten different variations of one thing. But it’s not just with the titles. The work itself is more condensed. It used to be more assemblage, but now it’s all screwed together. The work itself has to be tight. Physically and conceptually.

AW I like that they’re not like serially untitled. The scanner faces, for instance: even though they’re all siblings, they’re individuals. They each get their own name like sister, I want a trio appetizer, two orders of potato skins, no green onions, extra bacon, and buffalo boneless wings. You guys can share it with me if you want. Actually, I also wanna order the sandwich that has ranch (2015). I love that girl.

YH This thing of calling something untitled is like this impulse not to define something, like ‘you have to see it yourself’. I would rather destroy that romanticism about art. If I don’t know what the title is, I would rather give it a title and we’re done with it, and we no longer have to discuss what could the title be. It’s also not random, the conceptual part of the work is there and it’s strong. The worst is ‘untitled brackets’. I want things to be finished. I want to finish a work. I want works to be defined.

The black rims for this show are called HEINZERLING. The ones before that were unpainted and called ROSE PAINTING came more from the decorative arts, the craft of doing wood cuttings. Not like rose paintings, as in claiming them as paintings, but more like the ornamentation. These new ones are painted in Tyrilin, which is a wood stain that’s used to paint Norwegian cabins.

AW I see a lot of humor in your work, a weird Heinzerling type of dark humor. Am I projecting?

YH I’m not consciously thinking like, ‘oh, I wanna make something funny’, no. I think life is funny per se. With my work, it has to be more like, or close to, the point where it’s almost a joke, but still not a joke.

AW There is profoundness in funny… just look at how many comedians kill themselves, sadly.

YH Yes, funny is serious stuff. I’ll give you an example: people say to me, ‘oh, you like cars so much’. I don’t love cars so much. It was an easy way of sourcing parts, because I realised that everything was sort of stored in motion in big trucks on the autobahn, because no one wants to pay for these big storage units. Realizing that there is a whole spare parts supply chain in motion on the autobahn, I just thought it was funny. Not the exploitation of people and resources, but how absurd it seemed: to think about these objects being driven around endlessly, and ordering one, and it being delivered the very next day. Like an analog internet of things. I started to think that maybe all the trucks on the autobahn are just full of stuff and drive around.

I mean, it all started like this when I was in the house thinking about what to make and what not to make. It started off with pillows, and pillows were fun. Then, I started looking at water kettles – this is also the stuff in the show. And you have this whole kitchen that looks Modernist, but then you have this overlooked weird sci-fi plastic thing which is a water cooker, right? It was new and made in plastic, and it wasn’t really decided what’s a chic one or an ugly one.

AW Well, they’re things of the everyday, which become invisible.

YH Yeah. And so I thought, that’s where I’m gonna look now, and started thinking how in Germany, you have this saying ‘everyone is cooking with water anyway’, which means that even though it’s soup and it’s amazing, it’s still based on water. There’s a trick to it. Don’t let yourself be blinded by something, because there’s a trick. We all start with the same.

AW ‘Tricks.’

YH It was kind of like… ‘ahh I’m a bit slow, just waking up’. I look at this kettle and cut it open and see if I find an idea inside. And of course, if you cut it open, you destroy the object and the water is gone and you’re stuck with this piece of trash.

AW You were looking for the art inside the water cooker. It’s not in there stupid! But it was in there, and that’s funny.


AW Have you ever considered that your oeuvre is akin to a sort of anatomist? Like a ‘post-subject’ anatomist?

YH Is that like saying I’m an anti-Modernist con artist?

AW No?

YH Ha ha. No.

The third car

Well, that’s the car that speeds on the icy terrain in the dead of winter to get to the cabin. It pulls up with its bright whites, shining light on the trickster that awaits.