Goldin+Senneby is a Stockholm-based artist-duo working jointly since 2004. Over the years, their practice has focused on inhabiting contemporary abstractions, from virtual worlds to offshore jurisdictions to financial algorithms. Experiences with disease, vulnerability, and caregiving have also shaped their artistic and personal lives; and living with an autoimmune condition has formed their shared subjectivity. During their residency at Amant, Goldin+Senneby work closely with the New York-based fiction writer Katie Kitamura in the development of “Crying Pine Tree,” a novel-in-the-making about an autoimmune tree.
Goldin + Senneby (formed in 2004 in Stockholm) have shown their work at MCA Chicago, Tensta konsthall in Stockholm, ArtspaceNZ in Auckland, Kadist in Paris, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, and The Power Plant in Toronto, among others. Their work has been included in the 11th Gwangju Biennial, 13th Istanbul Biennial, Manifesta 9 in Genk; 5th Moscow Biennial, and 28th São Paulo Biennial.
Illustration by Johan Hjerpe
Meet the Residents: Goldin+Senneby
A conversation with Goldin+Senneby, about how they work, with whom, how that has changed over the years and why, and what their time at Amant mostly centers around:
“..that’s the main reason that we are here, to be able to have time to live inside of this novel-in-the-becoming. The novel has two kind of central, non-human protagonists. One is an autoimmune tree, a transgenic pine tree that has resin production, which is also the tree’s immune system.”
This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant Studio and Research Residents, in which we speak and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic processes, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months. One cohort in fall, another one in spring.
This is our spring 2022 season. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s Head of Publications. Welcome. Today I’m with Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby, who have been working together since several decades as Golden+Senneby. They’re usually based in Stockholm, Sweden. So, Simon and Jakob, thanks for joining us. Let’s jump right in.
I have a first question for you two. And it’s actually kind of basic but your name: Goldin + Senneby, where the does that idea of the plus come from? How does it speak to how you collaborate together?
The plus is actually an appropriation from another artists do. That we admired when we started working together. So we thought it was a good idea to keep keep that.
But the plus is also I think, the space between us and that, in a sense, our work is always in that space. And like, it’s neither me nor Jakob and the plusses, the other people that we involve in our practice, and there’s always, almost always other people who support and articulate and produce the kind of framework for making our practice possible. And sometimes there’s a single person who inhabits the plots more, and sometimes it’s more up for grabs.
So when you started collaborating, how did that begin? How was that idea of an additional element? Always there? Can you just unpack that a bit for us?
Because back, it’s very long, we have been working together for almost 20 years. And when we first met, we met in an art school, in the forest in the forest,
picking mushrooms or trying to pick mushrooms, but not finding any mushrooms and finding each other. And, yeah, I think our work is has been to think about people as kind of our main media, and how do we set up situations in which other people can come in? And habitat plus, and, and how can we frame situations where we allow for a kind of distribution of agency and other people can act as themselves. But I think, since the last four or five years, we’ve been in a point of having to reevaluate a lot of that to try to confront them. And we think, a lot of that work. And that’s kind of where we are at the moment. Still, in that process. Or the first time we articulated it is in the show, we did 2019 at eflux, which was supposed to be a survey show of our work. And we wanted instead to try to make a survey of work that we could have done but hadn’t done over the last 15 or 17 years. And one crucial aspect, I guess is that, you know, looking back at our work, you cannot there’s also another layer, which again is maybe more in the interpersonal space, which has to do with your condition, Jakob,
maybe you want to elaborate
a bit more on that.
I mean, the there are, there are obviously also similarities in relationship to our older work and for me, turning to the more bodily experience, it’s interesting that these notions of abstraction come up again where like, as we did in the lecture, now also talking about how language has structured the understanding of of the cell for the condition I am in so, I think a lot of these questions come come come up again, but from another end. And I think which we have also talked about, which is like, I think we are also moving towards questioning these bodily experiences not only through language, but also maybe through economics again, I mean, so we are touching similar things but from another vantage point, in a way
we inserted our bodies and in a way, your condition living with MS. And the fact that also to try to think about that, beyond the kind of individualization and singular realization of like that the medical system produces around the patient and around the language of immunity that individualizes, but also as something, which is a shared experience, obviously, it’s your bodily experience, but to also think about what that has meant for, for gold and plus Centipede,
but also us, as a community opening up from that situation.
Can you guys share a little bit of what you’re doing while here, I know you’ve done a lot of work with people in New York, but I suspect some dynamics are different now or you’re focusing on something specifically more intensively. So it would be great to hear a bit about that.
So we are working together with a fictional writer, Katie Kitamura. Around these experiences of living with and and, and relating to autoimmune autoimmunity and my condition, specifically.
Yeah, and so I think that’s the main reason that we were drawn to this residency and there are several reasons, but was to be able to have time to live inside of this novel in the becoming you could say, The novel has two kind of central non-human protagonists, one is a an autoimmune tree, or a transgenic tree, transgenic pine tree that has had its roots in productions, which is also the tree’s immune system, you could say upregulated or over activated through genetic engineering to the point that it threatens to drown itself and its own resin and a fungi, which is immunosuppressant has immunosuppressant characteristic qualities and that was used in drug developed by Novartis that Jakob was part of a trial of, so these two the autoimmune tree and immunosuppressant fungi have are kind of two other characters that structure the novel.
More concretely now, I I also live in Katie Kitamura’s basement apartment. So this also gives an opportunity for me to work us in a way to be inserted also bodily into
to inhabit her subconscious
Has that happened in the past when you work with writers that there is such a closeness physically?
Yeah, I mean, the, in the headless novel, it was like, very clear that we would not have have any bodily contact with with a writer, and I can say it, it’s a bit opposite here, because here’s much more intimate, I would say, as I said, also inserted into her house.
And it’s more about, let’s say, questions of care and the violence of care and these kinds of relationships.
And the tree is also in her living space.
That was the beginning of this project. So we, as I said, We work quite slowly. And I think that’s also something we drawn to with Amant that we feel that there’s an affinity in that. But I mean, this work, the background to it, something we started working on in 2018. And then we learned about this project that was initially funded by the US military. So the naval had patterns back around 2010 2012 for making military grade renewable jet fuel from Pine Turpin. And there was a big during the Obama years there was a big investment in in how can we use synthetic biology to produce new renewable energy sources. And the the kind of flagship project within this whole investment cycle was this pine tree, this loblolly pine in Florida. And so the idea is that if you could upregulate this, this if you could enhance the rest in production in these trees. Then you could start tapping industry again, which there had been one historically, and so they were very successful through their transgenic work, they were able to produce these pines that made four to five times the amount of resin and this research comes because the resident as I said, results of the Pines may in immune system or defense against pathogens and bark beetles. So there had been research in similar areas because of climate change the bark beetles survive the winter. So there’s an increased pathogenic pressure against these forests. So there had been research. So how can we help increase the resin production to make the trees more resistant. But this was a kind of different starting point, because here they wanted to do so much like to max out efficiency, basically. But they never got permission for field trials, they only got to have them in the, in the laboratory, the labs, there was speculation that, that it’s unclear what the long-term ecological consequences would be. And some suggested that these trees would be so high energy that they could basically become combustible, especially if we have a continuing warming. And but we became interested in the tree to think from the tree’s perspective, because it was also suggested that the tree at a certain age would would when the resin canal start to break, it would drown itself and its own resin, and so they could no longer transport water. So we thought of it in that sense as an autoimmune tree. Later, we’ve spoken to immunologists who think that that metaphor is has problems.
But that is very much also the stories that are being told. I mean, as you mentioned, the stories I was told about my condition are fictions. No one knows. So there are all these fictions that that are being told around immunity and autoimmunity. And I would imagine every condition is surrounded by these fictions in a way. So yeah,
but so just to come back to the tree, basically, between 2018 and 2020, we spent two years with the USDA and the APHIS animal and plant something–bureaucratic fictions–, yes, to be able to release one of these trees from the lab in Florida, and to see if we could have another life inside of our novel. And so after two years, we were able to get approval to set up a containment area for genetically modified organisms in the in a small windowless room in the home of Katie Kitamura. And so we gave her, gifted her this tree, I think she didn’t think it would happen when she said yes. But in Finally, after this long process, it did happen. She, her whole family had to go through this training program. They came up and inspected from North Carolina, this officer from the USDA came up unexpected inspected the house, she’s basically responsible for the tree cannot leave this one little enclosed area, or else she’s liable for $7 million, fine and a year in prison or something like that. That, again, if we go back to kind of our method, that gift and that insertion into her home. And putting her in a place of having to care for the story, according to a very specified protocol was the beginning of the novel. And it’s kind of an invitation for her to write from that position from that experience. And then from there goes, it unfolds in different directions. And we respond to things that she writes. And it’s the kind of dialogue back and forth.
So that’s a very multi layered process. And it’s such a felicitous coincidence that the tree actually made it here when you were also here because I assumed this was not clear when you actually applied for the residency. So it’s, it’s it’s a wonderful, yes, falling into place of sorts. I wonder kind of just stepping back a bit. This is a studio and research residency. Research is such a vague term and I’m really interested in how you interpret it because your actions are so you navigate such different disciplines, methods and it would be really great to to know what you understand as research and and how it moves in your practice.
Mean research for us is the process that we live. I mean, that’s how it’s always been So we don’t, usually we don’t work towards specific outcomes. We work in within this, sometimes we call it performative projects, that goes on for a long time. And that is also based on on our meetings, our communities and our relationships that are built over time and during the during this process. So I can say, just, for instance, when we’re why we are here, we have already made a few new, very interesting contacts with people that are now part of the project. But I would say that that is also part of the research. For instance, we met this fantastic researcher who has been studying MS for 20 years and have a totally different cosmologies, around how this autoimmune condition operates. And for us to meet this person and have start starting this dialogue together with him. I would say that that is our way of doing research. And that is like, Well, yeah,
I think I would just double down on what Jakob said in the beginning that for us, it’s always been finding ways to inhabit the realms that we’re exploring as a kind of lived experience, previous work of how do you inhabit legal space? How do you write inhabit the financial space? And in this case, you know, you are already your cup, obviously, inhabiting the space of your condition, but how do we also inhabit the conceptual space that frames the understanding of such a condition. And that is about drawing other people into that process and, and the relationship that happens between us the the structure of care or support that we are able to build around around a project like this?
Right. So rather than gathering an archive, you’re actually producing another fiction or setting up scenarios in which other people can enter and then,
but no, no, we have no problem in digging in archives. Yeah, we can that is also part of our of our way of working. But I would say when asked but research, I don’t think research is only about the archives. That is maybe
I think we have been I mean, so there is we’re trying to find some things in an archive now, which was something that came up while we are here, which was unexpected was through different people we’ve spoken to was to understand a bit more around the E animal model, which is the main animal model for studying MMS, but also the longest animal model for autoimmunity at all. And so similarly to how we’ve previously been looking at language and how the language of immunity and autoimmunity frames the possible imagination around these kinds of conditions, and also frames possibility of thinking about treatments and so on. In another way, also these animal models is that you have animals, that you impose a, that you you, you make them sick in a way that is reminiscent of a certain condition, and then use them for testing drugs, etc. And, of course, that’s a very violent thing, a very violent relationship to another being. But beyond being that it’s also another way of again, producing a frame for what is possible to think. So in the case of the EIA model, it somewhat is somewhat reminiscent of MS symptoms, but it seems to say very little about its cause or etiology. So again, there’s a question of like, what, what kind of treatments are you then able to develop if they have to be developed on this model? And how, what kind of answers can you get in relation to that model? So that was also this researcher, you mentioned, is at the Rockefeller University, and this was work that was done at the Rockefeller Institute in 1930s. And they were struggling to find what we’re looking for in the archives. And that’s something we that came up and we’re working on in here. So I mean, we definitely do archival search. So let’s say,
by the way, in that digging, we found this person. Yeah, that actually has totally other cosmologies that he’s introducing into the discussion. And we didn’t know about that. I mean, that was just a coincidence. But now we have, like, we have started long with a dialogue with him. And the it’s kind of continued.
This researcher’s name is Rashid Woolmer, an instructor in clinical investigation at the Rockefeller University.
In that way, is there a difference when you’re working outside of your own context, say, while you’re while you’re doing this here versus your normal base in Stockholm,
we’ve always worked outside of our own contexts. I think the differences between these two years of the pandemic that have gets this work that we are working on here was, we really were started, you know, about a year before the pandemic, and we had this show at efflux in 2019, which was very much centered on this. Fungi, which is going to be the second part of the novel, which is these immunosuppressant fungi that was used in this drug that you had in the medical trial. And we then started also, a first draft of the first chapter of the novel was presented Triple Canopy in January 31 of January 2020. And at that event, or the day after that event, we met our friend Ross, who’s a biologist to help us with the fungi. He just been to China for the, for the Chinese New Year, and came back and he was like, oh, there’s this virus like, yeah, yeah. And so that’s, that’s kind of and then. Yeah, so then things have, in one way, as you were saying, there has been an increased interest in these questions that we were dealing with. But on a practical level, it’s also been difficult to move forward with a novel because especially everyone who will be working with here in New York have been under such severe lockdowns, which we didn’t have in the same way in Sweden. But we felt, for the first time very local for two years, when we traveled very little. And we got a studio for the first time, we’ve never had a studio before, we’ve always worked from cafes. And, and so and we were forced to have a studio. And so that was a big change.
I have one last question. And that is a bit more related to what we are doing here there. We have study lines that kind of hover over our program, and one of the study lines is called hearing voices. Now that covers a lot of different angles, it can be about unheard voices that are you know, coming to the foreground in a certain artistic practice, or it can also be something more unconscious, say, inspiration, or some some kind of voice that is coming out of a place that you don’t know, but that somehow influences what you’re doing. I wonder if you are hearing any voices? I feel from your presentation. It was a lot about seeing and visual metaphors. So maybe maybe you’re more seeing things than hearing voices, just the thought that I had.
That’s a tricky question. I mean, I’m, you know, we we might be hearing voices in these gaps that we’re trying to, to find that has to do with what is has not been said, What does what have been made impossible, because of how we have framed language and cosmologies around this condition that I have not only my condition, I mean, in a way the broader sense of the immunity and so on. But by limiting what has been able to hear, through these models that seamen described, that are limiting the scope of where we can look, or the language of war and defense that is limiting our understanding of like what is happening outside of the fortress, so to speak. And I think that in a way I can hear those voices that are not have not been allowed into unconsciousness somehow. That I think is important.
What are the voices that modern medicine do not allow us to hear that’s something which we’ve spoken a lot with with Ed Cohen about writes about this a lot and was another close collaborator who we’ve had the pleasure of spending more time with while we’re here.
Our theme music is composed by Silas, who also recorded the conversations. Sound Editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber, Finally, we’re thankful to our artists for letting us into their studios and thought processes and for finding time in their busy schedules. In our next episode, I talk with Natalia La. Same audio. Thanks for listening.