D: Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers! Who are you, where are you from, what’s your medium of choice, how long have you already been in the art game, etc.
A: Hello! My name is Anne Margrete Sjøflot and I also go under the name Fleshflies on IG. I was born in a little mountain town in Norway called Røros, but I moved to Trondheim when I was 18 to study. I studied philosophy and did my master’s paper on metaphysics, more precisely on the philosophy of time. I’ve always been creating stuff since I was a kid, drawing, painting and making strange little sculptures, but I never felt I found my medium until I started doing collage back in 2008. I was completely hooked from the first second of cutting and glueing, with the surrealism and potential in found images that I could destroy and recreate into something completely different. Also, the sound of touching, cutting and tearing paper has an almost ASMR-like effect on my brain.
I was still studying at this point and got my raw material from thrift shops and magazine stands, but after my studies I lucked out big time and landed a job as a librarian, which was perfect, cuz I could get my hands on all the discarded books and magazines my little heart desired. I also started out with a pretty strict dogma of only using found material, so I started collecting and sorting all the stuff in boxes with different categories. Later on I got some commissions from bands to do cover art, and for that I had to print images of band members and such to make portraits of them. This all made me betray my original dogma of not printing, but hey, collage is in large part about breaking the rules anyway. I eventually moved half an hour outside the city, where me and my partner got a cheap house, so I now have my own room for collage work, which is excellent, cuz collage takes up a lot of space – both the work itself and the collection of raw material and books, which I have shelves and shelves of.
My style is very much inspired by nature, anatomy, bugs, diseases, metal, gore, horror movies and filth in general. There is so much beauty in decay and nasty stuff, and that’s what I wanna show people. I also love exploring darker themes, cuz they feel much more like a home for me. I still remember when one of my three older brothers came home with the first carcass collage covers made by Jeff Walker when I was a kid and being absolutely mesmerized by them. Might have been 7-8 old at the time. I’m still beating myself up for not starting with collage already then, but it thankfully came back to me later in life.
D: So you basically have your own collage dungeon at home? That sounds excellent! Collage can definitely take up a lot of space if you let it just grow wild. I’m always impressed whenever I hear of other collage artists’ ways of keeping their stuff organized.
A: Yes! I have my own collage dungeon at home, which is pretty amazing. I feel lucky to have that space. It also enables me to work on more complex pieces and really spend some time on them. In my dungeon I can leave a piece at my desk and return to it without having to clean up every time I’m done with a session. And now you reminded me that I need to tidy my office soon, cuz even though I have a system, it often ends up being a mess anyway. Semi-organized, I would say. But if I can offer a tip to anyone who wants to work on collage, I would highly suggest getting started with collecting raw material. The more you have to choose from, the better, and that way you are more likely to produce something no one else could make, cuz it’ll be your unique view on the source material you have at hand. I guess that’s art really, a visual perspective on collected memories and experiences.
D: You mentioned already that those old Carcass covers left a real impression on you as a kid. Were you always somewhat interested in dark/spooky stuff growing up or was seeing that cover art like the epiphanic moment that kinda started everything?
A: Growing up with three older brothers really did a number on me I guess. I got exposed to pretty dark movies and music from a very early age. Still I would say that my fascination with darker stuff definitely started with my interest in nature. Digging around everywhere looking at bugs and finding dead stuff led me to ask questions about existence from a very early age. Finding a rotting mouse or something was like opening presents on x-mas, and I found decomposition to be very beautiful right away. I might have been a bit of a weird kid, but looking back now I’m so glad I was. The first metal posters were hung up in my brothers room when I was perhaps 5-6 and I still remember that Venom poster and the huge picture of Eddie on an Iron Maiden poster to this day. Today I find the darker stuff way more interesting than cutesy stuff. If I ever churn out inspirational stuff on a sunset backdrop or something, it’s time for someone to do an intervention. Maybe it’s more interesting for the viewer that I work on stuff I find hard myself, to add a bit of resistance to the piece. So, I also dig into bad stuff that happened to me as a kid thematically in my art, like getting injured in my mouth region a lot. That for sure made me very into teeth as a subject. I’m also kinda blind and had a lot of troubles with my eyes, so if you look at my stuff, it’s hard not to notice the crazy eyes I tend to work on. People comment that I have googly eyes in my pieces. Honestly I don’t mind that comment at all, in fact I take it as a compliment.
D: Dark stuff IS simply way more interesting than cutesy stuff. As someone who appreciates a good dose of body horror, I always very much enjoy the messed up teeth and eyes popping up in your pieces. Another recurrent motif in your work is the flesh, the gore and all that. Hell, even your Instagram handle fleshflies is connected to the topic. Is there any further significance to the flesh motif for you beyond the inherent “it just looks cool”-factor?
A: Well, of course there is the whole existentialism aspect to it all. You know, the stuff we are all obsessed with – we are after all thinking bags of flesh, decaying every day. In that whole mess there is a lot of beauty as well. I almost made myself depressed for the first time when we were working on the existentialists back in university, but most of all it made me very fascinated with the concept of death. Our temporality gives us some kind of drive, I suspect. In my case it appears as an urge to create art, or even little memento mori.
It’s also only fair to mention that I process a lot of traumas in my pieces, some kind of morbid art therapy. I’ve seen my own and others flesh on the inside enough to be fascinated by it, not voluntarily I might add. Oh, and my grandfather and uncle were dentists. My uncle made dentures for people, so they had a workshop where the walls literally were covered in dentures and sets of teeth. That room for sure sparked some imagination. And, well… I should say that I love to work with the texture of flesh. The marbling and the play of white fat and the more reds and pinks of the meat is great for cutting. Gives you edges that you can move, replace and extend almost infinitely.
D: It’s difficult not to freak out at least a little bit once you start thinking too much about your own slow decay. Easy to start worrying about how there’s not enough time to accomplish everything you’d like to do.. I guess that’s why most people prefer not to think about it unless they absolutely HAVE to. Very jealous of that denture workshop, sounds incredibly cool!
On to my next question: I’ve occasionally seen you sharing story posts over on IG in which it looks like you made some preliminary sketches or blueprints for the layout of your pieces. Do you always approach your works in this way? What’s the creative process like for you?
A: Those work in progress story posts vary to a great extent! Sometimes they’re half glued and sometimes they’re just a bunch of tiny pieces of paper, floating. But I try to glue as I go along for the most part. I was doing collage while having a cold once and I sneezed on a not glued down piece…. Lost like four hours of work right there, and promised myself I would start to glue as I went along from then on.
My process is usually like this: first the treasure hunt, finding the right pieces in my raw material. I often spend hours flipping through pages like that. The starting point is usually one page that speaks to me in some way and after that it’s a matter of finding the other pages i need so that the conversation between the pages can continue. I always listen to music and I bring either tea or wine to the table, so I can sit for hours. Then I use big scissors to coarsely cut the pieces and start plotting the composition. At this stage I take pictures along the way, so I can see the page from straight above. Then I break out my tiny scissors; a small buddy of mine, nail scissors from the 70’s my mother gave to me. They are absolutely perfect for the job, being super pointy and it has a curved blade, so I can get all the precision I need to cut details. I glue when I know where stuff is supposed to go and then I keep cutting and placing as I go along. This whole process helps keep the work flow pretty organic, it’s very much an evolution. And even though I might have an idea on where I want the piece to go, I never really know exactly where it’ll end up until it’s done. It’s done when it feels like it sits right. Can’t really explain that one, the when it’s done part, it’s a matter of doing it for a long time and having my eye on it I guess.
D: Oof, that’s unfortunate indeed! Could’ve just said “fuck it” and turned it into a biologically enhanced mixed media piece instead though.. An idea to keep in mind for the future.
Anyway, speaking as a fellow collage artist, I totally get that ”it’s done when it’s done” feeling. Usually you just know.
A: Hahaha! I actually have used some biological stuff in my work! A buddy donated some pubes that I glued on a piece, but other than that, I usually just go with pressed plants and stuff. I should do more with bodily matter!
D: Quite a lot of organic material that I could see working well when mixed into the collage format.. A collage using skin would be some real insane Ed Gein shit, for instance. Time to befriend your local taxidermists and/or morgue worker, I’d say!
A: I would definitely enjoy working with skin! As long as it’s possible to glue, I foresee some problems with that. But in that case I could make a nipple piece! Just like Geins nipple-belt. That would make the algorithm gods happy, I suspect! Love to work around censorship, what they exclude and what they allow usually makes stuff even more horrible. Like a piece I did with some porn, but with the sexual stuff changed to diseased flesh, which ended up kinda nasty.
D: I somehow feel like you ought to be able to glue skin, but that’s just based on pure intuition alone. In all honesty, I can’t help but wonder what’d weigh more heavily for the censorship bots with that nipple belt idea – would it be the belt-ness or the nipple-ness of the thing? Hard to say, really. I’ve honestly given up on trying to figure their strange wiles out. Arcane mysteries, all of it.
Sticking to that particular topic for a bit longer though.. As we already established, your work is definitely more on the gnarly, transgressive and ‘shocking’ side of things than a lot of your average everyday collage art. What are your thoughts on the increasingly bothersome censorship of art on social media nowadays? It’s for sure been a thorn in our side. Have you ever gotten into ‘trouble’ in real life for leaning too much to the dark side with your art work?
A: Yeah! I wish I could get my hands on some skin, or even just start looking into skins and leather maybe. It should be processed somehow, because skin when left to dry would just get hard and crunchy and fall apart. But imagine like a padded cell, but with all nipples and pillowing skin. That would be gorgeous!
Hah, you want me to talk about censorship! Well, as I regard freedom of speech and expression to be cornerstones of any civilization, this whole censorship on social media is really doing way more harm than it was intended to fix. First of all, I find it amusing that the rules for censorship seems to be coming from a very religious standpoint, fundamentalist even. And the second interesting part is that it seems the main source of this fanatical, almost hysterical censorship of the human form is coming from America. And this is very foreign to us, at least here in secular Scandinavia, where nipples and naked bodies have been fine for a long time. Although I can tell more people here are adopting these otherwise pretty religious ways of regarding bodies as well.
The absolutely worst part of censorship is of course that they aim to censor bodies in ART! Which is pretty insane. When I read that piece about the statue of David being a source of discontent, from a teacher or something taking a class full of students on a field trip, I was really sad. We can’t live in a society that sells sex and bodies all the time, where it is a natural part of popular culture, advertising and even the craze where apparently everyone but me has an OF, and then turn around and forbid the naked human form in art. It’s quite honestly infuriating.
And the funny thing is, I’ve gotten reported and almost kicked out of IG for using naked bodies in my work, but if I use images of corpses, diseases, pus and dismemberment, the app deems it to be OK. I guess the moral of the story is: the only good naked body is a dead naked body. Also, of course I’ve gotten a lot of shit for what I make from family or work people that don’t understand what I do, but it seems they sort of accept that it brings me joy to do collages, even though they don’t like them.
If people don’t like what I make, don’t follow my IG. It’s that easy, really.
D: Yeah, speaking as someone who’s had a fair share of posts shadowbanned for rather nebulous reasons, I’m definitely not a big fan of how all the tech companies are pushing these weird (mostly) American values regarding what’s allowed and what isn’t either. That double standard of “Violence? OK! Nudity? Won’t somebody think of the children?!” will forever confuse me. I would say that in most situations a skinned corpse or whatever would have a bit more of an impact on the psyche than a lousy nipple, but social media’s doing a damn good job at making it look like it’s the other way around. Same with that other weird double standard regarding nudity in art vs using sex to sell pretty much anything else that you also brought up. Sometimes it almost feels like there’s a separate set of rules for influencers and “casual” users.
A: Well said! The part about there being different rules for influencers and us, mere mortal artists. I find it kind of strange though, because IG sure would be a lot more boring if it weren’t for art accounts. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. I’m just secretly hoping for another platform to emerge someday, that allows artists to focus on art instead of the whole algorithm game.
D: Couldn’t agree more! But enough about the haters and the platforms trying to keep us down, let’s talk about something completely different. Now, from collage artist to collage artist.. I generally try to work according to some rules I’ve set for myself. Do you have any personal rules or self-imposed restrictions you try to stick to in your work? You already mentioned that at one point you tried to avoid printing as much as possible, but is there anything else you try to do (or avoid doing)?
A: The longer I’ve been doing collage, the more I’ve been actively trying not to have rules, or at least tell myself that rules are made to be broken. I try to make stuff I haven’t seen anywhere else, that’s about the closest thing to rules I’ve got for now. Oh, and I try to incorporate colour as much as possible! But now you got me curious; what are your rules?
D: Well, I primarily work digitally, but the main rule I’ve set for myself & still try to stick to even after all these years is to make sure that everything looks as if it technically could have been done analog-style. I’m generally not the biggest fan of digital artwork that looks too obviously digital, with some exceptions here and there. I also kind of have this mental block against making collages using only two pieces. No idea why, my brain just always starts fighting me for some reason.
A: Yeah, rules can be hard sometimes, but also it excludes some options which makes the process more streamlined. The two piece collage approach is super difficult! Like damn, I usually wanna mix in a bunch of other stuff. And the few times I’ve managed to stick with only using two pieces of raw material, they tend to be smaller pieces. The fun part, really, is sitting with it for ages and swearing a lot along the way.
D: So you mentioned earlier on that one of the things that sparked your love for collage was seeing the album artwork for some old Carcass records. Flash forward a couple of years, and you’ve now created your own fair share of album artwork for bands yourself. How does it feel to suddenly be on the other side of things? Any particular pieces among those projects that you’re especially proud of?
A: The cover art is so much fun to do! Especially if I get to do whatever I want! What I’m not, is an illustrator, so some commissions I have to turn down because they are way to specific.. Well – unless I know that I have the raw material to make it work, of course. My first commission for the Norwegian prog band Tusmørke really stands out for me. The guys contacted me about some already existing work, which was used on the inside of the gatefold, and I got to do another piece for the front. It came out pretty great, and seeing my work all over a vinyl/physical format melted my cold heart quite a bit. I have some fun stuff coming up this year too, so stay tuned.
D: Looking forward to seeing what you’ve been cooking up in that case! Following that up with another one of those questions I eventually end up asking everyone in some shape or form: what are some of your proudest moment in your life as an artist so far?
A: It’s almost hard to say what I’m most proud of as an artist. In general I’m not a very prideful person I suppose, but of course the times I get to hold an album in my hands that I’ve contributed to, and my big piece based on Dante’s Inferno, (A0 size) that took me months to finish made my severely underdeveloped pride bone tingle a little. I guess if I were to rationally think about it, I’m kind of proud of myself for not caring as much about what people think of my art. I’m pretty sure that if I had gone to art school and worked more towards exhibitions my pieces would definitely look a lot different. There is a lot of freedom for me in not caring, for me to do my own thing. So I guess I’m proud of that; not doing what others expect of me.
D: That’s still a secret superpower I wish I could unlock some day. Think I’ve said something about it before in a different interview, but I honestly find it quite difficult to just completely let loose and do my own thing without at least somewhat taking the imaginary audience’s expectations into account.
A: Yeah, the not caring part did not come naturally, more like a slow realization that I was doing this for myself and not for anyone else. Of course I have to take into consideration what others want when I’m working on commissions.
D: The following one’s another one of those questions I inevitably ask everyone… It’s kind of like armchair tourism. What’s your local art scene like? Is there some kind of collage community out there or is the medium as unpopular as it seems to be out here in Estonia? Are there any places you’d recommend to fellow Semioculus-minded individuals?
A: Well, Trondheim has a pretty big art scene! There’s an art academy here, which provides the scene with never-ending new blood. There’s plenty of art museums, galleries and an art hall here, with all levels of creative endeavors. If you or anyone reading this ever comes here, a quick google search will probably overwhelm you with options. But I also want to mention the music scene over here! There’s a music academy as well, so there’s a thriving jazz/noise and metal scene here. I guess that’s part of the reason I’ve gotten into the whole making cover art game. Well, that and the early meat covers by Carcass. I have to mention Klubb Kanin, the motor behind the noise scene and of course the occupied areas UFFA and Svartlamoen, which has a vibrant punk scene. Also there is, as one would expect from Norwegians, a black metal scene here. Check out Terratur Possessions if you’re into that kind of thing.
As for the genre of collage, there’s not really a specific crowd, but many artists here work with the medium, so it’s definitely not unpopular. In the 70’s a great, pretty famous artist (one of my heroes), Håkon Bleken, used a lot of collage techniques in his huge paintings. Mostly war protest stuff, but that is for sure one of the themes that is very suitable for collage as a medium. I guess he opened some doors for other artists doing collage as well. I also have to mention Linn Halvorsrød, one of my favorite people in the world in general, who, besides being a multi-disciplinary artist working in noise, textile and drawing, makes collages as well. Another guy definitely worth checking out is Ashkan Honarvar, who works purely in collages as far as I know, and he makes the most mind-blowing work. Often times huge ones too.
D: Thanks for the recommendations! Those artists you mentioned do indeed seem quite cool. Always impresses me when people manage to pull off the huge collages.
A: Yeah, the big collages are hard, because most of my raw material comes from books that are, well – book sized. Wish I had access to a printer capable of printing huge and well.
D: Going back to something completely different – earlier this year you released a zine, Torment, which was a collaborative project with artist gallow.films. In December of last year you also released an art book titled The New Flesh together with Saint Anthony’s Fire and Adrian Rinde. Would you mind sharing a bit more about the two projects? What was the creative process for both of them like? Did you agree on a specific theme beforehand? Any differences in approach compared to the works you create just for their own sake?
A: Both of those collabs were so much fun to make! The art book The New Flesh was basically a curated selection of my preexisting pieces. I reworked some of them to add some of the texts written by Adrian, but it wasn’t all that much new work. Or, well, a couple of pieces were made specifically for the book, but it was mostly old ones. For the Torment zine, me and gallows agreed in advance on what the theme would be and we made ten pieces or so each to fit the torment theme. I think one or two old pieces were used as well. I mean – my little figures lend themselves very well to the theme of torment as it is.
It’s kinda fun making stuff for themes and prompts! And yes, I’m also referring to the submissions I’ve made to Semioculus over the years. It is of course a different way to work than making stuff just for my own sake, but it’s like commissions I guess. Sometimes even my stubborn ass has to consider other people’s wishes.
D: Working with prompts is a nice way to drag yourself out of your comfort zone from time to time I think. Not sure if that also counts when I’m creating works based on prompts we came up with ourselves though..
A: Prompts and commissions are a lot alike I suppose, like having to consider something other than yourself. Hah, funny, I said earlier that I don’t care what others want me to make, except when I get paid for it apparently. Oh well. It’s inescapable I guess.
D: Yeah, one way or another, I guess we still have to keep others in mind from time to time.
We’ve finally hit the “general shout-outs and recommendations”-portion of these interviews! Watch any good b-movies lately, read anything cool, discovered some rad new artists? Now’s your chance to let our audience know! And of course plugging any of your own upcoming projects that we can look forward to is also more than welcome.
A: I have shouted out a little earlier, so I can’t remember much to add right now. Other than the Cadaver album I made artwork for, that comes out in July, there will be a bigger exhibition in 2024, but I can’t really say much about that right now. Details will be dropped in the future. I’m going to enjoy summer in the months to come, so collage work will be slow I guess, unless we get a very rainy summer. That’s the not so good part about collage, it’s not a very portable medium and it’s hard to do outside.
D: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with me! Hope you’ll get to enjoy your summer break!