torna conversations #5
with Meryem (Mim) Akbaba & Klara Branting Paulsell

Vague + specific
We make vague art, but we're excellent communicators.



MERYEM (MIM) AKBABA: Does it take us a long time to make work? Do you feel like it does?

KLARA BRANTING PAULSELL: I think it takes a long time. There’s a process of trust and waiting and allowing that always happen in our work. Because we have to trust it, and so we do all the things we do in the moment that we know we trust, until it builds, and we’re able to create.

MA: I also think that it can seem like we spend a lot of our time doing nothing really, or at least not working but then when we sit down one day and say “okay, we need to make a video”. Then it’s actually easy, because all that time we spent together not doing anything that looks like working becomes so valuable and we see that we have so much to work with, and so much that we know together.

KBP: Right. Like for instance, decision-making. It doesn’t look like a list of pros and cons and many options and we have to find the right ones. It looks like mostly conversations while doing “nothing” or while taking care of ourselves. Conversations that don’t make any decisions but loosen up a lot of the things that are available to us both individually and together. Like for instance I feel we’ve been in the decision-making phase of something and I’ve heard you formulate something that maybe you hadn’t formulated a couple of weeks prior. It’s something we both agree on, but now we’re confident in it cause we’ve been there so many times, in different conversations. So now it’s an agreed upon idea. Do you know what I mean?

MA: : Yes. That process, or that moment where we say “Okay now let's make something” especially with the videos, is really interesting to look at because it is almost us forcing ourselves to crystallize our ideas at that point. You know, it’s that moment where you find those formulations that you hadn't put into full sentences yet and you commit to them in some way. Even though these things are still just a moment in the process, they are more fully formed. I wonder what people can see if they just look at our youtube or something, you know? Does it express what we are thinking or.. I don’t know if it is just these moments in time that could otherwise not be very significant.

KBP: You mentioned earlier “In Character”, the video. I think it’s not only a piece of work that holds itself together more than most of the things we’ve done, but it’s also this kind of shift in time in my memory of our time working together. Do you remember that day? That day was filled with these decisions as well as with conversations and an active approach.

MA: It was a whole project in a day. All the processes we usually go through were compressed into that time. It was interesting to me though, not because we were able to make those decisions in that time, but that it became clear that we had made a lot of them already, and we were just putting them into practice.

KBP: It was really a “practice what you preach” kind of day.

If you are working as two, how do you both come to decisions? Is it a process of constant compromises?

KBP: For a long time I felt we were working as three. Two and then this person who just knew which things we both intuitively were cool with. For example, when we’d have these conversations, Mim and I would both throw out a ton of ideas and just subconsciously hear the other one ignore certain suggestions or jump on board with others. So we’d always have an easy time moving forward because of this intuition. However (this is the interesting thing that happened on that day), we realized that it’s not as good as it seems. The key isn’t compromise, but something more like risk. We actually do have to make real choices sometimes. So it means describing what you think the other is saying, trying to understand what they think you are saying, and then laughing at the confusion. Wait. And then stop laughing and do something. Does that make sense?

MA: So what you are saying is, at the start it was easy to find direction because you were taking the path of least resistance. But actually now to make things that we both believe in (you, we, whatever) we have to really explain ourselves, quite without ego as well, and decide on the best path. Really the best way to do that is with lightness and humor.

Would you say that laughter is the best way to keep you on the same side even when you have different opinions?

KBP: Yes, totally. It’s always been that way though. It’s also always been pretty ego-less, but I think that’s an interesting way to describe it. The egolessness of laughing our way into the path of least resistance versus the egolessness of playing with the resistance that is obviously there, and now we’re comfortable enough to bring that into the room with us.

Speak more about egolessness in the work you do. If you are working without your ego, why are you always showing your faces in the videos?

MA: We are our own subjects because we are all we have to work with. I also think that in order to be valuable to a pair, or a team, you have to get to know yourself really well. You have to learn when you are confident because you genuinely believe in what you do and be able to tell that apart from when you are being loud and fearful. We have had to look at ourselves really closely so we are able to see clearly or clearer than before.

KBP: So what, then, is the difference between acting from a place of confidence and acting from a place of ego?

MA: I can confidently fight for my opinion, I can say for example “I think this film should be in black and white because…” and list a load of reasons that it would be beneficial to the project. But, if you were to turn around and convince me otherwise, I would be glad, because we just want to do what is best. I think acting from a place of ego would be if I then became upset or mindful that that had been your choice and not mine. I think when we add up decisions that were made by each person we get into trouble. Does that make sense? If you make one decision I get to make the next one…, it doesn't work to think like that. Then we would be manually trying to balance ourselves rather than trusting that we both have value and are in this process together for a reason. Does that make sense, I think that's a really important point but maybe we can formulate it better.

KBP: This is why it’s hard for us to even break down who actually made which choice when we look back at a thing we did. I don’t think it’s hard because it would hurt. Because we’d let go of the ego-reigns. I think we just literally couldn’t be able to pinpoint it because it was never in the process from the beginning. We can see the types of things that Mim would more often suggest, and the things Klara avoids. We can see the themes and the habits of both of us. But most likely when a clear decision is made, it’s made by the person less likely to have made it before? Wait, is that true? I’m thinking if for instance… like, the food thing. You have a better internal sensor for food and I feel like, probably, I’ve learned that from you. But that doesn’t mean I've learned to listen better when you say it’s time. I have learned to sense it better as well. So now it’s just as likely we both sense it. Or maybe it means more if I do. Nothing really stays within the frame of one choice. It’s really an interplay.

MA: It seems like each of us obviously has our intuitions and instincts that support us. When the other notices that they can adopt it also. Like you mention, I can call easily when we are probably getting tired and hungry. Since you don't have it as an instinct you use that more actively than I can, you are practicing it and therefore probably more likely in that time of practice to make those decisions? That's why it seems like, what you said, decisions are made by the person less likely to have made them before. Because we are seeing each other's positive qualities, the ones that support us and we are practicing them. But wait.

Do you think you also adopt things from each other that can hinder you?

KBP: It has to be true.

MA: I think the vagueness can often be a hindrance, for example. But we both know it so well.

KBP: The only thing I can think of though, in terms of hindrances and how quiet my brain is when I try to answer that is that one thing we definitely create together (not necessarily an adaptation from one of us to the other, but like a force we have together), is a sort of optimism that can be overbearing at times. Probably this is also very cultural and systematic, and we both have it from before. But we definitely nurture it. A positive outlook that can be opaque at times, letting the weakness and heaviness be treated like silly playthings or just strokes of misunderstanding and forgetfulness. The pessimism that is the natural counterbalance of hope can be hidden in the scope of success when we, together, add up our experience.

MA: It is maybe the unfortunate dark side of trust as well. For example, if I doubt something, and you optimistically say it will be fine. Then I do believe it. And in some way it really releases that worry, because I trust it will be fine, but it can also stop us asking the important questions. If we trust things too fully too soon. It's a tricky one.

KBP: Too tricky.

MA: Aha, maybe that's the next hurdle. But also (and I really think this is important) things are only valuable qualities if you know how to control them. What we are discussing here are our good qualities getting out of control to the point that we stumble over them. I think it takes a long time to foster that kind of understanding and proficiency with your tools (because these are our tools). But if we are able to learn when these things are valuable, when we need optimism, when we need to sit and break things down and allow ourselves to sit in discomfort for a bit - or when to be vague but when it is important to speak specifically, then we really will be becoming more skilled in what we are doing.

So the vagueness. You’ve mentioned it many times. Basically, both of you have a history of speaking in ways that only just could mean something. But it’s many issues mixed into one that you casually call “vagueness”. Do you agree?

MA: Yes. Well for me it's definitely this feeling of wanting to keep the options open, you know, if you are vague then it's easier to not commit fully to things. I mean I was thinking about it a lot, and it's funny because we talk all the time about decision-making but really, isn't being vague just a fear of decision-making, of committing yourself to a decision?

KBP: Okay so the first issue of vagueness - being non-commital. Once we became two (not that there is a given moment, but let's say the trust became high enough at a certain point), we had no alternative but to decide things. As one, I can spew vague words about anything in my life, just enough that I almost mean something, almost commit, but I'm saying these things to an array of people, at many different times, and there’s enough input there, that somehow my life continues. By proxy, decisions are being made, but I’m just giving almost to any given decision. But when we go into the world as two, we’re now one vague that can’t get away with that by-proxy-decision-making anymore, because we’re not just one vague we’re two vague and it gives way to some very meditated choices.

KBP: Do you agree? Is this the reason we stick together so far?

MA: I actually don’t think so. Maybe it is somehow for you. I think my vagueness isn't about not wanting to make my own choices. I’ve always been very opinionated even when I don’t know what I’m talking about, I think that's actually something that I’ve got under control now, and I'm a lot more gentle with the world around me. But, I think I’m vague when I want to hide my opinions, when I think people around me know something I don't, (and now I'm really formulating for the first time so bare with) but actually it is my instinct to want to be specific when I can. I like vagueness in art, when it’s poetic, because I think that can be really beautiful, but I think I'm trying to be specific a lot when it's about structure or you know process or anything like that but sometimes I literally am not able to. Am I making sense?

KBP: So noncommittal vagueness itself has multiple issues. The issue of not wanting to make decisions in terms of alienation from this array of people, like I was trying to explain above. Then there’s the issue of not wanting to make decisions in terms of revealing opinions because ..

KBP: .. someone obviously knows more than you do.

KBP: And then the second one you mention is the issue of not being able to be specific in terms of structural communication. So the first two come from fear - mine of revealing that I don’t have an opinion, yours of revealing that you have an opinion, and the third one is just not having enough practice and experience in terms of directness and efficiency, and I guess method when it comes down to communicating with others and being realistic in the world.

You two obviously talk to each other a lot. Do you always end up in these deep analyses?

KBP: It’s not uncommon. It’s also not new. It’s necessary. It’s fun. But I think we both see it as a valuable part of growing and moving forward into life. We’ve shared that these are ways in which we’ve thought earlier as well. I think we’ve both said this, but anyways for me, from like at least 16 or so years of age and onwards, I always thought that “deepness” was the most interesting place to be in. But what’s interesting now, is like keeping this as a way to analyze alongside action. I think both of us are learning how “deep” and important and intelligent it is to be really really happy, and really really dumb. That’s maybe why we allow ourselves these deep dives sometimes, too.

MA: I obviously agree. But where to go?

So here I am, a stranger, reading all of this and I’m like - they use a video as a frame, then they speak about decisions, and about their skills that they learn together, they ask some difficult questions, analyze vagueness and then they’re just talking about these undercurrents. The most concrete example so far is food and it’s not concrete because it's a behavior and not a moment. The question becomes, also in reference to one of the first questions - do other people understand that the videos are just moments that happen to capture something, that you know are signifiers but not in themselves significant? - So the question is or perhaps a request: What happened? What, specifically, non-vaguely, not insignificantly, happened?

MA: When? Just overall?

KBP: What made the video?

MA: Our obsession and dedication to the process. We are both obsessed with following a process. The reason we struggle to say what it is, is because often even when we are right on the way, when we are in the middle of it we still don’t really care so much about what it will be, we are just happy and feeling engaged by being on the path. That's why all our work, regardless of if the end product is a video or a film or a t-shirt or whatever it could be, always ends up being about the process of working together, of being a team. Because that is really what we are fascinated by when we are doing it.

MA: Is that vaguely specific?

KBP: Is that our rebrand?

Vague + specific
We make vague art, but we’re excellent communicators.

MA: As long as we become excellent communicators I guess it can be! It depends, I guess if one day you turn around to me and tell me you want to make plates. Then we would have an insanely different process, but it's always that we want to discover something. Maybe that's a format that's fun to play with in the future. Because I think regardless of what we choose to do our way to get there will somehow follow the same path it already has.

KBP: Which brings me back to the point of behaviors that bring us value or that hinder us. It’s cliche and I’m laughing but yeah it’s totally about the learning, the growing, and the method. In the same way that we aren’t set out to make plates, and we make a video but the only thing we care about is the day we made the video, not the result itself as an island, we’re not banning any behaviors or iconizing other ones. We’re just trying to harness and value and move. And we could be doing it alone, which would inevitably be in collaboration with everyone, but we chose to do it as two, because the ball bounces much faster between two points than it does between an abstract number of points. And even as two, we are still there, in the world, with all the rest.




You can find more on Mim and Klara's work HERE.

You can watch the video mentioned in the conversation HERE.