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Ove Kvavik studied at the Malmö Academy of the Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts, Trondheim. His work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Norway and internationally, including at Sørlandets Kunstmuseum (NO), Kunstnernes hus (NO), Akershus Kunstsenter (NO) and Northen Gallery of Contemporary Arts (UK). His work is held in collections including among others; Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, DLA Piper and NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation).

Ove Kvavik in conversation with Nicholas John Jones about Essence of the Beaten for Praksis Oslo

N: Your work Essence of the Beaten consists of a series of historic black-and-white photographs showing boxers on the ropes - captured at a critical moment during their defeat. Their opponents and the other figures in each scene have been edited out. What are you seeking in these works, and how did you arrive at the concept?

O: When I watched the World Cup in 2006 and saw England beaten in the quarterfinals, I was struck by the TV spectacle of adult sportsmen, supposed archetypes of tough masculinity, sitting down and crying their eyes out. Sports images that feature in the press and on TV usually show either the winners, or the contrast between winners and losers, but at that moment the producers chose to zoom in on the tearful, defeated England players. Because this was the first World Cup to be televised in high definition the producers were able to show the players' reactions in unprecedented detail. Maybe they were motivated by Schadenfreude - taking pleasure in the pain of others - but in actuality these images of defeated humans struck me as beautiful; they resembled ancient sculptures or actors in a Greek tragedy.

N: Is the erasure of information significant to you in itself, or simply a part of a process - if indeed that is what you see yourself doing? Other projects by you feature your own photographs - for example, shots of defeated boxers who have just left the ring. But here you’ve chosen to transform pre-existing photographs, which potentially takes the work in a different direction.

O: Maybe it’s a bit like selecting a ready-made - taking something from its original setting and placing it somewhere unexpected - and on that basis I would say that erasure is just a part of the process. I’ve always thought of art more as about discovery than creation, so if the image I’m looking for doesn’t already exist in another image, I have to take my own.

N: This issue of PRAKSIS Presents; Push it real good! focuses on the social dynamics of power relationships and the ways those are reflected in, and maybe cemented by, human bodily expression. What do you think we can learn from your work’s focus on the “losers” rather than the “winners”?

O: In his 1955 book The Space of Literature Maurice Blanchot interprets the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as an allegory of art’s creation through loss. When Orpheus looks back and loses Eurydice forever, poetry and the ballad are born, and maybe this parallels the biblical story about the fall from grace. What makes us human is that we err; it defines us - but here I’m not invoking some trite self-help message along the lines of “failure is good because it teaches you to succeed”. To accept failure as something that can stand on its own is both horrible and beautiful at the same time. It’s an ancient wisdom that you find in mythology and legends such as Oedipus Rex or the Book of Job, but seldom in the contemporary world, which is driven by ideologies of success and self-promotion. So to answer your question, looking at things from the position of the loser might teach us something fundamental about what it means to be human.

N: The feelings we have at the critical moment when we fail to achieve something that we’ve striven incredibly hard for can be incredibly powerful. That rush of emotion from anxiety into crushing disappointment is something practically everyone can relate to, but there is also often a kind of relief and a desire to forget and move on. You direct our attention to a highly conflicted experience - and arguably intensify it by excluding the champion and other distractions from the human image of the supposed “loser”.

O: I think the image of the champion can provoke an equally strong and complex emotional reaction, but of course its affects are quite different. In my work Un-Titled (2008) I took portraits of both winners and losers, alone, thirty seconds after their boxing matches ended. Some of the winners look self assured or even aggressive, while the losers are full of self-reflection and humility. By stripping away the dichotomy of values that is assumed in sports and news media it’s possible to discern a dignified beauty in the moment and act of losing.