Asger Carlsen's New Book Is a Girl

We’ve been anticipating the release of Asger Carlsen’s new book, a collection of freaky body blobs and sculptures molded out of human flesh called <em>Hester</em>, ever since we ran a preview from it in our 2011 Photo Issue. More than a year later, it...

We’ve been anticipating the release of Asger Carlsen’s new book, a collection of freaky body blobs and sculptures molded out of human flesh called Hester, ever since we ran a preview from it in our 2011 Photo Issue. More than a year later, it’s finally out. We already interviewed Asger about Hester back in 2011, so this time around our excuse for publishing more pictures from his eye-boggling series is the following chat with Asger and his publisher, Aron from Mörel Books—the man who’s enriched our bookshelves with both Wrong and Hester—about the making of the latter.

VICE: How did the two of you meet?
Aron Mörel:
I’m not sure how I first heard of Asger’s work, but it was while he was still working on the Wrong series. I emailed him and a while later he dropped by my stand at the New York Art Book fair. We met up later that day over drinks and became friends.
Asger Carlsen: I first heard about Mörel Books when Aron sent me an email with the subject “A Publication with Morel Books.” I remember the first time I met him at the New York Art Book fair in 2009. His hair was out of control and he seemed particularly driven in liberal directions. Maybe I'd expected him to be very British but he wasn’t. I just found him to be different than most people. 

Asger, last time we spoke about this series of work you were shocked after seeing your images in print in our 2011 Photo Issue and found them disturbing. Have you gotten used to them now?
AC: I feel better about them now but the feeling is still there. Don’t get me wrong, I like the work, but it’s just unavoidable for me not to question the aesthetics: taking something as essential as the human body and altering it into sculptural shape. It completely departs from what God intended.

Are you happy with the book?
I’ve only seen pictures of the book and they looked really good.

Aron, you better get Asger some copies. What's the response been on the book so far? Has anyone reacted like Asger did?
The book is still pretty new, but a few people have asked me if Asger has issues with disability or deformity. I can see the connection, but I think they're reading them in a pretty naive and straightforward way.

We were expecting the book to come out last year, a few months after we published a preview in our photo issue. How come Hester took so long to come out?
AM: I think she (Hester) had a lot of makeup to do before she stepped out—you know how girls can be.
AC: The blame is on me. The work just took longer to finish because my ambitions kept on growing bigger and bigger. Plus there were technical matters to be resolved in Photoshop in order to make the images look analogue and not like quick computer tricks. It just takes time.  

Fair enough. Aron, we’ve spoken about how you can sometimes get a feeling for what kind of person the photographer is by looking at their work—does Asger remind you of his work?
AM: Asger is completely his work, but in the most unexpected way. He’s also completely not his work, in the most obvious ways. He’s far more down to earth than I had expected, but on that note, I think he lives in his own time zone.

Why did you end up making two books together?
When finishing up Wrong, I'd already started working on Hester, and Aron asked if he could publish it as a book. I said yes, of course. It felt like the first body of work just continued into a second. It seemed like a natural continuation to publish it with Aron.
AM: During one of my first visits to Asger’s studio, while we were still working on Wrong, I saw one of the first drafts for Hester—it's actually the first image in the book —and it was love at first sight; she (Hester) was always on my mind.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve worked on next to nothing the past month, but I need to get back into concentration mode soon. I have exhibitions coming up in the new year; a solo show in Berlin with DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, and I’m also taking part in a museum show in Vienna.
AM: I’m working on a bunch of new books that will be released next year: JH Engström, Antoine D’Agata, Thomas Ruff, Daniel Gordon and a few secrets.

Will the pictures we ran in this year’s Photo Issue go into a book at some point?
I hope so. The cat image really made me happy. Maybe VICE will make a book one day again. Who knows.

Maybe we will.

Follow Milene on Twitter: @Milenelarsson

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Mårten Lange's Photos Speak Another Language

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Sean Vegezzi Photographs Secret New York