Swedish Pranksters Create Underwater Art and Underground Galleries

Erik and Nils Petter go to ridiculous lengths to make people laugh and think.

by Mike Steyels
Feb 21 2016, 5:00pm

All images courtesy the artists

A trip down to the public canal in your city reveals the giant face of a baby staring back up at you from below the flowing stream. The ghostly image of a girl floats beneath the brackish waters of a public pond, her Victorian nightie floating around her. Who made these eerie images or why they would do so remains a mystery to everyday passersby. But they’re just a couple of the projects by Erik Vestman and Nils Petter, two art pranksters from Malmö, Sweden.

The pair met while working with children at a group home, and after some talk about art and politics, they teamed up pretty quickly. Although they’re active in public service—Erik worked for a couple years with kids from Afghanistan and Somalia seeking asylum—their artwork isn't explicitly political, and instead seems more about making people laugh or injecting wonder into their days.

Erik and Nils's first public intervention was a project in which they removed paving stones from city sidewalks and affixed photos to them before replacing them. The pictures included people's portraits and other types of imagery—their sense of humor can occasionally be a little dark or slightly indecent. The duo even installed outdoor lighting for some of the pieces so they could be viewed at night.

Do they ever ask for permission?  "Sometimes, when we’re hungry," is their characteristically droll reply. “We’re grown up now and have children."

The artists’ underwater pieces make the sidewalk interventions look like they were just practice. The laminated photos were affixed to plywood with floatation devices under them, then they donned wetsuits and snorkels and dove under to drop lines and sinkers that would keep them below the surface. They lasted a week or two each.

Another image-based public piece of theirs was Zlatan, a battery-powered paper cut-out character that danced like a marionette and kicked around a soccer ball on a string. "The city of Malmö actually liked it and told the newspaper that they wanted to keep it," they tell us. "But the owner of the building chose to take it down. And crush it."

Their biggest project to date is the mini gallery they built beneath a pier. After a bit of spelunking, they found an appropriately sized space, and set to work building their own personal, hidden showroom. Over the course of six months, they brought their vision to life, feeding the friendly mice that kept them company the whole time. In the end, the space featured hardwood flooring, a Hobbit door, reclaimed driftwood seating, and antique lighting.

But why? What would be the incentive to build something like this? "We didn't really have any clear goal when we started digging," the pair reflects. "The doing itself was most important and fun."

One thing they did enjoy was seeing how people ended up using the space. The artists threw an opening party when it was finished, but a lot of people found it on their own afterwards. "It was an interesting, exclusive 'secret' place that people wanted to show others. Thousands of people crawled in during the six months it was there. We have five full guestbooks. The postman said he would deliver mail there if someone wrote to the pier. Someone got married there, people threw parties, preschool classes crawled in, and someone left a boat as a present for staying there for a few days on a road trip." The city eventually demolished it, but that sounds like a successful run.

To learn more about Erik and Nils Petter, click here.


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street art
public art
art prank
urban intervention
public installation
public intervention
Erik and Nils Petter