Hvass&Hannibal: all play, no work

The Butcher’s Lab claimed to be a ‘combined gym and gallery’ – a set-up Nan Na Hvass and Sofie Hannibal, asked to exhibit there, understandably found strange. When they arrived at the space – an old slaughterhouse in Copenhagen – it still had what the pair describes as “residue” on the walls. There was no exhibition; the Lab wanted free interior design.

The gym specialises in CrossFit, an intense and, in Hannibal’s words, “very serious” form of exercise. With this in mind, the duo decorated its walls with huge anti-inspirational quotes: ‘Whenever I feel like exercise,’ one reads, ‘I lie down until the feeling passes.’ ‘Still pumped from using the mouse,’ a wall says. ‘My idea of exercise,’ goes another, ‘is a good brisk sit.’

“Yes, that was one of the more interesting situations we’ve been in,” Hannibal says. “But it resulted in something very different from our usual work, and the irony is that it turned out to become one of our favourite projects – probably for the same reason.

“The work was the result of total confusion, and what initially felt like a completely hopeless mismatch between the task and our role. But it shows how being put in an unusual context can lead to something good.”

For the Copenhagen-based, multidisciplinary art and design duo collectively known as Hvass&Hannibal, the fun, mischievous, anarchic project is emblematic of the creatives’ working mode. The pair loosely founded their eponymous studio in 2006 – although they met almost a decade before, sharing an extra-curricular design class at school. After graduating from the Danish School of Design, they collaborated on a handful of projects before sharing a basement workspace in Copenhagen. Soon after, in 2008, the creative partnership was made official.

A couple of memorable early projects include a piece of jewellery which doubled as a cigarette holder, dubbed the Smoking Ring. Another, named the Pink Ninja and part of the pair’s range of costumes produced for dancers at a Copenhagen club night, is one of the most unsettling things that Computer Arts has ever seen.

Hvass&Hannibal isn’t particularly keen on airing these pieces in public; you certainly won’t find them on its website. Frivolous though these works may now seem, they helped set the tone for the studio’s future projects. Today’s output has decidedly more focus – but even corporate work is charged with a feeling of creative play.

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