In Conversation with Tengil on Växt cover photo


In Conversation with Tengil on Växt

by Jordan Kantor

Based in southern Sweden, Tengil is an artistic autodidact working under a pseudonym, who aims to merge algorithmic precision with explorative principles in his work. With an academic background in electrical engineering, business, and marine ecology, and professional experience in data and machine learning, Tengil brings different methods to bear in a creative practice that aims to capture universal and timeless experiences. His works are rooted in emotions, memories, and questions, as much as concepts, his generative algorithms explore an abstract visual space tethered to natural forms. Tengil’s work has been exhibited at the Koami Art Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden and Vellum in Los Angeles, CA.
Jordan Kantor: Hi, Tengil. Thank you for making time to speak. I know you have been working on your follow up to your previous Art Blocks release, Nära, for some time, but before we get into discussing your upcoming project, Växt, can you share a bit about your creative history? How did you first get into making art?
Tengil: I have two stories about this. The most straightforward answer is that I started making art fairly recently, as a reaction to my environment. In 2021, I was working in a tech company without much human interaction apart from coworkers. I couldn’t see or interact with the people using our product, and, at times, I failed to see the point of it all. During the pandemic, there was a shift, and I started making art as a way to reflect and process the changes in the world around me. 
But the slightly more convoluted answer is that I believe I’ve always been making art in some way, although maybe not in the traditional sense. As I grow as an artist and become more clear in what “art” means to me, I’ve started formulating a theory of art as a simple act of creativity. In this sense, even cooking might qualify. I have cooked every day since I was a teen, and each meal, whether it be a fancy feast for a celebratory event or a quick dinner on a Tuesday, is both a way to relax, clear my mind, and express creativity that shares a lot with how I approach creating a work of art. In each instance, there is a concept I want to convey, a set of restrictions (what’s in the fridge, which utensils are clean, how much time I have), and an audience (a hungry spouse, guests). Together, this creates a setup and process in which my creativity thrives to create. 
Tengil, Nära #19, 2023.
JK: A lot of chefs would probably agree with that sentiment! How did you first get into generative art and discover the blockchain as a medium for art?
T: With generative art, I found a tool that I realized I’d been training for decades: using my fingers to type, rather than hold a brush or chisel or spray can. It’s allowed me to process the world around me. I first immersed myself in generative art in early 2021, at the height of the pandemic. At the same time I realized I could use art to make sense of what was happening around me, I was spending too many hours a day in front of my computer. In terms of the blockchain, a close friend who started mining Ethereum many years ago showed me CryptoPunks and Art Blocks. Before then, I had been very skeptical about blockchains as I failed to see the real-world use cases (this was when there was talk about using blockchains to prove supply chain links, and I couldn’t stop thinking that it proves nothing since you still need to trust the people in the supply chain to enter the right data…), but eventually it just clicked as a huge shift in how we treat digital ownership. 
JK: Can you talk a bit about how your creative process has evolved over time? How does this project relate to Nära, your previous Art Blocks release?
T: I think my process is evolving quite slowly. My art is still centered around an attempt to convey thoughts, concepts and memories. In this sense, it is a personal tool to process my experience. But I feel my artistic skills are evolving, and I am aiming to become much more proficient in conveying what I am trying to say through my work. I am also becoming more thoughtful and take longer to process ideas to give myself time to understand whether I am sharing something ephemeral or longer lasting.
Tengil, Nära #119, 2023.
This project relates to Nära in some ways, but it also has a lot that separates it. Simply put, Nära is about human relationships while Växt is about natural gardens and tricking your mind in order to confuse sensory experiences. What connects them, I would say, is the use of abstraction and open endedness. While I do have my own ideas and intentions, I deliberately leave the door fairly open for the audience to draw their own conclusions and insights from my work.
Tengil, Untitled, 2020. Photographic source material for Växt.
Växt comes from a deep connection with nature and the humble garden. I find the garden to be a fascinating and universal example of human expression. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lone houseplant or a grand castle garden—we as humans find plants, flowers, and growth to be comforting.
JK: You referenced working in tech before. How does your art practice connect to and depart from other work you do?
T: Computers and humans are the common theme in most of what I do, and it’s what has helped me think about how to make generative art that hopefully connects with my audience. But I like to think of my artistic practice as more pure and personal than anything else I do. This is all about me and my experiences, and trying to share those experiences with the world. 
Tengil, Växt #0, 2024.
JK: Please tell us a bit about Växt.
T: Växt is about two things: It both conveys the sensory experience of strolling through a garden and it blends scales within a single canvas. The series is grounded in the intricate layers and mixture of shapes, shades, and colors that appear in gardens, playing with the tactile to lure your brain into connecting the works with memories of gardens. Straight lines and squares representing humanity’s attempts at tempering nature and bringing order to growth are mixed with organic and chaotic shapes and shades from the micro-interactions of leaves, flowers, roots, rain, and sunshine.
When getting close to the canvas, the large scale composition fades and you are instead faced with a texture that captures the essence of terrain and aerial views of the world—this paradox of closeness zooming the motif out helps you unlink from what is in front of you and trigger recollection of experiences in nature.
Tengil_Växt_Test output_1.jpg
Tengil, Växt, 2024. Test output.
Växt also exists in dialogue with other contemporary generative artists. There is an ongoing discussion within the generative art community on whether digital artworks benefit from looking back and gathering inspiration from the physical world or if the path forward is in envisioning new expressions. Växt is somewhere in between. The inspiration is clearly physical and the application of color and texture does border on the tactile. At the same time, it doesn't try to be photorealistic or simulate what’s outside the computer. The color manipulation and even the texture is digital in nature without a clear counterpart in the physical world. A compromise, some might say, or an act of balance in recognising the past while creating the future.
JK: What should collectors look for in the series as it is revealed? And, if you don’t mind sharing, what does the title mean?
T: “Växt” means “growth” or “plant” in Swedish—a double meaning that I feel encapsulates what the series is about. I generally title my works in my native tongue, as I find it  easier to get to the core of my intentions for the work that way.
Tengil_Växt_Test outputs_2up.png
Tengil, Växt, 2024. Test outputs.
As for what the series may reveal, I recommend looking for a color palette that speaks to you and let that be your guide to experiencing what I did when creating the works. Then, put the pieces to the test. Get close, then move farther away. Rotate the pieces to see them from a new angle. There are a few features and “modes” to put emphasis on different aspects of the concept, such as scale, amount of shading, weather, and the ratio of filled versus empty parts of the canvas. Print your pieces and bring them with you to your local garden—what do you see?
JK: I anticipate viewers will have a lot to explore as the work rolls out. What is the best way for people to follow your work?
T: I’m most active on X and trying to keep up with discussions in Discord. Those are the best places to have a dialogue with me and to see what I am up to right now. I also have a presence on Instagram, although I am not that good at consistently updating that channel. I’m also working on making prints of my works more accessible and will be updating my website with more information on that in the future. 
JK: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak, Tengil. We are looking forward to seeing Växt unfurl on January 24.
T: Thank you!

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