Young Nordic Visionaries Abroad

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,” said American writer and travel enthusiast Henry Miller, perfectly evoking the virtues of living abroad. Experiencing the world afresh in a foreign country, with its new cultures, customs and landscapes can be one of life’s most potent creative catalysts. Here, five pioneering Nordic talents across the fields of film, photography, technology, architecture and music, share the joys and woes of expatriate life, and reflect on the ways in which their new city has shaped their creative practice.

Carl Waldekranz – New York City

Digital mastermind Carl Waldekranz is the co-founder and CEO of Tictail, the innovative ecommerce platform used by over 100,000 brands, from fashion designers to craftsmen, to host their online stores. While still a teenager, Waldekranz set up a small design agency with his friend Kaj Drobin. A collaboration with Spotify in its formative phase sent business soaring. In 2012, the pair joined forces with developers Siavash Ghorbani and Birk Nilsson to create Tictail, with a mission to “empower local, self-made entrepreneurs to build a global brand.” Waldekranz moved to New York two years ago to set up the US office. This year, Tictail opened its first permanent retail store in the city, and will launch a new editorial platform this autumn.

“When I started Tictail in 2012 it was very much as a Swedish company – the first customer was my mum – but slowly and surely we started growing. We became a phenomenon in France and Germany, to some extent the UK, and then in the US, which eventually became our fastest growing market. It was also the world’s biggest e-commerce market at the time, so it made sense to have a foot on the ground. I was the fastest person in the company to volunteer to come over – I was super excited about the chance to see a different place – and I moved to New York in 2014.

I love that even though the city is enormous, the different neighbourhoods feel like they’re tiny villages of their own. I live in the East Village and it’s like a small community where you see the same people and become friends with the local restaurant owners. I also love how easy it is to escape from New York – you can drive an hour north to all these pretty towns and beaches or you can take a domestic flight to Puerto Rico for $200 USD and enjoy a Caribbean climate. But my favourite thing about being here is the mixture of people, coming together in chaotic harmony from all different cultures and parts of society. It’s really changed my point of view on the world.

I have always been someone who works really hard and enjoys what I do, but moving here and being surrounded by all these amazingly motivated and diverse people, who have done so many incredible things, has helped me aim higher and work smarter. That said, when it comes to our office culture and what I try to inspire in my team, we try to find the best of both worlds.

In New York you have this cut-throat, ambitious, aim-for-the-moon mindset, whereas in Sweden, on the opposite hand, there’s this incredible attention to detail, this real pride in the craftsmanship of every skill and the process that goes into making it. It’s been great achieving a balance between the two: now the Stockholm office feels more like a US company, and the New York office feels a lot more Swedish!”

Hildur Guðnadóttir – Berlin

Icelandic cellist, composer and singer, Hildur Guðnadóttir, is renowned for her experimental brand of pop and contem-porary music. An exceptionally diverse artist, she is, in her own words, obsessed by the “acoustics, physical resonance and physicality” of sound, and her compositions range from vast engulfing soundscapes to minimalist melodies. Guðnadóttir has played in bands Pan Sonic, Throbbing Gristle and Mum, released four critically acclaimed solo albums, composed award-winning theatre and films scores (including Danish thriller, A Hijacking), played cello on movie soundtracks including 2015’s The Revenant and collaborated with designers to develop new stringed instruments. She lives in Berlin with her young son and is presently developing a piece for a robot string quartet to debut at a festival in the city in October.

“I lived in Berlin for a year in 2003 as part of an exchange programme through the Arts Academy in Iceland where I was studying. I fell in love with the city: it’s big but very calm, with lots of elbow space, and I made a lot of friends, so I’ve been living here off and on since then. Tempelhof, the old airport, is one of my favourite places here. They couldn’t figure out what to do with it after it closed down so now it’s a public park. They haven’t really changed anything so people do kiting and windsurfing and biking on the runways, and grow vegetables in little boxes, and barbecue. It’s this beautiful, chaotic open space that really embodies the charm of the city.

In terms of creative energy, Berlin and Iceland are very different. Berlin is a lot slower; Iceland, like New York, is full of these extremely high energy places and when I’m there my mind starts boiling. Being a high energy person myself, it sometimes becomes too much for me. I can keep up with myself and my ideas better in Berlin! Another difference is that the music community in Iceland is very small so there’s a lot of collaboration, which is a beautiful way of working. Icelandic music, for the pre-internet generation at least, is often coloured by that interaction. I think most of my peers started making music as a way of hanging out – there wasn’t much else to do. I spent so much time collaborating when I was young, in a very playful and energetic way, and then as a result my solo work became much more contemplative because I made it completely in isolation, looking inwards.

I missed the Icelandic sense of collaboration a lot when I first came to Berlin but now we’ve set up a really nice situation at my studio that recreates it. One of my closest collaborators Jóhann Jóhannsson moved here too and we share a space, along with another dear friend Dustin O’Halloran and some others, and we all help each other out – jumping between studios, pitching in on each other’s stuff – and it’s been a huge creative inspiration.”

Read the interview with Magnus Von Holm and Sofie Thorning in volume 06.


Continue reading in Oak volume Six