‘Do We Make Our Lives More Difficult Than They Have to Be?’: Watch How Artist Bryan Zanisnik Found ‘Stillness’ in His Work by Moving to Sweden

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Bryan Zanisnik's Big Pivot." © Art21, Inc. 2020.

The artist Bryan Zanisnik used to equate suffering with success. Living in New York as an artist isn’t easy for most people, and even though Zanisnik was receiving institutional shows and critical acclaim, he was still a self-proclaimed “nervous wreck,” always on the cusp of financial ruin.

“I think there was maybe some fantasy of being an artist in New York,” he says in a new exclusive video with Art21, filmed as part of the “New York Close Up” series. But the darker side, as he sees it, is an almost guaranteed struggle to make ends meet.

The artist’s practice has often focused on the accumulation of objects—to an almost manic degree. It’s an “idea of animism, that an inanimate object has a spirit or personality,” he says. But after years of working, he needed a break, finding what he calls his big pivot: moving from New York to Stockholm, Sweden. While in Stockholm, the artist threw himself into local culture and new activities like mushroom foraging and hiking.

“I was really drawn to this aspect of Sweden where one’s career wasn’t so closely tied to one’s identity,” he tells Art21, admitting that he found relief in the separation of his work and selfhood. Though he has since returned to New York, now living between the two cities, Zanisnik has managed to find a happy medium. “Do we make our lives more difficult than they have to be?” he asks. In doing work that is joyful, he says, “there’s a stillness… maybe a relaxed mental stillness there too.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch episodes of other series like “New York Close Up” and “Extended Play” and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.


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