The big question upon graduation “What am I going to do with my life” formed the basis of Christian Scharning’s new television series ‘THIS IS IT’. The show which aired its first episode on NRK last night follows students from KHiO as they finish their final year of education and enter the world of adulthood, striving for recognition in the demanding creative sector. A long time journalist in the arts it was pleasant to meet Christian at the cafe and Norway’s oldest co-working space M-E-S-H. The director is very energetic towards the growing creative scene in Norway and was appreciative of what places, such as F5, have done for the young Norwegian brands. He feels these kind of initiatives are necessary, especially after following these young designers. You have to have somewhere to sell your stuff and to try and do everything on your own is too big of a challenge.
Christian works in the cultural department of NRK, the largest media corporation in Norway. Aimed with a project focused on taking young people seriously his idea was to follow someone who is just starting their life in ‘the real world’ and trying to find their voice. This concept eventually unfolded into ‘THIS IS IT' which he says is “50% about fashion and 50% about existentialism and building a life.” The concept of “Who do I want to be and how do I want to get there” forming the basis of a show centered around young designers as they move away from home and the safety net of education. Moving forward and having lofty dreams of making it in the creative world is a tough ask and what Christian found interesting with the group of students he worked with was that they were fully aware of how hard it is going to be. In a country, like Norway, where there is not a large industry to lean on compared to neighbouring nations you really have to push yourself and decide whether you want it bad enough as statistically over half of them will not be designing clothes in 10 years time.
Christian has enjoyed a lot of freedom during his career at NRK and looking back he laughs “The DJ job I had at 23 was the best job to give someone who had recently graduated. I had my own show on NRK P3 on Saturdays called 'Trash Kassett', where I got to play the music I loved on national radio and hardly ever see my boss. This kind of put me in a weird mindset as to what professional life was going to be like, however.” After working on a number of music based projects for NRK Christian moved into TV starting the program "Nasjonalgalleriet" with “A great bunch of people” that showcased what was relevant in visual culture. The program explored further than just fine art and painting, looking into fashion, commercials and film to name some. This part of his career was very rewarding and he loved working with people who were equally as intrigued by visual culture as he is. “I like visual things”, he says before nostalgia hits him and he takes us back to his youthful memories of visiting film festivals and seeing multiple films in a day. “I love it, the combination of sound and image, that art form, it has influenced me so greatly and it has such power. A great film should steal you away on a journey. Like this years film "Call Me By Your Name" for example. It transported me completely to a summer holiday, where I could touch and smell both Northern Italy and my own youth.” The passion he has for enjoying visual culture has influenced him in his creation process as well, saying “When TV is trashy and only there to sell commercials in between, then what’s the point. You have social media for that and TV should not be about aimlessly spending time.”
Luckily for him NRK has been able to satisfy his needs and he applauds the media company’s forward thinking in many ways, believing that they would be the only TV station that could have produced ‘THIS IS IT’ in the way he wanted. He did not want to make a fashion show that was superficial and just filling time between commercials, aiming to go deeper and in a sense interrogate the life of designers asking the difficult philosophical questions he enjoys so much. NRK has been very supportive of the project and a place, in general, that has the openness of pursuing interesting projects that don't necessarily have a lot of commercial appeal. He believes they are able to see the importance of trying to do something without trying to please everyone at the same time. The vision being to be “Able to hit that one person at home on their laptop” and impact them by showing a window into a life you may not hear about all the time. SKAM, he acknowledges, was a great example of this. “Had the show been made half about the parents, to include the potential older audience too, it just wouldn’t be as interesting.”
“I have to watch TV” he says and personally what interests him most is drama series, delving into an area where “We can live and get into the characters.” The concept of taking youth seriously also extends to Norway as a country and, right now, taking the Norwegian fashion industry seriously. “You gotta take creativity and culture seriously” he says. In an industry known for being superficial and somewhat of a celebrity circus, a lot of attention has been taken away from the real talent. Christian hopes this, which is the first documentary show about Norwegian fashion, will show another side of the industry and how design can become a cultural phenomenon, with meaning. They also aimed to have the audience experience the Norwegian fashion industry through the eyes of the students, including a lot of material the students have filmed themselves, which shows a raw and honest perspective of the life of a young designer.
Originally set to be released online only, NRK realised the potential of the show and the connection all people can feel. Christian, at age 41, says he is still figuring his life out and this struggle is something that will continue throughout adulthood - “It is also about that defining moment, for them, what is going to be the rest of my life? This is something they will continue to try and figure out.” Not one for being satisfied with what appears on the surface Christian delved deep into the existential laughing as he says, “I think the students are glad they are finally done with all my questions, but if it is not existential there's not that much point.” What the students are going through is universal, “Why are they doing these things compared to this or that, and the struggle of not giving up,” which he says is a real option. The show is emotional on both ends of the spectrum as it rides the highs and lows of fighting for what you want and not giving up in your journey to success. To keep fighting he thinks it is good to have the end goal far away (and this lofty thing) as it makes you work harder and not become satisfied or complacent when you accomplish just small things. One thing he has noticed with young people, compared to his youth and in contrast to what he just told me, is that people often take it too seriously. “Everything has to be of importance these days” and having a gap in your CV is something the youth is scared of. For him this was the opposite and you were supposed to go explore after school, try different things, live on a beach and find your voice. He thinks young people now are so focused on everything being of importance, and “When everything is of importance, you kill yourself slowly, because you need that space to be creative and come up with something interesting.” Although it is good to have these large goals, you can still celebrate the smaller achievements and recognise those things you have achieved for yourself. Allowing that time to feel good is an important part on the road to success and key to not burning out. “You gotta have space” as he says, speaking of his own residence in the peninsula of Nesodden. Although growing up in Oslo, Christian did not take the small ferry ride out there until well into his 30’s, becoming hooked immediately. “It is my space, I look out the window and I can see Oslo, but I have that personal room, I don't need to be in the city the whole time,” he says about his home in an area surrounded by summer cabins. “I can walk around naked the entire winter if I want and no one is going to know. I don't do it often, but I love that I have the opportunity.”
Even on a small scale no one wants to fail with an audience watching, and an interesting point that came up for Christian when he was putting on the final touches to the TV show is that neither he or the students will know whether his presence pushed them that little bit extra. As the storyline in 'THIS IS IT' moves out of school it shows the students meeting reality, having that door shut in their face and realising you have to keep learning and fine tuning your work as this is just the beginning. KHiO is an art school and you can really see that with the projects the designers work on. Rather than just making something they think is cool, they really want to say something with their design and use the clothing as a medium of expression. The show, he says, would be completely different if they made clothing just “because it was cool”, you don't need to cover that in the serious way he has done with 'THIS IS IT', "you have Instagram for that.” Being a cultural journalist who has covered music and fine art, with art being his passion, seeing clothing move into that area does it for him — “Thats when it starts happening in my head. Clothing is such an exceptional language as everyone can read it, everyone puts on clothes every single morning. Those small little alternative design twists can really mess with your head and make you think.”
After asking these students deep questions about life for well over a year it is no surprise that the students perspectives have had an affect on him. “I remember thinking about when I myself was 20 years old and realised that I haven't changed that much, I am just more comfortable in not knowing. It is okay that I do not know what I will be doing in 10 years. How boring would it be if you knew everything you will be doing in the future. I think when you get older you realise it works out one way or another and it’s not that important if it's this thing or that.” He was also initially shocked to see how much of an influence their parents have. The students were between 22-26 during filming and he realised that caring about what your parents think or not caring about what your parents think, is still thinking about your parents. “Their voice still echoes inside and I realised you are stuck with your parents for the rest of your life and you can either fight it or embrace it.” It was interesting for him to see the parents voice inside the students head and he recognised that he also has it in a weird way. “I want my parents to be proud of me and it is kind of sad , I just turned 41, but I still want my dad to be proud of me and I can't get away from it.” That has been a good learning point for him and also a reminder to get on with life and stop worrying so much about resolving things permanently, because when you finally do, it is over. Things come and go but “Life doesn't resolve itself…then you're dead.”
Catch the first four episodes of ‘This Is It’ at https://tv.nrk.no/serie/this-is-it
Photography by Ronja Penzo
Photography in slideshow courtesy of NRK