We have approached December and everything seems immersed in permanent darkness – it feels like it is been ages since there has been a glimpse of sunlight. Although the weather is becoming less and less inviting for going outside, I would still dare to say that it’s difficult to imagine a better place to take refuge from the winter blues than in the space of a gallery or an art museum, unless, that is, you absolutely dislike what you see.
Jeppe Hein “Stillhet” Galleri Nicolai Wallner Through December 20, 2014
I set out to do a round of the latest exhibitions in Copenhagen, and started with the solo show of the Danish, Berlin-based artist Jeppe Hein (b. 1974), at the Gallery Nicolai Wallner in Carlsberg City – the area that formerly housed the Carlsberg breweries. For a number years now, Jeppe Hein has been a major star on the Danish art scene, and has also attained considerable international recognition. He is known for his formally simple, but at the same time – artful, interactive installations and objects, which trick the viewer by challenging the perception of both the self and the space. The brand new works presented in his exhibition Stillhet are no exception. “Stillhet” means silence in Norwegian, and refers to his twenty-day pilgrimage in Norway together with Danish writer and philosopher Finn Janning; it was carried out in silence, and completed with a philosophical essay. The word stillhet is also inscribed in white neon behind a two-way mirror on the wall of the first room as you enter the gallery. Such neon messages, as well as mirrors, have virtually become Jeppe Hein’s trademark. Another similar piece in the show bears the message I Don’t Expect Anything But I’m Open For Everything, which becomes part of the reflection of the viewer and the room. Both pieces encourage the viewer to look into the mirror, thereby reflecting on one’s sense of self and one’s situation, which then places the words into a certain context.
The works seem truly to invite meditation, particularly the piece Third Eye – a tall and dark square glass column made of a two-way mirror that stands in the middle of one of the large gallery rooms. As you approach, the flame of a candle glowing inside the column becomes visible through the dark grey mirrored surface. Viewed at eye level, the flame becomes part of the reflection of the viewer, thus creating an illusion of the third or inner eye, and as the exhibition text states, a beacon of ideas of enlightenment and intellectual thought… well, it is certainly beautiful in all its simplicity.
These are complemented by the installation Breathing Watercolours – a circular room made of large sheets of white paper with vertical lines of blue brush strokes all around it, one stroke for every breath taken in and let out. The way in which the circular space encloses the spectator actually makes you reflect on your physical presence in the space, as you stand there listening to the silence. The exhibition seems really to be able to lull you into a kind of meditative state; which was probably reinforced by the fact that, at that moment, I was the only visitor in the gallery.
Darío Escobar “Bicho NO.8”. 2014. Courtesy Nils Stærk
Darío Escobar “Unions and Intersections” Nils Stærk Through December 20, 2014
Gallery Nils Stærk, next-door neighbour to Nicolai Wallner, presents Guatemalan Darío Escobar’s (b. 1971) first solo show in Scandinavia. With his sculptures, Escobar follows in the trails of pop art; most of them are created entirely from various pieces of sports equipment, such as footballs, basketballs, skateboards and billiard cues.
Obverse and Reverse (2014) is the first piece that catches the eye upon entering the gallery. At first sight, it looks as if a huge grey cloud is hanging under the ceiling, which, upon closer examination, turns out to be constructed of numerous footballs, with the difference being that all the balls are sewn together inside out. In Bicho No. 7 and Bicho No. 8 (2014), skateboards have been deconstructed and then reconstructed with metal hinges and twisted into different shapes. There are also compositions that consist of series of monochrome black and white drawings made from motor oil on cotton paper. There is a referencing in the paintings to the sculptures of chrome bumpers, which have been bent almost beyond recognition in actual car crashes.
Darío Escobar “Unions and Intersections”. Installation view. Courtesy Nils Stærk
However, even though sports have an important place in Latin America, Escobar’s work is not all about sports, an activity that divides the world into winners and losers. Among the central subjects in Escobar’s work are globalisation and worldwide consumerism, as signified by multinational brands that blur the distinction between global and local.
Erwin Wurm “Untitled”, 2014. Courtesy The Artist and Galleri Bo Bjerggaard
Erwin Wurm “Some of this and some of that” Galleri Bo Bjerggaard Through December 20, 2014
There is more sculpture on the programme in my next stop – at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard in Copenhagen’s Meat Packing District, which presents the work of the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm. Wurm is renowned for his humorous and surrealistic sculptures that are either made of common objects and materials, or which represent everyday objects, but he works in a wide range of materials and media such as performance and photography. His most influential works, which brought him international success, were his One-Minute Sculptures, which he began in the 1980s – a series of performances in which he staged himself, or random members of public, as living sculptures in bizarre poses and interacting with various everyday objects, which then were captured either in a photo, drawing or video.
A small version of one of Wurm’s iconic bloated cars (resembling something more akin to a small pink cloud) is displayed in the first gallery room. In the next two rooms, one encounters a number of bronze sculptures and a series of overpainted photographs, De Profundis, that provide a continuation of One-Minute Sculptures. The sculptures in the first room are, at first sight, reminiscent of something in between Giacometti and matchstick men, but in fact, the figures are constructed of bronze sausages that balance on top of each other and stand upon furniture; they have titles like Me Ideal and Tower of the Socialist International II. A witty interplay occurs between the sculptures and the photographs that represent Wurm’s male friends and colleagues, who pose naked in mimic of classical Greek sculptures – but instead of an ideal body, we see the imperfection of decaying, fleshy middle-aged bodies, deformed even further by the paint strokes. Today, the image of the unclothed male body has become a part of the advertising industry and popular culture, along with the female body, which has always dominated visual representation; however, there is no place for the aging male body.
Erwin Wurm “Me Ideal”, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Galleri Bo Bjerggaard
There are also brightly colored cucumbers that stand frozenly erect – up in the air on a piece of furniture, or straight out of the wall, awakening associations of something you could find in a sex shop. A headless, one-legged male figure in a pink shirt stands facing the wall along with some everyday objects, including a pink spray bottle of household cleanser – another version of Wurm’s One-Minute Sculptures.
In his work, Wurm challenges and expands the established conventions of sculpture; behind the humorous surface, he hides the irony and absurdities of the human condition.
Lasse Schmidt Hansen “Borrowed Studio. GAS back cover”, 2014. Courtesy Christian Andersen Gallery
Lasse Schmidt Hansen “Borrowed Studio” Christian Andersen Gallery Through December 20, 2014
I stop by another gallery in the Meat Packing District – Christian Andersen. The gallery has existed only since 2010, but it has already participated in some of the leading international art fairs such as Frieze (London and New York) and FIAC (Paris). It is known for being conceptually orientated, and works with emerging Danish and international artists. The gallery is currently presenting the second solo show of the Berlin-based Danish artist Lasse Schmidt Hansen (b. 1978), who is regarded as one of the most promising names on the Danish art scene.
The exhibition consists of a number of white-framed black and white photos of different writing and drawing tools – all tools for artistic production, carefully arranged on a white background, and photographed in a way that combines early conceptual and snapshot photography. A back cover of the magazine GAS is mounted directly on the wall, featuring a photo by Lasse Schmidt Hansen of a borrowed studio in Los Angeles in 2012 – which also serves as the title for the exhibition. We are thus presented not the original photo, but a published photo, which points to the idea that there is no difference between the original work of art and a printed image. Paradoxically, the studio space appears bare and clinical, and there seems to be no sign of any work having ever been done there.
Lasse Schmidt Hansen “Untitled”, 2014, Courtesy Christian Andersen Gallery
There is also printed text on a white, A4-size sheet of paper mounted in a black frame. The text is Lasse Schmidt Hansen’s unstructured flow of thoughts describing a painting he owns by the Danish artist Torben Ribe, written in a cool and observing manner. Thus, the painting has been transformed into text, and hence – a linguistic construction, through the private experience of Schmidt Hansen, which becomes a medium between the painting and the viewer.
In his work, Lasse Schmidt Hansen carries on some of the ideas of the Conceptual art movement of the 1960s. Through his minimalist aesthetics, Schmidt Hansen has created a sort of archive of labor – a documentation of, and reflection on, artistic practice.
Jake & Dinos Chapman “Come, Hell or High Water” David Risley Gallery Through December 20, 2014
Next, we head to a wholly different in-your-face experience compared to the first part of my gallery round – to the David Risley Gallery on Bredgade, in the city center, with the first solo show in Scandinavia for the brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman – the British provocateurs of the YBA-generation. They are notorious for their hellish scenarios, and as the title of the exhibition already suggests, we are about to witness one of them.
In the first gallery room we are greeted by a couple of old Victorian portraits from the series OneDay You Will No Longer Be Loved (2008) – a portrait of a mother and child and a middle-aged man holding a book, but their faces are already decaying like those of zombies in a horror films; then there's a small painting of a withered bunch of flowers, signed A. Hitler, on a paint-stained easel. The Chapman brothers have appropriated a number of paintings – some of them allegedly painted by Adolf Hitler – and reworked them by making various additions.
In the next room, a large glass showcase displays one of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s famous dioramas, Nein! Eleven (2014) – two tall piles of mutilated, bleeding bodies and detached body parts of miniature Nazi troopers, all in varying states of putrefaction. Their highly detailed dioramas could, at first, remind one of something that a couple of boys have meticulously built by playing with their collections of toy soldiers; that is, until you take a closer look at them – and then your blood freezes.
Jake & Dinos Chapman “Like a Dog Returns to its Vomit (No. 6), 2005. Reworked and improved etching from Francisco de Goya’s ‘Los Caprichos’. Courtesy David Risley Gallery
There is also the controversial series of Francisco de Goya’s etchings, which the Chapman brothers have skilfully transformed in a manner that borders on iconoclasm. They really seem to have rather successfully “improved” Goya’s work, fortifying Goya’s dark and disturbing universe portraying human folly and atrocities, and making it even more surreal and nightmarish... which then brings to mind Hieronymus Bosch.
It is difficult to take your eyes off of these scenes of death, evil, terror and obscenities that enthrall with their perverse fascination, especially because they are technically outstanding. The work of the Chapman brothers is immediate in its provocation, but also capable of opening some space for reflection.
Rose English. “The Eros of Understanding”. Installation view. Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Rose English “The Eros of Understanding” and Keren Cytter Kunsthal Charlottenborg Through January 1, 2015
I end my round with two exhibitions at the nearby Kunsthal Charlottenborg, which is part of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts’ Schools of Visual Arts. The first exhibition, The Eros of Understanding, is an almost retrospective presentation of the last 40 years of work by the British performance artist Rose English (b.1950), who was also a prominent figure in the feminist movement in London in the 1970s and 1980s. English’s artistic practice spans across different disciplines and media – such as theatre, circus, film and poetry, as well as the visual arts, to mention just a few – and challenges the established boundaries between the categories.
A central figure in English’s oeuvre is the horse; it features in many of her performances, and it is also the focal point of this show. Upon entering the exhibition, the first thing you encounter is a large circular sandpit in the middle of the hall. It represents a circus ring, and the tracks left in the sand from horse hooves form a figure-eight – the symbol of eternity. These tracks in the sand were left by a circus horse with the circus celebrity Katja Schumann on its back – they were the first to enter the show by riding into the exhibition hall. The tracks seem to represent the paradox of both presence and absence – they are all that’s left of a performance that has taken place in the past, but at the same time, and in some peculiar way, they manage to make the event into something that is set in the present for the spectator. During the course of the show, the tracks will gradually become erased.
A range of different photos of horses decorated with imaginative costumes, and performers, cover the walls, along with the storyboard for the libretto for the horse opera Rosita Clavel; English has been working on the opera since 1993, but it has not yet been produced. We are also presented with other examples of English’s works, including a video documenting her performance My Mathematics (1992). In the performance, English, dressed in a showgirl costume and with unnaturally-long false eyelashes, performs together with a horse on stage, for the first time as her alter ego, Rosita Clavel. A collection of different sets of eyelashes is displayed in two glass showcases as small pieces of art. There are also photos of the performance Quadrille (1975/2013), in which six female dancers in small, rather revealing tunics, and wearing shoes made of horse hooves and leather belts with a horse tail attached to them, performed amidst the astonished audience at a horse show in Southampton. The horsetail belts and hoof-shoes from the performance are also on display.
Rose English’s work is manifold: excessive in some places, infused with humour and irony, but also in possession of depth as it demonstrates philosophical reflection on issues like identity and gender, exposes the stereotypes thereof, and also questions the role of the artist, and what is art.
It is a difficult task to create an exhibition that involves time-based art such as performances. Nevertheless, in spite of a display that is rather archival in its form – with all of its photographs, horse costumes, performer costumes and other objects that together take up the space of three large halls – it succeeds in drawing a good picture of this fascinating artist and her comprehensive oeuvre; to some degree, albeit briefly, it even seems to create a kind of presence.
Keren Cytter. “Something Happened”, 2007. Video Still
The opposing section of Kunsthal Charlottenborg is immersed in darkness. Here, a selection of eight films is being presented, as well as a series of drawings, all by Israeli-born/New York-based artist Keren Cytter (b. 1977). The exhibition was arranged in cooperation with the recent Copenhagen International Film Festival CPH:DOX, for which Cytter was present with a number of her films and an audio-visual performance at Charlottenborg.
Cytter’s work could certainly belong on a cinema screen. Her films can be positioned somewhere in between video art and film, and are a mix of B-films, low-budget horror movies, soap operas, film noir, mockumentary as well as theatre, all interspersed with numerous cinematic references. The film medium as such is also an essential element in Cytter’s work, in which self-reflexivity is permanently present. Some of her films are distinct metafilms, such as Video Art Manual (2012), which explains how to make a film, as well as examines what is ‘real’ and ‘fake’ in the world of film. Cytter experiments with a whole range of cinematographic tools, often combined with footage from television, images from the Internet and other found images – and the result is indeed exceptionally cinematic.
Cytter creates dramatic narratives about classical cinema themes such as love, hate, jealousy, revenge and violence. Her stories appear disturbing and puzzling, but simultaneously, they are also extremely compelling. The spectator is often left confused by the complex configuration of the stories, in which repetition is used or different stories are merged together.
Although Keren Cytter is, first of all, a video artist, her drawings are also worth a look as they compliment her film work rather successfully. The exhibition shows two new series of her drawings. The first series, HOME (2013), consists of 62 drawings in a variety of styles, but all on identical, small-size pieces of paper, and made with different drawing tools such as felt tip pens, pencils and ballpoint pens. The drawings are sketch-like, cartoonish representations of quotes from music and popular culture, as well as portraits of friends and historic icons like Alfred Hitchcock and Jack Nicholson.
The second series, Living Room (2014), consists of four large, colourful collage-like drawings (done with felt pens on vinyl leather) of the artist’s living room; they even resemble paintings. The drawings are reminiscent of scenography, or a film set; this sense is emphasized by the large theatre spotlights shedding dramatic light on these drawings, hung in an otherwise dark hall.