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Chakra Enlightenment, 2015. Courtesy: KÖNIG GALERIE, Berlin, 303 Gallery, New York and Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen. Photo: Mies Rogmans exhibited at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2015

LOOK! FEEL! PLAY! The highlights of Jeppe Hein’s exhibition in Norway 0

Q&A with Marie Nipper, curator of Jeppe Hein’s exhibition at Kistefos-Museet in Jevnaker

Images: Mies Rogmans and Marek Kruszewski. This Way. November 15, 2015 - March 13, 2016. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany

The works of internationally-known Danish artist Jeppe Hein can be called either art, architecture, or technology. Whichever genre he may choose, the viewer is always of the utmost importance to him. But in Hein’s mind, the viewer is a full-blooded “art sponge” who not only perceives his works with his or her eyes, but with the whole body and with all of his or her senses.

Read in the Archive: An interview with Jeppe Hein in 2013

At Hein’s exhibitions, the public is invited to come up close to the work and touch it, sit down, lie down, turn it or walk on it – and only through this interaction do the artist’s works reveal themselves in their entirety. The “Reflection” (through October 9, 2016) exhibition features a selection of Hein’s works created between 2002 and 2016.

What should everybody know about Danish artist Jeppe Hein?

Working in the overlap of art, architecture, design, and technical interventions, Jeppe Hein has always considered the social potential of art a driving force. With focus on the intuitive, physical, and emotional experience of art, he insists on addressing people of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of education, promoting a dialogue between the work and its surroundings and, more importantly, among the viewers themselves. He invites us to LOOK! FEEL! PLAY!

Could you give us a few highlights of his oeuvre that can be seen in this exhibition?

The participatory focus of Jeppe Hein becomes obvious immediately upon entering the exhibition. The first work you see is Light Pavilion (2009), a work made up of several chains of light bulbs suspended from the ceiling. Activated by someone pedaling an exercise bike, the light chains are slowly pulled upwards, creating a pavilion that visitors may briefly enter before being lowered again. It is an interactive and generous work: I pedal and you experience. Or more correctly, I pedal and we both experience. It is a social activity triggering laughter, energy, and movement.

A new selection of Jeppe Hein’s Modified Social Benches has been installed in the sculpture park. The series stands as iconic works in Jeppe Hein’s production. The basic form of the benches emulates the traditional park or garden bench, but it has been modified to various degrees, turning the act of sitting into a distinct physical endeavor. The benches challenge us to sit, to climb, and to play on them without losing our balance. By altering the shape of the benches, Jeppe Hein has created playful furniture categorized somewhere between works of art and functional design objects. 

Some works require a great deal of active interplay and participation, while others challenge us to block out the surroundings – the space, the other works and visitors –in order to concentrate one hundred percent on the here and now, aware of only our own thoughts and emotions. This is the case with Breathing Watercolours (2016). Wide blue brushstrokes create a repetitive pattern of vertical stripes on the wall. The color is intense and vigorous at the beginning of each stroke, but gradually fades towards the bottom of the wall. Breathing Watercolours is the registration of a breathing exercise done by Jeppe Hein during the installation of the exhibition. One brushstroke signifies one breath. Breathing in, breathing out. By following the blue color from top to bottom, we see how every brushstroke is strongly accentuated at the top, becoming weaker as the air is exhaled. It is about the present moment, focusing on what you are doing right here, right now. It is about blocking everything out and concentrating on how your chest rises and falls with every breath you take. It is simple and banal, but not as easy as you might expect. Challenged to follow the breathing pattern on the wall, many find it a greater effort than the playful interaction offered by the Light Pavilion.

The pure contact of these works makes it clear that Jeppe Hein is challenging us to shift between modes of experience and reflection. By combining different types of work from his artistic practice, he juxtaposes ways of interaction, changing speed and mood throughout the exhibition. The result is an experience of varying intensity, shifting energy, modes of perception, and experience. One could say Jeppe Hein gives visitors the same challenge he experiences himself every day, namely, to strike a balance between being participatory, social, energetic, open, engaged, active, and creative, and maintaining a mental and physical balance, carving out the necessary time for contemplation, meditation, introspection, calmness – and reflection.

How does the exhibition express itself visually?

With their often industrial appearance and simple, geometric shapes, the works of Jeppe Hein have a formal kinship with the idiom of minimalism. Whereas the historic minimalism of the 1960s insisted on a lack of references, Jeppe Hein’s works refer to recognizable structures such as benches, balloons, and walls – just to name a few. Jeppe Hein rarely creates autonomous works, but always relates the artwork to the space in which it is situated and the relationship created by the bodily presence of the viewer. At first glance, Jeppe Hein’s sculptures appear to be uncomplicated formal affairs, but there is always more to it that than. They represent a form of animated minimalism, since something happens when one approaches them: they react to human presence and activity, or affect us in a subtler way by requiring more concentration and engagement than first anticipated.

In the surroundings of the grand natural environment of Norway, Jeppe Hein installed his largest work to date, Path of Silence (2016). The site-specific sculpture is a breathtaking labyrinth of mirrors and water, where visitors are invited to engross themselves and lose track of time and place in order to find themselves again. The labyrinth creates curiosity and enthusiasm, the paths urge you to explore, the rooms – to reflect, and the water – to play.