By Mathias Kryger
An Affair With the Art of Objects
If the large-scale, multi-institutional group exhibition that is “TRUST”—curated by Brussels-based Sonia Dermience, who is also part of the curatorial collective Komplot—had a soundtrack, it could be by Fatima Al Qadiri. Al Qadiri’s music is cool. So is this exhibition. Al Qadiri’s EP Genre-Specific Xperience, for example, consists of revolving and reoccurring progressions and very short notes, like tiny droplets with spaces in between each layer. This could also apply to “TRUST” somehow; there are objects with space in between them—layers or no layers. And it is a certain type of object that seems to reappear; objects placed in relation to other objects or, more precisely, the assemblage of seemingly unrelated objects, found or made.
Nina Beier, a master of this kind of assemblage, shows the piece Perfect Duty: a stack of oriental rugs with a plaster statue of a woman lying face down, foreign currency nestled between her left arm and the rug. In the same space of GL STRAND—an institution somewhere in between a Kunstverein and a privately funded endeavor, which usually shows contemporary and modern art at the ‘safer’ end of the spectrum—Seyran Kirmizitoprak shows an equally assembled environment of objects on objects. Titled Kepler 452b and seen in juxtaposition with her other piece Ladybugs from 2012—a sculpture of two sequined and stylized ladybugs that look like alien creatures—the objects take on a post-human, other-worldly quality. FOS—a Danish art-meets-design god—has created desirable furniture for the visitor to rest her legs or just lounge casually on, as well as brass labels that hang throughout GL STRAND. Dermience clearly plays along with the bourgeois environment of the institution through a playful theatricality that most people will implicitly sense if not explicitly notice.
At Kunsthal Charlottenborg, the largest of the five contemporary art venues in Copenhagen, the art of assemblage continues. Jos De Gruyter & Harald Thys exhibit eighteen of their Objects as Friends photographs—quite the little catalog of object-oriented horror—objects on objects caught in the cold stasis of a camera’s flash. Pernille Kapper Williams massages together elements of 1980s Danish design history and wellness in her precise installation, evoking not only the ghost of past design aesthetics but somehow also calling forth a Minimalist presence—one object after the other, however here they are placed not in sequence, but carefully scattered. Ditte Gantriis, too, places objects: over-sized wicker baskets. Had these works been presented in a less palace-like space with lower ceilings, the scale, body, and dry humor of the objects could have possibly had a stronger effect.
While on the subject of the placing of sculptural objects, it seems that there is something to be said about the theatricality of the majority of the works presented in “TRUST.” What type of theatricality is at play in the new-materialism-object-oriented-ontology-speculation that seems to inform the juxtapositional choreography of objects found everywhere in the art of now? Is this a theatricality positioned within a looseness of signifiers and within the slaughter of the subject-object relation? The theater of the object seems to play on long after you leave, and as you turn your back, it is still acting. Another obvious theatricality is found in the relationship between placed objects—with an emphasis on placed—and the photographic reproductions of the resulting installations channeled through social media and blogs, and accompanied by press releases. This is old news.
However, I wonder what to say about the relationship between the parts and the whole, the shape and the form, in this type of work? Maybe Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood” from 1967 is of help, maybe not. Maybe there is something worth asking about the theatricality of the assemblage sculpture and of the careful way objects are placed on the floors of art spaces today. Fried would approve of the assemblages and their ways of being “specifically resistant to being seen in terms of objecthood,” and he would not call them theatrical. However, seen from today, the parts and the whole, the placing, the speculation, the non-representational, and the performativity of the objects presented in “TRUST” do invoke a theatrical sensibility.
Maiken Bent shows a rather large number of her sculptural assemblages at Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art—an institution in which each room has been assigned to one artist by the curator, who is playing with the idea of the artist’s studio. Bent’s works are playful, not only composed of found objects, but also consisting of leather and other materials sewn together. Her language—the materials she composes with—appears carefully studied and not as random and seemingly carefree as, say, the work of Isa Genzken. Bent’s works seem to oscillate between form and color and narrative. It is good stuff but I wish there was more space in between the sculptures.
In the basement of Den Frie, a leading figure in assemblage-sculpture-installation and (new) materiality in Denmark, and one of the oldest participants in the exhibition, Martin Erik Andersen (born 1964—“TRUST” is a very young exhibition overall), shows, quite surprisingly for me, the best piece in the whole exhibition. A large monolithic structure is placed in the middle of a darkened space. On it and around it are other smaller objects and material parts, like two reed chairs and materials usually found in the artist’s installations: steel and cobber tubes, hand-knitted fabric, a wicker basket, and quite an elaborate laser light show. On top of this, a soundtrack plays seemingly ordinary tunes, which I cannot seem to remember the genre of (I unsuccessfully attempted to Shazam the songs when I was there). The whole thing is weirdly appealing and the way the light show traverses the surface of the things in the space animates the sculpture, it became a theater—a queer musical, too much and really good.
Nikolaj Kunsthal—an old church turned Fluxus hub turned contemporary art space, run by the city of Copenhagen—underwent the most brilliant curatorial reformulation in the exhibition. Not so much because of the framework of accentuating the building’s past as a church, but by Dermience’s understanding of the dimensions of the spaces and how the building could function as a place for displaying art. With only three projects in the church, the building itself was accentuated as a space. The art collective Jessica Baxter installed built-in refrigerators, hosting a series of sugar-leaf sculptures, and a short video loop depicting a printout of a floor plan of the church being smudged by a person’s index finger in a container filled with muddy water. The result of the action and slow-motion camera in the video makes it look quite similar to Photoshop’s Smudge Tool in action. Upstairs, an installation by We Are The Painters—which was the site for a performance during the extensive opening-night performance program—screams theater and it looks really cool: a large painting acts as an opening into a mountain and reveals the costumes from the performance. In the church’s bell tower, hourly guided tours take you to the artist group A Kassen’s reworking of an old bell. The tour itself is thrilling, the piece is good, the view is stunning. The last time Nikolaj Kunsthal looked this pulled together was for a Kutluğ Ataman exhibition many years ago.
The absence of works employing discourse in “TRUST”—there are almost no research-based works, apart from a few projects like Nanna Debois Buhl’s poetic series of cyanotypes referencing Walter Benjamin—makes you wonder about how one engages with object-based experiences.
It usually takes longer to engage with art that is based on discourse, or contains discursive elements or an inherent duration. I start to wonder if my engagement with objects should be more thorough, if I should have stayed longer with each piece or maybe I should have seen certain pieces several times, at different moments during the day? How long does it take to see an object? The time aspect is pressing and maybe that is why I enjoyed Andersen’s installation so much—because its animated qualities demanded attention for a designated period of time.
At Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art, Carl Palm and Egle Kulbokaite performed a physically zeitgeisty overtaking of one of the spaces, where a sculptural intervention served as the setting for a number of activities—Young Girl Reading Group, et al.—in the opening days. On site, they also produced their collective publication Good Times and Nocturnal News, including, among other texts, the poem “M,” which consists of statistics regarding incarceration and mental health issues in the North American prison system, and an excerpt of an erotic novella about Tom Cruise and the end of capitalism—who wrote what is unclear in this newspaper, which ends with a crossword section titled “Gertrude Stein Would Not Pass the Turing Test.” Objects, bodies, and discourse seem to blend seamlessly in this project.
I would have loved to see more work traversing the dichotomy that seems to be lurking in Dermience’s choices between fun-playful-objects and dry-research-displays, where she has obviously chosen to focus more on objects than research. Perhaps Joachim Hamou’s film UIP27, which will screen once at the art-house cinema Vester Vov Vov later in October, will be the clearest example of a piece that bridges the gap between research and sexy appearance, in an exhibition that for the most part is an affair with art as object. From what I have heard about Hamou’s film, it both plays out as a futuristic scenario of the Israel-Palestine conflict and is inherently theatrical.
 Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” in Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 161.
In brief: “TRUST” is curated by Sonia Dermience and involves the participation of forty-one artists / artist groups. It is presented at the five primary venues for contemporary art in Copenhagen: Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art, GL STRAND, and Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art.
More info at http://copenhagenartfestival2015.dk/
Installation views by Torben-Eskerod