Avante-garde ART in Scandinavia

Lars Bang Larsen, the first speaker of the “EuroArt Today” lecture series, spoke at the Learning Center in early February about contemporary art in Scandinavia, exploring through different slides and movies an avant-garde art scene in the Nordic region of Europe.

Larsen, originally from Denmark, began his presentation in front of several adults from the local art scene and scarce UM audience, with a psychedelic movie by Ann Lislegaard playing in the background, as he discussed the idea of “becoming.” The film’s character, who eerily walks into a mirror and merges with its reflection, is supposed to illustrate the concept of “becoming something, crossing thresholds, becoming a woman in a patriarchal society or becoming a Scandinavian, for instance,” he said.

Larsen, a critic and curator living in Copenhagen, mentioned that Danish artists were driven towards “the cooperative between artists”, and he then began to describe recent projects by some of the more noteworthy contemporary artists in the area.

For instance, he illustrated Danish artist Jens Haaning’s work, “Super Discount,” in Fribourg, as “a gallery space-cum-supermarket” where groceries and luxury items alike sold for 40 to 60 percent below the Swiss market value. Also, if customers bought more than 25 Swiss Francs worth of items, they would receive a free coconut. This attraction became popular with locals.

Eventually, a crisis broke out in the production since the system could not infinitely take care of even the most basic needs (eating, drinking and such). The system, like any economical system, is built on an ideal that will never satisfy the hunger of greedy consumers. Larsen portrayed this work as “a wry model of emergent consumption patterns and the wonderful contradictions of late capitalism.” He added that Haaning likes to investigate the problems in economics and the way they affect a number of different classes of people, working on numerous other projects that display the ambiguous cultural identity of immigrants in Europe.

Larsen said that much of the art scene in Scandinavia is dominated by big photographic productions, artistic installations and architectural installations, such a conceptual garden, for example.

He described a project arranged by Michael Elmgreen from Denmark and Ingar Dragset from Norway, which is simply a white cubic space placed in a forest, proposed as location for gay sexual meetings.

Larsen said that with this creation the artists are going with and against the grain of gay culture. He furthered this point by saying that on one hand, since gay culture has traditionally been exhibited in a more clandestine fashion, the architecture may seem to implore these “illegitimate” activities, while on the other, it also represents a symbolic onslaught on the behavioral norms of homosexual relationships. Larsen clarifies that “finding yourself in these displaced ambiences is to feel the pull of you sexual identity, as being ‘inside’ or ‘outside’, of whether you are in the face or in the reverse.”

A Copenhagen-based artist group called N55 work with the notion of self-organization and social function, building a variety of do-it-yourself installations and practical inventions that people can purchase. Every N55 production comes with an informational manual filled with technical data. The “N55 Spaceframe” is a modernistic “house” that can be mounted using easily manufactured lightweight components.

There is no need for exterior maintenance and there could be a possible energy consumption level of zero (heating is provided by proper insulation and sunlight, cooking and the physical activities of its occupants).

Though it is still in experimental stage, this “spaceframe” is practical and artistically “constitutes ways of reflecting on the opposition between the individual and the forms of habitual thinking that sneak in as a syntax for our lives.” Displays of their work and manifesto can be viewed on the group’s web site at www.n55.dk.

A group called the Icelandic Love carry out burlesque performances, sometimes accompanied by a poem, celebrating the bond of love between people. Danish artist Jakob Kolding has an exhibit of collages and photographs that display a sense of mixed identity and politics, encompassing references to youth culture, disc jockeying and skateboarding, as well as postings of urban planning and housing.

“The collages give him a frontal exposition of his motives, it’s an adventurous journey of subjectivity rendered in suburban romanticism,” Larsen said. The lecture then ended with a short film entitled Lasso by Salla Tykka.

Larsen is presently researching the psychedelic revolution in Nordic art. The next lecture for the EuroArt series, which took place yesterday, featured Marcella Beccaria and her views on contemporary art in Italy.