Fragments of an oeuvre

Chaos still reigns when Dortmund Bodega reopens in a new space with the exhibition Simen Dyrhaug 1979-2008 Collected works. This time around the artist is also cultivated as a figure.

Simen Dyrhaug 1979-2008 Samlede verker (Collected works), installation photo from Dortmund Bodega, 2011. Photo: Leander Djønne.

The exhibition at Dortmund Bodega’s new location on Oslo’s East Side shows an enormous number of Dyrhaug’s works, primarily drawings on paper. The works cover most of the new gallery space, not just the walls, but also the ceiling, the backs of walls, and corners. Dyrhaug often created installations consisting of drawings and other materials that oscillated between chaos and order. This relationship between order and chaos also characterizes many of the drawings, where there is movement between beautiful organic forms and abject designs, between poetry and scribbling.  The chaos at Dortmund Bodega presents works from an extensive period of time, but gives no chronological overview of Dyrhaug’s brief artistic career.  Nor is there any other curatorial or art-historical angle from which the work is presented. A group of Dyrhaug’s friends and acquaintances have gathered to hang the exhibition, and an attempt was made, at least on the surface, to keep Dyrhaug’s attitude towards an installation-like style, but without the ability to take the liberties the artist adopted, for example in the exhibition Eyes Wide Open at Kunstnernes Hus (The Artists’ House, Oslo) in 2007. Cassette tape made its spiraling way through the space, which not only was filled with objects but also sound. This exhibition also avoids isolating individual works, which makes it difficult to know what one is looking at. Are we seeing art, or are we witnesses to an invocation of Dyrhaug, or a memorial to him?

Simen Dyrhaug.

A retrospective exhibition usually has something to demonstrate, to evince, something to illustrate. So does this one, but the circumstances prove to be difficult. In this case a young artist died all too young, an artist who has been shown after his death, for example at the Lofoten International Art Festival in 2011, where Dyrhaug’s drawings were exhibited on a table designed by the artist Jan Freuchen. That form of presentation can perhaps be called an installation, but the drawings were all well protected behind glass, and even though the form on the table was organic and reminiscent of Dyrhaug’s paper constructions, the presentation of the drawings seemed clinical, more like a small retrospective selection.

At the Bodega the presentation is anything but clinical. A small number of drawings in the throng are framed, but for the most part in cheap black frames left over from other exhibitions, and a few are presented in kitschy silver frames or clip-frames. Otherwise the works consist of drawings on everything from small yellow Post-Its to larger sheets, together with some collages made from colored paper, some with stickers or other material. The viewer can make out various projects in the chaos, but no information is given about what distinguishes these projects from one another, or whether it is possible to distinguish them at all.

Simen Dyrhaug, detail. Photo: Leander Djønne.


Simen Dyrhaug 1979-2008 Samlede verker (Collected Works). Installation photo: Leander Djønne.

The big picture not shown at the Bodega is the larger project of Dyrhaug’s oeuvre. What continues to happen with such an early body of work when the artist himself can’t participate in decisions? Who is to make these decisions and on what basis? How shall one continue to show Dyrhaug’s works? Can they be shown at all?  Two important patterns have been established, both at LIAF and Dortmund Bodega, but are there other possibilities? Is an exhibitor obliged to emulate Dyrhaug’s installation technique, or can individual works be shown? Do individual works actually exist in Dyrhaug’s case? These questions are unavoidable, at least if one is a curator or critic. But this is relevant also for everyone who knew Dyrhaug less well than the group involved in hanging this exhibition.

The installation has consciously been made chaotic to avoid an authoritarian or definitive retrospective hanging. But the chaos in the exhibition merges with the cultivation of Dyrhaug as a figure, as an outsider, and this emphasizes perhaps too strongly the romanticizing of the artist that always underlies the chaotic trash-esthetic. Many people certainly saw Dyrhaug’s installation at Kunstnernes Hus, others perhaps the exhibitions at Galuzin Gallery in 2006, or the collaboration with Andreas Heuch at Gallery F15 in 2008. Chaos was always present, but there was also an intention of balancing the drawings with other elements. The selection at the Bodega could have been done differently in good conscience, but the exhibition was scarcely an attempt to historize the artist; instead it was an attempt to memorialize Dyrhaug with the help of fragments from a body of work. This can be seen clearly in the title, which doesn’t specify a period of production, rather a whole life, from 1979-2008. A small dose of order would have been necessary to separate the works from the mythology, but one hopes this will be a necessary later step, both for the Bodega as an exhibition space, and for the unavoidable historizing that gradually will take place with Dyrhaug’s body of work.

Translation from the Norwegian by Richard Simpson.

Simen Dyrhaug 1979-2008 Samlede verker (Collected Works). Installation photo: Leander Djønne.