Staying on the surface

Jan S. Hansen’s exhibition at IMO in Copenhagen brings together two current trends that focus on materials and surfaces. The show mostly amounts to an example of a trend skilfully embodied.

Jan S. Hansen, Abstract Sport Copenhagen, installation view. Foto: IMO Projects.
Jan S. Hansen, Abstract Sport Copenhagen, installation view. Photo: IMO Projects.

At present we see two widespread tendencies within new contemporary art: one is concerned with geology (earth, substrata, concrete, plaster, copper, ancient things), the other is about surface (the digital and synthetic, moiré effects, things that are ephemeral and fleeting). They are also both about materiality. Jan S. Hansen’s exhibition Abstract Sports Copenhagen brings together both trends, each of which trails interesting discussions in its wake; partly about the digital realm, and partly about the need for a return to something slow, something earthbound. The question is, then, in what way Hansen inscribes himself in this current trend?

The first thing to greet you at the exhibition is a pair of running shoes presented on a small, white pedestal. Here the exhibition concept is encapsulated: one of the shoes has been spray-painted a silver colour, while the other has been coated in genuine silver. Here we find two different treatments – one synthetic, one genuine – a motif that is also addressed by the rest of the exhibits. A number of  “paintings” have been created by wrapping several layers of the web-like fabric found on running shoes around a uniformly coloured fabric, thereby giving rise to a shimmering moiré effect (the works are entitled Moiré). In the back room visitors will find a range of works – these, too, are displayed on the walls – created out of natural materials such as concrete and plaster, all of them featuring abstract formations and all sporting synthetic colours straight out of a 1980s palette (turquoise, pinks, and yellows in a style reminiscent of the recently relaunched Zapp ice lolly).

Jan S. Hansen, Outdoor Painting 2, 2013.
Jan S. Hansen, Outdoor Painting 2, 2013.

This is Jan S. Hansen’s third solo exhibition at IMO in just two years; the last one took place just over six months ago. This either reflects the fact that IMO (for four years running one of Copenhagen’s most successful exhibition venues within the category of artist-run commercial galleries) now only has four artists on its books, or that Hansen (who was born in 1980 and has travelled extensively) has so much to relate that frequent solo exhibitions are required? For if you look at the two exhibitions that preceded this one it becomes clear that his repertoire has a virtuoso, wide-ranging scope. From the first solo exhibition in 2011, which consisted of lacquer paintings and ceramic masks addressing weighty subjects such as death, God, drugs, and dreams to the current show where spiritual aspects seem to have been eradicated altogether in favour of pure surface treatment.

The press release mentions how Copenhagen comes third on the list of the world’s most expensive cities to live in, that IMO is just 4.6 km away from Noma, the world’s best restaurant, and that many of the works have been made out of fabrics purchased from England and the USA – thereby hinting at themes such as import/export, globalisation, money, gourmet dining, and marketing. In conjunction with the works this conjures up themes addressing globalisation and its mixture of the noble and the fake, the authentic and the hasty, brands and labels. At the exhibition this is all mixed and blended via abstract, material explorations of form created out of a balanced blend of cheap sportswear juxtaposed with plaster and concrete paintings accompanied by a dash of perfume (a plinth presents a number of bottles of fragrances for the audiences to use).

Jan S. Hansen, Moiré 3, 2013.
Jan S. Hansen, Moiré 3, 2013.

The exhibition provides an exact (and inventive) summary of the current focus on materials with a more form-oriented approach where athletics equipment and concrete is transformed into sensuous, abstract “paintings” where no particular material is ranked over another; they all act on a par with each other in a range of different constellations. The “natural” materials (concrete, plaster) are even given a dash of synthetic colour, and the paintings made from athletic fabrics represent a protest against the heavy tradition for oil paintings on canvas. But when you have seen Jan S. Hansen’s other exhibitions, imbued with spirituality and a sense of humour, this exhibition seems calculated; an almost ironic and deftly executed comment on the contemporary fetish for materials – even though the exhibition does not rise above such fetishism itself. We stay – as our current era dictates – on the surface of things.