Summer Sonata – Denmark

This summer’s shows include an extraterrestrial ‘breast creature’ with a built-in fountain in Vejle Fjord. And you’ll soon find a huge Congolese tree trunk in a sculpture park near you.

Ceylan Öztrük, Image & Sculpture (Call me Venus, Venus III), 2019. Visual illustration for the exhibition Cry Me a River, set in Vejle Fjord.

As I write, one of the most nerve-wracking parliamentary elections I have ever witnessed in Denmark is taking place. The campaigning period has been particularly long this time, and on the positive side, the climate issue actually ended up being one of the election’s main topics.  Car-and-bacon-loving parties are now frantically trying to outbid each other in their eagerness to look greener than anyone else.

This new development follows several decades of elections where the issue of refugees and immigration has been the overriding topic by far; it’s an issue that has also been given far too much emphasis after the elections. If we can deduce from this that the climate crisis will dominate agendas for the next four years, you’ll hear no complaints from me. Sadly, we Danes haven’t quite finished shaming and marginalising those with skin colours other than white, prompting new right-wing parties to be featured on the ballot. These are parties withattitudesso extreme that I never believed for one moment that I would witness anything like them in my lifetime. It’s sad to see. 

As usual, cultural policy has received scant attention during the election campaign. It is quite simply too small a sector for the particular psycho-geological age we currently find ourselves in (and apparently cannot get out of) – an age where everything is judged in economic terms. The days when culture had some form of automatic legitimacy in Danish welfare society are long gone, and the cultural scene seems to have finally realised this on a more fundamental level.

Among creatives and administrators alike, we now sense a general understanding that the cultural scene needs to gird itself for battle. During the election campaign, this has prompted several large-scale discussions organised by the cultural scene itself, inviting the politicians, who in turn are happy to show up. We also see greater awareness of how this fight must be fought as a team, cutting across different art forms and institutions. This in itself is cause for celebration, even if it is an initiative born out of depressingly philistine necessity. 

The most recent opinion polls point in all sorts of directions, involving many potential alliances that criss-cross the political spectrum. This suggests that actually forming a new government may take some time. Perhaps Jimmie Durham’s giant Congolese tree trunk will have been installed in front of the entrance to Kunsthal Aarhus before we know the name of the new Minister of Culture. The trunk will arrive directly from the sculpture park in Cologne, where – after Durham rescued it from being turned into floorboards for German yachts – it has resided since 2011. The work is aptly titled Pagliaccio non son (I am no clown).

The piece is being added to what is already quite a crowded space: the quirky little sculpture park surrounding the venue already contains works by artists such as Jillian Mayer, Uffe Isolotto, and FOS, stimulating visitors with acquired taste as well as those who are simply curious about the world around them.

Suzette Gemzøe, Exotic love life of a single mother, 2007. Video still, 60:00 min.

From the sculpture park, you can look straight up at the ten-storey museum ARoS, which has already opened what looks poised to be a major hit with visitors if the summer proves rainy.

The exhibition Art & Porn marks the fiftieth anniversary of the abolition of the ban on visual pornography in Denmark. The list of participating artists is as open-ended as the title itself, from Wilhelm Freddie to Anna Uddenberg; from Jeff Koons’s photographs of La Cicciolina to Suzette Gemzøe’s humorous video about the exotic life of a single mother. Kunsthal Charlottenborg will host the show in the autumn; meanwhile, on view is a solo exhibition featuring Jesper Just, dedicated to the extensive video installation Servitudes from 2015 which was shot inside One World Trade Center in New York.

At the ambitious venue Primer in Kongens Lyngby, the season opened with The future hides that it hides nothing. For this project, Primer, whose shell-company organisational set-up is part of the fabric of the initiative – a platform for artistic and organisational development housed within the water technology company Aquaporin, and developed by the transdisciplinary research group Diakron on the invitation of Christina Wilson Art Advisory – has invited artists, film directors, writers, academics, companies, and NGOs to explore future scenarios in the wake of climate change.

Bjarke Hvass Kure is named ‘curatorial lead’ of the project, and the list of contributors includes the artists Susanne Ussing and Louis Scherfig. With its amalgamation of exhibition, public discussions, podcasts, and workshops, this looks like the beginning of a long-term research project; it is on until far into September. 

Louis Scherfig, Bad Eureka, 2019. Digital video, 6:00 min.

If we turn away from this high-tech environment to a very different setting that still, however, has a definite aquatic connection, Vejle Art Museum presents an exhibition of works that can be visited only via the waters of Vejle Fjord.

Curator Mette Woller is the mind behind Cry Me a River, the first major bid on Danish soil (or waters) for an exhibition rooted in discourse on the ocean and water that has been so ubiquitous in contemporary art during recent years. Indeed, Woller points to the Australian scholar of gender and environmental issues Astrida Neimani and her hydro-feminist thoughts as a source of inspiration. The list of artists is enticing, featuring names such as Frederik Worm, Tor Jonsson, Ceylan Öztrük, and Mia Edelgart. The latter contributes a large extraterrestrial ‘breast creature’, which will act as fountain out on the fjord. Sounds like a trip to Vejle Fjord would be worthwhile.

This summer’s exhibition at Den Frie in Copenhagen is curated by the artist Gitte Villesen. I slipped into my first metamorphosis so quietly that no one noticed focuses on the sweeping power of narrative – on ‘fiction as a tool that can affect and change the world’. Numbering sixteen artists in total, the seemingly well-curated list of contributors includes Beverly Buchanan, Emma Haugh, Pia Rönicke,and Ana Mendieta, as well as Marie Høeg & Bolette Berg. 

Before we officially don our autumn jackets again, Louisiana will have opened the exhibition Homeless Souls, a show on the theme of migration and exile featuring contributions by figures such as Petrit Halilaj, Otobong Nkanga, and, very apropos, Forensic Oceanography. Copenhagen Contemporary will also open an exhibition featuring the archive from the New Yorkbiennale Performa, topped off by an exhibition of video works by the phenomenal Wu Tsang. Indeed, the overall palette looks better than usual for this time of year. 

Enjoy your summer! 

Marie Høeg & Bolette Berg, Water Scene. Marie Høeg and Bolette Berg in a Boat, ca. 1895-1903. Silver gelatin on baryta paper. Courtesy of Preus Museumssamling.

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