Solo exhibition at IMO, Copenhagen, 18 May – 23 June 2012
By Toke Lykkeberg
TL: The exhibition Production revisits a theme you’ve been occupied with for a long time in your paintings; the theme of the Factory. What is it that fascinates you about factories?
JK: A factory is identical to its production in most cases, and production is an all encompassing universe that we, in our part of the world, the Western World, are very much in constant contact with. Almost every situation which we could be in, over the course of our daily lives, relates to some form of production. Here I’m thinking of the physical. I’m not referring to the forms of production associated with thoughts and ideas, more our physical surroundings: Building projects and that sort of thing. But, because of the factory’s architecture, aesthetic and hygiene, production centres have been moved to the periphery of society and are no longer a part of the urban landscape. But, historically, from the industrial revolution, the industrial factory was an urban gathering point, for example in London or Manchester. But, even though we no longer see factories in the city, the production apparatus is still just as important in our lives. I think it deserves more attention because the factory’s reach is so great. That’s why I’m so interested in factories and production.
JK: The factories I reproduce in my paintings and sculptures refer to a construction that is hundreds of years old: a box with a pipe sticking out of the top; the chimney. And what the factory produces we associate with two things: products and waste. But, via the media and pedagogy, we learn that the factory is something that pollutes. Society is very focused on a factory’s waste production. But, in my paintings, a factory is also a poetic construction. The large painting I have in the Produktion exhibition is actually a very poetic image. There are three men, mid-way through a process. There is both wind and weather. There is dark and light. This is work. This is, in reality, a very social realistic motif. There is no sense, the way I see it, in reproducing a factory in some abstract manner that has no practical function. Instead, I would rather show the cooperation between the workers and the factory, and especially the sky and nature. And so, in order to get it all in, I simplify my expression, though in a different way than the media and others would do. It’s the whole that interests me, and that is why I am drawn to the symbolic expression, which you would call caricature.
Read the whole interview
JK: Yes, well as you know I’m quite interested in painting’s possibilities. If you focus solely on the craft, then at the very least I’ve developed a technique that makes it possible for me to work with abstract motifs that borrow from the realistic. If we look at the factory, anyone can see that it is a painting of a factory. It’s made of paint, and nothing else. It’s only a picture, an illusion of a factory. If on the other hand you have an abstract painted area that indicates a factory, then that abstract area of course also has a certain character. I’ve worked a lot with that, presenting both areas of painting – that is, when the styles are mixed and create new things.
TL: There are many contemporary artists that consider themselves – and are seen as – consumers, because they don’t so much produce something new as they recycle something old. This is why so much contemporary art is focussed on consumption, but you’ve chosen to concentrate on production. Is this your answer to the problem facing contemporary art? Are you a critic of contemporary art, or do you feel yourself to be equal parts producer and consumer?
JK: I really like staying realistic, even though I’m an artist. As a contemporary artist, I’m often working with an artificial image or a vision. What I’m saying is that art is something that brings things forward – even when it’s realism, even when it refers to a world outside of the artwork. And of course it’s clear that I would be referred to as a producer in as much as I produce artworks. But I wouldn’t characterise myself as a producer – or even as a factory if truth be told. It could very well be that I make a certain number of pieces per year, but I don’t have a conveyor belt. I don’t just take orders. A consumer is someone with a shopping cart. And that’s neither me, nor the art public. If I read a piece of literature, one can assume that the author has the intention I either react to their work, or accept it. There’s a book, ”The Dice Man”… I used to live in a collective and we used to roll dice. The principle was that one would roll a die and whatever you rolled would correspond with a list of six acts we had written out. Rolling a three, for example, would mean having to run around naked in the carpark. Once we had to abstain from drinking at an opening. Everything was all set up but we rolled a two, which meant we couldn’t drink at the opening. But, that was a consequence. This was a case of taking something directly from its literary form and adopting it for use in real life. In this way I, as a private person, can accept being a consumer: when you’ve got a product that you can eventually incorporate into your life.
TL: Then what is the difference between working with a white canvass or with a black bucket? Is it that you use minimal effort with the one, and maximum with the other?
JK: Funny you should ask that. I say this, because I don’t know myself. I think that the white canvass work with painting is generally a personal expression. That is something that fascinates me – to be very personal is an absolute priority.
TL: What about the bucket?
JK: The bucket is different. When I work with a bucket, or a carpet or something similar, I’m very focussed on the fact that these things have a function that can be discussed in detail. I will always defend my right to do precisely what I wish to with these elements. It could very well be that there is an intention with the bucket, but nevertheless it is still an object in my grasp. And I have a different understanding of this object. In this exhibition I mix paintings and objects together. That said, I do regard paintings with reverence, though that doesn’t mean I will undervalue the bucket, because what’s important to me is the whole. If you go in to the reception area of a large company, or a doctor, you’ll notice that importance has been placed on every individual thing – the ash tray, the fruit bowl, the carpet – but it is the way in which they work together that gives the guest a complete experience, a whole.
TL: The carpet in your exhibition created a whole new atmosphere. People lowered their voices when they walked on it.
JK: That’s the idea. Everything has been carefully selected. For me a bucket is related to a floor, so when I hang it from the ceiling over the carpet, it joins the whole space together.
TL: You’d like for the exhibition to be a combination of an apartment and a factory – a home and a place of production.
JK: Yes. The idea is that there should be a site of production – this I call the fuck room. At a very early stage in the process, I saw the space as an important part of the construction – a physical space that could create a relaxed atmosphere, like drugs or alcohol, in order to put the guest at ease. It should be so welcoming that the viewer would feel at home, so much so that they’d feel free to act, which is producing.
TL: How have you decorated the fuck room?
JK: To have sex is a big thing. It’s really changed over the last twenty years. It’s a real challenge to have sex today. In theory, anything is possible. It’s a fantastically open landscape. I haven’t seen it, but I would be willing to bet that there is someone, somewhere, with a dead bird glued to their body while they have sex. Everything is allowed. Nothing is too perverse. People are actors. There aren’t as many rules now.
TL: And part of fewer rules is that one can no longer say what is abnormal.
JK: You can’t say what is abnormal. You can only contribute. But when I was designing the space I still had to try and create a situation which the public could read and be comfortable with. That’s why I tried to create an entrance to the act that was coming from a romantic, historic perspective. To reach the public with something that many consider to be the height of aesthetics, I rebuilt Arne Jacobsen’s Ægget (the Egg Chair) so that it could hold two people. I would also really like it if someone had sex in there. But I would be even more proud if they did it out of their own initiative.
TL: Why is that?
JK: The ultimate product of this exhibition for me would be if someone actually conceived in this space, and if in nine months an infant child was produced. Of course, I have no control over this, but it’s been on my mind. It was my first priority. The sculptural elements should be seen in that light, and they’re therefore my second priority. I chose to create a space that had a sort of hay loft, because it’s very romantic, and a few images that could cross generations. Even today, when there aren’t that many farms left, people still say ’roll in the hay’. It probably isn’t all that nice to have sex in the hay, but as the image indicates, sex is easily approached and simple to do. It’s also indicated by the shower, where you can wash and dry yourself. There’s also a mirrored wall, so that you can still see the guests and the art while you have sex. I thought that would be interesting – though perhaps a little perverse.
TL: What about the Arne Jacobsen furniture?
JK: Well, that’s a design that has become a total cliché among the upper classes and those living a life of luxury. I don’t see furniture as something unique, but I know many people do. There is poetry in Ægget.
TL: When you set out to transform Arne Jacobsen’s furniture into sex furniture, did you think of it as a subversive undertaking, where you gave something quite rigid, and frigid, a sensuality?
JK: It would be fantastic if someone really did use the furniture as a sex toy.
JK: The idea was to draw a parallel. The whole exhibition is influenced by the fact that the gallery is a former garage. The buckets and black paint sprayed impressionistically on the walls refer to the how oil is an echo of the way industry has developed.
TL: On the other hand ,in the painting with the rope, I know that you used the lunar landscape as your starting point. For me, that painting is also very cold, there aren’t many warm colours in it. Is it the moonlight shining on the Earth?
TL: What it makes me think of most of all is a science fiction film, after an apocalypse; a post-apocalyptic landscape.
JK: I could say that it was a super smart industrial landscape in Australia or Africa, as it will be in twenty years, but that would just be a guess.
TL: What about the painting with the swan? Zoology is not my strong point, but I’ve been told that the swan is monogamous. Here, the swan is alone. This image is somehow extremely depressing. It looks like another post apocalyptic landscape.
JK: It’s a very lonely painting, even though there is both a factory and a swan, two long necked creatures. At least that’s the thought behind it. I want to create a symbiosis between them. Beauty and the beast, in some way. That’s why they both have the thin, white throat coming out of the dark. Even though the painting is about loneliness, I couldn’t imagine anything more romantic in an exhibition that is so dark.
TL: What’s happening in the last painting? It’s a conception. There’s a woman, and she’s pregnant.
JK: There’s a woman, and she’s pregnant, and there’s a person standing next to her. And that’s about it. At the moment I’m fascinated by placing a person, or people, in nature and letting them pretend – let them be themselves – clothed or unclothed, pregnant or not, man or woman.
TL: Is that how you see Gauguin’s paintings?
TL: People posing in nature.
JK: In that painting I was inspired by Gauguin, at least in the colours. It’s rare that I let myself be consciously inspired by other painters.
It’s a motif that I’ve worked with many times: A person stands forward and is themselves. As a person, you know your destination. You know you will die. You also know you were born. You can choose to take different directions in life to help you deal with being alive. In order to avoid being in nothing, people are forced to do something, because we have an intelligence, and a sense of purpose in our existence. This intelligence comes with responsibility, to a certain degree. Those that claim they won’t reproduce themselves, and just want to be… I don’t accept that. I’m not convinced. I think we have to step into the cycle of life and death in order to be. And, in order to enter that cycle, you have to act. And when you act, you are alive. It’s here that the person who stands up and looks at the world becomes interesting for me. You could also lie down, but when you stand, you’re in function. That is, I think, a fascinating image.
TL: Could it be that you are fascinated by this precisely because you paint, and are therefore used to – whether you have a model or not – and you don’t, as far as I know – the human form and what it means to you? Are you not interested in Gauguin’s naked women because they appear as though they’re there of their own volition, while they’re actually there for the painter? Is this perhaps exactly what a painter wants – that is, something that cannot be painted, because it already exists – and its existence is, for the painter, the ultimate challenge – or what?
JK: Now you’re just being romantic. Maybe it’s like this: you’re here for me, and I am here for you. We are here for each other in one way or another. A person can choose to be away for long periods. But in order to do so, they have to stand up and say that they are ready. And I think the woman in my painting is ready.
TL: She’s ready. Look at her stomach.
JK: It’s interesting to stand in nature. And this lady here contributes a touch of fire to the landscape. I can’t go deeper into it.
TL: When one lights a fire, one is also bidding welcome.
JK: The most logical explanation would be that when someone lights a fire, it is because fire has a function. It is different from putting your hand into a basin of water.
TL: You’ve captured an image that has many meanings. It could be to make food, to warm up, or to bid welcome. You were talking about how you, in one way or another, regarded human reproduction as an ideal, a demand, an imperative – something you’re required to do.
JK: Required in as much as if your curiosity and creativity are intact, it’s almost a crime not to experience their reproduction. I’ve done my bit to ensure that this possibility is present in this exhibition.
TL: So, we can say that the exhibition is about production, and specifically that form of production that is reproduction. It’s about sex as a requirement for reproduction, but it’s also about love, which is a requirement for some if there is going to be sex. But for others, love is not necessarily tied to reproduction. For example, two people of the same sex who love each other are not able to biologically reproduce themselves. We talked about this, when we were setting up the exhibition, that from the perspective of queer theory it would be seen as heteronormative. What are your thoughts about that?
JK: Hopefully what’s going on here is clear to the people that want to see the exhibition. The possibility of reproducing is there, if you’re a man and a woman. Everyone else is welcome to go in. You can also have a child without having sex. You can also love each other without having sex. You can also have sex without loving each other. There are many variations. I am just happy that the possibility is there. There’s really nothing wrong with it. If you’re homosexual, the space provides other possibilities. You might swing both ways. I don’t think there are any limitations here, none at all. It’s simple for a heterosexual to feel at home in this space. It’s simple, because as the artist I have expressed a desire that someone should engage in sex here, with the idea of reproduction. It’s not a requirement, but there is a desire from my side which can be interpreted as an invitation. In this society, we don’t need invitations. People act all the time whether or not they’ve been invited to. Society requires us to do this, regardless of what happens around us. And speaking of sex: It can be quite exciting when there is no invitation to be had.
TL: So, it’s funny that artists give out invitations. It’s almost in opposition to the sexual ritual.
JK: You can debate whether I actually increase your chances – whether the space gives sex a chance. How it will work – I’m not sure.
TL: It’s a bit like building a skatepark for skaters.
JK: I’m happy to take that initiative. It could be that there are homosexuals who feel discriminated against, but I’m fine with that. Because, as I said, one doesn’t need an invitation to everything. You can do what you want.
TL: I would dare say that it would be impossible to find a more everlasting theme in the history of man. But is it current? Is it, besides being everlasting, also decidedly current?
JK: It’s always current. You know, I think that life is eternally engaged in reproducing itself. That’s where you come closest to eternal life. That takes the sting out of the egoism that one could claim countless people exercise: That man as an individual and an intellect is always in the centre. I honestly think this is very interesting, that man sees himself from the perspective of what he can do in relation to others – or how I can improve myself, this strong person that I am, while still ageing. It’s an interesting construction: That we have a desire to improve ourselves while at the same time our bodies age and crumble. It’s cleverly worked out, in as much as it is primarily just the intellect that survives.
TL: And how is that current?
JK: In our part of the world, reproduction is tied to affinity. Our reproduction demands that we put aside time for it. But, you can, like a botanist, plant some seeds that you give a lot of attention to. It demands responsibility, that you have to work harder than you did before, because you’re working in a different way. I think this is very interesting. But reserving the time for it these days is about more than just reproduction. Today many people have procedures where they plan things according to a five or ten year plan – for example, just like the main character in Michel Houellebecqs novel who chooses to have a cosmic career for the next ten years. What I’m saying is that you can choose that the next three years will be focussed my creating 30 artworks over a ten year period. This demands a certain amount of time, ergo I choose to go into isolation and prepare myself there. It can be the same with reproduction. I think it’s an interesting way to live your life.
TL: You’re not talking about a choice between life as a parent and life as an artist, are you? There are some that say that you have to choose one or the other, but you say that the choices resemble each other?
JK: I actually think about from a more basic place. I think, I have my life, and I knew quite early what I would use it for: I wanted to be an artist. But am I in control of it? Many have said to me: But can you survive as an artist? The difficult question was: Would I choose to use my time wisely? Will I have time for myself? And if I am to be even more grandiloquent: Can I be present with this art in my body? Do I have the talent? Can I get away with thinking so much about art? Should I really be so involved in it, or should I dive?
These are existential choices. One thing is all the influences from friends and everything: Directions, tendencies – can you be a part of all that? But something else is: Can I be present in my head? Can I be a part of this city in a way, and live in it, and populate it? This is an intellectual discussion with myself, and it can be very intense or very relaxed. But there are other factors that influence you. You’re not invincible. There are influences that can change the way you think and your intellectual standpoints. There are also many elements at play. Sometimes I feel a desire for lots of free time so that I can delve into something. But the question is whether I can without having to have the social aspect as well. I’ve tried sitting on a mountain top in Spain for two months, and that worked, too. But it’s not necessarily the way.
TL: Not everything comes from inside.
JK: No, there are influences. I think it’s extremely interesting they way people are formed by other people; whether it’s via reproduction, friendships or nurture, you’re formed by these things. What I think is interesting is that you are not just yourself. It could very well be that you think you are the centre of all things, but there are other things out there that are influencing you.
TL: So, you’re a socially oriented artist who is an independent person in the cityscape, trying to express yourself while you’re being influenced by your immediate surroundings?
JK: Yes. That’s called being a contemporary artist.
TL: Haha, what a terrible way to end an interview.