Tongue Out

Solo Exhibition at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard · Copenhagen · Denmark · 19 January - 11 March · 2023

Tongue Out · 2023 · 180 x 240 cm.
Tongue Out · 2023 · 180 x 240 cm.

In a Shrinking Present

Painting has been declared dead many times over. As has our planet, Earth. Defying the dire verdicts and predictions, letting yourself be seduced by John Kørner’s washy brushwork, you encounter yourself and humanity in the same breath. As you are lured in by his feather-light colours, the world opens up anew amid all its familiarity and dystopia. I have known John for twelve years. I got to know him here at the gallery over dinner and some birds. I knew him already as an artist, of course, but not personally before that night in March. John has often said that he is content if his paintings hold up for ten years. For a contemporary artist that would seem to be a reasonable goal. Privately, John still eludes pigeonholing in my system. I consider him a friend, a confidant, though we are not spot-on when it comes to such basic knowledge as our favourite foods or the names of each other’s children. Something with an H. I value our conversations immensely, though I rarely understand what John means. I appreciate our relationship, even though I don’t know what it is. Now that I’m writing this piece, I realize that this is exactly what I treasure about the artist John Kørner’s imagery. I know what it is and yet I know nothing. I’m simultaneously on home and away ground. Familiarly at sea. Something is at stake in his art, but I can’t necessarily put my finger on it. In his fourth exhibition at the gallery, the artist invites us in with bright colours, painterly lightness and elegance and a recognizable subject: a snow-covered mountain or glacier. But what am I supposed to make of this mountain or glacier? What does the picture want from me?


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This invitation or entry to the paintings is also the motif of the exhibition: a snow-covered mountain or glacier. Not that long ago, a glacier would have been a symbol of an invincible, infinite landscape, a raw, still unconquered nature bigger than us. Today, however, it’s impossible not to read the climate issue into the picture, and we are hard-pressed not to see the glacier as a symbol of human hubris, a visual sign of our ultimate impotence. As Toke Lykkeberg has put it about Olafur Eliasson’s photographs of glaciers, from 2004 and 2014, “The photos that once were images of insurmountable space are now images of our shrinking present.” As reference for the paintings, Kørner, as is his wont, has found images here and there, in printed sources and on the World Wide Web. A 2013 book, The Greenland Ice Sheet: 80 Years of Climate Change Seen from the Air, published by the Natural History Museum of Denmark, has particularly occupied him. In the 1930s, Denmark launched a large-scale photographic survey of Greenland’s coastline, spurred by geopolitical tension at a time when Norway, especially, was breathing down Denmark’s neck by its active presence in Greenland. The slanted images, shot from the bottom of a plane, were a technological innovation providing peaceful ammunition, as our nation, to all the world, asserted its right to Greenland. The exhibition’s theme is by no means a Romantic project. Ambiguity arises, blurring my view. Danish national-Romantic landscape painting was intended to document and highlight the kingdom’s characteristics to promote national identity. But something else is at stake here. The geopolitical aspect of the 1930s documentation project has greater resonance, as it is reactualized and given poetic form in Kørner’s new works, albeit in a context of climate policy that rises above any national discourses, legal claims or rights: the Arctic today is no less a politicized territory or issue than it was a century ago. The debate about colonialism has picked up steam, as the ice sheet melts and the oceans rise. The Eurocentric course has failed and the disaster could hardly be stated more eloquently than from atop a melting glacier. No matter the outcome, the answer to today’s climate-policy questions is unequivocal, and the bill is steep and fast coming due. Ownership claims to the Earth are passé. In the future, no one will be entitled to lay claim to anything. On the brink of doom, we will have to turn to that which is bigger than ourselves. Where that is concerned, nature has lost its aura. The more vulnerable nature appears and the more we deplete the planet’s resources by our way of life, the greater the backlash will be. In turn, all we are essentially left with is Faith. Calling for attention, yellow and violet brushstrokes emerge from the background. Kørner’s signature colours, they originate from the Catholic school he attended as a child, and from the colours of the local football team. Kørner may contend that this is not relevant here, but when the problem is too big, the snow-covered mountain too high to climb, the viewer is left with their own existence and the question of whether Faith can move mountains. The signs are clear and everywhere in this exhibition. The tongue of a glacier runs through the gallery, like a conveyor belt between mountains tops. The glacier drags along evidence in constant change. In that way, the exhibition directly extends Kørner’s last one at the gallery, Crazy Watermelon Shipping, an installation of an imaginary supermarket. The source and the product. The cause and the bill coming due. We are on the crime scene. Guilty. Unable to deny our guilt, we have not only eaten of the forbidden fruit but wantonly gorged ourselves on it. Kørner is not one to point fingers or shame us all, including himself. Making our ears burn is never a relevant aim for the person or the artist John Kørner. He is no moralist, although his speech can be like an incantation. In their riotous quietudes, his paintings let us know that something beautiful that once was forever is on the verge of disappearing, melting away, while the powers that be sermonize, cluelessly argue with each other and, lost, continue to sin. On the other hand, Kørner is one to grapple with topical issues, daring to treat them in his art – the war in Afghanistan, human trafficking, consumerism, the environment – addingpoetic value that opens up rather than closes down, provides nuance and casts shadows bigger than us, into us. Considering the climate issue, however, it’s hard to comprehend yourself and others in an actual present that will be the past before the future has been rationally articulated. Lykkeberg mentions the “extemporary age”, for which it is true that both the past and the future will be the key lens through which to view the world: “The focus shifts from a present or contemporary age, an increasingly vanishingly small dot, to an ever deeper future and past that throw our moment into perspective. The interest in where we are right now is replaced by a look at where we are coming from and where we are going. Art, then, is no longer contemporary – that is, current or abreast with the times. Rather, it is outside of time, outside of our time; it is what I would call ‘extemporary’.” In that light, ten years is an eternity. And so, paradoxically, Kørner once again comes into his own as an exponent of the history painting genre, depicting today’s problems and casting them into a greater perspective. Giving today’s insurmountable problems a place in art, Kørner raises the question of whether we are ready to acknowledge them. The contours of the icy landscape may belong not only to history painting but to the past itself. The glacier is a perishable monument to our time. In retreat, in exodus, in thaw. Our moment’s theatrical memento mori. In this exhibition, Kørner rests his works on the tongues of glaciers, because the tongues tell of the geological process of ice melting and carrying along evidence in accumulation and change. It does not erase but documents its travels. The tongue leaves a trail of its own, putting its baggage on display in the process. Fair and square. The tongues speak in no uncertain terms, grounded in the scientific argot and regularities of geology. Everything is mapped, laid bare. The question is overwhelmingly simple: Where do we go from here?

By Bibi Henriksen Saugman

Toke Lykkeberg, “Ekstemporær kunst” (Extemporary Art), in Kunstkritikk, 6 March 2020. Source: The Greenland Ice Sheet: 80 Years of Climate Change Seen from the Air, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, 2013.
Lykkeberg, op. cit.


Photographer: Anders Sune Berg


Galleri Bo Bjerggaard

Flæsketorvet 85 A
1711 Copenhagen V

Galleri Bo Bjerggaard

Greenland Awakes · 2023 · 150 x 120 cm.
Snow in La Paz · 2023 · 150 x 120 cm.
Long Tongue · 2023 · 180 x 240 cm.
Tongue Hanging Out · 2023 · 180 x 150 cm.
Sky Blinking Red · 2023 · 180 x 150 cm.
Holding Back a Train · 2023 · 180 x 150 cm.
Light Eruption · 2023 · 240 x 360 cm.
Running Towards a Glacier Start · 2023 · 150 x 120 cm.
Cold Volcano · 2023 · 150 x 120 cm.
Office of Antartic Programme Foundation · 2023 · 180 x 150 cm.
Fountains · 2023 · 150 x 120 cm.
Warm Glacier · 2023 · 150 x 120 cm.
Lillium Bulbiferum with Glacier · 2023 · 100 x 81 cm.