How did your interest in the body come about?
We are defined by our bodies in everything we do, how we perceive the world and how we interact with the world around us. Our point of view is a point in space levitating a certain height above the ground and in a certain range of colours and field of depth, while our interface with the physical world is limited to the range and strength of our arms and legs. So I find it hard to avoid having a body. What I find interesting is this limitation and how we go beyond it. Many of my projects deal with transcending these limitations in some form, either as hybrid fantastical creatures, as avatars of mental projections or through the hallucinatory experience.
With “We Walked the Earth” presented at the 59th Venice Biennale, you take us inside a “drama between life and death”, how has the past influenced the aesthetics of the exhibition?
For We Walked the Earth I wanted to deal with the body of architecture, as an extension of the human body, an exoskeleton of sorts, and heal the fused architecture of the Danish Pavilion, where the project is installed. The pavilion was built in two steps, a grand historicism building from the 1930s with columns on the outside and later on in the late 1950s with a yellow-brick almost suburban-looking building added to it. From previous visits to the Venice Biennale this always struck me as a curiosity, if not downright problematic. By creating a third space, the environment of a Danish farm house from the 18th or 19th century, layered on top of that, the architecture could finally rest. As a direct consequence of the hybrid architecture I created a small family of peasant centaurs living in an environment that was readable as both a past and a future, defined by elements in the exhibition that were both retro-futuristic and ecological sci-fi.
What themes most influence your artistic research?
I am driven by many motivations when I research for a project, some of them thematically hinged, but also just curiosity and desire for materials and shapes and knowledge. The connections that begin to appear during the extensive research is defining how the final work ends up. For We Walked the Earth I collaborated with a large group of people, specialists in their own field, and their knowledge and desires helped shape the final outcome too. Working with zoological model makers, special effect make-up artists, taxidermists, set painters, glass artists, fashion designers, furniture designers and concept artists demanded that I had a clear vision of which direction I wanted to go, since my job was closer to that of a film director or a project manager, than a traditional artist. We Walked the Earth is an emotional commentary on the world of today, set in a speculative future where bio-engineering has made it possible, and climate change has created the urge, for humans to rethink themselves as a species and shape themselves to a new world.
In this age of social and technological change, how will the interaction with art change?
I see it changing right before my eyes every day. Everyone became an image creator and editor with the introduction of camera phones merged with software, and now the advent of artificially intelligent image generators is blurring the line between creators and consumers even more. I foresee that this development will pick up speed within the near future and ultimately lead to artistically complicated products like films and art installations being the product of computers.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m neither madly in love with the digital or want to tear down the technological tower we’re building. To me these things are tools, extensions of the human hand and based on creations made by humans throughout history. They are just as natural as a handful of clay, but the novelty of these technologies makes us uneasy and think that this changes everything. But it doesn’t. We will still make the same images and dream the same dreams.
What are you working on for the next future?
Working on this project for the Venice Biennale has been a huge gift. I spent the last three years with this project and I still think there’s more to the story, more to tell, so I will make new versions of We Walked the Earth, iterations of the scenario, and add more to the already layered story. I have an interest in worldbuilding, which is most often used in literature, film and gaming industry. The process of creating the world before creating the story, which takes place inside it, is appealing to me. It’s not so widely used in art, but I see a potential for it in this project. The versions will be shown as exhibitions in art institutions, as public art commissions or as a publication or a film. The centaurs, and their environment, will be on show at Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art in Copenhagen in June 2023 and shortly after at a venue in Riga, Latvia.
Simultaneously with touring the centaurs I want to get my hands dirty with some not-so-hyperrealistically-perfect sculptures. The hyper-realness of the centaur sculptures paved way for a very direct connection to the onlooker, almost like a punch in the gut, circumventing the analytical apparatus and made you feel the fate of the hybrid beings, instead of just understanding it on a cognitive level. I want to see how far you can stretch reality, and still keep a sense of presence from the sculpture in front of you. Very classical balance, but probably something that is going to define this century – the realness of the fake.