Gallery K, Oslo, February 10 – March 11, 2012
Translated and edited by Michael Holtermann and Kenneth Kiesnoski.
“Climate Confusion Assistance” is a collaboration of two artists, both prominent yet very different in expression and approach. The gallery was transformed using mint-green walls and purple carpet, in addition to custom-made Bless furniture, which are hybrids between design and art, reminiscent of office and gym items. The setting reinforces the impression that the exhibition, “Climate Confusion Assistance,” will live up to its name.
Contact between Melgaard and Bjertnes was first visualized in 2000, when Bjertnes exhibited in Melgaard’s Norwegian Anarchist Faction gallery. There, he attracted attention with his monumental painting of eight teenage girls, which united individual characteristics in a collective identity. The relationship between the two artists resulted later in Bjertnes’ painted portrait of a melancholy Melgaard, which was artistically related to the excellent drawings Bjertnes showed at the exhibition “Happiness of Henry Darger” at Gallery K in 2009.
The dialogue took on a more challenging and intensive character when Bjertnes followed Melgaard’s example and moved to New York last year. They decided to test the potential of collaborative play on paper, based on their different approaches using drawing tools such as charcoal, color pencils, and crayon. The payoff came quickly; when the two exhibited at Maccarone Gallery, New York, it was considered one of the 10 best exhibitions of 2011 by well-known New York Times art critic Roberta Smith.
Although the two work together based on mutual artistic respect, their collaboration is a system with an inherent tension that requires both completely individual expression and the ability to instantly respond to the other’s advances and ideas. The contrast between the playful writer dazzle and decided hand of Melgaard and the exaggerated, plastic-rooted form that characterizes Bjertnes’ repertoire on paper, does not, however, short-circuit the energy of the visual interaction.
Such close-working artistic pairings are not a new phenomenon. Paul Gauguin (a former ghost in Melgaard’s pictorial universe) and Vincent van Gogh shared a utopian moment together, creating a new style in “L’Atelier du Midi” in Arles. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque described themselves as “bound together climbers” in the simultaneous exploration of cubism’s new formal ground. Surrealists’ experiments with so-called “cadavre exquis,” where the same drawing went from artist to artist, was a branch of the same phenomenon.
Artistic duos of greater relevance to Bjertnes and Melgaard would be Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Their collaboration in the mid-80s was also based on a close friendship, and resulted in a revitalization of both their work in their final years. According to their common friend Keith Haring – who was present during some of Warhol and Basquiat’s joint painting sessions in “The Factory” – Basquiat’s energy and impulsivity, transforming visual and verbal elements, served as playful resources for the more emotionally camouflaged Warhol. Self-irony also played a role when the duo posed in boxing outfits on a poster. It was well-rehearsed role play that both referenced the sport’s tradition of ethnic contrasts in the ring and the generational conflict between challenger and defender with which they were associated in the art scene.
“Mannerism Now” is proclaimed on one of the Bjertnes/Melgaard drawings. But this is more than a simple graffito. A part of the joint project has been to work with color photocopies of paintings by leading Mannerist artists such as Agnolo Bronzino, Francesco Parmigianino, and El Greco. Mannerism was long considered a artistic epoch exemplifying decay. With its artificial attitudes, thematic complications, and split character, it represented the diametric opposite to Renaissance-era concepts of harmony. Mannerism’s rehabilitation in art circles occurred parallel to the Modernism’s rebellion against Expressionism and symbolism.
In the show, the deep-pink copy of Parmigianino’s major work, “Madonna with the Long Neck,” becomes subject to a double, drastic intervention (akin to the “modifications” that Melgaard’s predecessor, Asger Jorn, called his transformations of kitsch painting). The overgrown Jesus figure – in Parmigianino’s masterpiece elongated in a position with overtones of a Pietá – with the exception of a foot wiped out in their version. The biblical protagonist is, from Bjertnes’ side, displaced by an almost animal-like face. It’s enclosed by Melgaard’s mask-like outline and wide-open eye-line to render a doubly demonic gestalt.
Bjertnes has even more clearly acquired stylistic lessons of Mannerism in the drawing “Resurrection of Guilt.” It shows a devilish, ejaculating monster, which is a physically distorted physicality in blue, purple, orange, and black crayon, a sexualized, untamed creature with thematic traits that are well known within Melgaard’s tremendous fictions. The latter’s fascination with 16th century artists can perhaps be most clearly traced in the sense of the use of complex style, which echoes in formal exchanges between rugged and sophisticated lines.
The studiousness of Mannerist art also finds a parallel in the installation elements — the mint-green walls, purple carpet and custom furniture — which the duo’s drawings to play out against. “Climate Confusion Assistance” indeed.
Deep Inside Savannah
Visit the website Deep Inside Savannah.
Folie a Deux/Savannah
Somehow, the video remained unaffected. The discharge of smoke and the strangely familiar flash of light, the indisputable decision made by velocity and propulsion, the splitting of bone and spilling of contents upon impact…. all of these facts failed to dim the soft, flesh colored flickering that issued from the gloss of a distant screen. “I love you,” her voice promised on a looping video tape,stage lights glittering off of a sequined gown that had melted to her leg when she’d accidentally dropped a lit cigarette onto her lap. “Ohhhhhhhh” she whined into a microphone, “Aren’t you happy for me? I love you…” So strange that this moment should remain even as her insides began to pour out in an unfathomable river from her nose and mouth, a tide that seemed to cease and then push forward in time with the ticking of a cooling engine. Flashing back and then forward, processing the past at the same time as she experienced the terminal now. “So weird,” Savannah thought, “like trying to watch three movies all at once!”
How fast it all happened! How accelerated the whole production felt when it sped by from beginning to end without being paused or fast forwarded and then rewound again. “So THIS is who I am!” she thought when she saw the white light of a distant projection booth, its incapacitating and incandescent glow suddenly aimed at her instead of the screen. “What? Which script is this from? I don’t remember this scene…..” She was drifting in and out so quickly that it was hard to tell if she was at the beginning, middle, or end, and it took her a second to process where she was when she heard it: her name, her real name, someone was saying her name. “Stay with me, Shannon!” over and over until she was finally reminded of what she’d done, of the car she’d crashed and the broken nose and the panicked phone call and then finally the gun. The gun!!! A sweeping light as her brain tried to register that voice, howling and animal and begging her to hold on because help was coming! “Don’t leave me, help is coming! Shannon! Savannah? Don’t leave me!”.
She felt a strange static electricity as her wires crossed; there was a broadcast that was finally flickering in…. Something from very far away, something from some years before, a voice that said “You’re beautiful, I want you, you’re beautiful,” in a low voiced whisper that she always knew would be gone just when she’d come to expect it (where was everybody always going to without her?). Such a distance between both voices and no time left to cover it, only the words she’d said standing at a podium and glistening in a rainbow of light and sequins. “I want to thank all the critics who voted for me, and all the ones who didn’t……I love you,” she told them, “and if you don’t love me, I’m sorry!”