Museet for Samtidskunst, Roskilde, Denmark
‘iwillmedievalfutureyou4’ looks like the username you get allocated automatically when your first choice is taken. It reads like the fourth in a series. The show claims to future you, but also future you-four, an unknown act in a form of Middle English that hasn’t yet been invented. The novella-sized catalogue features a paranoid history of motion tracking by Grégoire Chamayou, timesplit science fiction by Mark von Schlegell (his 2009 novel, Mercury Station nearly predicted the present show), and no less than ten introductions. iwillmedievalfutureyou4 is also a promise of violence: a ‘now’ pummelled into a state of anxiety by centuries of ‘then’-facing thought. The curator, Jacob Fabricius, delivers an exhibition set in an era (our own) that neither understands itself nor wants to, but that puts its primitive optimism in languages so opaque they may as well be art.
A vitrine in the first room sets the stakes: ‘Nexo Knights’ kits from Lego, a Danish brand – spacefaring crusaders styled like Camelot on MDMA – are displayed alongside an incomplete series of coins minted by Danish kings who sat at Roskilde Cathedral, adjacent the Museum, from the 11th to the 16th century. Fabricius emphasizes the silliness
of our endeavors, from government to decorative arts, all the while empathizing with human frailty. Nearby is the glazed ceramic Desktop Toad (2015) by Peter Wächtler, wartedly lounging with a football – a tchotchke whose blank hideousness is nonetheless not discomforting. Behind hang three equally tasteless paintings by Chris Bloor and Nathaniel Mellors; in Orange with New Teeth & Hearing (2015–16), actual (human?) teeth embellish the smile of an orange dinosaur; the materials list reads like a spell or
a traffic accident: ‘Jesmonite, oil and teeth on canvas.’
Such adolescence may be appropriate escapism from a grown-up world gone patently insane. Behind glass in the next gallery are a row of Abu Bakarr Mansaray’s graphite drawings for batshit, anthropomorphic machines, such as the ‘African Witch Aircraft’, or something called, in the euphemistic language of spam, the ‘Pipe Recharger’, which ‘enlarges dick and also recharges dick 3 times in a row'. Featuring cartoonish microchips, a scorpion-tail phallus and a daisy chain of AA batteries, it’s a diagram with only a superstitious grasp of electronics, let alone physiology.
Elsewhere, when it takes the paradox of Fabricius’s theme too literally, this juvenilia finds its most grating expression. Such is the case with Mellors’s Reliquary Reliquary (Degenerate Cycle) (2016), an irreverent reimagining of a Paul Thek vitrine that involves a styrofoam Neanderthal bust and drinking straws. It is all the more eviscerating, then, when a work pierces the madcap professorial tone and lands a blow. The stop-animated video Untitled (crutches) (2013) by Wächtler, shows a rodentlike wire creature shuffling on a pair of matchstick crutches in a deranged, wounded loop. Titles running along the top edge caption a grandfatherly rant, intercut with phonetic dirges, about the traumas of the Korean War – in its abortive simplicity, one of the least comprehensible of America’s declared 'interventions'.
The Museet for Samtidskunst is housed in an 18th-century royal palace. Now part kunsthal, part bishop’s residence, the building has seen better days. The chalky walls and scuffed parquet floors heighten the doom of the darkened upper galleries. There, an occultish ring of wooden crosses and hay bales serves as display and seating for several episodes of Mellors’s Ourhouse (2010–15), a discursive TV drama with a plot to match Fabricius’s hallucinated curation. The series follows an “eccentric family” as they wander a mothballed manor from one non sequitur to another. It’s Agniezska Polska’s dream-like Future Days (2013), however, that best phrases a dispersed sense of hope: the camera watches as dead-eyed and masked versions of a handful of 20th-century artists and thinkers – Thek and Lee Lozano among them – find themselves in purgatory on a twilit, temperate island. The beauty of the elegy cuts their horror when they witness, at film’s end, their former Earth rise in the sky, then fall into eclipse. Indeed, contemporary art is as good a place as any from which to watch our planet slide under the shadow of an unfamiliar world.