Nils Stærk / Mellemrummet & Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, Denmark
There was a mature simplicity to Lea Porsager’s intervention at Nils Stærk’s project space, Mellemrummet. In ATU XI ‘LUST’ (all works 2015), 11 supporting struts spanned the length of the gallery, tilted at various angles. Porsager’s heavy-duty braces belied their weight, seeming to float effortlessly, hovering one above the next. They elegantly demarcated wedges of air, interrupting space rather than reinforcing it. Then again, their presence in the gallery was surely self-reinforcing, drawing attention to the room’s peripheries, to Porsager’s structural intervention and to our body’s infringement upon it.
Porsager’s bracing was just for show; it bore no weight. Being structurally redundant, it allowed my mind to freely associate. The scene from Star Wars (1977), in which the walls of a garbage compactor begin to close in and the characters trapped within must frantically use poles fished from the detritus to stop it, played out in my head. ATU XI ‘LUST’, however, was devoid of any such urgency. It was graceful, serene and exquisitely installed. Its form recalled cat’s cradle, the old-fashioned game where children wrap yarn around their fingers. I’ve no idea if Porsager welcomes these kinds of associations, but her work’s openness, in this instance at least, seemed to be an invitation to daydream.
Across the river, another, more comprehensive body of Porsager’s recent work, ‘SPIN’, ran concurrently at Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art. This show, however, was patchier. A strong installation piece, Sigil (#H), similar in spirit to ATU XI ‘LUST’, was split between two rooms, featuring six super-sized steel joists, resting on the floor in two separate configurations, like ‘A’s. There was something satisfying about the size, weight and physicality of these symbols. The accompanying map revealed that the layout of the show took the form of a distended ‘H’ – a nice touch. Porsager’s Daybeds (#MasturbatoryPowertools) – two plastic-covered white benches – were brilliantly suggestive in name and feel, with a lubricious finish, presumably for easy cleaning.
But when Porsager moved away from large-scale installations, things began to feel stretched. Her two film works, designed to be viewed with 3D glasses while sitting on Daybeds, were filled with hashtags, crude wordplay and knowing irony. In the conspicuously titled Telepurrtation (#Merkel #Bohr #Besant #Blavatsky), a soundtrack of feline purring and hushed pseudo pre- or post-coital conversation meandered over its computer-generated imagery. Two voices spoke from within the tentacled creature pictured, in a fantasy world of pre-birth. But the result was less hypnotic than distracting and self-conscious.
The formal simplicity of Porsager’s large-scale installations is difficult to reconcile with her elaborate film pieces and her prescriptive, and largely nonsensical, supporting texts. Throughout the show at Overgaden, I constantly had to refer to the gallery text, which explained that all of the artist’s works are based on complex connections, cryptic signs and unfathomable meanings. The films, for example, touch on ‘the obscure coming into being of quantum physics’. But this was not evident from the works alone. Porsager’s research, though clearly extensive, isn’t fully manifested in her finished pieces.
The artist is at her best when she holds back. Her ambitious and sophisticated fabrication of signs and systems, in a bid to induce and catch hold of emerging thought, ultimately falls short. The plethora of esoteric and intellectually demanding practices (everything from animism to Taoism) that she claims her work is rooted in is intriguing as long as it doesn’t hinder our access to it, or take possession of the work’s visual or experiential effect. If Porsager can relinquish control of her work’s reception, allowing it a life beyond her research methods and her esoteric references, so much the better.
First published in Issue 173