Postcard from Copenhagen

The dual sides to the city’s Cph Art Week

In Copenhagen the torso of a woman washed up on the beach last week. Everyone is talking about it. Police have confirmed the body to be that of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, suspected to have died on a homemade submarine belonging to Danish inventor Peter Madsen, whom she was writing a feature on. Above, a helicopter has been constantly circling the Nørrebro district, alert to an ongoing gang war. Nastío Mosquito, appointed artist of the city for this year’s Cph Art Week, said he is surprised by the Danes. ‘They are more chill than I expected,’ he told me, ’Denmark is like the Italy of the north.’ Although Copenhagen is a city best known for stopping traffic to let a family of ducks cross the street, these days there is something Neapolitan to the Danish capital.

Nástio Mosquito, Nástia’s Manifesto, 2008, video still. Courtesy: the artist

Nástio Mosquito, Nástia’s Manifesto, 2008, video still. Courtesy: the artist

Nástio Mosquito, Nástia’s Manifesto, 2008, video still. Courtesy: the artist

‘Love yourself (and yes that includes masturbation)’. This is one of the directives of Nástia’s Manifesto (2008) a video work by Mosquito that I first encounter while using the toilet at a hip bar. ‘Repeat yourself’, he also advises, but with the amendment: ‘Shut the fuck up’. His rhetoric builds the expectation of a radical politics, which, through poetic dexterity and playful quasi-commercial graphics, is simultaneously undermined and inflated. There is no argument here, except one against coherence, but, nonetheless, a confrontation with authority: a clenched fist.

Works such as Mosquito’s dot public and semi-public spaces in the city throughout the duration of the Cph Art Week. The last weekend of August sees the star-studded annual literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, and on the first weekend of September the city hosts two concurrent art fairs. Whereas the former will be a Politiken Plus event – the club for subscribers of the Danish Guardian-equivalent newspaper, Politiken – the fairs are expected to attract international collectors and art professionals. Cph Art Week is an umbrella organization that bridges the gap between the two events, both temporally and demographically: presenting art to a wider audience, and giving non-commercial spaces a centralized structure through which to join in on the fun.

tyler_1_600.jpg

Tyler Matthew Oyer, CALLING ALL DIVAS, 2015-ongoing, included in ‘Inside Me with Incredible Intensity’, 2017, Vermilion Sands, Copenhagen. Courtesy: the artist and Vermilion Sands, Copenhagen

Tyler Matthew Oyer, CALLING ALL DIVAS, 2015-ongoing, included in ‘Inside Me with Incredible Intensity’, 2017, Vermilion Sands, Copenhagen. Courtesy: the artist and Vermilion Sands, Copenhagen

Vermilion Sands is one of a dozen or so ambitious project spaces on Cph Art Week’s map. The Politiken Plus member is not exactly who they had in mind as the audience for their exhibition, one of the curators, Malene Dam, tells me, in anticipation of a tour group’s visit. She testifies to an art scene that is often somewhat inward-looking, in part due to funding structures designed to promote Danish art. Their current show ‘Inside Me With Incredible Intensity’ speaks rather to the power of influence and artistic kinship across borders. The small space is crowded with the spirits of queer icons of the past such as Kathy Acker, David Wojnarowicz and Robert Mapplethorpe as evoked by Tyler Matthew Oyer and Martin Jacob Nielsen. Los Angeles-based Oyer is separated from some of these figures only by a few degrees – some for him were mentors, teachers or friends – while in Nielsen’s case they are summoned from a place with no such community or history to speak of. This meeting is both a generative and a moving one, recalling Eve Sedgwick’s reparative reading of the concept of ‘camp’: an attempt to assemble nurture out of a realistic fear that the surrounding culture will not provide it. 

tal_r_-_2016_-_spiegel.jpg

Tal R, Spiegel, 2016, included in ‘Academy of Tal R’, 2017, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen. Courtesy: Niels Borch Jensen Gallery and Editions, Berlin

Tal R, Spiegel, 2016, included in ‘Academy of Tal R’, 2017, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen. Courtesy: Niels Borch Jensen Gallery and Editions, Berlin

Louisiana is crowded as well, but hardly camp in any of its senses. ‘We are somewhat provincial here in Denmark’, the journalist Carsten Jensen tells Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, with reference to the overdue translation of her work into Danish, while also echoing the prominent local understanding of Denmark as at once the peak of civilization – for those who believe the World Happiness Index – and a rural outpost. This condition appears to have bred an anxiety of curation: in a compensatory frenzy it seems some are trying to include everything. Marina Abramović and Tal R, the two exhibitions currently on display at Louisiana, are quite disparate, but share in an over-hung claustrophobia. The same goes for the smörgåsbord of the literature festival, attracting crowds far beyond what the museum can accommodate. ‘I’m all alone with my notebook, my cunt and my thoughts,’ American poet Eileen Myles reads to a packed tent – some of whom have rushed over from Chris Kraus or are already saving seats for Siri Hustvedt. It seems ironic that in the perfect modernist surroundings of this seaside museum anyone should need a reminder that sometimes less is more.

As it happens, Denmark has rarely been very far from the heat of historical action. This year, the Royal Library is host to the largest of several exhibitions marking the centennial of the sale of the country’s Caribbean colonies to the United States. Organized around the library’s archive from those colonies, ‘Blind Spots’ problematizes the notion that the past is over through the interference of contemporary art works. St. Croix artist La Vaughn Belle, for instance, assembles fragments of the blue-patterned Danish porcelain that still emerges from the soil after heavy rainfall, while, in her video Looking for Donkeys (2009), the Danish artist Nanna Debois Buhl visits the donkeys brought to St. John by the Danes to work, now lingering aimlessly as ghostly avatars of the colonisers. In the context of serene watercolour landscapes and auratic family photographs from the archive, these works underscore that presence and absence is really a matter of choosing which history to see.

Photograph of street in Christiansted, St Croix, from ‘Blind spots: Images of the Danish West Indies colony’ exhibition at The Black Diamond, Copenhagen, 2017-2018. Courtesy: Cph Art Week

Photograph of street in Christiansted, St Croix, from ‘Blind spots: Images of the Danish West Indies colony’ exhibition at The Black Diamond, Copenhagen, 2017-2018. Courtesy: Cph Art Week

Photograph of street in Christiansted, St Croix, from ‘Blind spots: Images of the Danish West Indies colony’, The Black Diamond, Copenhagen, 2017-18. Courtesy: the Royal Library, Copenhagen

Likewise, the voices of war are usually not audible at art festivals. But there is Peter Voss-Knude, barefoot at Denmark’s National Gallery with his band Peter & The Danish Defence. ‘I love a man when he’s next to me,’ he sings in jazzy pop vocals, ‘when he’s got more scars than me.’ This music-and-art project, which culminated in an exhibition at the Overgaden Institute of Art this summer, is the result of two years of fieldwork, during which Voss-Knude collected stories from Danish soldiers once stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The voice that sings is neither him, nor the soldiers, but an amalgamation of the two, Voss-Knude tells me when we meet up in a Nørrebro bar. It’s an odd couple: a gay, military- and masculinity-critical artist and young army recruits, but somehow they sing in harmony. The chopper still sounds above us, but, at this point, that too has become less incongruent with this fairytale city.  

Cph Art Week runs 24 August – 3 September, 2017.

Main image: Marina Abramović, Stromboli n°III-Volcano, 2002. Courtesy: Marina Abramović, the Marina Abramović Archives; photograph: Paolo Canevari

Kristian Vistrup Madsen is an arts and culture writer based in Berlin, Germany.

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018