February 1, 2012
There’s a chance that you have relieved yourself in an artwork by the Danish collective Superflex. That would be Power Toilet/ JPMorganChase, the exact replica of the megabank’s executive bathroom that the group permanently installed in a Greek diner on the Lower East Side, in New York City, as part of a Creative Time commission. This Conceptual lavatory bears the hallmarks of Superflex’s aesthetic—politically charged, humorous, and a bit absurd. For other works, they have flooded a hand-built McDonald’s, lit a car on fire, and orchestrated “Free Shop,” during which a customer’s purchases at various stores are unexpectedly gratis. Early 2012 is busy for this project juggling trio, composed of Rasmus Nielsen, Jakob Fenger, and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen (above, from left). They have an exhibition at 1301PE, in Los Angeles, through March 3, with another opening on March 1 at Peter Blum Gallery, in New York. And their piece Copy Light Factory will be part of “Print/Out,” opening at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, on February 19. This year also sees the debut of Superkilen, a park project in Copenhagen that Superflex spearheaded along with the Danish architecture firm BIG and the landscape architect Topotek1. The park features designcentric fixtures—such as bike racks and neon signs—from more than 50 nations.
Scott Indrisek spoke with Christiansen about Superflex’s immediate future.
SCOTT INDRISEK: Can we discuss the film screening at 1301PE and Peter Blum Gallery?
BJØRNSTJERNE CHRISTIANSEN: We’re showing Modern Times Forever, which is the longest film ever made—10 days—produced for a public project in Helsinki. It shows a very modernist, loaded, powerful building—the Stora Enso, designed by Alvar Aalto—that slowly decays over several thousand years. It’s about what happens to those power symbols—the architecture, the structures, the ideology.
SI: How did you determine how the materials of the Stora Enso would decay?
BC: There was a lot of research—talking to specialists who know about the materials and the conditions in Helsinki—and other specialist research on the effects of climate change. Then you make artistic decisions, because no one really knows what will happen in thousands of years. It’s speculative.
SI: How did you create the special effects?
BC: The Propeller Group—the team we’ve been involved with for the past four or five films—is doing the animation. It starts with photographic
material and architectural drawings, and then all the research is added to the technique of rendering it. An important element in the film is the handheld-camera effect, as if one person is viewing the entire process. It looks like the videos uploaded online by people who filmed the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse with their mobile phones or cameras.
SI: Would you ever redo the same idea with, say, a building in New York?
BC: I don’t think so, because this type of monumental architectural building is basically generic for the whole world. You have the same buildings in New York, in Denmark, and so on. It’s the modernist thinking about how to display power, a certain arrogance.
SI: So why use that building in particular?
BC: It’s one of the most important buildings in Helsinki, and people both hate it and love it. Many hate it because these buildings are placed where the company wants to show off power, in important squares and places in the city.
SI: What’s your personal opinion of it?
BC: I think it’s a fantastic, almost beautiful building, but it’s also ugly in a sense. It’s in a very central area—near the president’s palace and the most important Catholic church—an area that is dominated by these old, important institutions, and then there’s this modernist block in the middle of it.
SI: You also have a series entitled “Bankrupt Banks” at Peter Blum.
BC: They’re banners for bankrupt banks, a portrait of the financial crisis since 2007; a portrait of the banks and how they are used and traded in the spinning wheel of the financial system. It’s a reflection upon institutions that no longer exist; they’ve all been acquired by someone else.
SI: Is there a difficulty when you’re making work that’s about current events?
BC: Things don’t change that quickly. This specific process of the financial crisis, as we know it right now, has been happening since 2007. I don’t think it’s so difficult to make up-todate contemporary work or use contemporary issues because they all carry history with them. They don’t come out of the blue.
SI: At 1301PE, you have a series of photos that shows various stock exchanges in states of decay.
BC: They’re not all powerful icons like the stock exchange in New York—sometimes they are even difficult to find. There’s the stock exchange in Karachi, Pakistan, and elsewhere.
SI: Your Copy Light Factory will be part of “Print/Out” at moma. It produces a series of lamps whose exteriors are photocopied images of famous lamps from design history. Why is Superflex fascinated with this idea of the real versus the fake, or the copy versus the original?
BC: It’s not so much a fascination with the real and the fake, it’s more a confrontation with the intellectual-property system and the extent to
which it has developed during the past 100 years.
We’re critical of that. Recently, at the Van Abbemuseum, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, we made a project titled Free Sol LeWitt that’s about the way in which museums and others deal with works—in that case, public collections.
SI: What is Free Sol LeWitt?
BC: We worked with the collection of the Van Abbemuseum, which is an important one from the Minimalist and Conceptual art periods. We had a metal workshop there that reproduced one of LeWitt’s works in the collection from 1972, an aluminum structure. We copied that and distributed it to the public, an exact one-toone replica. People signed up, and then they received a certificate and this very, very large structure. We expected a confrontation, which also happened, but finally LeWitt’s estate accepted our work. Now it’s a case study for how one can deal with public collections. That is one problem we have. When a public collection acquires a work, with public money, there are
extreme restrictions on how the museum can deal with it. If they want to publish a catalogue containing a work that they have in a group show, they have to ask the artist’s estate if they are allowed to show something they own. The question then becomes: What is it that the
museum owns? The intellectual-property system has implemented so many regulations and filters that it limits the way that society can evolve. But you do not only need to be critical. You need to make models and examples to challenge this. That’s what we try to do.
SI: Let’s talk about the Superkilen park project.
BC: We have objects from all around the world representing 55 or 60 nationalities— streetlamps from London, an octopus slide from
Tokyo. It’s about creating stories and new experiences in the public realm. So if you sit on a bench, there’s a small placard on the ground that says, for example, “This bench is from a park in Tehran”—in both Persian and Danish. Superkilen is located in a highly dense area with diverse cultural, national, and ethnic backgrounds. We wanted to use that as a very big value for this area. America is one big mishmash of people from around the world— that’s more or less the concept of the country. But in Denmark, it’s quite a new phenomenon that, since the 1960s, we have so many different cultures. And that leads to tensions on a daily basis and is an easy target for both individuals and nationalist and populist parties to attack and use in trying to create a xenophobic society.
SI: From a design viewpoint, is there a harmony in the park? Or is it schizophrenic?
BC: Sometimes there’s harmony between some of the objects. Other times, there’s a clash. There are pines from way up north in Finland. Next, there’s a fountain from Morocco—a beautiful one made of ceramic tiles. Next to that there are palm trees from China. So it looks like something you could imagine seeing in a desert mirage.