ESSAY: WHY I WRITE CATALOGUE TEXT, SUPER, FRAC DES PAYS DE LA LOIRE, CARQUEFOU & IMAGES EN MANOEUVRES EDITIONS, MARSEILLE., P. 68 - 70, ISBN: 2-84995-071-8 CARQUEFOU, FRANCE
I’m going to give you a coming out party, at your house. It’s perfect. You can’t refuse. It’s my gift to you. It’s your fantasy. Fantasia, having a party is not my idea of a fantasy,
especially right now. The party isn’t the fantasy! I know what you’d like. It’s the fantasy you once told me about. Remember? I don’t remember telling you about it. What is it? What’s the fantasy?
(COME ON YOU SLAGS! APHEX TWIN)
2000, Oslo and Berlin. There comes a point in everyone’s life – normally at an early age – when you read something, see a film or hear a song that you find mind-blowing. It evokes a feeling that catches the contemporary spirit, spotlighting exactly what you are thinking about life. Viewing Jan Christensen’s first wall paintings, Optical Sound #1 and I Will Never Make It in 2000 made me want to become a writer instead of an artist. Jan made the type of work that I wanted to make. This essay is a personal journey through references and thoughts on Jan’s body of work so far.
1. At the documenta 7 in 1982 Lawrence Weiner’s text work: Many Colored Objects Placed Side by Side To Form A Row of Many Colored Objects was on display on the outer façade of the exhibition hall. The work reflects the tautological self-definition that art has to deal with: Art is what an institution, the system of art, declares to be Art. There are of course cases of doubt, where colorful objects are called ‘art’. At the same time Weiner’s sentence might sound like a critique of the d7 – a critique of all the colourful objects and paintings. One could read Weiner’s text as critiquing the historical consensus on painting. In any case, nothing could sum up Jan Christensen’s wall paintings more accurately than this (paraphrasing Weiner): many coloured layers form many layers of colour. No meaning needed – even though one might occur.
2. As a young, injured football player I often found myself stuck at night in front of the television set, searching for intelligent life. Late one night I found it, on MTV. Aphex Twin’s video Acoustic Window was brilliantly directed by Chris Cunningham. But it was Aphex Twin’s way of pushing the genres of IDM, techno, ambient, acid and drum and bass that blew my mind. When Jan was asked to curate his first show he asked Aphex Twin if he could use his video, photo and music material to make a solo show. This was the first time I saw a curator using his own personal visual aesthetic, mixed with that of the artist, to make a backdrop for a show. It worked, and the young art crowd, as well as those more into the music scene, praised it. I might be a coward – but once again Jan did first what I wanted to do – so I stopped thinking about how to curate shows in the ‘Artist as Curator’ sense of the word.
3. In some cases artists become widely recognised TV celebrities. However, not many viewers know their work in detail, even though it forms a large part of our visual surroundings. They use not only the techniques and ideas of the modern age (meaning philosophers such as Weber), but also Internet, the personal computer and software. The brush and the pencil are still there. But from the moment when Jackson Pollock detached himself from the canvas by not using a brush (as a brush) in his action paintings, thus creating a space between him and the work of art, he paved the way for a new understanding of the brush. It was no longer of great importance. It became once again just a tool. The idea of the brushstroke vanished. With the Minimalists and the Conceptual artists came the idea of the artist as a theorist, just as much as a visual image-maker. In many ways the artist died, or at least the understanding of him changed. Today we could claim that it is the visual heritage from the 1960s and 1970s, more than the philosophic heritage, that is used.
4. Lawrence Weiner is a romantic artist. So is Jan Christensen – or at least his titles are; those he did not know what to do with. How come you’re never around any more? (stolen from The Future Sound of London’s title The Galaxial Pharmaceutical) he asked in his stamp at the end of 2003. Two years later he declared that The fact that this is meaningless doesn’t mean that it can’t be art, in what is believed to be his first painting on canvas. He clearly comes from a graffiti writer tradition. He does large-format wall paintings, but studied ceramics in art school. His first group exhibition in Norway was in a design show, where he exhibited beautiful and meaningless ceramic sculptures that were, according to Jan, modified reproductions of different household plastic objects. Waste. But romantic.
5. In my opinion, Jan’s best work is one of the first made by the ‘Internationally focused Jan’, back in 2000. He shared my thoughts about living with and from art: I Will Never Make It. This was a painting that had to be adapted to the size of the wall and was not realised until three years later. When it was finalised, it earned him (and co-artist Øystein Aasan) the first prize of the annual (and populist) state exhibition of Norway, Høstutstillingen.
6. But the art world does not only produce art, it also produces expectations. In my opinion Jan Christensen came to a point, back in 2003, where he hardly produced anything other than rather boring architectural wall paintings that commented on the space they were displayed in. However, at the same time he curated the much more exciting Perfect Timeless Repetition at c/o - Atle Gerhardsen in Berlin. This was a show that traced some of Jan’s references from other artists and their interest in time and repetition. Expectations about producing a certain type of work can be a killer. And in some cases I believe that curating can be a good way out. Fnnnnnnnnff
7. I just hope that Jan does not start to write – because then I have to stop.