Morten Viskum’s solo exhibition
TCG Nordica is going to present well known Norwegian artist Morten Viskum’s solo exhibition on 1 of Nov.
Space: TCG Nordica, Kunming, China
Exhibition duration: 2008/11/1–11/22
Sponsored by Norway Ministry of foreign affairs
The artist, Morten Viskum was born in Helsingør in 1965. He lives and works in Vestfossen in Norway. In 1993 he interrupted his veterinary studies after six years when he was accepted to The Academy of Fine Art in Oslo. In 1995 he headlined the news for the first time when he performed his “Rat/olive”-project. During two days he exchanged bottled olives with rat babies and placed them back on the shelves in 20 different supermarkets in five major cities. Soon speculations of sabotage were made, and the story was first page news for several days. The young artist was threatened with a lawsuit by the international industrial giant S&W, who produced and sold the bottled olives. This art stunt which soon was given the name the “rat/olive”-project, firmly placed Morten Viskum on the contemporary art scene. And since then he has been considered to be one of the most provocative contemporary artist in Norway. After finishing his art education in 1997, Viskum has been represented in different national and international exhibitions.
The installation “Remains from heaven” from 1993-97 was made for the final exhibition at The Art Academy in 1997. This installation consisted of 658 small objects that were collected from each day he went to the academy. All these objects are exposed on four shelves that are mounted in a square so the beholder is able to walk around it. Each object has a number, that is written with a label machine on the shelf. It displays animal-food on cans, mice on formaline, pharmaceutical products, notes etc. It is not displayed in an aesthetic manner, rather in a systematic and a completely rational manner, almost like products in a historic museum, like an archive or a diary of the artists days during this period. The references go to artists like Ilya Kabakov, but this is most definitely Morten Viskums own universe at display. The title refers to what the young artist though to be the happiest period of his life, so far. It exposes a humoristic view of a young artist who believes in himself and who also poke fun at the romantic view on artists.
The artist expresses his art through installations, performances, photography and painting. He also gained international and national attention when he established Vestfossen Kunslaboratorium (Vestfossen Art Laboratory) in 2003, an art hall that has become one of the most significant scene for international contemporary art in Norway.
«Love from God» is a photography of a newborn rat crucified on a richly ornamented symbolic cross. The title refers to a Norwegian hymn, wich was sung in a funeral of a close relative to Viskum. With a background as a veterinarian, we can imagin that Morten Viskum has seen thousands of rats die in the name of science. All sacrifice has its victims. When the artis uses one of the strongest symbols in our culture, the crusifixion of Christ who died for our sins, many Christians will experience this act of a crucified rat as blasphemy. But is it? This work raises many ethical question. Is it right to sacrifice one being to save another? And for what causes can it be tolerated? Medical reserch of all kinds? Who has to die for our sins this time?
Viskums art is a counterbalance to the visual, delicate and ironic art of the 90 ́s. His “straight in your face” approach makes his aestethics brutally honest. Through his art we are reminded constantly of that we all share the same destiny, we are all going to die, no one gets out of this alive!
Viskum was front page news again in Norwegian newspapers when he used a human hand that was removed from a corps, as a paintbrush in works called “The hand that never stopped painting”. The means are often strong and often satisfies the media’s definition of sensation. But the dramatic art of Viskum also reveals a deeper meaning, often found on the borderline between life and death, often rising ethical questions. It is difficult for the beholder to remain passive and not become engaged when meeting Morten Viskum ́s art.
«The hand that never stopped painting» is the title on the first paintings Morten Viskum painted with the dead hand. They where first shown at Galleri Christian Dam, Copenhagen 1999. The hand was placed in a metal box with a lid, so the viewers decided for themselves if they wanted to see it or not. Not surprisingly, the exhibition created a lot of attention, and the hand was in fact stolen. The Copenhagen police didn’t know what to do with the somewhat curious stolen object. The hand eventually found its way back to the rightful owner. Later the hand has been a significant part of many of Morten Viskums art projects. The characteristic pattern made by the hand is easily recognisable in form of short abrupt lines, applied vertically, in many layers and in many colours that gives a feeling of rhythm to the painting. Later the hand has also been used applying blood (animal) in scattered vertical lines.
By using a hand from a dead person as a paintbrush, Viskum draws attention towards the work process. By this approach the art appears performative, more as an action, and not as much as an object related material presence. The work that Viskum creates with the dead hand appears conceptual, where the idea behind the objects comes ahead of the finished painting.
Viskum can therefore be said to have a conceptual approach. When discussing the paintings titled “The hand that never stopped painting” it is natural to mention other conceptual artists like Yves Klein (b. 1928) and his “Antorpometries” from the sixties. He used nude female models as “ living brushes” (a term used by the artist) in his paintings. Still the imprints of the female models gives a totally different association to the beholder than the work done by Viskums dead hand.
It is no escaping that Morten Viskum challenges our awe and respect of death, and many will feel provoked and shocked by the artists’ direct interaction and attitude towards death. A respectful and ethically acceptable way of treating dead human beings and their remains, is deeply rooted in most cultures. When the artist challenges our moral and attitude towards death, many will find themselves both shocked and provoked. The art of Morten Viskum often questions our moral and ethical limits. No one can accuse his work in “The hand that never stopped painting” to be conventional and politically correct art. Who the hand belonged to initially, is on of Viskums well kept secrets.
Morten Viskum works on different bodies of work concurrently. The last few of years he has been working on a project where he once year on the day of his birth travels to Paris to make a copy of himself in silicone, at one of the worlds best silicone-doll makers. Each year a new version of Morten Viskum is made. He has been depicted as a scientist, a priest, Christ, Son of Abdullah and this year as a body builder. The sculptures are each year a part of an annual installation where the figures are presented in a related context.
Another of these bodies of work is the «Monogram» series. The artist has announced that he plans to make twelve works. All the «Monogram» works hava reference to the American artist Robert Rauschenberg ́s well known work «Monogram» (1959). This is one of the most influential works from the 21. Century’s art history, and one of the artists first «combines». Robert Rauschenberg shows in this piece a radical juxtaposition of objects, a stuffed angora goat, a tyre, the heal from a shoe, a tennis ball and paint. This combination of objects and paint, can be said to be the core of Robert Rauschenberg ́s work. Rauschenberg ́s «Monogram» is in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm (Sweden), and is one of the museum’s main attractions.
«Monogram I»A stuffed musk from the mountains of Dovre in Norway is placed on a painted board, standing with its hind legs in a trailer-tire. The references to Rauschenbergs “Monogram” is obvious. It was considered one of the most barbarous work of art history ever made. Allegorically it was said very well by the art historian Jerry Saltz; “Rauschenberg was a bull in the china shop of art history, a satyre squeezing through the eye of an aestethic/erotic needle”. In early Christian art the goat was a symbol of the damned, and this was probably what Rauschenberg felt like as an artist and a bisexual, at the time. Viskum ́s work is a homage to Rauschenberg and can be characterized to be a large, more masculine version of Rauschenberg’s angora goat.
«Monogram II»A stork is standing tall on a pyramide of tires. It is looking down at the beholder almost in a threatening manner. The image of a stork with an infant wrapped in a sling held in its beak, is a common picture in western popular culture. The stork is a symbol of childbirth. This was used as a common and tactic explanation to children to avoid a discussion about sex. When the child asked «where do I come from?», the parents answered «from the Stork». Despite this, it looks like the stork in Morten Viskums work is behaving very unthypically for a stork. As a wader, it is a strange place for the stork to make a rest on the top of the tires. It looks rather as if it is set on another mission than carrying children.
«Monogram III»A little angora billy goat is resting peacefully on the painted board in «Monogram III». The similarity of a lamb is striking. The lamb has strong connotations in western history as Agnos dei, lamb of God. Often used as a representation of Christ who was sacrificed for our sins. The lamb signifies purity, but since this is an angora billy goat the horns are soon to grow out, and the innocence are soon to be damned. But still it is untouched and unaware of this and of the rubber tire laying behind its back.
«Monogram IV»This work was made in 2008. It consists of a stuffed reindeer with lots of tires of different sizes placed on the antlers. A reindeer is an important national symbol in Norway, beeing the main resource for the native population of the north of Norway, the Sami people. Reindeers are known for managing the extreme cold and the deep snow in the north. They live in heards and differ from the rest of the deer family because both the male and the female have magnificent antlers.
«Monogram V»A Norwegian brown bear stands on two legs like a human beeing. The fur is fluffy and it has a rubber ring around its stomach. The frightening bear, the beast of prey look almost humoristic in Morten Viskums work. It is standing in a pose like a lost child with a swimming ring around its belly.
«Monogram XI»This work consists of 82 young billy goats wich are made of fibre glass. They stand, climbes and lay on a pile of 1000 car tires. The number 82 refers to every year Robert Rauschenberg lived. He died at the age og 82 on the 12th of May 2008.
All the animals in the «Monogram» series are placed on a painted board, the ryhtmical and neatly executed strokes are all applied with the dead human hand that never stopped painting.
Lill Carin Jacobsen