Jakob Jakobsen and Henriette Heise

Copenhagen Free University

There’s a new college in town. Copenhagen Free University, which emerged from the art world over the last few years, doesn’t matriculate students but instead engages a range of critical communities. Initiated by artists Jakob Jakobsen and Henriette Heise, it is housed in a single room in their home. But its physical size belies the wealth of functions offered, which include a gallery (CFU is now showing the founders’ own ABZ, 2002/2003), a residency (a bunk bed strapped to the wall), and a bookshop (Barnes & Noble needn’t be afraid, but cognoscenti will find here what can’t be found elsewhere).

ABZ is a mosaic of quotations. Posters show key words adopted by CFU, by other artists who have shown in the space, and by kindred spirits such as the Danish Situationist Asger Jorn. Just as the sources are plural, the key words act on many levels as tools for countering the ways in which the breezy lingo of advertising and mass media talk through us. Terms as diverse as surplus, research, translucent concrete, and ski slope (“let’s open a ski slope between passion and logic”) make up an information bank that points to future activities. ABZ isn’t a coherent model, but rather a cloud of signification that indicates how knowledge is valorized in society and, at the same time, launches an attack on anxiety and ideological narrowness. It is a call for societal expenditure—protest, laziness—and for fellow travelers.

The key words are also painted in India ink on glass plates and shown as a slide show. The 3-D effect of the enlarged projected brushstrokes, with their splotches and air bubbles, turns the words into black candy cane. In their grainy minimalism they look at once like slogans sprayed on a wall and like something at the bottom of a petri dish. In its montage form, ABZ articulates a community formed by the meeting of many individual desires. This is an important emphasis in the context of northern European forms of twentieth-century social engineering, with its state-guaranteed forms of collectivity. This is probably also why the key word madness was featured on the opening invitation, in the quote “The language of madness is the perpetual slipping over of words into acts, until the moment when the word is pure act.” But how mad a project is the CFU, really? It could be argued that the decision to activate institutional valorization is the outcome of a quite rational inference that we and our society are wrongly “programmed,” that we need to confront the mess we’re in. In a sense, this contradiction is the very basis of the project, inherent in the desire to institutionalize liberating social models. When madness and rationality exchange, surely there is energy to be derived from all the unaccounted signifying.

Postindustrial work itself has become an aesthetic project as defined by a rhetoric of self-realization and creativity. What happens to art when work itself becomes an aesthetic fantasy? CFU can be seen as an offshoot of the diverse practices that have come to be known as institutional critique. As such, it is a productive step to turn institutional critique’s familiar discourse of opposition and marginalization topsy-turvy and develop its logic into that of a proper host body, an institutional mother ship.

Lars Bang Larsen