Charlottenborg Exhibition Hall

According to Søren Andreasen and Jesper Rasmussen, the two artists who curated “fantom,” their group show scans the ambivalent and intoxicating terrain where fact meets fiction: “A phantom . . . is a product of the imagination that is experienced as real—and, conversely, a reality that is experienced as fantastic. In other words, a phantom abolishes the difference between imagination and reality and presents itself in their stead.” The exhibition “takes its point of departure in the circumstance that our culture is chiefly concerned with its own production. It is a culture that has itself as its own ideal, and which reproduces and circulates this ideal. A culture that through the constant repetition of itself finally ends up beyond any notion of ‘real’ or ‘fantastic.’”

Thus the sixteen artists in “fantom” set the beholder adrift among images and ideas, half-presences and trances. Fie Norsker portrays disenchantment and decay in her drawing River’s End #1, 2006, a scatological topography with excrement piling up around a hole in the ground that suggests an absent being or a passage to another—better?—place. Dan Perjovschi attacked the gallery walls with satirical observations, employing drawing to rope in phantoms for his Lobby, 2006. But what order of knowledge is the interpretation of phantoms that artistic imagination bodies forth: another level of the trance, a peek behind the scenes of spectacle society, or a profane illumination? Henry VIII’s Wives proceed through collective improvisation. The title of their piece, Blue Whale, Red Whale, Yellow Whale, 2006, refers to a rudimentary whale skeleton made out of lath and adorned with glass paintings of current world events, set amidst an invasive construction made using discarded stage sets from a Danish production of West Side Story, along with two double-channel video works using dialogues created from bits of conversation collected by the artists, a collage text bringing together different voices, subjects, and locations in a surreal makeover of reality that touches on the stuff that myth is made of.

Phantoms may be unreal but they are nevertheless insistent. The works that most successfully communicated the theme all shared a kind of monstrous power of raw materiality and fragmented vision, whereas more downbeat works tended to fade in this context. The monstrous surfaced, for instance, in Ibon Aranberri’s Gaur Egun (This Is CNN), 2002, an ominous, roughshod copy, made from memory, of an abstract sculpture hanging in the Basque parliament. Simon Dybbroe Møller conjures up correspondences between non-related events in works like his Occurrence #1, 2004, which includes a manipulated newspaper with a coffee stain in the shape of Lee Harvey Oswald’s silhouette. Katya Sander’s Capital Failure, 2006, is a meditation (by way of stickers, photographs, and photocopies) on the monetary system—the fattest phantom of them all. The exhibition’s historical counterpoint is a remake of two “architectons” from 1927, Kasimir Malevich’s delirious vision for a spiritual world order. When it comes to articulating the meeting between built and mental space, though, Monika Sosnowska’s labyrinthine The Corridor, 2001/2006, seems a bit bland in its monumentality. But in general “fantom” is as succinctly installed as it is conceived. The curatorial statement in the catalogue—consisting of two picture essays and a short text—is as much an artwork as the pieces in the show. There are lots of ideas zinging around here. When the economy is booming, as it is in Europe at the moment, art institutions sometimes find vacuous relief in the self-evident status that the art market tends to lend to consumable ideas. It is commendable that Charlottenborg has avoided such complacency and empowered two independent curators to develop an ambitious show that presents an experimental take on globalized culture.

Lars Bang Larsen