Rotterdam

Tue Greenfort

Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art

Producing a 1.5-liter PET plastic bottle wastes twice as much water as the bottle will hold. That’s the kind of fact you learn through the work of Berlin-based Danish artist Tue Greenfort, who is fascinated by the absurdities of our everyday ways of production and consumption, as well as by the smallest wonders of nature. But “learn” might give the wrong idea; Greenfort’s works aren’t didactic, finger-pointing lessons in ecologically correct behavior. Rather, his art is a smart, at times minimal but always playful and poetic investigation of how cultural and natural behaviors coexist and interact. Partitur einer Fliege (A Fly’s Composition), 2004, for instance—a suite of ten photographs—portrays a fly leaving its footprints on a steamy window, turning it into a kind of drawing or musical score.

Greenfort’s first major solo survey mixed existing and new work, the latter coming out of a monthlong stay in Rotterdam, where the artist examined the city’s peculiar neighborhoods of cultivated nature—largely defined by its seaport, Europe’s biggest, and its vast horticultural landscapes of greenhouses. Herbarium of Origins, 2006, is a gathering of natural immigrants, both legal and illegal: A cabinet holds drawers filled with pressed specimens of expatriate plant species borrowed from the city’s Natural History Museum, exotics that arrived and settled in Rotterdam via seeds that came along with foreign ships. Smiley stickers from imported fruits were neatly glued around the wall in a beautifully understated installation. The juxtaposition of dead, scientifically labeled plants and plastic fruit labels amounts to a sort of ethnographical exhibition within a Pop art show, but presented with minimal means. In another room, set up like a greenhouse, bumblebees busily traveled between the boxes in which they are sold for agricultural pollination and a flower arrangement of the sort typically found at Rotterdam’s street crossings. One wondered if the bees would keep the artificial, transplanted piece of landscape alive (perhaps turning it into wilderness)—or vice versa.

Greenfort translates appropriation strategies, from the recycling of material to the adoption of ideas—his own and others. The redone Chaudfontaine Condensation Cube—after Hans Haacke, 2006, adds an ecological twist to Haacke’s iconic early process work. Instead of allowing regular water to evaporate or condense depending on temperature changes, Greenfort uses “the queen of table waters,” sold by the Coca-Cola Company. For Water Cooler, 2006—also a reconfiguration of an earlier work—the artist taps into the museum’s water supply and brings it from the basement up to the second floor, where it is cooled by frozen boxes of concentrated fruit juice and provided free to visitors.

Another site-specific yet immaterial work is From Gray to Green, 2006. Greenfort tried to arrange for Witte de With to switch from regular to environmentally friendly “green” electricity. The only outcome of this project so far has been a bunch of e-mails, which were hanging in an otherwise empty room, documenting the back-and-forth between the museum and the electricity company ENECO. But, as we learn, even the best will finds its limits when faced with a fixed contract. So Greenfort’s eco-switch has to wait until at least January 2007, when the contract expires and the project can be realized as a sort of coda to the show, dipping forthcoming exhibitions into “green” light, and in the meantime showing how difficult it really is to make the switch from gray to green.

Eva Scharrer