View of “Tue Greenfort,” 2014.

View of “Tue Greenfort,” 2014.

Tue Greenfort


View of “Tue Greenfort,” 2014.

Tue Greenfort’s latest exhibition, “Vis Vitalis,” comprised diverse materials—newspaper clippings, sculptures, C-prints, posters, videos—coordinated through a built-in exhibition architecture. From the outside, visitors first encountered a blown-up photograph showing demonstrators in violent clash with the police—a familiar image that immediately triggers an array of associations related to the manifold global uprisings of recent years. Chunks of melted plastic are attached to it; brand names, still legible, identify these lumps as yogurt cups. The iconic image, taken from the Internet, documents the so-called milk demonstration (also the title of the piece; all works 2014) in Brussels, on November 26, 2012, when European dairy farmers sprayed thousands of gallons of fresh milk at the European Parliament in protest against EU agricultural policies that were driving small farmers out of business.

Inside the main gallery, the walls were lined with newspaper clippings mounted on thirteen sheets of recycled metal, evoking the recurring theme of Greenfort’s work: the major ecological crises facing the world today. For instance, we learn that some thirty-seven gallons of water are needed to produce one cup of coffee. Indeed, the various lines of thought crossing through this installation were informed by the artist’s meditation on the rapidly and constantly growing demand for food and water in a world whose population has doubled in the past fifty years, and on the global consequences of this need on agriculture, food industry, climate, and nature. The focus here was on the use of fertilizers and on the challenges posed both by the increasing demand for food and by the protection of the environment. Artificial carbamide, urea, is a cheaper alternative to other nitrogen fertilizers. But instead of a didactic analysis of the effects of urea in agriculture, Greenfort emphasizes the aesthetic and autocreative qualities of that substance. The artist installed several fountain-like devices (UREA Crystal Fountain I–III), from which the fluid is pumped through a hose before crystalizing into white, treelike formations. Several C-prints (UREA I/XII–XII/XII) and a video, Microscope Urea Crystals Video, showed the transformation process of the substance under a microscope. The crystalline structures in brightest Technicolor have a strong sensory effect that counters the information value of the newspaper clippings, instead seducing with sheer beauty. Both the use of newspapers and the fascination with the ever-transforming beauty of chemical processes show Greenfort’s affinity with the work of Gustav Metzger.

Greenfort seems to play on the pre-Enlightenment “fascination with ideas and explanatory models circling around life and the life force itself,” as the press release says: “the doctrine, also known as vitalism, that there exists a certain force constituting life itself, a force that cannot be made or copied, a vis vitalis.” Here, vis vitalis expanded into the artificial world of industrial substance reproduction, as in this instance of urea’s use. On a vitrine-table that contained folders with more newspaper clippings, rye grains, and urea crystals, a small flat-screen monitor displayed a video compilation of found footage of commercials for urea fertilizing. Rather than guiding us through the maze of information laid out here, or attempting to provide answers to the pressing questions he’s raised, Greenfort invited us to draw our own conclusions and to rethink such exhausted terms as “the environment” in order to achieve a fundamental paradigm shift.

Eva Scharrer