by Sukanya GargMay 25, 2020
After their showing at Art Basel, the Danish trio - Jakob Fenger, Bjørnstjerne Christiansen and Rasmus Nielsen, who go by the artist collective SUPERFLEX – has taken over the underground exhibition rooms at Cisternerne, the former water reservoir under the Søndermarken, opposite Frederiksberg Castle. Over the years it has become a unique exhibition venue in Copenhagen. Deep beneath the green grass of the Søndermarken on Frederiksberg, huge underground spaces are hidden where daylight never reaches. Here, the darkness, the cold, and the moisture envelop the viewer in a world reminiscent of both forgotten cathedrals and gloomy catacombs.
To make their statement about climate change, SUPERFLEX flooded these ‘catacombs’ with knee-deep water. An eerie blue light reveals the pathways as the words It is not the end of the world spring to life in a neat type-face of fluorescent neon light, which is also reflected in the water as a kind of prophetic warning.
“We have created a surreal scenario, where climate change has altered society significantly. Humanity has come to an end and only the flooded remains are left,” write SUPERFLEX in their artist statement.
There was a time when fluorescent neon light meant smoky after-hour bars and seedy strip-clubs, but artists like Dan Flavin and Jenny Holzer have elevated it to high art and used it to make strong political statements through their artwork. SUPERFLEX has taken the idea of fluorescent neon light to the dark side and made a statement that is chilling, and yet strangely reassuring: “The planet will continue without us”. The LED light sign installation is reminiscent of a commercial or informational billboard. The phrase proposes a different and more optimistic narrative and our role in – or absence from – the future development of our planet.
The trio has used light in a manner that reveals only certain aspects of the labyrinthine Cisternerne, where it acts like a metaphor for that which is only partially visible. “During our short stay we have managed to create a footprint on the entire ecosystem comparable to that of major natural disasters. A dystopian future seems to approach, at least for us humans. But it is possible to redefine the end of human life as a new beginning,” write SUPERFLEX in a press statement.
SUPERFLEX was founded in 1993, and over the years the collective has evolved as a diverse and complex practice that challenges the role of an artist in contemporary society and explores the nature of globalisation and systems of power. SUPERFLEX describes their artworks as ‘tools’ - thereby suggesting multiple areas of application and use. They work with a wide range of projects - from large-scale public artworks, long-term research projects, group and solo exhibitions to the production of film, paintings and sculptures.
The projects take place both in and out of Denmark. Their office in Copenhagen is in keeping with their dark and probing statements since they have tempered the bright yellow façade of the building with black sooty marks to give it the feel of an abandoned burned-out building. This studio-space is an open-ended structure that invites interns and collaborators, where they examine and reflect upon the process of production, the economic forces around it, the ideas of democratic production conditions and self-organisation.
As a result of making work that pushes the envelope, SUPERFLEX has been subjected to legal disputes, as well as suffered prohibition orders and police raids, relating to their artistic use of commercial signs and symbols. However, the restrictions on their work sometimes led to unexpectedly interesting results and SUPERFLEX then began to explore the productive potential of prohibition and conceived a series of projects structured to impose regulations on others.
Most of their works are not traditional art exhibitions and white-cube projects, rather they create a ‘scenario’ where you will be able to experience the exhibition though all of one’s body. It is not the end of the world is one such project and the Cisternerne ‘encourages’ viewer to bring their own rubber boots for walking through the water, otherwise, one can borrow some from the museum, as the water might be as chilling as the message!