I sit værk har Jesper Dalgaard fusioneret Skovsnogens muldtoilet med den klassiske plakatsøjle
Dreams Materializedi - Rune Gade
“From now on, it can only get better. For we can do whatever we choose and we shall.”
So runs the title of Jesper Dalgaard’s exhibition held at Kunsthal Nord in January 2012. I was very taken with that title: “From now on, it can only get better. For we can do whatever we choose and we shall.” And for several reasons.
To begin with, the title opens something of a window into Jesper Dalgaard’s approach to his artistic practice. For his titles are never bluntly descriptive or denotative, his sculptures never given names such as ‘spaceship’ or ‘floating planet’ or ‘hanging sculpture’, despite the prevalence of this style of nomenclature. A typical instance: one of L. A. Ring’s famous paintings, from 1920, is entitled “Roskilde Inlet. Winter. Yellow and brown rushes in the foreground. View across the water near the village of Veddelev”. Here the extended title is baldly descriptive of what can be seen in the painting. On hearing it, we can almost envisage the picture in our mind’s eye.
Not so with Jesper Dalgaard. His titles never recapitulate what his pieces present us with, but tend instead to offer thought-provoking narrative snapshots: brief episodes, fictional fragments or snatches of a storyline, which evoke glimpses of a wider underlying narrative. The title of the exhibition at Kunsthal Nord is a case in point: “From now on it can only get better. For we can do whatever we choose and we shall.”
The title immediately prompts the question of what can be better, who we are and what our choice of action might be, priming us to engage with the work on display.
Secondly, there is inherent in the title a species of optimism and a confidence in the future, which is surely called for at the present time – sorely needed, perhaps. In this regard, the title reaches far beyond Jesper Dalgaard’s works to make a point about art more generally. For even though it is no part of its aim to speak to art across the board, the title arguably provides us with an opportunity to gain a clearer awareness of the important role of art in society. More on this later.
“We can do whatever we choose and we shall.” This part of the title could well have stood as a motto for Jesper Dalgaard when he undertook to show at Kunsthal Nord. Its ample and austere exhibition spaces allowed him to realize his works on a very different scale from that of the models that he has often shown hitherto. And yet even Dalgaard’s smaller-scale sculptural and installational objects demand a Stakhanovite effort from the artist. The meticulously and laboriously intertwined or superimposed twigs and stubs that frequently constitute the fabric of his pieces are the result of exacting, time-consuming and unremitting effort. And when the pieces are scaled up, so too is the hard graft involved. The large structures on display at Kunsthal Nord are manifestly the result of tremendous tenacity and untiring application on the part of Dalgaard and his assistants. The pieces epitomize the motto’s assertion that “we can do whatever we choose and we shall.” The results spoke for themselves, leaving the viewer bowled over, captivated and soon engrossed in the universe that Dalgaard conjures.
The universe that we see unfurled when standing before (or within one of) Dalgaard’s pieces is a fascinating and curiously fantastical one; in many respects, it is a universe whole and entire unto itself. Not merely in figurative terms but also quite literally. For in their own highly distinctive way, Dalgaard’s works revolve around a future where humans are no longer confined to planet earth but have expanded to self-created worlds, small biotopes, that allow people to travel into outer space, perhaps even to distant galaxies. Tangibly and vividly, Dalgaard’s pieces conjure up the future in terms of what is quite literally science fiction: fictions centred on scientific and technological innovation. Strictly speaking, however, they approximate more closely to speculative fiction: a genre devoted to futuristic thought experiments and models.
In Dalgaard, these fictions are not only given life but are rendered in materials that have nothing particularly futuristic about them; on the contrary, they patently reflect present-day reality. Rather than visions of a smooth, streamlined, high-tech future, we find a curious collision between, on the one hand, unremarkable organic materials such as wood, grass and stone, and on the other, free-floating planets and modular spacecraft. And so while visionary in character, these pieces are unmistakably imbued with the friendly whiff of hobby glue. And herein lies a major part of the charm of Dalgaard’s works. They come across as left-field imaginative dreamscapes, which, for all their intergalactic ambitions, never actually leave planet earth; these pieces, undeniably way-out, are at the same time familiar, indeed, almost homely.
This brings me back to the optimism and confidence in the future that I took from the title of Dalgaard’s exhibition at Kunsthal Nord. “From now on, it can only get better. For we can do whatever we choose and we shall.” In the current global crisis, we know only too well that sheer determination alone does not suffice to turn things around. And yet the mindset reflected in the title has a good deal going for it. Not least, it reminds us that art has important and life-enriching perspectives to bring.
As Dalgaard’s exhibition, with its can-do, full-steam-ahead attitude despite the odds, nicely illustrates, art offers us new and stimulating ways of looking at the world. Viewing this show was like seeing a dream materialize before my eyes. And people need dreams. We need to believe that “from now on, it can only get better.” As I see it, art is eminently able to furnish us with hope, dreams and visions – to conjure novel and offbeat models for our perceptions and understandings of reality, ourselves and each other. For part of the genius of art is precisely its ability to transport us somewhere else.
i The text is a slightly edited version of the address I gave at the opening of Jesper Dalgaard’s exhibition “From now on, it can only get better. For we can do whatever we choose and we shall” at Kunsthal Nord in Aalborg on 20 January 2012.
I.B.S (Instant Building Systems)
Instant Building Systems. Bedre kendt som I.B.S. er et system af bygnings elementer. Udviklet til forskønnelse af den almene boligsektor. Det blev skabt af den meget idealistiske og venstre orienterede fraktion. Som helt klart betragtede I.B.S., som et boldværk mod de private spekulanters hærgen og lemfældige omgang med sikkerheds regulativer og æstetiske reglementer.
Foto: René Schmidt.