Mette Vangsgaard


fitness fitness

My approach to the collage as a media is eclectic and material fetish. I collect,
recycle and reconstruct new visual contexts and materials with a desire to bring new perspectives on what we surround ourselves with.  My work in Skovsnogen is a collage "transplanted" to the forest in the form of a large bill board. The work is about how we choose to spend our leisure time, and how the rooms we spend our free time in looks like; outside is the forest.

Min tilgang til collagen som medie er eklektisk og materiale fetichistisk. Jeg samler,
genbruger og rekonstruerer til nye visuelle sammenhænge, vender op og ned på
materialerne med et ønske om at fremkalde et nyt syn på det, vi omgiver os med. Jeg
bruger eksempelvis udklip fra forskellige tider, som transplanterer historie til en nutidig
kontekst. I Skovsnogen har jeg ”omplantet” en collage til skoven i form af en stor bill board man møder på sin vej gennem skoven. Værket handler om hvordan vi vælger at bruge vores fritid, og hvordan rummene ser ud som vi bruger vores fritid i; udenfor ligger skoven.

related projects



Text  Marie Jacobi

Translation Susan Dew

Perhaps there is something that we should have remembered, but have forgotten…
Mette Vangsgaard was originally a painter, and it shows both in her ceramic sculptures and in her collages, which feature painted passages alongside cuttings from a variety of magazines, record sleeves, wallpaper swatches, prints, photocopied elements and the like. In her collage/gouache combinations, she stretches the potentials of her materials to the limit, with her use of gouache ranging from the gauziest transparent brushstroke to the vibrant density of colour saturation. It is in her richest, most luscious strokes that we find the International Klein Blue that repeatedly provides a solid backdrop in her works, commandingly securing the otherwise unruly elements. The ultramarine swathe transfixes the gaze and mesmerizes – indeed, is almost therapeutically soothing.


The use of collage as a medium marks the artist out as an eclectic, who lifts elements from their customary contexts and places them in a new setting. Mette Vangsgaard collects, samples and recycles. Central to eclecticism is re-contextualization, with fresh juxtapositions being created, meanings displaced, and new ones emerging from the resulting collisions. Fragments drawn from disparate periods give rise to new synchronicities, producing historical echoes and parallels. Moreover, when studied at close quarters, the surfaces and structures clearly reveal that we are dealing with a materials fetishist. In one work, a triangular patchwork blanket wedges itself in to form a multi-wallpapered curtain. And through various windows our gaze meets appropriated elements, spanning high and low aesthetics – small folded garlands and impastoed surfaces. As an eclectic and materials fetishist, Vangsgaard is unflinching when it comes to the use of demotic materials: her pieces are composed of a whole raft of ugly ducklings. Clippings from the glossy magazines of popular culture appear cheek by jowl with low-resolution printouts of search engine results pages. A close look at the variegated surfaces reveals wallpaper elements with various varnishes and lacquered paper that resembles wood or marble: materials pretending to be what they are not. Vangsgaard displays a special interest in faux effects and curiosities. 

Her approach to the work is process-led. Improvisation is key. And this shows in the resulting pieces: there is a consistent unpredictability present. A surface isn’t merely a surface, plain and simple. Elements are added, sections cut away. Pasting on, lopping and shaping are the order of the day. Viewed from close to, the large monochrome fields can be seen to be composed of myriad daubs. Some of her works appear to be driven by subject matter rather than format in that they are elongated or enlarged by pieces of paper being stuck on. But nothing is done casually or by accident, for all that it might appear so at first glance.

Compositionally, Vangsgaard’s work is characterized by clearly defined spaces and perspectival rigour. Balance is achieved by letting the pictorially busy passages breathe through a large, simple foreground or sky. In some works, chaos rather than order seems to define the overall composition. And while in the panoramic works there is a marked degree of spontaneity and randomness, in the pieces that invite close inspection, a quiet draughtsmanship holds sway. Stylistically, two disparate idioms are in play – spontaneous sparks of inspiration and a tautly orchestrated rhetoric.
In terms of dimensions, Mette Vangsgaard’s spectrum ranges from miniature formats to vast expanses, and thematically, from sweeping landscapes and behemoth cityscapes to the intricate detail of small in-situ narratives.

Fragments of poetic narratives

The artist’s sculptural pieces offer us miniature narratives, which may be seen as reworked narrative segments drawn from her collages. Here we encounter a cross-section of the city’s inhabitants – the socially excluded as well as the usual stereotypes: junkies, despondent youth, fitness freak joggers, the sleeping man, the suicide, the ‘invisible’ homeless and street buskers.
With the clay pushed to its limits, the figures, in all their fragility, appear airy and ingeniously conceived – breaking with the heft and stolidity with which ceramics tends to be associated. And besides being airy, the sculptures have something of a lyrical presence. Both graceful, melancholy trees with long, weary arms and windswept palms have become recurring elements in Vangsgaard’s sculptural oeuvre. While the collages act as commentaries, the ceramic pieces are characterized by much greater specificity. They are poetic shards.
An inherent characteristic or limitation of ceramics is that once the clay has received its final impression, the glaze has been applied and the figure fired, the piece is finished and the process most often concluded. Nothing can be changed. But in Vangsgaard’s work, further elements are added. The process is still incomplete. So, for instance, slight ‘imperfections’ are visible in the work, which an additional layer of varnish remedies. Alternatively, further elements such as small coloured lanterns are added, or additional paint is applied. Ceramics as a medium and its intrinsic potentialities are challenged and stretched.
So too is the way in which they are presented. Plain regulation white podia are jettisoned in favour of strongly worked and painted plinths, often fashioned from mundane materials such as cardboard or pasteboard. These distinctive podia, which are 3D reworkings of the collage motifs, seem to be as integral to the pieces themselves as they are connecting links between them. They appear to be as intrinsic to what the pieces are about as are the sculptures they support.

One who sees

The 2011 series of works entitled “Sell Out” features ample windows that we, as viewers, gaze through. These large-scale collages, one measuring 150 x 250 cm, are framed by draped ‘stage’ curtains – which do more than determine our role as viewers. The framed window becomes a marker for the various social spheres in which we circulate by constituting the symbolic boundary and crossing point between the private and the public realm. Indeed, windows are recurring elements in Vangsgaard’s oeuvre. It is not difficult to follow the artist’s thinking here. We are familiar with the primal, deep-seated phenomenon that she addresses: human curiosity about other people’s lives. For what goes on behind those curtains – in the spaces that are our most private arenas? By the same token, however, if we are on the other side of the window looking out, we can simply draw down the blind if we catch sight of something we have no desire to see. Just as we use the remote to zap away from a fiction that is beginning to bore or a reality that is coming rather too close.

As an artist, Mette Vangsgaard is a voyeur, a French term, whose literal meaning is one who sees. This goes to the core of her work, for an observer is precisely what she is – and the object of her gaze is the individual in today’s world.
The year 2007 marked a watershed in Vangsgaard’s work. Previously, nature and our contemporary emotional response to it and use of it was an important focus in her work. While this theme persists in her ceramics, in the collages it has taken a step back, with a preoccupation with our cultural times taking centre stage.

In her most recent works from 2012, we see the natural realm yield to a newly built fitness centre, which like another Las Vegas, seems to have sprouted up in a natural wilderness, leaving barrenness all around. The sawn-down trees stand as silent witnesses. Again, the pieces referred to here – “Studying a Wellnesscenter” and “New Trends Can Be Seen Everywhere” – put human nature and its frequently peculiar proclivities under a species of anthropological lens. The lid has literally been lifted off the box so that we get a revealing glimpse of human activities and interaction in a social communal space where what goes on is both comical and yet taken very seriously. In this, perhaps mildly bizarre, space, there are people who genuinely have no wish to be observed by others and those who want nothing more than to be mirrored in another’s gaze. The desolate location speaks for itself. We are prepared to travel ‘far’ to get to the ‘nearest’ fitness centre to pursue our physical ideals and placate our ‘superegos’.
Cultural maps

While writing this essay, I stumbled over an article on the speed at which the world’s languages are becoming extinct. There exist today more than 6,000 different languages, but over the next century a language will die out every couple of weeks. A thought-provoking and disturbing trend, since a multiplicity of languages and dialects testifies to cultural and intellectual diversity. And it gives us a jolt to think of all ethnic groups gradually homogenizing – before ultimately falling silent.

And precisely this theme is addressed in a series of works from 2007. The title “Breughel’s City” offers a nod to the sixteenth century artist Pieter Breughel the Elder, famous, not least, for his pictorial treatment of a particular popular art-historical subject. According to the biblical account, the building of the Tower of Babel was achieved by a united humanity. God realized, however, that if humanity remained united, this tower would ultimately reach up to the sky and humankind would be capable of anything. To prevent this happening, God brought it about that the people of the world were no longer able to understand one another and consequently unable to communicate and work together collaboratively. In the aftermath, they dispersed to all corners of the Earth.

This account of the emergence of a multiplicity of races and languages forms, to a significant extent, the thematic starting point for Mette Vangsgaard’s current output. Her collages are typically focused around urban townscapes. Cartographer-style, she maps out towns that unfold like contemporary urban prospects or helicopter-type views. While the setting – be it cities, ghettoes, favelas, suburbs or seaside promenades – provides the context for the narrative, it is the town’s users that are in focus. As a result, the works become cultural maps.

These pieces share a common feature: their thematic focus is the individual in the modern world and the cultural codes and norms that we live by in our mutual interactions. Vangsgaard explores the environments and spaces in which we move and have our being, and how the ‘Chinese walls’ that mark physical and social distinctions affect us. She studies how we relate to one another as we crisscross cultural, ethnic and economic divides. The pieces are to a considerable extent about social coexistence and cultural diversity: plurality as well as homogeneity.

In recent years, her perspective has changed, with a stronger ethnographic focus emerging in her work. In the 2011 piece “Dreaming of Fortune”, we see a polarization of Western and non-Western culture. A series of cuttings with an ethnographic slant are lined up in the foreground, at the edge of a modern town. Three aureoled figures, much larger than their neighbours, stand out. They are armed, and there is something faintly threatening about the way they conduct themselves. But a slight mystique attaching to them gives them prominence and status. This piece reflects a truth about the world. We size each other up with a measure of reserve: distrust takes hold at national boundaries as well as over the privet hedge. This theme, and indeed the issue itself, is given further edge by the title – dreaming of fortune – which imbues the work with ambiguity and opens up a range of possible interpretations.  Who is doing the dreaming? And what precisely are riches – or, for that matter, happiness? We are prompted to decode the title and the piece as a confrontation between the developed and the underdeveloped world. But this reading might be turned on its head, with the words of the title referring instead to us, denizens of post-industrial societies – and the piece a reflection of our quest for the primordial.
There’s always a newsagent’s around the corner…

While the architectural facades with their structured windows may reveal a whole range of ways of life and personal styles, recognizability, familiarity and sameness remain ubiquitous – in my life, yours, and everyone else’s. As exemplified, for instance, by the fact that we all have either a Weber barbecue on the patio (it’s such great relaxing fun!) or a Le Klint lampshade over the dining table (for naturally, we have excellent taste!). Everything is just as we might expect. Both within the four walls of the home and when we are out and about in the town, so that we can almost always anticipate what awaits us around the next corner.

I read Mette Vangsgaard’s works as a quizzical take on the state of the world and the products of human evolution. Not in the sense of being fatalistic about it, but simply noting it in quiet bemusement and offering a subtle comment on the way we live now. At a time in which our relationship to nature seems to be an opaque blend of nostalgia and romanticism. We are passionate about nature in the abstract, but without genuinely engaging with it – for can nature really offer us anything that the media can’t? When we do use it as a resource we misuse it, leaving it worse off than before, and yet still compartmentalizing it in our minds as some sort of ethereal reality. And this in an era where the world’s population has just passed the seven billion mark, and where, paradoxically, an ego-driven culture holds sway in the West. We devote huge tracts of time to our quest for inner peace and happiness. But most often in solitude. We are historically self-absorbed, endlessly documenting our own lives. And while physical decline is countered by stints in various fitness centres, the mind and soul are nourished and developed through positive thinking, self-development, coaching, mindfulness and the like. It is as though tolerance, availability to others and the sense of being part of a larger humanity have fallen by the wayside, abandoned somewhere between Dumas’s three musketeers and Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. We’re all for fellowship with other people, providing we can choose whom to evict in the sequel. And we set great store by spending quality time with our children – even remembering to tell others about it as we do so! Social engagement and community connectedness have become forms of exhibitionism rather than a genuine common enterprise

Mette Vangsgaard encourages us to relate to a reality in which, post the global financial crisis, values and happiness have taken on a new aspect – and asks something different of us: that our take on the world and each other incorporate new perspectives. She calls for a multicultural society that is both broadly inclusive and celebrates diversity.

Perhaps there is something that we should have remembered, but have forgotten…

Vangsgaard’s compositions are deceptively simple, and at once both ludic and ruthless. And her subjects are serious in content. What continues to fascinate and grab me in her pieces is first and foremost her raw, gritty style. Her work – like life itself – is rough-edged. Seen from a distance, there is an aesthetic, a species of beauty present, but upon close inspection, we discover that her pieces teem with flaws. Flaws have the capacity to generate interest – and more importantly – to sustain attention and interest. The works’ visual appeal is not about streamlined seamlessness. Rather, the aesthetic and the subject matter go hand in hand.

Mette Vangsgaard engages headlong with the big issues – globalization, civilization, consumer culture and the like. But she also embraces that which is more intimate and tangible. It has to do with life. Small human life, which seen from the perspective of the universe seems wholly insignificant, but which for the individual person fills and enfolds his or her entire being and could scarcely feel more momentous. She delves into the contemporary world’s vast maelstrom of images, and through her symphonic compositions creates a ‘snapshot’ of our times, presenting to us the beauty, the ugliness and the relentlessness of our everyday. Whether she is gesturing to a utopia is hard to determine, for while suggestive and allusive, her works are complex and make no direct statements. And it is this that prods and teases. For sometimes a sotto voce yet challenging whisper gets more of a hearing than a loud hectoring tone. But what the pieces merely intimate to us is perhaps something that we need to heed. By remembering our origins, from what and where we came. By remembering that despite national boundaries and the iconic Weber barbecue, we all have something important in common: we are all citizens of the world on this little planet called Earth. Mette Vangsgaard’s message so resonates with me that I am prompted to say: there may indeed be something that we should have remembered, but have forgotten...

Mette Vangsgaard om sit arbejde med collagen.

Min tilgang til collagen som medie er eklektisk og materiale fetichistisk. Jeg samler,
genbruger og rekonstruerer til nye visuelle sammenhænge, vender op og ned på
materialerne med et ønske om at fremkalde et nyt syn på det, vi omgiver os med. Jeg
bruger eksempelvis udklip fra forskellige tider, som transplanterer historie til en nutidig
Nærstuderer man overfladerne i værkerne, vil man se pap, indpakningspapir, prints,
tapetstykker med forskellige fernisser, og lakerede papirer, der foregiver at være træ eller
marmor. Sammenstillet med udklip af mennesker, dyr og gouache, skaber jeg narrative
værker, hvis centrale temaer er det private rum kontra det offentlige rum, byen sat overfor
naturen. Det er som overgange mellem forskellige sfærer.
Værkerne indeholder referencer til disco-æraen, spor af popkulturen og symbolismen. De
store panoramiske værker er opbygget som gamle byprospekter. Byen er for mig som en
labyrint af gader, blindgyder og mystiske ind- og udgange til bygninger. Her udfolder der
sig et væld af livsformer, som beskues gennem en slags antropologisk linse. Jeg
undersøger, hvad vi laver og hvordan vi sameksisterer i miljøer skabt af forbrug, trends og
racemæssige og sociale skel.
Værkerne er fortællinger, hvis omdrejningspunkt er spekulationer over, hvad der foregår
bag gardinerne i husene. Det er som forsigtige voyeuristiske greb, der lukker op for de
daglige interaktioner mellem folk, som bor og arbejder der.
Alle de forskellige udklip og overflader i collagen anser jeg for at være en kommunikativ dør
ind til værket, da man kan genkende materialerne fra andre sammenhænge. Collagen
skjuler ikke det faktum, at det er en konstruktion.