Virg’s World – The Art of Micro-Interventions
In art galleries throughout the Nordic countries one sees a five tiered system of exhibition. There is at the bottom the demotic form, the works of amateurs exhibited at their own cost in galleries, bought often by family members and those in their social network. Then there are exhibitions of foreign art at the mezzanine price level, affordable middle-range art that often is bought for decorative purposes. Next one comes across the professional or recognized amateur art which is affordable like the previous category, however sometimes bought as an investment. After this one comes to the academy art which is often experimental and not so easy to take home – bought by institutions or just exhibited. Finally there are the artists both international and local who are exhibited in the main galleries, sometimes bought by them, and of course bought by corporations and investors.
The art is shaped by cultural drivers – like the Jante Law which prescribes that one should not purchase art that is going to be questioned by one’s neighbor. The art must be safe and if a painting it must use a particular palette. While the art does not take risks – everyone feels comfortable with the arrangement – academy artists tame their experimentalism to accord with the taste. Not all of them do this of course – and in Scandinavia there is a history of shocking the Academy, capitalized here as the establishment. We had the example of the brother of Cobra artist Asger Jorn (1914-73), Jorgen Nash (1929-2004) decapitating an academic work, the iconic “Little Mermaid”, a symbol of bourgeois values regarding sculpture and nationalism in 1964; and much later in 2000, the work of an artist Marco Evaristti, though of foreign birth, blending goldfish.
The 1960s was a period of revolution, promiscuity and general boundary testing, a period that has established the epistemological framework for much of the art of the following generations, including performance art, video art and installation art. In this essay I wish to focus on the installation art of a young Norwegian artist Line Larson b.1984 who studied in Norway and in Denmark where she graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 201). Her “interventionist” art was recently exhibited in Odense, Denmark at the Filosofgangen. The work was assessed and selected by an official jury.
What I find particularly fascinating about this art, and you can see more photographs below, is the relationship in the trinity of concept – the idea, the execution – the intervention/installation on site, and the archive - the photograph.
What is the mimetic status of each in the chain of events that together make the continuum we call art? What is the concept here? In these broad and loose parameters one might say that the concept was to change or distort the semantic normativity of everyday objects. Here, it is the drainpipe. How often do we in our everyday negotiations with our environment walk on autopilot without much thought to what is in our peripheral vision or range of senses. I admit I do not think twice about drainpipes unless I have to buy one or repair one. This status of the ordinary is disrupted through the deliberate intervention of the artist, one which could be taken as a form of vandalism or anarchy, but which obviously is not, because instead of taking away, this intervention is adding.
Although her lecturer Nils Norman talked of her street art as deconstructionist, implying in some ways a negativity, I do not view it as sinister or as a form of urban terrorism. The drainpipe exists still but now has a prosthetic, an addition -or customization as a professor of art put it- which in its curls solicits an interpretation of surrealism, curled objects being in the vocabulary of surrealism, Dadaism and the Metaphysical school. I find from my own perspective the drainpipe connotes playfulness and is therefore redemptive in its way. Odd thing to say about urban fittings in Copenhagen streets – redemptive – but if we view it in the context of the urban environment and its somewhat oppressive forces, to come across a twist, a change, delights and restores a sense of the individual. Note here that the curled pipe has created asymmetry in relation to the other pipe – another element of challenging the normative.
When we look at the execution of the work – while there is a risk of trespass or even criminal damage charges if no permission was sought, the actual carrying out of the attachment is not so difficult as it seems because drainpipes are standardized so there is not much labour entailed. Of course the design itself needs planning ahead. What will it look like?
A curator at one of the galleries, Till Krause, Galerie für Landschaftskunst, said that Larson’s art was “bewitching”. Yes, it is, in the manner of Harry Potter or the magic realist texts. These inanimate objects are charmed into something amusing that stop you in the tracks. For example six fingered gloves that she had made and left in the forest and elsewhere to be picked up by unsuspecting walkers. They are untitled works. Larson has further depersonalized herself by giving herself the anonymous artistic moniker of Virg. Her art is untitled with just numbers and the name Wirg/Virg. She has “intervened” in many different ways, often in almost imperceptible ways – the drainpipe in this respect is significantly “louder” than say, her barrier interventions, which involve tying a red and white barrier around a trash bin and a lamp post or sign – unifying them in a relationship which gains in this case additional import in the archive rather than the execution stage, since people will not really notice the change. The insect intervention is so subtle it becomes ludicrous, because nobody notices really if a dead insect is moved. Yet this intervention as photographed perhaps wins us totally over, it even touches upon the Renaissance theme of memento mori.
Here perhaps despite the fact it is a micro installation, the balance is more toward conceptual art. However, always full of cheekiness, she has in another micro installation (above) added a beak to the dead fly, mocking the memory. It is through the recording of these interventions, in the archival stage, that the interventions become a heterocosm: VIRG’S WORLD. In this there is again the reference to the fantastic and magic realism. Now as for the status of the archival material – the photographs and blog are from the artist’s perspective “secondary”, according to an email to the author, yet in many respects they collect and construct VIRG’S WORLD – a function which is undoubtedly integral to how we view the art in its entirety. She undercuts the seriousness of her projects through her own defacement and deconstruction – for example, in a very comical way, she herself became the interventionist art form. She dressed up in a reindeer outfit and entered people’s gardens and took a picture of herself then left the photograph in the house. What happened next is amusing and can be read at this link and also here.
About The Artist
Norwegian by birth, Virg (Line Larson) lives in Copenhagen and has worked in Norway, Germany, England and the US. Aside from her intervention work, Virg draws, paints and she is a member of a music duo “The Children of Alastor.”
Virg performs interventions in the city and in the forest. One of the main intentions is to make a universe of possiblities visible. By making various alterations in the surroundings, she tries to change the bypasser’s perception (of the appearance) of reality. The main audience is completely random people, who have become spectators or ignorant contributors to Virg’s works.
Stephen Pain was born in London in 1956. He studied art at Herefordshire College, later went to UEA and studied literature. He worked abroad then came back to do a law degree. He has had poetry published in New Poetry, Snakeskin, Dada and Pif among others. He is currently a researcher in zoosemiotics based in Denmark.
For this article Stephen Pain was assisted by the artist Virg herself and by the comments and reviews of Professor Nils Norman, Mur & Rum, Det Kgl. Danske Kunstakademi, and Till Krause of Galerie für Landschaftskunst