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Darkland Blues

Michael Kvium

October 20 – November 12, 2022

Press Release

Galleri Brandstrup is honored to present Michael Kvium’s forthcoming solo exhibition “Darkland Blues”. The exhibition will open on Thursday 20 October at 6 PM, and run through Saturday 12 November.


A text by author and curator Pernille Taagaard Dinesen, translated by Galleri Brandstrup

When I come across Michael Kvium's paintings - in museums, in private collections, in the artist's studio - they always give me an uneasy feeling that it is not the subject itself that is at stake - but everything that surrounds the subject, and what the painting just does not visualize. In other words,  I am only presented with a small fraction of a large totality - and I am only able to interpret the fraction by being aware of the overall picture.

In the past few years, that feeling has been reinforced in parallel with the fact that Kvium's figures have slowly climbed up dead tree trunks to squat on the trunk's most remote limbs. Paralyzed and with a blank look in the eye. In peace, of course. But in peace for what? And for how long?

If you ask Kvium himself, he will probably answer in peace for humanity's own wretchedness, which in these decades is expressed in climate disasters, wars, and global overpopulation of a yet unknown calibre. The world is burning - just like the sky in Kvium's artistic universe - and no matter how much man tries to escape from the dystopian circumstances, the platforms are nothing more than temporary solutions. So are also dead tree trunks, which briefly save the individual from drowning in the river, which has overflowed its banks below. But what are the real prospects of the man sitting there, naked, curled up on himself at the top of a withered tree?

As the enlightened individuals we are, we know that there is a connection between the behaviour of the modern man and the general state of nature. We have even invented an intellectual term for the price of our predatory behaviour on this planet: "The Anthropocene Age", we say, picking up where we left off. But why don't we act on the dystopian circumstances? Is it due to powerlessness, indifference, or downright stupidity?

Kvium is reluctant to answer the world's pressing questions directly but is happy to send symbolic representatives; for example, a stray lump of brain that speaks to our minds more than to our eyes, reminding us that there really are many thoughts that we should be thinking and many actions that we should be taking. Unfortunately, the little brain monster is skilled at selecting within the world's impressions. The brain likes to opt out of the unpleasant and leaves only a polished image that has nothing to do with the reality in which we live. It is stupid, hopeless, and fragmented - exactly like a lump of brain migrated from its own body.

The brain is a complex size. Partly it is the centre of human individual identity, partly it is an organic material waiting to shrink and disintegrate along with nature's other perishable materials. It is morbid, but it is also quite natural, and nature is and remains the predominant contextual voice in Kvium's paintings. Not in the magnificent version as we know it from the romantic landscape painter Casper David Friedrich. This would be a shame to say. On the contrary, Kvium hands us an unsettling landscape populated by collapsed bodies, impossible to identify as women or men, bodies that simultaneously are neither and both. Bodies that flow out and merge with an exhausted and sexless nature. Basically, Kvium's treatment of man and nature is a polite reminder that man is nature. This despite the fact that, in both thought and deed, we treat the globe as if it was an external circumstance that can be treated as we see favourable. It cannot. Should we happen to forget this basic existential premise, all it takes is eye contact with one of Kvium's figures, who from a green field looks back at his viewer with fiery red glass eyes. Equal parts blind to plants and blind to self-awareness. The contrast is clear, not only in relation to the battle between the opposing colours red and green, but equally as an expression of the assumption that man and nature are separate dimensions.

In another painting, a naked figure throws an infant high into the air. A gesture all parents can recognize as the joyful play, where the idea of ​​not being caught on the way down is the focal point of the excitement. Whether the child will be caught by the outstretched hands, or whether the next generation has already been lost to the floor, Kvium leaves it uncertain. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the child and the adult do not make eye contact, and that the sky behind appears as a blanket of heavy, lead grey clouds. Also, the title of the present exhibition, "Darkland Blues" derives its symbolism from the colour metaphor, as it balances between the notion of a darkened landscape and a melancholic mind.

Speaking of the future and the next generation, several of Kvium's paintings are flanked by organism-like growths that frolic in and out of each other. As an unidentifiable fusion of umbilical cords, snail tracks and DNA molecules, the strings are partly a bizarre expression of humanity's unconquerable reproductive capacity, and partly an expression of our mental and physical delusion. Because where are we really going? Once again, Kvium raises a question instead of an answer when he describes our circumstances. That there is movement, however, and that man nevertheless manages to survive from generation to generation, is clear – not least in the encounter with an elongated skull that, like a mythological Janus head, builds a bridge between past and future.

It is, in all its simplicity, heavy realizations that are at stake in Kvium's art. But there is also a hint of sophisticated humour, sly irony, and theatrical staging to spot in the paintings. Several of Kvium's figures are thus dressed in a top hat, mask and clown shoes and bow reverently towards a non-existent audience, like an actor in the limelight after the carpet falls. All this while a lonely creature - not unlike a premature fetus - sits high on top of its own garbage mountain, just like the female protagonist in playwright Samuel Beckett's absurd play "Happy Days".

There are so many things at stake in Kvium's art. Fragments of the world. Fragments of emotions. Fragments of perspectives. A relationship that the artist continually experiments with in his sampled way of challenging the compositions of the images: The three-part canvases that mimic the church's classic altarpiece composition, the monochrome surfaces that challenge the balance of the painting in strong contrasting colours, and the composite paintings that, with their different sizes partly explode, partly gather the motifs of the pictures. All in all, these are artistic touches and motif-related focusing that reinforce my general experience that Kvium's pictures are a small fractions of a large totality, to which it is becoming more and more difficult to close one's eyes.