Between the years 2011 – 2018, Steinar Haga Kristensen painted four separate oil paintings titled “Hidden Advocacy #01 - #04”. These paintings all depict a humanoid figure, body facing towards the interior of the image, looking over his shoulder towards the viewer, revealing to them two similar abstractions carried in his hands behind his back. In 2020 this motif appears again in the vast intaglio print edition of “Jubileum 2020”, consisting of 39 intaglio prints, all depicting this same motif, only this time the figure additionally carries 38 other motifs from the artist’s oeuvre. In 2021, this series of figures were avatarized, programmed for limited interaction and placed in a virtual and total world in the form of a video game constructed from digital reproductions of individual works of art from that same year. Since the beginning of 2022, Haga Kristensen has worked as an observational artist within this world. His observations are carried out in the form of oil paintings and Vat dye (indigosol) paintings. These reports will be disclosed at his exhibition World News at Gallery Brandstrup, on May 12, 2022. The reports carry an in-depth understanding and vital information about the world.
Text By Benoît Lamy de La Chapelle
Steinar Haga Kristensen’s first exhibition could have been his last. As strange as it might be, the soon to be artist chose to curate a retrospective of his own work for his graduate show. Everything was already there. Ever since that moment, the artist has kept on re-working his art over and over, tirelessly, with the same pictorial motifs, the same subjects, and the same gestures, although in different atmospheres, contexts and situations. Titled "World News" this exhibition is based on the same direction; reproducing again the body of fundamental artworks and having them dwell in unprecedented situations while questioning an entirely new topic, which has never been questioned in his earlier instalments.
Although Haga Kristensen’s practice does not solely revolve around visual aesthetics, this aspect still has a striking role in how he approaches his work. The artist could indeed be considered a figurative artist; a genuine painter. But that would be misleading. What is also at stake in each of his compositions, sculptural installations, operas, performances and, now, video games, is the overarching presence of conceptual ground in today’s contemporary art practices, and the way new concepts are continuously reshaping them. It is how new keystone concepts legitimize or, even, form new contemporary art practices that bring strange discourses and unexpected practical turns to the table. But also, how technology impacts traditional art media. From Relational Aesthetic to metaverse, digital art to politically engaged art; all acting hand in hand with neoliberal artistic career strategies, the art of Haga Kristensen humorously deals with this weird notion that is “contemporary art” today; making worlds out of how it affects him, and how he tries to live with its framing, mostly unwanted, power.
Early on Haga Kristensen chose to establish his work on what one could call folkloric aesthetic, without a specific origin nor universally known symbolism, made from a mix of legendary or traditional looking characters and landscapes. All his works were combined with recognizable elements taken from the realm of modern art, deliberately caricatural as one can find canonic abstract art, Matisse like figures, unrealistic figurative body, and so on. This creates an atmosphere floating on a different dimension, out of time, in a time of its own, unconnected. The infinite repetition and re-digestion of each motif also correspond to the modern ideology of production and reproduction, adopted in art by minimal art in the 60s. Many histories from modern art find their place in Haga Kristensen overabundant art, making his own sometimes stylistically close to the way in which non-professional artists reproduce and drain modern art form as a hobby, without trying to venture into new places, as if conceptual art has made contemporary art irrelevant for them. A statement the artist would not be totally against, but rather than turning round and round in a closed bubble, he seeks to operate in a world where ancient forms of art could be a departure to question new forms of rhetoric and, sometimes, the absurdity of what the current world is doing to art. Haga Kristensen is mainly very accurate in the way he displays his work and how his artistic motifs will find a new purpose in a new ideological context. In a very idiosyncratic way, he develops highly complex conceptual systems, often by purposely obscuring the viewer’s perception, and through specific display, he implements new strategies for his motifs to navigate in those new realities.
"World News" showcases – in the gallery’s smaller storage chamber – the "ULTRAIDENTIFIKASJONSPAVILJONG", a video game made by the artist in 2021. The main gallery space will show two new series of paintings; both investigated by the artist who here chose here to embody the role of an “observational artist” within the world of the video game, by taking the position of an outside observer in order to find a way to make sense out of it, akin to a manneristic perversion of an exhausted information age; trapped between reality and lies, faux news and possible truths.
In "ULTRAIDENTIFIKASJONSPAVILJONG", a humanoid figure from former artworks become an avatar for players, programmed for limited interaction and placed in a total virtual world populated by digital reproductions of real artworks. Here, Haga Kristensen explores the topic of the metaverse which, being more than a subject, is currently becoming a fact with many applications and economical proposals and services that leads us to a new perception of reality. The art market has already implemented virtual strategies to survive recent crises, which worked well and is just one example of how digital capitalism could expend even more in a world enrolled in a series of everlasting crises. Metaverse actually presents a sustainable solution for our distressed economic system because, rather than offering a way out and new solutions for the future, it allows us to find peace and relief in an illusionary daydream, while the real world keeps falling and life is generally destroyed. Haga Kristensen’s video game is a metaverse of its own, created for his art figures and subjects. His aesthetic world is now represented in a virtual world, where his motifs move, achieve tasks and become avatars for their human viewers, henceforth users. In this exhibition, spectators pass back and forth from a status of the viewer to the one of the user, entering the artwork and being able to interact with it, modifying its reality, but also being fooled by it, in an illusion of liberty, the same illusion people experiences in reality (did democracy ever exist?) or on the internet (are users free of building contents?). Therefore Haga Kristensen adapts his art to another technological format to open a reflection on the reconfiguration of modern values and codes, and highlight their obsolescence but also, the lack of new valid concepts that anyone could rely on. This is perhaps what Haga Kristensen's abyssal reproduction and corruption of earlier doings is also about, a depiction of the endless proposition of the same dead item sold to us as being brand new.