Image containers, 2012

On the recent work of Theis Wendt

By Carl Martin Faurby

 

Theis Wendt reminds me of an entomologist, but contrary to the insect catcher’s expeditions

to distant regions, Wendt installs his nets among people. He sets them up in the densest areas

where we behave strangely alike and the spaces we build are visible only in our mind’s eye.

 

The frozen Now

Wendt’s digital prints don’t reveal what we don’t know, but the already known is shown from

impossible angles. Furthermore the images in his works are not just reflections – they seem to

turn the spaces we inhabit, inside out. In Frozen Reflection (2011) he photographed the facade

window’s reflection and installed the picture, inside the space in a 1:1 scale, hovering

between the floor and ceiling. The work was created for NLH Space, a project space that

remains locked, and therefore always seen through the large facade window facing the

sidewalk. Instead of looking through the window you both look through and at the reflection

and the “Now” that the reflection constitutes. The moment of viewing is divided into layers of

time, in several “Nows”, that both contain and exclude one’s own presence.

The “Now” is the temporality of contemporaneity with its subjective feedback and closed

historical loops. Jan Verwoert calls this “the contemporary hell”1 and it’s the returns from this

hell, that stick to the surfaces of Wendts installations.

 

When the image disappeared

My story about the recent works of Theis Wendt begins around 2010, where he’s staring at

his pictures to the point where his own reflection, the wooden frame and all that constitutes

the image for the gaze becomes apparent. If you ask the old timers in Copenhagen, they’ll

still say that Theis Wendt makes drawings – fantastic drawings, but with time the drawings

have disappeared from his practice. The drawings that grew out of a sense of discharge and

overload – chaos and hell fire - have evaporated. First the motif, then the paper, then the

transparency of the glass fell victim to his investigations. In Among the Hallucinations of

Delirium Tremens (2010) at the bar Byens Kro, the drawings were completely gone. What

remained was only scratched plates of glass, like echoes from the picture frame’s autonomy.

The glass plates were placed on the walls all around the room, but with increasingly scratched

surfaces. The deeper one moved into the space, the more the reflection would disappear.

 

Gallery Christopher Egelund, Copenhagen shortly after. Gray Trampled Grass. Grey Snow

(2011): The gallery’s front room is encompassed by glass plates, their scratched lower parts

creating a horizon on the black gallery walls.

The ghostlike reflection obtains an eerie materiality because of the scratches that both

removes and attracts attention to the reflection. Moving into the gallery’s back room one’s

reflection acquires a body through the bodies of others printed onto wall sized transparent

prints hung from the ceiling. The prints show photographs from the Copenhagen climate

fiasco COP 152, where nothing was decided and more than 100.000 demonstrated without

tangible effect. There you are, feeling strangely claustrophobic after the frame’s scratched

horizon. You look at the demonstrating bodies, whose political slogans and faces have been

erased in Theis Wendt’s computer; now nothing more than empty political vessels in a space

of scratched image containers.

 

Swarm

In the work Swarm from 2012, the frame and reflection as pictorial surface is reduced to the

point of spatial collapse. Down the stairs and through the basement door you encounter an

overwhelming 3-d mirroring of the room you are standing in. The prints fill the opposite walls

from floor to ceiling and in the corner of the room, where the prints join, another space is

created by the reflections, mirroring each other. On the floor lies a roll of mirroring film that

blurrily reflect the actual space and you in it. With a generous investment in an otherwise

modest basement space, where the exhibition series Object This Picture, was held, Wendt

transformed the space into a reflection, and the reflection into space. The entire room has

become a container where picture and viewer, space and virtuality exchange meanings and

roles. For Wendt Swarm came out of a desire to show a space already represented in all its facets.

The work’s starting point is the contemporary pictorial situation, where the image acts as a

prosthetic for navigation, more than representation. In Swarm orientation is aided by the

computer-built walls and lines. One navigates in the same way the masses of the internet

does, or swarms, as theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri call them. In their book

“Multitudes” they point towards a political potential in the term “swarm intelligence”, but a

subsequent critique shows that this potential is double edged. The swarm has the possibility

of global political impact, but only by surrendering to the controlling logics of the network.

In Swarm, Wendt offers a spatial rendering of the swarm’s unique aesthetic and cognitive

spaces. In this work he points toward the swarms ability to see the space it moves around in,

but not itself as a swarm.

 

Work and romance

After 2 years at the Carlsberg grounds, where the Danish industrial giant had invited the

creative class to make use of the production facilities, Wendt showed the work Phantasm

(2011). On semi-transparent prints hanging from the ceiling he had transferred photographs of

his atelier in the former brewery in a 1:1 scale. The prints made out a cube inside the gallery

space’s white cube and made it possible to visually inhabit the workspace while being

outside. The work didn’t only orbit around notions of the contemporary artist’s workplace as

a prototype for the workplace of immaterial labour, but also its participation in the experience

economy strategies of Carlsberg, and maybe most of all, Theis Wendt’s own role in it.

In Extended Landscape (2012) Wendt coated standard plywood boards with smudged digital

prints of the board’s own surface and dispersed 5000 copies of fallen fall leaves throughout

the gallery space. Instead of turning towards the unreflective mental space of nostalgia and

authenticity, he finds a role for digital technologies as bearer of the romantic through their

chameleonic properties.

 

The virtual world of the new image technologies is a central theme in the works of Wendt, but

still, it is always within the spaces of the real, that the experience is grounded. It’s always

through our bodies that we come into contact with the works. Wendt’s cool reduction seems

critical towards contemporaneity’s streams of codes, where anything heavier than ones and

zeroes seems to sink, but in the works, one also understands that disillusion and romance

coexist.