Time and space are integral to famous Danish art collective Superflex’s art practice
They have sold a soft drink. Installed biogas units in different areas across the world. Set up shops doling out freebies to customers. In return, they got legal battles, prohibitory orders, raids and also a lot of acclaim. Now these phenomenal Danish artists collectively known as Superflex are here in India to participate in INSERT 2014 (produced by Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation) — a series of conversations with artists from all over the world. At the core of this month-long art event is an exhibition (curated by Raqs Media Collective) at the Mati Ghar complex of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, which will have artist-led workshops, talks, exhibits, symposiums, performances and readings.
A 240-hour long film and a sculpture are what this 21-year-old collective will present at the site. A lot of the art Superflex makes is contextual and the work at INSERT clearly falls into that category, because the film and the sculpture have a dialectical relationship with Mati Ghar. Even though the film is set in Helsinki, capturing a classic modernist building falling apart, it will resonate with the structure of Mati Ghar. “When I came to research last year and I saw the building, I thought it was a contextual gift. I haven’t seen the exhibition ‘Kala’ which was put together by Kapila (Kapila Vatsyayan) but I have read about it and my work is deeply inspired by the exhibition. The film is also about time,” says Rasmus Nielsen, who is here without his other two group members, Jakob Fenger and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen.
“In the catalogue, we have made up a conversation between Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Smithson and Kapila Vatsyayan. We imagine that she is in the space,” adds Nielson. The work, the artist concedes, is no different from what they have done so far. “It just depends on the context. We are three middle-aged artists and our lives are at a turning point. And I feel this strange synchronicity between the lives of our generation and the world. So, a lot of our work deals with time.”
“Flooded McDonald’s”, a 21-minute film made in 2008 clearly was. As the life-size replica of the interior of a McDonald’s, without any customers or staff present, sinks under water, it evokes a feeling of apocalypse. “It was a response to the financial crisis of 2008 and end of the world theories floating around,” he explains. The time factor was once again at the core of their project “The Cockroach Tour of the Science Museum” that took place from 2011 to 2013 where visitors would be taken around the Science Museum in London in cockroach costumes. “We wove it around how cockroaches think that all human activity is to control and beat time.”
Superflex’s art practice is an amalgam of art and activism and the respective facet swings into action depending on the context. “Superflex is a very company sounding name, and it is a play on these multinational companies who do what they want to do. A lot of people would ask us initially: “Are you a company or an artist?” And we realised that we don’t have to choose that. A lot of our work comes out as activism and it’s not problematic.”
One of their most significant comments on economic structures was made through “Guarana Power” where they worked with farmers in the Amazon to produce their own version of the branded drink to end the monopoly of multinational corporates. It was an enormous idea to critique a commercial product by placing another by its side, and it obviously invited lot of legal troubles too. “We were asked to change our logo which had the text they were objecting to. So we removed the words they had problems with, but the logo remains and the product still sells in Denmark. Wish we could sell it elsewhere too, but we have commercial constraints. It was an effort to put critique and activism out in the market.”
(INSERT 2014, a collateral event of India Art Fair, begins at Mati Ghar, IGNCA on January 31)