Thursday, June 25, 2009

Featured Artist: Lasse Antonsen


First of all, would you please introduce yourself to our readers that might not be familiar with you?

Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen

My name is Lasse Antonsen. I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. I attended the Experimental Art School in Copenhagen while in High School, studying with the artists Poul Gernes and Per Kirkeby, and the art historian Troels Andersen. After High School I attended the Art School at Hoelbaek, where I concentrated on creative writing, taking seminars with Inger Christensen and Poul Borum.

I then travelled for some years, and lived for a while on the Spanish island of Menorca. Later on I studied art history at Copenhagen University, and then moved permanently to the US where I took courses at the Harvard Extension School, and was accepted into Tufts University, where I received my MA in 1986 with a thesis on Picasso’s work in the 1930s.

How did you get interested in making art?

I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but didn’t find an approach that worked for me until about ten years ago. I have only pursued art “full time” for about four years. I now live and have my studio in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

What kind of job(s) do you do besides creating art? Do you teach, write, curate shows, and/or manage a gallery? If so, give us some details.

I am director of the University Art Galleries at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. I also teach graduate seminars, and I taught graduate seminars at RISD for a number of years. I have also taught art history at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Occasionally I write reviews, and texts for catalogues.

Can you give our readers some insight into your work in general?

Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen

I work with objects. Any object, whether new or old, has a history and is situated within a context. A process created it. Intent was embedded in it. It has a use, or it lost its use. It is sometimes the object itself that I am interested in exploring, but more often it is a combination of its existing and possible context that I investigate. Intent on my part, however, is both unavoidable and desirable.

Wherever an object is situated, layers of meaning are embedded in it. By recontextualising – by creating an installation or a scenario – new meaning is established. By taking an object and bringing it into a situation – which always entails bringing it into contact with another object and an environment – the object, and now objects, are allowed to perform in a way they might not, or could not, possibly have done before.

Bringing two or more objects or realities together represents a rupture, but also a fulfillment: an expression of languages that were already embedded in their structures. These languages are not only visual but also dramatic and poetic. Indeed, it is to the extent that these new objects can establish this disruptive element – which we, for lack of better words, label poetic or dramatic – that they succeed in re-awakening, or accessing, new levels of memory and awareness.

Interestingly enough, I am rarely interested in working with just one object. Somehow the repeated statement, the slight variation within an ensemble, is important for the meanings I feel a need to access. Most often this is combined with a need to transform, or restate, an existing, physical, space.

The written language usually come into play at one or another stage of the development of a piece. The way I search for and investigate objects, I search for and investigate ways of formulating thought, ways of perceiving, ways of reflecting; especially thought related to reflections within the field of natural history and anthropology where they move into philosophy.

Much of my work exists within the realm of the history of natural history and is about pleasure: the pleasure of discovery and the pleasure of establishing meanings. It is also about exoticism and connecting to beauty.

"Juden lernen arbeiten," image from the Museum of Black Milk, 2009. (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

A separate part of my work I refer to as “The Museum of Black Milk.” It also focuses on objects, but objects from Germany in the 1930s and 40s, and thematically focuses on the rise of Fascism, and the cultural history of the Jewish people. Much of this work is based on photographs taken by Nazi soldiers. Lately, the overall focus has been on the philosopher Heidegger, and his attempt at uncovering the original source of German philosophy.

Ultimately, my work is about language, but language as it weaves into nostalgia, beauty, celebration, and death.

Please tell us about your new installation “The Continuous Translation” that is currently up at the Artists Foundation. What are the thoughts and inspirations behind the creation of this piece? What is the specific message you strive to convey to viewers?

New installation“The Continuous Translation”, currently on display at the Artists Foundation... thru July 18, 2009. (Photo: Sand T)

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009.
(Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009.
(Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

While planning the exhibition at the Artists Foundation, I had the opportunity to create a related installation at Gallery 244 at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, so I decided to do my first limited edition.

"Fabrique en Chine," Gallery 244, UMASS Dartmouth, June 2009. Text fragment by Victor Segalen. (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

"Fabrique en Chine," Gallery 244, UMASS Dartmouth, June 2009. Text fragment by Victor Segalen. (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

"Fabrique en Chine," Gallery 244, UMASS Dartmouth, June 2009. Text fragment by Victor Segalen. (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

That exhibition is called, “FABRIQUE EN CHINE (Victor Segalen)” and the following text hangs on the wall:

This exhibition of a limited edition of artificial flowers dipped in white paint is presented in conjunction with the exhibition, “The Continuous Translation” at the Artists Foundation in Boston.

The Boston exhibition consist of two walls filled with white flowers and plants hanging upside down, floor to ceiling, with a narrow text fragment by Victor Segalen on the bottom, which reads:

“Upon a ladder of steps made of artifice and skill, would not the highest rung be to express one’s vision by an instantaneous, continuous translation that would echo one’s presence…”

A third wall in the gallery presents flowers similar to the ones in this exhibition, where the dye from the plants has bled through, resulting in subtle, pastel colors.

The tags on the flowers in this exhibition read:

“…there is perhaps another shock, from the traveler to the object of his gaze, which rebounds and makes what he sees vibrate.”

A wall sculpture, “Made in China,” which will be on view at the Peabody Historical Society and Museum in August and September, is the third work inspired by the writings of Victor Segalen.

The French medical doctor, ethnographer, poet, and explorer, Victor Segalen (1878 – 1919) was not widely known during his lifetime, but has become increasingly important as we have moved from a narrow discussion of Colonialism -- and a general sense of disenchantment -- toward an awareness of the role curiosity, sensuality and delight play in consciousness. Segalen is especially important in the way he situates our awareness -- whether we are in France or in China -- in a situation of diversity and displacement. He calls for “absolute subjectivism,” questions our “mental tonality,” and asks us to continuously remain playful and observant, stating: “form being that artificial and miraculous thing that is art’s reason for being.”

New installation“The Continuous Translation”, on display at the Artists Foundation from June 6 - July 18, 2009. (Photo: Sand T)

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009. (Photo: Sand T)

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009.
(Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009.
(Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

Can you discuss your process in general? How does it all start, what techniques and materials you used to create this installation piece?

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009. (Photo: Sand T)

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009. (Photo: Sand T)

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009.
(Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

When engaging in a new project, there isn’t really a starting point. I am constantly immersing myself in cultural history, poetry, philosophy, the history of museums, theater, dance, and so on, and out of this comes the desire to participate, to engage in a visual play. Most important is to find ways to leave yourself open -- beyond critical voices -- and engaged in the energy that flows from all important works of art.

What is the purpose of painting the artificial flowers white for this installation?

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009.
(Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

I wanted to make their form painterly, while at the same time removing their outer presence, hoping in the process to reveal pure form. Once they are white, light and shadow takes over, and presented as a wall, the flowers and plants exist as an image, but somehow also as funerary objects.

Could you tell us your primary intention of using text fragments by Segalen in this installation?

“The Continuous Translation”, the Artists Foundation, June/July 2009. (Photo: Sand T)

The text fragment is poetic, but also extraordinarily complex. It has a meaning that I believe it is worth contemplating, and I hope that the viewer -- while contemplating the white walls and the individual flowers -- will see a connection between the two, and see the installation as an opportunity to connect to a different level of perception.

Would you briefly talk about your installation called "Field of Transmutation" that was installed in Gallery 244 at UMASS Dartmouth last summer?

"Field of Transmutation," Gallery 244, UMASS Dartmouth, August 2008. Text fragment by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

Close-up of "Field of Transmutation." (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

On display were plastic anemones in jars in water, the kind used widely in aquariums. A quote by Lamarck ran along the bottom of the walls, close to the floor. It read:

"I considered inner feeling, that is, the feeling of being alive/ which only animals enjoying the faculty of feeling possess. / I collected the known facts concerning this matter, as well as my own observations, and I was soon convinced/ that this inner feeling constituted a power essential to take into account."

The breaks in the quote indicate how the text was broken up on the four walls.

Lamarck was a fascinating scientist. Pushed aside by most scientists in favor of Darwin, his thinking is now being revisited. We realize that his theories of transmutation might have been true, even if different from how he envisioned. More important to me, though, is his extraordinary ways of reflecting on Nature, of sensing and thinking in original, untested, ways.

Please tell us a bit about your site specific installation "Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad" at 150 Chestnut Street.

(Detail) - "Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad, (day)” installation featured in DE/CONSTRUCT II, Site-Specific Installations by Nineteen Artists, 150 Chestnut Street Installation Space, April 2009.
(Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

"Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad, (night)" installation. (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

This installation consists of used windowpanes. While removed from the window frames, they still retain traces of old paint and caulking at the edges. Installed on a wall, they no longer function. They were originally meant not to call attention to themselves, and now they do. We see their shape, their colors (mostly shades of green), and they continue to participate in the space they are in. During the day they reflect everything around them. The viewer moves around, and the space is continually unfolding. In gallery lighting at night, multiple shadows are reflected onto the wall.

(Detail) "Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad, (day)” installation. (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

I chose to name the installation Koenigsberg, which is the city that the philosopher Kant lived in his whole life. He is one of our most influential philosophers. His thoughts went everywhere, yet he never traveled. I additionally named the installation "Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad” to call attention to how geography and culture never remain the same. The old German town of Koenigsberg has now been almost erased and supplanted with Soviet style housing, and renamed Kaliningrad.

Would you tell us some details about the "Shadow Script" exhibition you had put together in Gallery One at UMASS Dartmouth in the Fall of 2008?

"Shadow Script: Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, 1957: Inksqueezes of the Restored Specimens of Inscribed Tortoise Shells," Gallery One, UMASS Dartmouth, November 2008 (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen

Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen

The name of the exhibition ("Shadow Script: Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, 1957: Inksqueezes of the Restored Specimens of Inscribed Tortoise Shells") is the name of the scientific document featured in the exhibition.

Everything was displayed in 11 large display cases. All the writing is in Chinese. The book documents how the earliest writing in China is found on turtle shells. It is a beautiful, historical, document. It features photographic reproductions typical of the time, and overlays that clarify where the script is found on each shell.

The exhibition is a tribute to that time, already so removed from us, and to its visual, written and printed, language. I collected more than 60 turtle shells from all over this country, and put them on display. I did not display the original turtle shells depicted in the book, but rather “ordinary” turtle shells, which when viewed in this context – in the context of looking for signs or script – become extraordinarily alive, and possibly give the viewer a sense of why they were chosen for the manifestation of the first script in Chinese culture.

Why did you choose to use Christmas lights for this installation "A Certain Laughter"?

I am fascinated by white and colored Christmas lights. You can’t see them, you can’t focus on them. Restaurants sometimes use them year round, and other, non-Christian cultures, have found a wide use for them too. They signify a certain state of mind, mostly one that indicates that you are in a space no longer associated with a daily routine.

The text fragment by Jacques Derrida on the windows, read: “a certain laughter, a certain step of the dance.”

Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen

"A Certain Laughter," Installation in the Spring Street Gallery, UMASS Dartmouth, February - March, 2009. Text fragment by Jacques Derrida. (Image courtesy of Lasse Antonsen)

Jacques Derrida is a wonderful, and terribly frustrating philosopher. To read him, you need to give up any attempts at pinning him down, at demanding explanations. Instead, you are invited into a dance.

How have you handled the business side of being an artist?

I am fortunate that I do not depend on my artwork for an income. Indeed, I have a certain amount of money that I can devote to this new endeavor. I am very much aware of the art world and of how it functions, and at this time I make almost all I do affordable, enjoying that my work is appreciated enough that friends, colleagues, and even strangers, want to live with it. The limited edition flowers are for sale for $10 each, and I have sold many of them.

What are you working on right now? Are you planning any exhibitions of your work in the near future?

My next exhibition will be at Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River Massachusetts. It will open in November. The exhibition is titled: “Theatrum Naturae et Artis” (Theater of the Natural and Artificial). It is a very large space, and it will allow me to show work that I have not exhibited before, and it will also allow me to create a series of new work. As the title says, it is all work related to natural history.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

What I appreciate more than anything in being an artist, is how every project, every event, brings a whole new set of themes and experiences.

My work already has a strong performance, or stage, element, and I believe that figurative sculpture in some form will enter into it. I worked with marionettes early on, and would like to revisit and expand what I did then, possibly setting up a space where the marionettes have been “left,” and one senses that a different set of handlers have taken over. These marionettes might be “frozen” in the way that the white flowers in “The Continuous Translation” are “frozen.”

The photographs in the Museum of Black Milk series I “excavate,” meaning that I scan them and blow up (and print out large) small sections. The original photographs often carry hand written texts on the back, notes where the Nazi soldiers try to either cover up what actually is taking place, or make sarcastic comments. In trying to get a close, and multiple, reading of a single photo, the resulting, large photographs, when displayed in a small space, contribute to a feeling of stillness, of fate drawing its lines through a moment, and the overall effect is one of both an unreal event and a cosmic drama. I hope to eventually stage many connected rooms of only these kinds of photographs.

When working with objects I do not alter, for example in the project on the German philosopher Heidegger, where I have been collecting books and objects that could have been in his library, I get close to creating a personal museum for an author or philosopher. I can envision that my work eventually will lead to a new type of history museum, one where it matters less whether the fountain pen displayed is authentic, compared to how a sense of the fundamental workings of the author’s sensibility and thoughts are presented.

Would you provide links to articles and reviews about your work?

The writer, Catherine Carter, wrote an excellent article on me a short time ago:

The art critic, David Boyce, has written extensively on my work, and has been an early, important, supporter:

Do you have website(s) for interested readers to learn more about your work? Would you like to share your contact info with our readers?

My website is: I welcome your readers contacting me.

Do you offer any art classes? Are you available for commissioned works? Representing gallery if any?

I unfortunately only teach within the context of Masters programs. I hope to teach workshops open to all at some point in the future. I especially would enjoy working with mid-career artist. I have done one public work of art, and would love to do more. I do not have gallery representation.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

Images courtesy of Lasse Antonsen

Most important, is to live a life that is genuine and authentic. And that, of course, is easy to say, and can appear almost impossible to do. But what else is there? Artists often have a strong connection to their subconscious, to spiritual energies, and to dreams. Art can strengthen those connections.

In terms of approaches, engage in any kind of processes, methods, and material that fascinate you. Art is always about tradition, living tradition. Anything new is always born out of that tradition. Do not be afraid of influences. Instead, seek them out.

Forget everything about categories. Don’t judge your attempts within preconceived frameworks. If you think in terms of beauty, kitsch, craft, art, design, acceptable and unacceptable, challenge your thoughts about all of it. Think, rather, of yourself as a performer. There’s a million ways to become a reactionary, only one way for you to develop what you need -- and desire -- to do.