Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art: Copenhagen

Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen is unusual as all of its exhibitions are produced, initiated or chosen by artists, with a focus on collective shows by experimental groups or networks. These principles have been present since its conception in 1891 when a handful of artists challenged the juried exhibition at Charlottenborg, and founded this centre as an alternative. True to its original vision the two exhibitions currently on display feature an artistic duo, and heavily experimental and provocative artworks. The ground floor galleries are dedicated to Hesselholdt & Mejlvang’s ‘Native Exotic, Normal’ exhibition which is highly topical in light of Brexit exploring eurocentrism, the Western perception of ‘the other’, and discrimination within everyday life. The first two galleries look at symbolic and contextual meaning through silk coats of arms in pastel colours devoid of any heraldic content, and Danish iconography (including a Klint Lamp, Arne Jacobson chairs and model ship) placed in an unfamiliar gallery context devaluing them dramatically. Another gallery displays what initially appear to be light hearted totempole balloon sculptures – adversely they have caricatures of ‘Hottentots’ (a derogatory word for ‘wild natives’ used by Europeans) at their apex, removing any light-heartedness. Similarly another space contains chains running across its length and breadth with obvious connotations to the slave trade and colonialization, but also to tripwires as the artists hope their work will force people to take a stand. Downstairs, the basement gallery houses ‘Salon Des Refuses’ by Tina Maria Nielsen where the artist has transformed mundane, everyday items (including mobile phones, a ladder, an umbrella, blinds and ostrich eggs) into beautiful bronze, plaster, paraffin and concrete sculptures. In deciding which items to laboriously sculpt, she questions which objects people feel attached to versus those we reject. Unlike upstairs, there is no natural light and the gallery feels deliberately repressive, much like a cellar where things are stored or hidden. The two shows complement each other well and I’d certainly advise a visit if you’re in Copenhagen over the summer.

Gallery 1 of  the ‘Native, Exotic, Normal’ exhibition showing silk coats of arms devoid of symbolic content
Another gallery showing the chains running across the length and breadth of the space
Mobile phone sculptures in bronze by Tina Maria Nielsen
Ostrich egg sculptures by Tina Maria Nielsen

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Gallery Photography

Wolfgang Tillmans: Maureen Paley

Thursday 23rd June 2016 – and perhaps moreover the morning of Friday 24th June – will remain etched in the minds of current generations as a date that has left the UK indisputably divided. Though official statistics show the UK voted to leave the EU by a slim margin of 51.9% versus 48.1%, this figure hides the 28% of the population who failed to vote, the overwhelming majority of young people aged 18 – 24 who voted to stay, subsequent protests and calls for a re-vote, and indeed the resignation of our Prime Minister David Cameron. These current political circumstances made it an apt time to visit Wolfgang Tillman’s solo show; a German photographer who epitomises what it is to be part of the EU by splitting his time between Berlin and London, and an ardent ‘Vote Remain’ campaigner. This is his eighth solo show at Maureen Paley in Bethnal Green and displays new work focussing on the visible and invisible borders that define and control societies. Encompassing the entire building, the exhibition is curated simply yet effectively with work either hanging in plain white frames or unglazed and pinned delicately to the walls. The ground floor is dominated by a vast image of the sea entitled ‘The State We’re In’ capturing an intersection of the Atlantic Ocean where international time lines and borders meet. This focus point is bookended by images taken at both the Northern and Southern observatories looking beyond their country’s boundaries. This theme continues upstairs with Tillman’s ‘I refuse to be your enemy 2’ installation, a recreation of a workshop he gave Iranian students which explored the uniformity of printed communication through office paper from various different countries. The entranceway, stairwell and exterior spaces of the gallery are filled with incarnations of Tillman’s pro EU poster campaign, and in these uncertain times it is refreshing to see an artist using their creativity to heighten political awareness and take a firm stance.

‘The State We’re In’ image of the Atlantic Ocean
Image from the observatories
The upstairs gallery housing ‘I refuse to be your enemy 2’ installation
A selection of the pro EU posters from Tillman’s ‘Between Bridges’ campaign

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