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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