Potential Spaces A Conversation with Malene Landgreen By Katya Sander Katya: Let’s talk about your practice and your processes, the work before the final work, including the specific and pragmatic. I think that the creative process as such – however abstract it may translate in the explanation – also derives from everyday practices, occurrences, meetings, examinations of simple things, bric a brac. The way in which we collect and process such things can provide another kind of insight into a practice. We both work, in different ways, with spatial interventions. I am interested in systems of circulation and ordering structures. The ways in which we read ordering structures, and subsequently behave in them; how our subjects are arranged. It means paying a certain kind of attention to the space you move in. How about you?
and the two-dimensional, by showing how it is merely painted with a brush on a canvas with incomplete open areas. This reveals how it must stop and acknowledge reality – that there are no infinite possibilities. Reality is knocking on the door, the painting stops here.
It is the idea of another room in the room as a part of the art but also a part of the house, of the street, of the city, of life. The potential space and life that are visible in the surfaces of the painting and the walls can be experienced physically as well as mentally. You’re asking how I get inspired by the inputs I receive … it can be in dialogue with one person or many at the place – and with a certain sensitivity for specific conditions and visions. Sound, the prime tone, mood, resonance, the space, the rhythm of the place and light all has great importance. For some assignments there can be greater or lesser expectations that influence display, development and volume.
Katya: What exactly do you do when you start work? When I see your spatial interventions I get very inspired – perhaps because they come from somewhere completely different. I recognize something in them, but I don’t know what. Where do your ideas come from? Are there specific situations or examples you can talk about? Do you have a method for how you work with your ideas, something you always do?
Malene: Preferably there is always an inter-
action with space, in space and time and the assignment, here and now. As an immediate response to your question I can compare it to how you take in a room when you dance, in the beginning there are always these initial basic steps that are always/never the same but those are the tools you have. It depends on how you compose these steps, where you choose to put your emphasis or how much is given for you to interact with. There are x-factors, functions in the space etc. One foot first, then the other. It is about establishing yourself and your imagination in the space. There are some initial exercises that can be sensed through nonverbal, intuitive and immediate experiences. Like a visual brainstorm. I imagine that those who will later use the room will still experience it as an open place with space for them.
Malene: Sometimes I start working at the drawing table, sometimes with a model or on the computer. Very large projects can be compressed to scale on the computer. But working 1:1 is very special. Something can appear to work in reduced scale on the computer, but it is only when you can relate to it with your body that you know if it really works. There is often talk about the ‘many colors’ but what is exciting about working with colors is how they interrelate. The way in which they set each other off in relation to each other – open up for light and darkness. Colors are boundless. They are all shades of light and dark, coldness and warmth, and they don’t necessarily have any individual significance but can achieve it when a certain shape is related in a particular way to the painting or to the space. Or as a monochrome surface that dissolves into a more transcendental mission. I am as fascinated by the illusion that creates perspective by simple means and directions, as I am fascinated by the pure banal two-dimensional. At the edge of the painting or the edge of a painted surface, I reveal both the process of the many painted layers
Katya: I’d like to emphasize some of the things you said, “It is the idea of another room in the room as a part of the art but also a part of the house, of the street, of the city, of life. The potential space and life that are visible in the surfaces of the painting and the walls” … an architecture of colors. I recognize the interest in the potential space – and understand what you said about the potential space being part of the house, the street, life. Yes. “The potential” is often understood as something that “could be” but isn’t. Something not realized. In other words “it was never made real.” But we could also understand it as part of reality. We could put the concept “potential” in relation to “actualization” rather than “reality”. If you do that, “potential” and “activation” both exist in reality and it is no longer about either/or, but rather a constant negotiation or seamless movement from one to the other without any clear or distinct transition. To some artists there is great difference between working with possibilities and working with realizing them. For artists working with political and/or critical art it sometimes becomes very central to “actualize” as
much as possible. To make it “real”. Sometimes at the cost of aspects hiding exactly in the margin, in the shadows – underlying any kind of “actualization”. I often think that this battle with “reality” is a shame somewhat, because it takes for granted that there is a black-and-white difference between what is and what is not. One of the artist’s most important areas of work is exactly here, in the more complex relationship between what is visible, and that what isn’t. We do not only work with what we can see
but also with questioning visibility as such: how something appears; becomes visible. What interests, movements, investigations, choices and questions facilitate what ways of seeing – who can see what and why? This is where language and architecture plays an important role for me. Sometimes it makes sense to understand certain spa-
Katya: When I asked you where you find your inspiration you described movements, to take in a room, to dance with it. Aristotle described the actualization of a potential as movement. A dance with space, you said, but this means that space has to dance too. Rhythms, bodies, rules, a form of resistance perhaps, some misunderstandings but also intuition, improvisations.This could be how I would describe your work. Is it a question of developing a dance with certain spaces and the spectator is then invited to join in the dance? Is this how you understand a spectator? As someone who dances? Malene: I like the idea that the work is potentially intensified and fullfilled when the human – body – mind moves in it.Yes we are all dancers, perhaps also in a more mental/ non-physical space.
tial relations or buildings as gigantic ‘seeing machines’ as opposed to Le Corbusier’s idea of the house as a ‘living-machine’. How do you consider space in relation to visibility and non-visibility?
Malene: Well, with regards to the “potential” space, I am not looking at it as a possibility that hasn’t been “actualized” yet. Since I operate with and relate to the physical architecture as a starting point, I believe I can offer new or other mental ‘spaces’ in the space. Or in other words, I think that the abstract/mental space is directly connected to an elaboration of an architectural form. I see art not only as part of architecture but also architecture as a dependent part of the artwork.
Katya: But there is also something else: that the things, the ideas develop through dialogue, not just with the space alone as a formal space, but also with their contents: activities, owners, users and habitants. I assume enter into a rather pragmatic and specific dialogue with the architects or clients who commission you. I suppose they have expectations and reasons for inviting you? Can you talk about these dialogues and what role they might play in your process? Malene: No two assignments are the same and that’s a good thing. The given premises and frames should be allowed to noticeably shape the project. It is about understanding and solving an assignment. Seen in this light I think that everything that can, should be allowed to play a part. I consider the process an open dialogue and I’m open to negotia-
tion till the very end. I enjoy meeting people – out there – through my work. I don’t care for competitions as I find them to be an unreasonable waste of time, money and resources. I prefer when the clients have considered whom they’d like to work with, what they want and in what direction they’d like the project to go. From that point on I try to meet all expectations within a realistic frame. From my field of abstraction I can add to and help them define and articulate some of their identity as a company, and thus together we break down thresholds to something new. Art may be the unknown factor, but it is also the desired solution. The terms are different in an art institution. I am not solving projects for anyone but myself. I don’t need to answer questions, I can raise them, to the institution, to the space, to the spectator. I can fill up a space but I can also empty it if I find that relevant. In the art institution I relate to the work purely in terms of art and the continuation of it, the context and the specific spaces. I don’t need to relate to the world, but I am in the world … is the world in me? … Now, what did I get myself into!
Katya: Ha ha! Abstraction! I can’t get this talk about the potential out of my head. In a way, it also touches on abstraction. To abstract yourself from something is a bit like not seeing, to pretend to not see the specific, to pretend that it isn’t right there (where it actually is). It is like seeing something or explaining something by imagining it as not-yet-actualized, notyet concrete.
Malene: There is this subtlety that is characteristic of painting: it is in its nature a me-
working – yet you still intervene in text in a different way, for example with art history. I know that you’ve had a long affair with Matisse – who is an enormous figure in art history. You exhibited your own paintings with his works at Statens Museum for Kunst. (The show even coincided with Louisiana’s big Matisse show! Oh the obscenity!) What was the intention with this meeting? Questions of abstraction and potentiality also lurk in works of Matisse.
Malene: To stay in and around the abstract; abstraction was very useful for the time travel that it took to create a common limbo, which is what I tried to create with the Matisse show.
Katya: What limbo? Malene: How to return this blatantly savdium, which occasionally expresses something that can’t be said or visualized in any other way. It is the master of abstraction. Because it is its own specific form it can’t be expressed any clearer in any other way. It conveys the abstract in a very concrete manner. It becomes both tangible and comprehensible.
Katya: I think what you seem to find in the painting is similar to what I find in language and space, as text – as concrete material but also extremely abstract. It interests me to understand space as a kind of text. To look at the relation in this way may seem brutal but that is exactly what fascinates me. This is where I can see differences in our ways of
age joy of painting without just mirroring it? Matisse shook his contemporaries and their perception of what a painting was supposed to do. How can I – with all respect, modesty and veneration – wrestle with Matisse and at the same time form a project that could live up to my own expectations and insistence that my work needs to progress and not just look like art. Can I establish a now and here communication – a momentary experience and a noticeable understanding – that Matisse created a movement that still resonates? I am trying to ask that question and answer it at the same time, all in the same gesture.
canvas. But you still work with canvas? How can that be interesting after all these world-creations?
Malene: The ‘world-creations’ are actually more specific than standing in my studio painting a canvas that serves absolutely no purpose… What makes this action so exciting has nothing to do with hanging the pictures in a gallery or the fact that on a good day I might be able to exchange them to cool cash. The painting – seen in this light – is perhaps the most irrational that you can work with. Yet it is the very act of painting that can be seen as the pitiful piece of wood that saves me and keeps me above water on the wild and foamy seas of the world. This action is a very unique experience. To be in the studio, mixing paint to a perfect viscosity and color, and deciding on what exact color will further my mission. What is going on right now? Is it micro or macro cosmos, is it happening here and now? Is it at 1:1 ratio to reality? It is exactly here, in this medium, that perception is allowed to change within a fraction of a second. And what a moment ago was a question, is now an answer. Both the banal and the infinite become tangible in this frame. Which brings me to the frame, the edge of the painting. It provides a transition to something else. But to where? Katya Sander,Visual artist, professor
Katya: After all the enormous and exuberant projects you’ve created, it must be very difficult or boring to return to the small
translated by Mirjam Bastian