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Søren Dahlgaard —

Hexagonal Cyclops



Hexagonal Cyclops

Hexagonal Cyclops



Elliptic Touchdown

Circular Alteration


The Breathing Room At first glance The Breathing Room appears to be an ordinary white room. As you enter the space—your expectations about the familiar white cube exhibition space is challenged. The walls are made from soft PVC canvas. Assisted by air, which continuously is pushed and sucked into the space behind each wall —the canvas slowly curves into a convex

shape and after that a concave shape. This repeating movement mimics the human breathing. The modernistic white cube ideal is challenged and in the broader perspective—the way of things. The art historic reference is the famous text—Inside the white cube— first published in 1976 by artist and writer Brian O’Doherty.

Inside measurements: 250 × 250 × 250 cm. — Materials: Wood, aluminum, PVC, ventilator, electronic control system. — Venue: Singapore Biennale, 2008.



3-Hour Sculpture


12-Second Sculpture

Katrine National Art Gallery, Denmark, 2008


Dough Portraits Karina National Art Gallery, Denmark, 2008


Khaleel National Art Gallery, Maldives, 2011


Dough Portraits Mohamed National Art Gallery, Maldives, 2011


Sarra & Marcus Andipa Gallery, London, 2010

Udi & Ran Digital Art Center, Israel, 2011


Dough Portraits Ben & Asoka Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre, Hong Kong, 2011

Patrycja & Aisa Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Poland, 2011


Melissa ECCO Contemporary Art Center, Brazil, 2011


Dough Portraits Josefa ECCO Contemporary Art Center, Brazil, 2011


Process in Vancouver.


Dough Portraits Vancouver Biennale, 2010.

ECCO Contemporary Art Center, Brazil, 2011.


The news stories from the daily news papers with opposing views of the same event are mixed together with fat and stuffed into sausages, so the different news stories digest together. MoMA PS1, New York, 2007.


Clockwise from left to right: — Performance still. — Installation view of kitchen with pigs intestines, fat, newspaper articles, meat string, tags, sausage-grinder. — Detail view of news paper sausage.


Digesting The News

Inspiration to the architecture from Massa “bomb� houses Northern Cameroon.


The Bread Hut

500 baguettes & drum kit inside. The Bread Hut, Galleria Civica Museum of contemporary art, Trento, Italy, 2007.

The Bread Hut


Wall Riding


Slide Painting

The painting process. Ruby, Bejing, 2009.


Portrait Paintings

The painting process. Gim, Bejing, 2009.


Portrait Paintings

The painting process. Disa, Iceland, 2009.


Portrait Paintings

Landscape Painting Søren Dahlgaard as The Dough Warrior created a landscape painting in the park of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, HumlebÌk, Denmark, 2008.


Landscape Painting

Installation view of the dried landscape painting.

Landscape Painting

The painting process. ECCO Contemporary Art Center, Brazil, 2011.


A Hedge Is A Lance

Monochrome landscape painting of plastic hedge, 2009.




Monochrome Hedge

The Mobile Hedge can be an urban intervention, create temporary spaces on a city square or in the suburbs. The Mobile


Hedge project deals with architecture, borders, public space and the fear of what might be behind the hedge.

The Mobile Hedge

Installation view of Mobile Hedges intervention on the Oscar Niemeyer square in front of Museo National, Brasilia, Brazil.


From 2002–2004 Søren Dahlgaard initiated a large vegetable farm on a small coral island in the Maldives. The idea was to find out which vegetables can grow in the humid and hot tropical climate of the Maldives in order to produce fresh vegetables for the inhabitants and tourist resorts 50

in the area, since all vegetables were usually imported from far away. It was a pilot project in drip irrigation. This is an irrigation method, which saves water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip. It is a very successful alternative to the traditional methods. A cornucopia of many

different vegetables was cultivated. This system together with other new forms of technology has been introduced to many island communities and it has contributed to a better lifestyle for the inhabitants. “You went to the Maldives and initiated an idea there, which was productive

Growing Vegetables On A Coral Island and it was then taken up by the people of the Maldives and expanded this idea through their own productivity. Once the people had taken up an idea and carried it forward through their own self-conscious productivity and efforts, it was no longer dependent on the charity that initiated

the idea. This is indeed your achievement and I admire what you have done.” “What is more, you have made yourself as part of the work, thus collapsing the division of subject and object. They have become organically and dynamically one, something the institutionally recognized

conceptualism of Land Art could not achieve–as it became trapped within the museum walls.” — Rasheed Araeen, artist & founding editor of the art journal Third Text, in Growing Vegetables on a Coral Island, Aarhus Art Building, Denmark 2011. 51

areal view of greenhouse—2500 m 2

lettuce & cucumber inside greenhouse

Eskil & Amani

unloading material


casting mould for well

The Farm, Maldives, 2002–2004 captain with squid

Kalaam, ready for Friday prayers

construction of staff house

sail fish



Edwin the agronomist & Søren

cucumber plant & drip

chinese cabbage

harvest going to market

The Farm, Maldives, 2002–2004 small chilies

sorting of chilies

Habenero chilies

cucumber harvest

taking harvest to boat


Drip irrigation system & 200 tomato, chili & cucumber plants, pollinating bees, grow lights. Aarhus Art Building, Denmark, 2011.

Red/blue LED grow lights for chili, Aarhus Art Building, Denmark, 2011. 56

Growing Vegetables Exhibition On ofAFarm CoralProject Island Photo album, armchair, sandbank. Galleri Image, Aarhus, 2011.

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ew vi n tio

ha — Vi l B b o ræ rg n d ,2 e 01 rig 2 år

Ku n


hi bi Ex

Dough Warrior Landscape Painting, 2008. 58

Dough Portraits, 2008.

Exhibition views Convex/Concave, 40 kg of plaster, 2009.

The Mobile Hedge, 2 × 2 m, 2010. 59



Exhibition views

Obstruction Painting, 2012.


Exhibition views Destruction of Obstruction Painting, video stills. 2001.


This publication & exhibition is supported by The Danish Arts Council & Kunsthal Brænderigården Viborg.

Printed by: Clausen Grafisk ApS Edition: 800, June 2012 ISBN: 978–87–90192–74–7

Published by Kunsthal Brænderigården Viborg, Denmark, on the occation of the exhibition Søren Dahlgaard—Seeing is Believing, 9 June—12 August 2012. – Exhibition curated by Bodil Johanne Monrad & Helene Nyborg Bay Exhibition advisers: Meir Tati of Bat Yam Museum Holon, Israel & Søren Dahlgaard Graphic design: Designbolaget Imaging: Werkstette Texts: Else Marie Bukdahl, Lisbeth Bonde & Bodil Johanne Monrad Translation: KE Hempel-Jørgensen Photo credits: Mikkel Tjellesen, Jon Norddahl & Søren Dahlgaard Selected exhibitions include: The National Art Gallery of Denmark; MoMA PS1, New York; Singapore Biennale; Vancouver Biennale; Blurr performance biennale CCA, Tel Aviv; performance at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; CSW Contemporary Art Center, Warszawa; CCBB Art Center Brasilia; ECCO Contemporary Art Center, Brasilia, Brazil; Aarhus Art Center, Denmark;

Acknowledgements: Patricia & Thomas Asbæk, Liselotte H. Birkmose of Gallery Asbæk, Sam Jedig Stalke Galleri, Dan Oryan of Israeli embassy Denmark, Karla Osorio Netto of ECCO Contemporary Art Center, Brasilia, Brazil. – Søren Dahlgaard, born in Copenhagen 1973. Educated at Slade School of Fine Art, London 1997– 2002. Based in Copenhagen.

Kunsthal Brænderigården Riddergade 8, DK–8800 Viborg

Video Archives: CCA—Contemporary Art Center, Tel Aviv. The Israeli Center for Digital Art. Ursula Blickle Videoarchive, Kunsthalle Wien, Austria. –

Public Collections: The Danish Arts Foundation. The Copenhagen City Council Collection. ECCO Contemporary Art Center, Brasilia, Brazil. Museo National Brasilia, Brazil.

Galerie Civica Trento, Italy; KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki; National Art Gallery of Maldives; CCA Andratx, Mallorca, Spain; Asbæk Gallery, Copenhagen; Chisenhale Gallery, London; Gwangju International Art Festival, South Korea; PAN, Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, Italy & The Digital Art Center Holon, Israel.


Danish performance and conceptual artist, Søren Dahlgaard (b. 1973), uses both gravity and humour in creating his artworks; these appeal aesthetically and visually to our intellect, feelings and imagination. Conceptual art offers an opportunity for challenging the structures of our daily lives and this is the starting point for Søren Dahlgaard’s humour, which is the captivating charm of his art. His works cause a shift in our perception or destabilise what are “accepted” but invisible

d or e w an n e h d r — J o n ra l Fo Bodi Mo

conventions, bringing to our attention relevant points for discussion, for example, about identity, attitudes to the unfamiliar or more artrelated questions such as the role of the artist and art history. Søren Dahlgaard’s work is usually reflective and philosophical, posing questions about otherwise accepted truths. When a privet hedge is placed on wheels and can move (The Mobile Hedge) it changes, e. g., its purpose, and poses questions about our relationships with local neighbours and our attitudes to things that are strange and unknown. Or, when walls breathe and move continuously from convex to concave (The Breathing Room), they examine and challenge the static, white exhibition room. Seeing is Believing is the largest special exhibition to date of Søren Dahlgaard’s works, and it is Kunsthal Brænderigården’s wish to present an artist whose works open up new meanings and encourage us to wonder about and reflect over what we see.

Søren Dahlgaard has already achieved considerable recognition on the international art scene and his works have been exhibited in important museums around the world. Kunsthal Brænderigården hopes this exhibition will provide the Danish public with the opportunity to see Søren Dahlgaard’s work displayed in a larger format. Kunsthal Brænderigården would like to offer many thanks to the owners who have so kindly placed works at our disposal. We would also like to thank the Danish Art Council’s Visual Arts Committee for economic support towards the exhibition and this catalogue. Last but not least, we would like to thank the authors of the catalogue, Else Marie Bukdahl and Lisbeth Bonde; and a special thank you to Søren Dahlgaard for both his interest and participation throughout the entire process of setting up the exhibition, and for having created so many, wonderful, funny and relevant works, which we are very proud to be able to present to the visitors of the Art Center



r o f s e y g t ar t n e le ci aard’s l a so ah l g h c & —ren D t ø ew ar cts of S N e

The Dadaists–especially Marcel Duchamp who was the most influential–shocked the art world in the period 1914–1920. They were the first to seriously challenge the concept of what constitutes a work of art and they initiated new art forms such as performance and installation art. Dada was not–as explained by Hans Richter “an artistic movement in the accepted sense; it was a storm that broke over the world of art as the war did over the nations. It came without warning, out of a heavy, brooding sky, and left behind it a new day in which the stored-up energies released by Dada were evidenced in new forms, new materials, new ideas, new directions, new people–and in which they addressed themselves to new people”.1 The Dadaists had an enormous impact upon the consequent breakthrough in the art world, as well as on more recent breakthroughs. Yves Klein (1928–1962), for example, one of the Neo-Dadaists, experimented with “living brushes” as a new method of applying paint. The “brushes” that he preferred were usually women who, covered in paint–preferably blue–created a variety of images on the canvas by pressing themselves against it, as can be seen in his four so-called Anthropométries. In the spirit of Dada, the Fluxus movement during the 1960s was noted for mixing different artistic media in surprising ways to create new art forms. Fluxus artists, especially Joseph Beuys (1921–86), loved to work with whatever materials were at hand and to create unpredictable performances. In Japan, the Gutai group


followed a manifesto written by Yoshihara in 1956. He was convinced that “novel beauty was to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters in the course of the centuries.” His ideas found expression in startling performance-based works, such as Challenging Mud (1955) by Kazuo Shiraga. These innovations have inspired the inter-connected artistic experiments that have uncovered new paths in a familiar world. This development intensified considerably during the 1980s. Artist duo Peter Fischli (1952–) and David Weiss (1946–2012) made a significant contribution; to experience their installations and films, for example, The Way Things Go (1984–87), can give new dimensions to our conventional, everyday lives. Their works have been described as “post apocalyptic”, because they dealt with chain reactions and the way in which different objects take flight,

Aspects of Søren Dahlgaard’s art

land and explode. In the 1990s the impact of this artist duo spread as rings in water. Roman Signer (1938–), who creates “action sculptures”, uses a working vocabulary of everyday items, for example, umbrellas, tables, chairs and containers. With works, such as Kurhaus Weissbad (1992), he creates a forceful visual and affective experience. The Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang (1957–) has made new contributions to this particular field of dynamic installation art. In 1993 he created the site specific Project to extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No 10, which consisted of an approximately six-mile long gunpowder fuse that extended, in a dragon-like pattern, beyond the Western end of the Great Wall, at the edge of the Gobi desert. Installations by Francis Alÿs (1959–), such as When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), present us with new observations of social and cultural conditions in a particular area. These are often interpreted through

walks in urban spaces. Vik Muniz (1961–) creates new interpretations of famous artworks, for example, Double Mona Lisa, After Warhol (1999), based on a 1963 screen print by Andy Warhol. Favouring unusual materials he has used jelly and peanut butter giving it a thought-provoking transformation. In the start of 2012, MASS MoCA provided an educational opportunity in connection with their Sol LeWitt respective exhibition, by asking the public to “simply make a sandwich of one of his works” and send an image of it to the museum. The well-known Danish performance and conceptual artist, Søren Dahlgaard (1973–), was influenced quite early on in his career by the Dadaists, especially Duchamp, as well as the Neo-Dadaists, among others Yves Klein. Other influences were both the Fluxus movement and the Gutai group’s innovations. Søren Dahlgaard’s meeting with Chris Burden’s experimental performances and self-inflicted danger was a new source of inspiration,

as was Paul McCarthy’s video-taped performances and provocative multimedia installations and John Baldessari’s works that questioned the idea of artistic authorship. There is much to suggest that it was when Søren Dahlgaard was introduced to the innovative, often large scale, installations created by Fischli and Weiss, Roman Signer and Cai Guo-Qiang, that he seriously developed a keen interest in creating his own evocative, artistic experiments in his own personal style. Søren Dahlgaard would doubtless agree with Jean Fischer’s comment regarding the abovementioned artworks “the radical event of art precipitates a crisis of meaning or, rather, it exposes the void of meaning at the core of a given social situation, which is its truth.” Søren Dahlgaard has also been fascinated by the dual nature of the often boundary-breaking installations, performances and videos made by these artists; humour and gravity, amusement and important existential problems are bound


together in an aesthetic way that appeals to the intellect, feelings, fantasy and senses. Many of Søren Dahlgaard’s own performances and installations reveal that he, like Duchamp, poses the question that if the world exists because I perceive it, can it be proved that any reality, any Ding an sich, underlies it? Or, as Martin Heidegger has expressed it: “How can I know that this world is not simply a dream, a shimmering hallucination, a horizon no longer suffused with its own light but with mine.” 2 Two of his earlier works created in 1997 depict a cod with lamb’s wool and a kangaroo with feathers. Both works suggest that things and the world as such can be different to what we believe it to be. The world around us is not easily understood. The same idea is presented in another way in the video House Slamming (1999), in which high-rise buildings fall over then rise upright again. It is a reference to things that we think are stabile, may actually contain unpredictable patterns of movement.

Watching this video brings to mind the words of the French philosopher Pascal, who wrote in 1670: “We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.” 3 Philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, Ilya Prigogine, has emphasizid that our world “is branded with the mark of radical uncertainty.” 4 This assertion, which is a radical, modern interpretation of Pascal’s views, permeates various versions of Søren Dahlgaard’s installations, performances and videos. However, in contrast to philosophic and

New challenges for art and society–


scientific descriptions of this topic, his visualisations are characterised by humour, comic performance and amusing, unpredictable tactics. When we consider his work we are not overwhelmed by concepts and categories or a poetic discourse, but an intense, vital and personal artistic interpretation, which almost etches itself into our imagination. This is keenly experienced when watching Hexagonal Cyclops (2000) in which a man is trying to protect himself against the lumps of dough being flung at him. There is no ending to the story. We are caught up in a tense situation in a room that seems to be under surveillance, similar to that found in prisons. When we view Obstruction Painting (2001), we get a strong feeling of being confronted by a concept of matter, where matter is “active”, leading to irreversible processes. This work demonstrates to us what happens when the “frame” takes over control and spreads out into the room minimalising the contents.

Aspects of Søren Dahlgaard’s art

3-Hour Sculpture (2006) exemplifies the duality of gravity and humour that is characteristic of Søren Dahlgaard’s artistic activities. A 100 kg lump of dough slowly and with predictable movement flows over the edge of a rigid, specially prepared aquarium. It is a sculpture with a limited time span and has therefore been documented by a series of photos, which is the culmination of the work. Again, with 12-Second Sculpture (2006), which shows a lump of dough that falls almost rythmically off a chair onto the floor, we experience how an artwork looks, lives and moves. With both these works Søren Dahlgaard has used a form of expression that communicates directly–and with humour–to the viewers, regardless of who they are. In The Dough Warrior landscape painting performance (2008) Søren Dahlgaard has become transformed into a comical and hard-working painter, who is covered from top to toe in baguettes. He throws himself into his painting task with an almost

warlike intensity and is therefore called the Dough Warrior. He fights to create his masterpiece and through this process he reveals a new understanding about the techniques and history of art. He uses about 100 litres of paint, which is used almost explosively and unpredictably. In the video showing this process we witness how one minute his work runs smoothly, the next quite badly, then somewhere in between. We watch somewhat amazed and in suspense while hedge and painter become covered in brightly coloured and textured paint, both becoming a living, expressive landscape scene with quick changes in tempo. The traditional landscape painting has been converted into an exciting performance. This work shows how Søren Dahlgaard works both intuitively and reflectively, as he reveals new aspects of the often unruly and often uncontrollable artistic process and draws us into his dynamic artistic universe. Dough Portraits (2008–2012) are prominent works in Søren

Dahlgaard’s production. He has created about 1000 of them and has presented them successfully in ten different countries. The people being portrayed choose which dough they will use and mould it so it covers their faces; they are participating in the artistic process themselves. In this way the “sitters” reveal other important aspects of their personalities, other than those revealed by their faces. The Mobile Hedge (2011) was exhibited at the Contemporary Art Centre in Brasilia, Brazil. The hedge was set on wheels so that it could intervene in urban space and facilitate new dialogue situations between people; people who perhaps would not otherwise meet or would just be passive. The Mobile Hedge was moved around the outside of the oval building. During this circuit the mobile hedge met a group of sixth grade school children, who immediately started to play and talk together, whilst eating popcorn. A living space had suddenly been established–an example of how


The Mobile Hedge can facilitate social communication. Since the 1970s there have been several breakthroughs in the USA, which have broken away from traditional concepts of what constitutes a work of art. Some of the earlier artists, for example, Robert Smithson, created Land Art. Their materials consisted of natural phenomena or of nature itself. Several of them, especially Michael Singer, were at the forefront of environmental consciousness and nature-based art. The ecological form of Land Art has been the inspiration behind Søren Dahlgaard’s most comprehensive work–Growing Vegetables on a Coral Island Hibalhidhoo. From 2002–2004 he built a large vegetable farm on a small coral island in the Maldives. The idea was to find out which vegetables could be grown in the humid and hot tropical climate of the Maldives. The aim was to produce fresh vegetables for the inhabitants and tourist resorts in the area as nearly all vegetables were imported from

far away. It was a pilot project in drip irrigation. This method saves water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly into soil by the plants. It is a very successful alternative to traditional methods. A cornucopia of many different vegetables was cultivated. The founder of Eco Aesthetic, Rasheed Araeen, has stressed that this project has impressively contributed to “demolish the difference between instrumental productivity and artistic creativity.” 5 Anders Kold, curator at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, has stressed that Søren Dahlgaard “is fundamentally an artist concerned with dialogue”.6 It is precisely from this dialogue that new understanding or knowledge can arise. Søren Dahlgaard is constantly drawing new boundaries in the art world. He brings us to a threshold of a vision capable of transcending our present experience and inspiring us to think and feel in a new way and discover unexpected aspects of the surrounding world.

New challenges for art and society–


– Else Marie Bukdahl, dr. phil., former rector of The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, The School of Visual Arts.

In all his works he includes himself within the scope of irony and humour, draws us into a magical sphere and stimulates us to experience it with the entire body and all its senses

Aspects of Søren Dahlgaard’s art


Pascal. (Selected texts). With introduction and notes by Jørgen Bukdahl. Translated to Danish by Asta Krause-Jensen, Berlingske, 1970, p. 161 & p. 164. English translation from The Project Gutenberg eBook of Pascal’s Pensées, Section II, 72, p. 19. http:// 18269-h/18269-h.htm.

2 Quoted by H. Richter in op cit, p. 91.

1 H. Richter, Dada. Art and Anti-Art, London 1964, p. 9

6 Søren Dahlgaard, The Dough Warrior project! Text by Anders Kold. Copenhagen, 2008, p. 51.

5 Søren Dahlgaard, “Discussion: Rasheed Araeen and Søren Dahlgaard” in the catalogue to the exhibition Growing Vegetables on a Coral Island in Aarhus Contemporary Art Centre, 22 January— 3 April, 2011.

4 Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order out of Chaos. Man’s new Dialogue with Nature, London, 1984, p. 313.

ith rd w aa ew hlg etics i v a s th r e D —ive ae t In ren ormat f Sø Per

Contemporary art, which thrives on the manifold energies of today, is that art that gives us a glimpse of these energies while unfolding themselves; is that art which transforms these energies in ways that make us interested in what is to come. 1 Søren Dahlgaard’s (b. 1973 Copenhagen) conceptual works are exotic, colourful and full of humour. They are most often expressed performatively in the zone between theatre and art, with the artist producing a series of actions that involve him actively and physically. Like a sportsman pushing himself to the limits, he is determined to reach his goal, despite any errors on the way that may make his audience laugh at him. However, at the same time the viewers are affected sensuously and intellectually by his highly original performances; their feelings are also affected as his art often contains a tragicomic poetry. Most of his works develop over time. His longest, to name one, is his innovative agricultural project Growing vegetables on a Coral Island on the Maldives, which ran over two years from 2002–2004. Though, he hesitates to call it an art project. He feels that it was not so much his knowledge of art as his practical capabilities that he relied on for his innovative, ecological food production on this little island kingdom in the Indian Ocean. Søren Dahlgaard’s videos, which are often documentation for his performances, are also time-based. The very funny and quite absurd The Drumming Bread Hut performance is a noteworthy example, involving a hut built from 500


baguettes, which proves to be a somewhat fragile and short-lived form for architecture. Inside is a set of drums. This work was exhibited together with other works at ECCO Contemporary Art Center in Brasilia in 2011 and can now be viewed on YouTube or his website www. In this work his alter ego, the Dough Warrior, plays wildly on the drums with the bread which breaks up, so the hut is eventually used up and decimated. When Søren Dahlgaard performs he utilises a precisely planned choreography. Wearing his armour of bread he paints in front of an audience, for example, as he did in Louisiana Museum in 2008, when he painted a multi-coloured, abstract-expressive painting on a privet hedge! At the finale, covered in paint and with his bread armour seriously damaged, he departed the scene, which was strewn with broken props and splashes of paint. They resembled relics from a holy ritual. This ritual action-painting or painting performance is conducted

Performative aesthetics

– Sport & scouts – My interest in art started when I was young and went on a course at the Art Folk High School in Holbæk. There I was taught by the Swedish video artist, Magnus Wallin, and I can see that he was the most important source of inspiration when I look back at those days. He showed me, for example, Fischli & Weiss’ famous video: Der Lauf der Dinge.

with equal amounts of passion and aggression–and at the same time it is a critical response to painting as a fetish-object and to privet-hedge Denmark. We met one day in May 2012 in his well-lit, high-ceilinged studio on Refshale Island; it has a view over Copenhagen city and over the harbour on the other side. The large room is full of drawings, photos and 3-D works, as well a number of props that he uses in his performances. But how did Søren Dahlgaard actually start as an artist?

(This amusing video was made in a sort of experimental laboratory and shows a sequence of arranged objects that interact, setting things in motion in a chain reaction according to the laws of physics. The video makes a deep impression on everyone regardless of background, age or education–LB). Dahlgaard: It was also my first real experience with art as I came from a home where sports and scouts were the main interests. Therefore I knew very little about art. It was the mother of my girlfriend at that time, a ceramic artist, who encouraged me to attend Holbæk Art School when I had a gap year after secondary school. At the school I also learnt about American west-coast artists such as Chris Burden (b. 1946) and Paul McCarthy (b. 1945) and other conceptual artists. I found out how exciting this genre was to operate in. Their crazy points of view and radical use of artistic expression intrigued me. The land art artist Robert Smithson (1938–73) also made an impression

on me at that time–especially his Spiral Jetty, which I responded to. He worked a lot, by the way, with hexagons, which inspired me to make Hexagonal Cyclops, which is a video taken from above and looking down into a hexagonal room. It is a panopticon with 6 windows. A white-clad figure stands in the middle and he is being bombarded with lumps of dough, which are thrown at him through all six windows. This work is included in the exhibition in Viborg, says Søren Dahlgaard. The room is a visualisation of a pan-optic prison, designed by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832). It is a very effective form of surveillance architecture as it was possible for prison guards to keep an eye on all the prisoners, without them knowing precisely who was being watched. This invisible control gives the prisoners the impression that they are in the care of omniscient guards. An early version of Big Brother. It is the nature of dough to change form–like clouds that grow


bigger and change shape as you follow them across the sky. Dough is an organic and malleable material that alters over a period of time. It can be said of Søren Dahlgaard’s works–also those that have a more object-like character rather than time-oriented–that they respond to the artist’s wish to create art that will be more than just art for art’s sake. An art that is able to communicate with a wider public, rather than just an inner circle of the art public that is often too consentient. At the same time his works reveal the process of their generation. Søren Dahlgaard has played a lot of sport and has been a competent drummer for 17 years in a postrock group called Silo. There is also great deal of body and rhythm in his works, which separates his from a lot of other contemporary art. He is a rare productive, unorthodox and far from anaemic artist. As you can see in the exhibition at Brænderigården, he uses a considerable variety of media and materials, especially since his works are so

Interview with Søren Dahlgaard– concept-based and therefore crave very different formats and textures, according to whatever he wishes to express or challenge. How can we, for example, understand his dough portraits? He is playing with the centuries old genre of portrait painting: with his surreal humour he hides the sitter’s physiognomy behind 10 kg of dough. If you think it is a matter of focusing on the sitter’s identity and revealing secrets about his/her personality, think again. On the contrary, the sitter inside his/her dough feels like a changeling in the dark, but also feels protected against the laughter that befalls them while being photographed. But who are these unidentified people buried under the dough, the viewer may ask, when they stand looking at the photograph afterwards? We need to look at the sitter’s clothing, posture, position, and so on, in order to play detective and try to identify them. In this way Dahlgaard awakens our curiosity in an active and positive way. At the same time he is push-


ing this organic material in a new direction, so that it approaches the sculptor’s traditional materials such as plaster or stone, which correspond to the dough’s malleable whiteness. Søren Dahlgaard works with video installations, an example is House Slamming from 1998, in which high-rise buildings buckle over then rise up again–as if he could foresee the demolition of the blocks at Ruskær and Agerkær in Rødovre earlier in May 2012. House Slamming is shown inside a model of a high-rise building. He also makes videos as documentation of his performances or happenings. However, he can also make his point with 3-dimensional works, for example when he transformed a natural feature, a hedge, into a functional object. In this project, called The Mobile Hedge, he put wheels under privet hedges so they became mobile and friendly–creating new urban spaces rather than separating properties, which is typical here in Denmark, where

Performative aesthetics

hedges like walls block the view and prevent communication between neighbours. In other words: Søren Dahlgaard’s multi-media art is multi-facetted, rich and inventive. He also has a global outlook and a long, international series of exhibitions behind him–and before him. Alone in 2012 he has exhibited in 14 places around the world– from New Zealand and the Maldives to Greece and Finland. Not to mention the special exhibition The Kaboom! Process, which was shown in Asbæk’s Art Center, CCA Andratx, Mallorca. Søren Dahlgaard was educated at Slade School of Fine Art in London, 1997–2002. We walk around his studio and look at his many works. If I tell you something about all of them it will take far too long, so we had better limit ourselves, he says, while pointing out a series of A4 drawings entitled A Hedge is a Lance. These works were exhibited in autumn 2011 in Gallery Asbæk in Copenhagen. It is a series of photos of paintings that Søren Dahlgaard

created in Øregaard Museum’s park late summer 2011. He was garbed in a costume of branches and grass– alias the Hedge Warrior–and ran towards three large canvases holding 2 metre long hedge plants under his arm, using these as lances-cumpaint brushes. Not without humour he points out the long history of original paintings and the battle to paint masterpieces. But I am also going to exhibit a series of ink drawings that illustrate in sketch form the problems that I am working with. Some of them become actualised, while others function as part of an idea bank. I value these greatly and consider them the core of my artistic work. As conceptual artist Søren Dahlgaard combines several artistic methods with, for example, social intervention, interactivity and development of alternative urban spaces, as illustrated by the above mentioned privet hedge on wheels. I grew up in Sorgenfri and lived on a street called Privet Lane, laughs Søren Dahlgaard, so it is

quite natural for me to work with this bush, that is very common in Denmark and which means so much, because it puts boundaries between people and properties. With regards to interactivity I notice that the public enjoy joining in–this is the case with both my dough portraits and painted portraits. With the live-performances this results in a constructive collaboration with the portrait sitters who offer their services. They are willing to let themselves be covered in paint or pack their faces in dough, even though they are a little unsure about whether they will be able to breathe. But they can and it only lasts about 10 seconds until I have taken the photograph, which functions as an independent artwork.


– Offensive critique of minimalism’s ascetic aesthetics – Both when you are playing the role of Dough Warrior and when you paint your portraits you are continuing a long tradition of modern art: American action painting or French Tachism. But apart from that, you have also been influenced by the neo-Dadaist Yves Klein’s anthropometric works. During the 1960s he used beautiful, naked women to paint with; using his international Klein-blue colour on their bodies they rolled themselves over the canvases leaving body-prints as the picture’s motif. When I see, for example, your Slide paintings where you slide down a chute with black paint and impose your body print on a white board, then I think that you are consciously relating yourself to this tradition? Yes, I quite definitely continue the traditions you mention, but I do try at the same time to invoke new meanings by combining some of

Interview with Søren Dahlgaard– the before mentioned artistic experiments. Besides that I am actually very interested in, for example, minimalism’s aesthetics. And looking at your very gestural paintings that result from your action painting as the Dough Warrior, also abstract expressionism and Pollock’s drip paintings? Probably more of an ironiccritical reaction to abstractexpressive painting, because I am more interested in the process than the end result than the abstractexpressive painters, who related in a less conceptual way to the genre of painting. I place myself at a humorous distance to their, at times pathetic, attitude to painting as a fetish-object. Besides, I try to grasp phenomena in our environment that trouble me–including pink poodles. So, instead of going around these issues I turn them into themes, whether critical or humorous. Some years ago, as a humorous response to the public’s exclusion by the monochrome, minimalistic


painters, Søren Dahlgaard “greased” some paintings with coconut fat instead of using paint. It’s fun to paint monochrome for the first time, but pointless to continue having done so, for then you are just an epigone, says Søren Dahlgaard, who absolutely goes his own way. At the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition 1998, for example, he exhibited his project Boxing Poodle, with his loathed, pink poodles. The work consisted of three pink poodles made from steel springs and foam-rubber, covered with latex, which the public could either hit or kick in order to satisfy their particular idiosyncrasies. Søren Dahlgaard looks quite “normal”, however he thinks quite differently from normal. He thinks things over ad absurdum and reacts to the world’s situation by creating two or three-dimensional pictures. And while doing so he also ponders over art, especially painting, which he attacks physically and by using motifs that crop up by chance. An example is when he made template-

Performative aesthetics

like prints of his body on a polychrome, abstract-expressive coloured background whilst making a series of negative-paintings as the Dough Warrior. In general, Søren Dahlgaard uses his many actions to express the difficulties within painting in a time when all experiments seem to have been tried. He sees art and daily life in a new light and mixes different levels of reality with the result that the world appears just as mysterious and absurd, bordering on the funny, as when experiencing it for the first time as a child. The absurd is a part of his own “psychogeography” and he thinks it is just as absurd to be a banker as an artist, even though he is not so keen to put his pictures into words–there is a reason why I became a visual artist as pictures can say something that words can’t. When looking at your works and your performances as the Dough Warrior–where you stand in front of a large audience very visibly as a significant and very different sort of character–I feel that you have in-

cluded everything–from the comic to the tragic. You are packed in armour made of bread that separates you from the rest of the world. The bread reminds us of our dependence on food and daily food rituals as dictated by our bodies’ needs. Do these performances or actions function as a sort of personal “acting out” for yourself? It is like a sport, ballet or play. Everything is thoroughly prepared and there is a plan for the whole thing. I think what shall I do, how will I sing, how will I move? Will I walk in particular way or will I paint in a particular way? During the action I am really just myself and quite calm, but when I edit the video afterwards I select the situations with most action. I originally developed the Dough Warrior as a drawing. Afterwards I baked the loaves of bread and attached them to my body. Then I started to think about what I would do wearing the costume. At the start the bread looks like a protective covering, but as it becomes covered in paint it gets

soft and breaks up, so it all starts to develop as a slapstick tragicomedy in Charlie Chaplin style. But it is also about a frustrated artist who is trying to paint a masterpiece and how will he manage it? It is the process that is important. The primary point is to reflect critically about the painting genius, who sits alone in his studio and paints and paints until the work is completed, and we never see how it is done. Afterwards the painting hangs forever in an art museum completely detached from the process. It is both entertaining and tragic making these dough warrior performances, and in the end I become a part of the surrounding scenery. I want to give the public the chance to experience the studio process, which with these performances is accessible to them. It is very basic. Earlier you made absurd works of a more object-like nature such as a cod with lamb’s wool coat or a kangaroo with feathers. What thoughts did you have in this connection?


I like to ask questions about things and think things out from scratch. I exhibited these animals at KE (juried Artists’ Autumn Exhibition) in 1996. A five-year old boy asked his father if kangaroos have feathers and this is an obvious question to ask since he has never seen a living kangaroo–unless he could remember it from a visit to the zoo. When you are new-born, you know nothing. Then over time you learn everything and stop asking questions about the world’s phenomena. But things can be different from what you think they are and it is important to keep on asking questions throughout your entire life. Aesthetics also play an important role for me when I work. Why have you chosen to use dough in so many of your works? Because dough–and bread– have interesting references to religion–for example the sacraments. But when I work with this material, with its interesting texture, I am also pushing sculpture in a new direction. Dough is similar to plas-

Interview with Søren Dahlgaard–

1 Terry Smith: What is contemporary Art? Contemporaneity and Art to Come, in Konsthistorisk Tidskrift, vol. 71, häfte 1–2, 2002, p. 13. Cited from Solveig Gade: Intervention & Kunst, Rævens Sorte Bibliotek, Copenhagen, 2010.

– Lisbeth Bonde is Cand. Mag. and art journalist for Weekendavisen. She has published several books about contemporary art.

ter, clay and marble because of its whiteness. But in contrast to marble, for example, it is not a longlasting material as it can only keep for half a day. So when I make my sculpture scenarios I have to make videos or take photographs in order to document them for posterity


– See also: Søren Dahlgaard’s website, packed with information. For example, texts by Anders Kold & Rasheed Araeen’s interview (2011) with Søren Dahlgaard about his vegetable farm.

– Anders Kold: Søren Dahlgaard. The Dough Warrior Project! (catalogue, 2009)

– Camilla Jalving and Rune Gade: Nybrud—dansk kunst i 1990’erne (Breakthrough—Danish art in the 1990s), Aschehoug, Copenhagen, 2006.

– Literature – Lisbeth Bonde and Mette Sandbye: Manual til samtidskunst (Manual for Contemporary Art), Gyldendal, Copenhagen, 2006.

Performative aesthetics

– The National Art Museum’s website with a presentation article in connection with the exhibition 100 drawings Challenging Reality in 2008.

– The Danish Art Council’s biographies on artists (Kunststyrelsen, kunstnerbiografier).

Seeing is Believing

Søren Dahlgaard - Seeing is Believing  

Book of the art works of Danish artist Søren Dahlgaard.

Søren Dahlgaard - Seeing is Believing  

Book of the art works of Danish artist Søren Dahlgaard.