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Introduction Ole Ukena was born in Germany in 1983 and currently lives and works in Berlin and Bali. He received a Master of fine Arts in 2010 at the University of Arts in Berlin with Lothar Baumgarten. Over the past years his artistic practice has incorporated a wide range of media including sculpture, drawing, fabrics, photography, video and installation. Ukena‘s work has been shown nationally and internationally with a recent exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou (2011), BACC (2012), a solo exhibition at Serindia Gallery in Bangkok (2013) and and his video works have been broadcasted in European Television and international film festivals. His next exhibition will be at the Grand Palais in Paris during the Paris Photo Fair in november 2013. He recently received a year long scholarship at Thaillywood Artist Residency in Bangkok.

Ukena’s diverse media work is bound by a common thread of complex simplicity and a intriguing sense of humor. His recent works explore the field of interellated opposites which manifests itself through the precise choices of medium and message. His concept driven practice is that of precise reduction, to give the work all needed elements but nothing more. Ukena’s direct visual language draws inspiration from various sources such as philosophy, spirituality, psychology and thematically positions itself around subjects such as individual vs. collective identity, transformation and the creative potential of failure. Sometimes poetically narrative, and in other moments purposefully reduced, Ukena frequently uses language as a tool to build riddles that await completion in the viewer’s mind.

Giving up is not an option, SOlo show Exhibibition view from Ukena‘s Exhibition at Serindia Gallery in Bangkok in 2013

Self (Expanding)

Birdcage, light bulb, Raisin, Paper / 2013

In many spiritual traditions the metaphor of encagement is being used to describe our relationship with the mind. By identifying with it and its limitations we are not aware that the door out of the prison cell has always been open.


Nails, Wood / 200 x 80 cm / 2012

Over 15.000 nails are hammered on top of a wooden structure that evokes references to the beds of indian fakirs. Not all nails are facing with the sharp side up, some are turned upside down reflecting the light in a different way and creating this way the appearance of the word trust. The act of turning the nails upside down can be read as a metaphor for changing the perspective towards things that cause pain. In this piece what potentially hurts becomes a supporting structure. Where one trusts it doesn‘t hurt.


Nails, Wood / 200 x 80 cm / 2012

Over 15.000 nails are hammered on top of a wooden structure that evokes references to the beds of indian fakirs. Not all nails are facing with the sharp side up, some are turned upside down reflecting the light in a different way and creating this way the appearance of the word trust. The act of turning the nails upside down can be read as a metaphor for changing the perspective towards things that cause pain. In this piece what potentially hurts becomes a supporting structure. Where one trusts it doesn‘t hurt.

Handy Evolution

Wax, earth, flower pots/ 230 x 65 cm / 2012

A series of 7 hyperrealistic hands are growing out of a regular flowerpots representing different phases of attitude towards life from the moment of birth till the day of death.

In the absence of war

Toy soldiers, sand paper, wood / Dyptichon of 170 c 140 cm each / 2012

What seems to be an expressionistic painting at first sight reveals itself to be a battle arena made out of 12.000 toy soldiers. Where the troops are not and the ground is revealed an outline is created which suggest the peace symbol.

Systematic Laughter

C-print, wooden frame, broken glass, baton / 65 x 105 cm / 2012

A young woman with a red nose stands in front of a group of black dressed cops in Berlin, Germany. The baton hanging next to the photo seems to have been used to smash the glass of the frame leaving open the question who laughs last.

Protected Paradise

Barb wire, metal, laquer / 129 x 68 cm / 2012

A rainbow with bright colors at first sight reveals itself being made from barbwire. A symbol of paradise made from a symbol for protetcion and limitation. Paradise seems to be protected by a layer of limitation as well. The initial attraction turns into repulsion.

Burnout Syndrome

Burned matches, canvas / 80 x 80 cm / 2012

Over 9000 matches stuck on a canvas to write the word „work“ over and over again. While the first matches are still completly intact the last ones are gradually more and more burned down leaving traces of smoke. The piece can be read as a commentary on the habit to overwork and this resulting in depression or physical problems.

Who Is The Blind One Now? Stainless steel / 212 x 112 cm / 2012

The title suggests to look for an answer inside the piece but the mirror reflects a distorted image of the viewer. Mysterious floating stainless steel balls seem to hold the key but not everyone is able to sense the answer. The stainless steel balls contain three letters written in braille, the font for the visually impaired: YOU. A simple touch of a blind person could reveal the answer.

Behind Lies Lies Truth

Thread, raw silk, organza silk and zippers / 110 x 190 cm / 2011

A raw silken fabric with hand embroidered letters consists of 3 different layers that can be manually opened and closed by the viewer. The first black layer is covered by the word lie and the second layer of white silk is covered by the word truth. Additionally a third translucent silk layer floats behind the first two without any words written on it, suggesting a layer of perception which is beyond any of the first two opposing concepts.

The One And Only Truth Acrylic, cement / 180 x 100 cm / 2012

A red arrow pointing in two opposite directions suggesting this being the way to the one and only truth. Our mind likes to have rational answers, a clear direction and linear thought systems but the reality of our world too vast to have a predefined path.

One Day We Will All See The White Light

Glass, metal, bulbs, welding masks, time controlled dimmer, sound, speaker / 222 x 34 cm / 2012

Nine welding masks have the sentence One day we will all see the white light inscribed on the the glass that usually protects the steel worker from not being blinded. The light looks like it is pulsating and is accompanied by the sound of regular deep breathing. People with near death experiences continously claim to have experienced a white light. At the moment of death all our masks will have to be left behind.

Copy Machines

Series of 5 paintings / 50 x 40 cm each / Oil on canvas / 2012

A photograph of a copy machine is given to an asian painter that is specialized in realistic painted reproductions with the simple instruction to copy the copy machine displayed on it. After creating a painted reproduction another painter is then given the painting, again with the instruction to copy the copy machine. This process is repeated 5 times resulting in a noticable change of quality and perfection. The title Copy Machines can therefor be read as the subject of painting or the producers of the paintings.

Creative / Reactive LED lights, aluminium / 70 x 84 cm / 2011

In this piece the letter C is jumping in between two different positions and this way spelling two different words and ways of approaching life: CREATIVE and REACTIVE.

Original Fake

Stamp on Canvas / 150 x 250 cm / 2011

The word fake seems to be written as large red letters on a white canvas. When the viewer comes closer the letters reveal that it is in fact made out of thousands of original stamps. The work is sold as an edition of 5 while at the same time being sold as an original because each stamp structure differs slightly. It sublimly questions the contemporary production processes and the resulting value system we give to „original“ as opposed to reproduced „fake“ art works.

Binary Symphony

Thread, raw silk / Dyptichon, 102 x 140 cm each / 2011

Zeros and ones are dancing in top of a silk fabric that is covered with lines of thread resembling musical note paper. In this work the binary code is used instead of notes to create a musical piece with a strong visual representation.

Death Of An Old Habit

Engraved tombstone, earth / 188 x 110 cm / 2010

Whenever the ending “ism� is added to a term describing something, it creates a limitation of experience. Modernism, Conceptualism and Realism are simply fancy words for the boxes we put art in. This piece exists not only to bring awareness to this pattern of the mind, but to lay it to rest. And as this habit dies, the beholder of the piece will cease to be able to define it.

Barbie Broom

Wooden stick, plastic dolls, bucket / 120 x 40 cm / 2011

A set of barbies, the stereotypical icon of female youth gets transformed into an item of a regular housewife, a broom.

Cher, Chair, Share (Hello, Joseph)

Poster of the singer Cher, a chair, a printed definition of the word share / 220 x 175 cm / 2011

The power of language can both separate us and bring us together. This piece, which is based on Joseph Kosuth‘s masterpiece „Three and One chairs“ from 1965, playfully capitalizes on linguistic similarities while highlighting cultural absurdities bringing about the question: could a pop icon, place to rest and a single noun have anything in common/share common ground? In this work the intended act of misinterpretation becomes the actual act of artistic creation.

Look At Yourself

Handwoven thread on silver raw silk, mirror, glass / 37 x 85 cm / 2011

Conception of self is perhaps one of the most scarcely comprehended depths known to man. Self reflection requires so much more than a physical mirror. The reflection of self is provided literally through mirror material in the words “look at your” and in the absence of material in the word “self”, provoking the question: “can the self only be described as emptyness?”

It Is Always What You Think It Is Neon light, acryl / 170 x 20 cm / 2011

The subjective nature of art comes to life in neon reminding us that there is no right or wrong answer or way to perceive things. Individual interpretation in art and in life is all there really is.

This Is A Real Thread Thread on plastic / 170 x 270 cm / 2011

In language, “thread” and “threat” are only separated by a single letter. In impoverished society, they are only separated by a thin layer of waste materials. Inspired by the blue plastic material providing make-shift roofing over the slums of Mumbai, this piece plays on both words and culture by creating a common a visual thread to ignite inquiry over that which threatens to kill our world.

So Much Fucking Effort

Hand embroided black thread, cotton / 21 x 29,7 cm / 2011

This hand-woven sentence represents an entire month of master weaving work in India. This phraseology and font size are selected to provoke an ironic point, simultaneously pay homage to the craftsmanship and the time spent to create it.

Making Mistakes Are Okay

Chalk sealed with lacquer on chalkboard (installed slightly crooked) / 120 x 98 cm / 2010

Many evolved societies punish children for their mistakes. Through incorrect grammar, and a crooked way of hanging this piece irreverently explores a common practice for bad behavior in school and silently questions our societal quest for perfection and its coercive effect on creativity.

Digital Vagina

Thread on matka matka silk / 30 x 50 cm / 2011

A typographic element taken from a facebook status update is transfered by hand embroidery to silk. The viewer has the choice to see it two ways, either as a heart in parentheses or a womans private parts.

The Weight Of The Present Moment Bricks, gold paint, ribbon /48 x 45 cm / 2012

Gold colored bricks are carefully assembled into a square and wrapped by a red ribbon, creating the appearance of a present that is awaiting to be unpacked.

Musical Hanky

Hand embroided black thread, cotton / 21 x 29,7 cm / 2011

Making fun out of and within the mundane is a noble mission. With a hand stitched musical staff at your fingertips, this piece requires interaction; inviting you to compose your very own “nose symphony�.

The Timeless Project HD-Video (18:22 min) / 2012

This project was filmed in Varanassi, India which is known as humans oldest continuous settlement with over 6000 years of historical traces. Indian everyday madness races by while changing groups of holy cows are standing still, wearing a cloth that exclaims Time does not exist, clocks exist.

T-Shirt Cotton, thread / 180 x 100 cm / 2011

A t-shirt is not just made out of cotton and buttons. In this case its is also made out of embroidered t-letters and a shirt.

Planet Ego Discoball, playmobil characters, paper flags, acrylic sticks / 180 x 180 cm / 2010

Tiny men atop a disco ball use large, personal caption bubbles to compete for their place in the world. Light hits the disco ball and reflects into all directions of the room, manipulating any other artworks present and leaving its mark. As the figures stake their claim, this piece draws attention to the colorful absurdity of the ego.

Giving Up Is Not An Option

Steel, laquer, ladder, brush, paint bucket / 800 x 210 cm / 2012

The viewer who enters the exhibition place gets confronted at first sight with a situation in which the artist is about to finish setting up the artwork. A ladder, nails and paint are still on the floor seemingly waiting to be used. At second sight the sentence Giving up is not an option is surely to be read ironically. The artist gave up installing a piece named Giving up is not an option and the work is finished exactly by not being finished.

Ole Ukena *1983 in Göttingen, Germany lives and works in Berlin & Bangkok

Education 2004-2009 University of Fine Arts, Berlin / Class of Lothar Baumgarten, Hito Steyerl & Daniel Richter 2010 Master of Fine Arts with Prof. Lothar Baumgarten Selected Exhibitions 2013 Des fleurs ne sont rien!, Galerie Odile Ouizeman | Paris, France Between the lines (Solo show), Serindia Gallery | Bangkok, Thailand 2012 Connected Creativty, BACC Bangkok Arts and Culture Center | Bangkok, Thailand It is always what you think it is, Thaillywood Artist Residency | Chonburi, Thailand

2011 Hors Pistes, Centre Pompidou | Paris, France Hetik, DST Gallery | Münster, Germany 2010 Chambres a Part IV, La Reserve | Paris Something Strange Happened Here, Taittinger Collection | Brussels, Belgium Meisterschülerausstellung , University of fine Arts | Berlin, Germany Collaborative Communication, Ramanas Garden Gallery | Rishikesh, India Souvenirs on Earth , Palais de Tokyo | Paris, France 2009 Kunsthalle: Deutschland nach Portland, Homeland Gallery | Portland, USA Chambres a Part III, La Reserve | Paris, France FRESH, DasHotel Gallery | Berlin, Germany Flashback (Solo Exhibition), DST Galerie | Münster, Germany Absolventenausstellung, University of Fine Arts | Berlin, Germany Ausgangspositionen II, DST Galerie | Münster, Germany Clicks & Crayons, Ramanas Garden | Rishikesh, India 2008 Loop Video Festival | Barcelona, Spain Rundgang, University of Fine Arts | Berlin, Germany 25frames, Spielraum Gallery | Berlin, Germany 2007 Mmm,Berlin. Ääh, Kunst. Danke, gut. Okay, bis dann, Spielraum Gallery | Berlin, Germany 4. Berliner Kunstsalon, Art Fair | Berlin, Germany Rundgang, University of Fine Arts | Berlin, Germany Fabrikneu, Spielraum Gallery | Berlin, Germany

2005 Whatever this is, Premise Gallery | San Diego, USA Residencies 2012 Thaillywood Contemporary Artist Residency | Thailand 2009 Goethe Institut | Novosibirsk, Russia Affiliations 2006 Founder & Creative Director of the Nonprofit Organisation CRE8 Foundation 2005 Founder & Director of Spielraum Gallery | Berlin Teaching 2011 Collaborative Art Workshops in with CRE8 Foundation | India, Thailand 2010 Collaborative Art Workshops with CRE8 Foundation | India,Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Spain & Germany 2010 Video & Photography Workshops at Ramana´s School | Rishikesh, India 2010 Art & Improvisation Workshop leader at Bernau Gymnasium | Brandenburg, Germany 2009 Goethe Institut | Novosibirsk, Russia 2006 Guest Dozent at Hunsrück School | Berlin, Germany 2006 Videoworkshops at FEZ | Berlin, Germany 2004 Assistant Art Teacher at Glen Avon Elementary | Los Angeles, USA Filmography 2011 Breath of a Trumpet, 28’12’’ (HD) 2009 Important message from a parallel universe, 2’36″ (HD) 2009 Planet Littlewonder, 10’29’’, (HD) 2008 Through Kids Eyes, 45’00’’, Documentary (HD) 2007 Spieltrieb On Tour, 42’22’’, Documentary (HD) 2006 Dada Wegweg, 43’18’’, Documentary (HD) 2009 Bad, 6’09’’ (HD) 2004-2007 Don´t Worry, 3’51’’ (DV) 2006 Mlif Reschlaf, 20’52’’ (DV) 2004 Y+Y, 3’25’’ (DV) 2004 IDABIBADI, 2’00’’ (DV) 2004 H.T.S. vs S.T.H, 1’28’’ (DV) 2004 Dualitäten des Seins, 1’00’’ (DV) Studio Ole Ukena Willibald-Alexis-Str. 5 10965 Berlin

Ole Ukena  

Selected Works of German artist Ole Ukena.

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