Esben Weile Kjær
But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence, this change, inasmuch as it does away with illusion, is an absolute annihilation, or at least a reckless profanation; for in these days illusion only is sacred, truth profane.
– Feuerbach, Das Wesen des Christenthums, 1841
Where does performance start? And when does performance stop performing?
Esben Weile Kjær has created a room for distorted projections, a fun-house mirror hall. The exhibition BILLBOARD is like a reflective surface, aimed toward both the artist’s own practice and contemporary pop culture, in which meaning is amplified, twisted or entirely re-contextualized through images and objects – reflections – that are thrown back at the observer. It’s a playground of representation, a self-referential system in which reality is distilled into icons and images, sometimes entirely losing its referent. In that sense, the exhibition imitates the spectacle of contemporary culture, where signs are constantly remixed and definitions change costume in ultra-speed. BILLBOARD manifests society’s expansion-driven circular logic, where images and words bounce back and forth until they become just empty vessels for anyone to pour their drink in.
BILLBOARD references earlier work by the artist. HYPER, once a bouncy castle in Miami, has shrunk and hardened into a fibre glass sculpture, reflecting the room in its glossy surface. BUTTERFLY, an intense rave performance that took place at Arken Museum earlier this year, has dissolved into its representation: Four poster-like printed canvases, rasterized like large advertisement placards. It’s an echo- or post-performance through objects – relics and traces which prolong the play, pointing to how each new rendering generates new connotations and meanings.
The images seen in the printed series have been heavily cropped. Only faces, frozen in expressive looks, fit inside the frame. A frozen ecstasy grin, a gaping mouth and the artist himself wearing an indifferent expression and smudged makeup, become the public face of “Brave new world”, which is printed on the image as a playful logotype. I recognize the logo design of Reese’s chocolate in another image which spells “Media Machine” – a message we swallow like candy.
Stars, skulls, and butterflies—all super symbols whose meaning and connotations are constantly transforming throughout time and space—have been printed in black, straight onto stretched canvas painted in come-and-buy neon acrylics: green, yellow, orange, and magenta. These too demand attention. But what should we pay attention to? In BILLBOARD, Esben has separated signifier and signified; symbol and meaning flow in and over each other. But what should we pay attention to? In the exhibition BILLBOARD, Esben has detached signifier and signified from each other; symbol and meaning flow in and over each other. As viewers, we’re tumbling around in hollow hyper-reality, but this is not necessarily a dystopia. BILLBOARD withholds all moral judgment, instead we wander in a space where advertising has been stripped down to visual essentials, becoming a reflective surface that looks right back at us. It’s a liberating meaninglessness. It’s extra sparkling, scandalous, fun fun fun and fucking shiny.
– Text by Nora Arrhenius Hagdahl