When the Danish Design Centre hosted the It's a Small World exhibition the big kid in everyone was tickled by Vibskov & Emenius' 'soul Wash'. Stories told in video, installation, staged selfportrait or product design, the duo operate in a place somewhere on the brink of culture.
In Wilhelm Wagenfeld Haus in Bremen, Henrik Vibsk- ov and Andreas Emenius have populated the courtyard with a small pack of strange machines. Three-legged round metal bellies, looking like the mongrels of an eco-friendly replace and a space capsule, steadily filling large orange balloons with air. Getting ready to go somewhere you’d think, but no, just as conscientiously they’ll de ate again; producing only cycles of anticipation and resignation. Evoking memories of all the times your feelings ran high, and you thought everything in your life was about to change, but it didn’t.
This is Circle Series Section 2, part of a new series of collaborations by the fashion designer Henrik Vibsk- ov and the artist Andreas Emenius and it follows the ten Fringe Projects the duo carried out between 2007 and 2009. The two apparently share an obsession with form. Thus, the Fringe Projects kindled a batch of wonderfully naïve formal questions in their makers and onlookers alike: Is a fringe a fringe if there is just one? Does the fringe underline contours or dissolve them? Is fringe perhaps the ultimate antithesis of the form-follows-function concept, being ornamentation and undermining delimitation? Not surprisingly, the next series of work turned out to be something like an investigation of perfect geometric form.
The Exoticism of Machinery
But aside from the form, the work of Vibskov and Emenius takes the shape of peculiar emotional rooms of thought. There’s always a scenographic quality, evok- ing theatre props and set designs for abandoned stories. This can be carried out as video, installation, staged self- portraits or product design. The media is less important, what comes rst is producing, always creating these appearances from a place somewhere on the brink of cul- ture; the point where ashing imagery from the anachronistic time system of collective memory melts into a more innocently abstract form. Yet even if the work of Vibskov and Emenius constantly oscillates between so- lemnity, humour and sensual psychedelia, there is still something almost demure about it too. It is the sensation of a strange and beautiful bird outside your window looking in at you. Yes! In many ways it has to do with cliché imagery – just like those very same strange and beautiful birds looking through windows. It has to do with escapism and longing for coherence, excitement and beauty, a disquieting ontological homesickness.
Both sides of this artistic equation have a soft spot for science and apparatuses, with Vibskov having studied to become an engineer in a former life. Their work is virtually full of sentimental liaisons with the imagery of machines, motors, vehicles and turbines - just like those balloons back in Bremen. All nonsense machines, pointing, perhaps, at the way production has become less and less visible while society is getting more tech- nological. Nowadays, we don’t see the motor on the ferry, but the smell and roughness of welded metal makes it utterly exciting. We don’t see the big pots in which our medicine is blended. Or where the chicken is packaged. Or what the computer looks like inside.
Take for instance Fringe Project 10, which was made especially for the rst exhibition of the totality of the Fringe Projects at the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg, in February 2009, and has since been shown in both Copenhagen and Tokyo. Probably one of the most ob- vious pop hits among the projects, this piece is sure to give you butter ies in your stomach. The cylindrical rollers form an avenue, which the museum guests have to pass through to get to the rest of exhibition - it works as a soul wash of sorts, a rite of passage-machine of 12 majestically turbulent spruces, brushing the dust of the world off you. Overtly dealing with transfor- mation and transition, the obvious reference is a car wash - every childhood’s exiting venue for industrial beauty! If you think about it, a factory might be one of the most exotic places one can imagine. It is a fact that by the 17th century, when all of Earth had been more or less discovered, speculations about visiting the moon became frequent, and the rst literature about time-travel also stems from this century. But where do we go for strangeness these days? The many machines in the work of Vibskov and Emenius most intriguingly superimpose the possibility of nding unsoiled virgin worlds with the imagery of our urban culture, which has been separated from the realities of production.
Deeper into DiscoverySome of the most fascinating work by Vibskov and Emen- ius unfolds as self-portraits and performances. In many ways, these images of self-staging seem to be the other key to understanding the duo’s mutual work. Dressed up in fantastic guises, Vibskov and Emenius always seem to be on some sort of journey. Discovery or ight, that’s the continual theme. It’s the romanticism of being an outlaw, and the sinister situation of always being on the verge of inevitable and eventual capture. Or the fantasy of electri- fying times, in which things and places had not yet been invented, found and explored.
It all began with the series of Fringe Projects - fringe is also slang for a project on the side - and this somewhat casual meaning comes close to the originally floating intentions. The whole thing took off when the two long-time friends agreed to collaborate on something that tran- scended the character and limitations of their individual work, something immediate and hands-on. In Vibskov and Emenius’ world there’s a certain 1:1 logic at play. ‘So if we’re doing this something together, let’s depict doing this something’, they seem to have thought. Hence the self-portraits and performances; they do indeed transcend and reveal a deeper nature of the project – a certain romantic state of mind that has to do with time and be- longing, with identity, history and memories.
Lucid ExpectationsTake Fringe Project 6. The set is made of sliced up fabric, a little wood and some mirror foil. But it eas- ily translates into indications of a location; clearly we are in a swampy jungle. The triangular shapes become rocks or elbows of bald cypress trees, mirror turns into silent waters, and the fringe into neatly structured plants, like the crosshatching in a graphic print. Vibskov and Emenius paddle slowly through the theatrical scenery; pearl divers from a resistance movement in a communist avant-garde ballet, gliding through the dark, burning waters of Hades. Sure they might be toy- ing with a visual vocabulary that juxtaposes Jules Verne and photo reportages from National Geographic in a way that comes dangerously close to fantasising about imperialistic pasts. But it’s conducted as a catalogue of
mythologies that is most refreshingly never ironic or super cial in its reference to archetypes, but respectfully apes our most hopeful and lucid expectations of the unknown. In fact the two artists are wonderfully unashamed of the heroic – and at the same time the heroic doesn’t necessarily apply to themselves as people, and not at all to a specific historic time.
On the contrary they seem to be covering up while dressing up, using the guise as a camou age to become anonymous. The logics of the staged self-portrait are many, and a central point of fascination is how the portrait rescales a more general condition of existence to a personal level, using the persona of the portrayed as a canvas of particularity. With Vibskov and Emenius it is vice versa. The artists have covered faces, blurring shape and identity, but also submitting them to the mask magic of self-staging, permitting them to dissolve into the image and willingly surrender to this project of theirs. While once upon a time we brought that which we had explored into the sanctity of the Kunstkammer, it is as if now Vibskov and Emenius are putting the idea of exploring itself on show in the museum.