The Chaotic Practice of artist Andreas Emenius
Andreas Emenius is an artist who covers a lot of ground. His work explores figuration and abstraction in videos, paintings, sculptures and performances, and his collaborations with fashion designer Henrik Vibskov and musician Trentemøller see him engage the few mediums he hasn’t explored on his own. We caught him just after the opening of ‘this sticky mess will get us there’ at Nordic Contemporary, a show he curated with Jacob Valdemar, to talk about art and his CSM education.
“THE GREAT THING WITH PAINTING IS THAT THERE’S NO SPOKEN LANGUAGE INVOLVED. I RECENTLY STARTED MAKING FILMS, AND THERE ISN’T MUCH NEED FOR DIALOGUE THERE EITHER. IT FEELS UNNECESSARY, LIKE RAISINS IN BREAD.”
Could you say a couple of words about your practice, and your goals as an artist?
I work with painting, video, installation and performance. When I was a teenager in the 80’s, a Norwegian friend told me that when he listens to The Cure, he gets the urge to jump off a cliff. I love the naivety that lies in this statement. My work is looking at the intensity of that which is right in front of me, not what exists around the perimeter, and I try to visualize something which has been done thousands of times, in a way that still feels necessary. The world existed before me and I’m just reacting to it, in my time. In a sense, I see myself drawing a line from the classical period of ancient Greece to the everyday traumatic experiences of today. I think of art as a sort of labor, a blue collar sense of working, like my grandfather did at the railways.
You are a CSM alumni, what are your memories of the school? Do you have any specific vision of what an art school should or shouldn’t be?
It was amazing and horrible at the same time. The school seemed to lack any real structure. I remember mostly the other students, always buzzing with something up their sleeve, and the building itself, this empty house in the middle of Covent Garden. It seemed to be very much what London was about at the time. There was a sense that something was coming. The teachers wanted me to explain the reasoning behind whatever I was doing, and I remember I was yearning for some sort of gestural, expression-oriented work to counteract the pre-planned. This conditioned me in a certain way, but wanting something else has followed me to today.
You seem to be comfortable with a wide range of practices: art, fashion, curation. Do you perceive a clear boundary between these activities or do you see them as interconnected?
I think a lot of theories, structures and movements are collapsing constantly, and soon it will all be a massive soup of ideas of everything that came prior. It’s schizophrenic and messy. I love that. Going forward, I can’t imagine it going back to something singular again. I put my trust in the chaotic.
It’s all the same to me, it comes naturally and spontaneously. Energies from doing one project kickstart the next one, and so on. It’s not so much the media you work in, it’s what you want to say; that specific something that you want to look at through the work. I admire artists in history who embraced being only a painter, a sculptor or a video artist, but for me (and for a lot of artists before me) doing everything at once seems to make more sense — to represent something that is expanding instead of narrowing. It makes me look somewhere I’m not used to, instead of going down the same safe path. You can still think in very critical terms, and also be complex and focused.
“I THINK A LOT OF THEORIES, STRUCTURES AND MOVEMENTS ARE COLLAPSING CONSTANTLY, AND SOON IT WILL ALL BE A MASSIVE SOUP OF IDEAS OF EVERYTHING THAT CAME PRIOR. IT’S SCHIZOPHRENIC AND MESSY. I LOVE THAT.”
You’ve engaged with a lot of these different practices through collaborations. What do you expect from collaborators?
Finding someone you can work with is extremely difficult, because you have to let go and connect, trusting that the other brain is wishing for similar goals. It helps if you travel in the same reference universe. Especially today, when it seems everyone is getting fuel from Instagram or something algorithmic, then this human interaction Ping-Pong can free some space for something unexpected to happen.
Do you see a big difference in process between your personal practices and your collaborative ones?
The great thing with collaborative projects is the freedom in thinking naively in different media. For example, I would approach film making in a very different way than a film director would, because I’m not immediately thinking of limitations such as costs. And vice-versa, I stay calm because I know there is someone there to keep my feet on the ground and to be realistic to actually get the work done!
Working by myself, I’m secluded, it’s a steady work process, moving along on my side of the fence, going about my business. In a collaborative process you need to work fast and keep the momentum for the limited time you got together. It’s a compromise, or some sharper decision-making, depending on how you look at it.
“THE WORLD EXISTED BEFORE ME AND I’M JUST REACTING TO IT, IN MY TIME.”
In parallel to all these collaborations, drawing and painting seem to be your main mediums for solo exhibitions. Is that accurate? What is your relationship to painting as a medium?
Painting for me is fundamental; it happens in the studio, it’s like meditation. You disappear momentarily from the world and make this work, and it relates to whatever else is happening in the practice. Perhaps not directly, but through some nerve endings it gives energy to the rest.
How to get the same urgency? How to translate this wish for an authentic gesture to everything else? How does a solid piece relate to a video work? Painting is always under attack as a medium. But it’s an activity foremost. It feels good and it’s something to do, work should just happen. Abstract or figurative, it’s all the same to me. My process is intuitive at first, mark-making, working quickly, then stepping back to edit. The great thing with painting is that there’s no spoken language involved. I recently started making films, and there isn’t much need for dialogue there either. It feels unnecessary, like raisins in bread. Matthew Barney knows this.
I’m more interested in formal problem-solving in painting: color, depth, lines. How to make it ‘work’, how it becomes a framework which gives freedom to the subject matter, and allows you to paint whatever the fuck you want. It’s about celebrating painting, not being intellectual about it.
You’ve done a lot of projects all over the world, is there one that is particularly close to your heart?
I feel I am nowhere near my best work yet, which I guess means the next show is the one that means most to me. I feel lucky just getting the opportunity to produce. However, I could mention my first museum show at Schuck Museum, Holland (2013). Especially during the opening night, with the performance, it felt like all the elements — paintings, sculptures, video — came together on an equal level as a whole.
What are your plans for the future?
I should get a bunch of kids!
But in the meantime I’m directing three more music videos for Trentemøller, planning a series of performances which will take place in March 2016 at Nikolaj Kunsthall in Copenhagen; an exhibition of paintings in Copenhagen next summer, and curating a new show at Nordic Contemporary, Paris in April. Then I am working on a project close to my heart, a series of short films together with Swedish director Åsa Riton that’s soon gonna break on through to a screen near you!
For fresh work, see Andreas’ Instagram @andreasemenius