The current exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern presents paintings by Danish artist Sergej Jensen. Jensen is known for his abstract paintings with used textiles, but he is also musician and performance artist. His exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern is accompanied by five of his songs.
Solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland. Vernissage, August 6, 2021.
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In order to strike up a conversation, they ask, somewhat awkwardly, for a light. The nature of these images is too discreet to allow for a smooth conversation opener – they offer little that can be grasped with words.
Impenetrability and double layers are not exactly popular at present. Transparency and straightforwardness are determining the prevailing reality. It is said that many wish for identifiable content in art so it may be understood. But is that really the case?
Sergej Jensen’s paintings offer a different kind of access. Here, nothing is being declared; here our eyes need to scan structures and layers, pictorial spaces hard to define, before they can detect a silent allure. These are realities that come to speak far beyond language.
Jensen’s paintings shown at Kunsthalle Bern emerge from a skewed situation: their formation is intricate, almost as if they were fleeing from something that is not supposed to be, but also running towards something that is not there. Their surfaces only hint at the procedures which they have undergone. Our eye suspects what passed, without fully unlocking their traces.
Ever further Jensen delves into subtleties, as if searching for something without knowing what it is.
Images are carefully built up, only to be roughly swept over, as if the dedication put into them should be concealed behind a deceptive curtain. Nevertheless, their surfaces seem thin, almost as if glazed, layers flowing into each other.
Sergej Jensen’s painting sometimes seems like an act without a perpetrator – the material is the agent and not just the tool or victim. The textile speaks for itself, but it is not simply untouched. There is painting going on as well. Or, frankly put, the canvas is subjected to treatments. The material is shredded, and the patches sewn back together rigorously. This as a base, the coating, scraping, pressing and impressing begins. Some of the pieces are stretched over the frames to such an extent, it is as if a plastic surgeon had gone a bit overboard with a lifting. The operative paintings differ from those other paintings that look ragged, decayed, almost sick, like side rooms in an otherwise highly tidy second-hand shop. Those corridors where things are left to rot.
Many of the paintings, however, leave the impression of unusual approaches in the tradition of Minimalist Painting. Yet in their self-referential arrangements, the newer paintings in particular embody something disturbingly bodily, even, one might say, human.
Jensen, who has followed a consistent path in his approach to painting for more than twenty years, continues to influence younger generations of artists who deal with contemporary possibilities of painting. He does this precisely in exemplifying how to take the work in hand and at the same time escape as an author without disappearing. Not least, he is exemplary in the ways he finds a form for contradictions.
After several years of resurgence of figurative painting, it seems now is the time to ask what abstract painting, tainted with the prejudice of formalism and material fetish, can mean today. Is it a kind of countercurrent at present? Does it insist that we engage with the elusive, with little to go on? And, in a digital world with its constant simultaneity of micro und macro, are Jensen’s paintings even abstract? Or was there never any difference to the figurative? For perhaps the seemingly monochrome image is a small piece of skin on the upper arm of a giant. Through a suspension of distance, through eyes that could be very near or very far, the traditional distinctions between the painter, the painted, the painting material and the process are blurred. And it is precisely herein that these pictorial objects point to the future, that they succeed in the balancing act of being seductive manipulations that do not conceal the fact that the seducer always succumbs to the manipulation of the material.