As I enter the Victoria Miro Gallery, the room is the white of infinity, and fatigue, much like the snow-covered mountains—hunched bones of time—depicted by Copenhagen-based artist John Kørner in his solo exhibition Apple Bombs. Amongst these expanses of uninhabitable land, silence meditates, a desperate sound of the unconscious mind. His poetic use of colours ceaselessly shape-shift, merging the boundaries of an incongruous vaudeville of images: falling apples, Adidas trainers, runners, mountains, beehives and beekeepers and Syrian refugee camps, which placed together create a bewildering sense of the real and imagined. The viewer is left seduced, searching for things in what is absent as much as in what is alluded to. All that remains is an impression, the subjunctive.
Holly Parkhouse: What inspired the title Apple Bombs?
John Kørner: When an apple falls from a tree, it’s considered ripe and ready to eat. I liked that idea. Apple Bombs seems to be very old-fashioned in a way—apples from the Bible, you see apples everywhere—and I had this idea that apples would do the trick. It’s so common, and such a strong, iconic symbol of life. Through introducing that instead of something else, I thought it would be powerful. I think because of the colouring, [apples falling is] more like music, in waves, like a score.
HP: We now live in a state of confusion and uncertainty. Your work obliquely alludes to imbalances of wealth and the displacement of populations.
What made you decide to use incongruous images to explore aspects of contemporary geopolitics in your current work?
JK: I guess it’s a response to the agenda of European and worldwide politics. Being in Mayfair at the moment it’s all about money—all of the stores, fashion, cars and whatever. This is a financial point in Europe, like most of the richest parts in Europe I guess, and dreaming about welfare and money is what it’s about. This is what life is about for many people. Surviving. After surviving, is it working? After surviving you want a much higher level of living; that’s really the agenda for most of humankind. It starts from a refugee. You can see that in the American dream. They went from Europe and elsewhere and came to America and tried to build up a life—not only a life, a luxury life. That’s why I find honey, its sweet aesthetic and the organization of bees, fascinating. The society has a queen, and there’s a strong parallel to our society. The bees actually want the sweets of life; it’s a great and strong symbol—how to live and what to live for (like honey and apples). I try to pick things that have a strong character.
HP: There’s an interesting connection that beehives contain a community and so do refugee camps. Why did you decide to use this symbol?
JK: It’s very European. I am very much into politics, and I had the idea that we are the continent of milk and honey. That’s why we attract everyone intellectual and material alike, which troubles us at the moment. There’s no logical way out and this is my way of dealing with that and making sense of it. I started out with the beekeepers because honey is sweet and seducing. That’s the welfare of the country. In Europe we are, in a way, so much ahead and we have to make a lot of decisions. That’s the luxury in our lives. There are no refugees, no dead children in my paintings, but I still wanted the very seducing parts and I believe I got it.
HP: What is absent from your paintings seems to be as important as what is there. Your paintings become a catalyst for the viewers’ imagination, where the viewers’ conscious experience is interrupted, and their perceptions of reality are undermined and interrogated.
Is this an important element for you as an artist—to play with perceptions of reality—and if so why?
JK: I really want a dialogue with the audience. I’m not making art purely for my own sake; I think contemporary art is about dialogues, talking, having a language. That’s really important to me, more than the aesthetic. The aesthetic is seducing, like having a loving relationship. You can be good-looking, young and have a beautiful life, but when it comes down to it, you want something valuable. It’s the contemporary that’s the most valuable element in my paintings.
HP: What process do you go through when constructing your paintings?
JK: For instance, the painting Frozen Line Up was created in a very special way. I actually first painted eight of these. I wanted them to be floating or flying, so I took one away at a time and exchanged them with different constructions. For me it’s about painting so I don’t do sketches. In the end, what is left are the remaining beehives and it works. And suddenly I have these flying mountains with the bees as well, which makes sense to me. It’s very poetic.
HP: Where did you get the inspiration for the mountains?
JK: When you find reasons for painting, you explore what is possible. Mountains were this point of fascination for me. They look so difficult to paint from a distance, but it’s actually quite simple. I had the idea that the feeling of looking at mountains is like looking at something that is larger than life, much older than me. It’s very romantic in a way. I paint the darkness first and then the white of the mountains—the blue makes a huge difference against the white. In The Human Mountain, it’s actually really strange that it’s a female mountain. I don’t know why but I find these mountains very masculine and brutal.
HP: Can you tell us a little about your use of negative white spaces in your paintings?
JK: There is a lot of light in my work. There’s also some darkness—they cannot live without each other. Objects always create a shadow, and it seems that as humans we are dragged into that darkness. In the same way that you may love somebody and after a short while, you love the tragedy—as if you’re seeking the dark side of the moment. This strange atmosphere is the shadow of life and it’s beautiful.
HP: Does 2016 hold anything exciting in store for you?
JK: In a few weeks, I’m opening a show in Denmark. The title of the show is Life Attacks Us and that’s what I’m working on right now.
John Kørner’s solo exhibition Apple Bombs will be on view at Victoria Miro through May 14, 2016.
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