SUPERFLEX, a Danish collective founded in 1993, employs a clean, rigorous approach—reminiscent of a factory or Alexandrian library—to conduct a wide-ranging investigation of the didactic traces of 20th-century culture. Rather than artworks, they call their projects "tools," designed to be actively used and reused. "Modern Times, Forever," the collective's most recent Los Angeles exhibition, dealt with large themes that could be considered relevant to all humanity, but at the same time, the show was saturated with the weight of European history and angst. Seeing it in the face of concurrent Pacific Standard Time California art-mania seemed outright exotic.
Blackout (2009) (made with Simon Starling) consisted of an extremely dim set of lamps that were originally designed to get around blackout prohibitions in Copenhagen during WWII. This type of lamp, which doesn't emit any light upwards, was used to keep Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens amusement park open at night. In the midst of this dim light was a thick catalog documenting the production of these lamps for a 2009 exhibition in Denmark; one lamp was made each day, eventually lighting the entire exhibition hall. The images in the catalog were as dark as their surroundings. After adjusting one's eyes in 1301PE, one could barely make out the shadowy images of mechanical parts, a dark gallery space, and people at work.
In the next room, a screening of the exhibition's eponymous work Modern Times Forever (2011) took up an entire wall. Touted as the longest film ever made, the 240-hour long movie is a 3-D animation depicting Helsinki's iconic Stora Enso building (known as the "Sugar Cube") slowly decaying. Modernist buildings are never supposed to become ruins, and this installation, which originally took place on the street next to the actual Stora Enso building, evinces a feeling of futuristic unease. Hundreds of years go by each day as the Modernist wonder feels the effects of weather and time.
The friendlier Experience Climate Change as an Animal (2009) is a series of graphic posters advertising "Hypnosis Group Sessions" to take place in the future, between 2012 and 2050 in which participants will be hypnotized to perceive climate change as a mammoth, a mosquito, a jellyfish, eagle and polar bear. Each animal's session takes place in a city perhaps appropriate, like the jellyfish in Brazil, or bizarre, like the mammoth in Zanzibar.
All of these works possessed a strangely dislocated sense of purity and idealism. The monumental ambition of the film Modern Times Forever recalled some of Warhol's films, like Empire (1964), but was thoroughly erased of that artist's cheeky pop sensibility. The socially engaged aspects of the other two "tools" certainly felt contemporary, but again their simplicity and earnestness made it feel as though the complicating influence of artists like Dan Graham or Mike Kelley, or writers like Philip K. Dick, never happened. It's eerie, but given SUPERFLEX's highly progressive global practice, that was probably part of the plan.
- Carol Cheh