Vibeke Jensen: “I insist on and seek to integrate all aspects of life rather than separating life from art”
I am always intrigued with artists that deal with sustainability, thought process and new forms of living in their art. In my eyes achieving to change perspectives and encouraging new patterns is an important responsibility artists have today; in comparison the ego driven artist of the past seems old fashioned and out dated. If we do not all try changing our worlds course in some small way I fear the worst for our species. That is one of the reasons I was so delighted in meeting and discovering Vibeke Jensen.
Jonathan Bepler, a composer from NYC that specializes in unusual instrumentation and has written most of the music for Matthew Barneys films, brought her along to a sunny breakfast in Berlin, Kreuzberg in 2016 and we immediately became friends. Vibeke, born in Norway, has a impressive history of paving her path via architecture towards an art form that is mainly interested in global discussion, activism, holistic and conceptional contemplation and making her audience think twice. Our studios are now next to each other in Berlin but we rarely see each other, laughing when we meet in the court yard for a couple of minutes comparing flight schedules.
Besides working as an installation artist Vibike decided early on to also work as a professor, because in this way she would effectively be able to help the next generation in thinking bigger, understanding connections and achieving a holistic worldview to generate real change. To be able to understand the surveillance and control technology of consumer society she constructs situations to experience and practice thinking differently together with her students and within her installations, be it in museums or on the street and so she flies back and forth between Bergen, Berlin and New York working on projects, classes and international seminars. She has been working on a large exhibition now for quite some time, which I really hope to be able to see, after catching glimpses of alluring UFOesque sugar structures through the windows of her studio.
Vibeke, you merge between architecture, conceptual art, new media and civic life in your projects. How would you describe what you do and what it is you aim for in your work?
I insist on and seek to integrate all aspects of life rather than separating life from art, art from architecture, new media from art etc. My concerns are how we live and how we can live, and art is a way to explore, confront, suggest, and open up possibilities. My interest in architecture is conceptual and spatial. I am interested in a discussion of the spaces we live in and awareness of how they are produced and organized, and in the negotiation of relationships between spaces – on a large scale down to the smallest detail and back by zooming in and out and looking from different angles. I believe in equality, diversity and unity – civic life and its relationship to governance and democracy, the production of space, construction of situations and activation of public space are questions and strategies that engage me. My work points out contradictions and potentials, by providing different viewpoints and positions of looking. I aim to create spaces for reflection and negotiation. My works investigate the poetic power and political potency of art. They seek to inspire an opening up of possibilities for individual and collective life by, at each moment and in each context, occupying cracks and ruptures within the dominant logic of society.
For example: “Night_Watch a close-up video of my gazing eye was temporarily projected on urban landmarks, conveying to the viewers the idea that they are watched. In the highly regulated post 9/11 public environment the roaming projection not only creates awareness for the ubiquitous presence of surveillance and control, the simple universal symbol, the watching eye, perceived and understood within seconds, conveys itself in any given cultural context in all its ambiguity. It recalls the parent watching over their child, and reminds us of the anonymous observer behind the monitors of surveillance networks. But it is also the peeping eye that looks into an unknown world, and the curiosity of the artist’s eye. The readings vary and gain political poignancy with the placement of the work and the ideology of the intervened space. The cyclopean eye sat high on the Shanghai Museum, overlooking People’s Square where the watching eye first of all is read as the ‘public’ eye.” *
(* Freely quoted from curator Susanne Jaschko’s text: Outside the white cube, inside the city. The ideology of urban space, reflected in Vibeke Jensen’s work)
One of your current projects deals with an idealistic, futuristic vision of our life on Earth. How important is environmentalism for you? How do you see this being integrated into art and architecture today?
–isms are not important to me, while the reality of us living on Earth together and the critical situation we have brought upon ourselves and the planet by our careless behavior is. Our period is described as a new geological epoch – the Anthroposcene, due to the influence of human behavior on Earth’s geology and ecosystems in recent centuries. Endless expansion and growth, and exploitation for profit, the mantras of our time are clearly not sustainable. There are many voices with different approaches to how to proceed, both within art and architecture and elsewhere. Most of these are looking at part-solutions within different sectors or fields, while few have the ambition of a paradigm shift, a complete change in the way we think and act, which is what may be required.
You travel constantly between your studio in Berlin, your house on an island, the Umeå Academy of Fine Art and Bergen School of Architecture where you teach as a professor, and your different art projects. Does this traveling influence your work?
After studying in Rome and London I was based in New York for two decades before coming to Berlin while working and showing internationally, so my existence has been pretty transient for a while. Both the metropolis and extreme remoteness are tremendously stimulating to me in different ways. The traveling in-between gives multiple perspectives and momentary overview – I meet many interesting people and participate in different contexts, expand my horizon and gain new insights that inform my work.
What are you working on currently?
My current project takes on a radical position: it takes place in a future where a paradigm shift has already happened, where profit seeking world domination, greed and exploitation of the Earth and its living beings are abandoned in favor of sharing, wellbeing, and mindfulness. The project takes place in a gallery situated in a former bank on a central commons in Bergen. Here I launch an EARTH lab, rather than an art exhibition. The focus of the lab is to deconstruct power structures to practice EARTH sharing. My spatial interventions are activated by invited guests and the public and include: a transparent EARTH flag, a hovering mirror sphere depicting a borderless world, BOTTOM-UP_TOP-DOWN steps, a subtracted PYRAMID of POWER and a modular ROUND_TABLE that can gather and disperse an ongoing discourse. These interventions constitute a tool kit or vehicles for a spatial praxis where knowledgeable advocates meet with locals in intense exchanges that take place during the 1½-month the lab lasts. Each exchange is documented to continue a life online that feeds into the next event.
What are your plans for the future?
The above project is not an isolated art project, but rather a part of a movement for real change. As part of an international network of dedicated people, I will continue to explore spatial interventions and other means.