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26.11.2015 INTERVIEW

Lars Bjerre: Dining Room with a View, 2015.

Thinking in moving images – Interview with Lars Bjerre

An old woman stands in her dining room. Blue plates cover a wall; plants, paintings, photos and small bookshelves decorate the space; the beige ceiling is leaking. Her hand touches a giant crab that is placed on the dining table. Currently on display at Kunstbygningen i Vrå, the painting Dining room with a view is part of Lars Bjerre's first institutional exhibition in Denmark and it shows the artist's grandmother. Based in Berlin, Bjerre grew up in Copenhagen and studied at Central Saint Martin's College in London.

In his show I escaped when the trees started to grow he explores the visibility of passed time and reflects on the ambivalent notion of nostalgia embedded in deteriorating architectures, objects and interiors that have lost their purpose. Along four paintings and a spatial installation of his grandmother's actual garden shed, Bjerre stages memories as accessible and physical interiors. Often employing cinematic and theatrical aesthetics, he refers to his works as stages or movie-stills, while he considers each new series to be a new story.

AF Anna-Lena Werner

Lars, in your current exhibition at Kunstbygningen i Vrå you show a painting of your grandmother's shed and a large installation that comprises all the shed's original items and rebuilds it in the museum. What is the symbolic value of this particular space? 
The place pulls together the last thirty years – the time since I was a child, when I played with all these tools inside the shed in her garden. It was a joyful, but also an exciting space for phantasies. It really hasn't been touched since then, so for me, it remains a storage space for my early imagination. We grew up in Copenhagen, but my sister and I often visited my grandmother during the holidays when we were children. She lives in Ryomgaard, a small village on the Danish countryside. When I visited her, about two years ago, I suddenly wanted to capture this feeling in a painting. 

The space is crowded with decaying items. Do you find a beauty in its messy and abandoned aesthetics?
Absolutely, it inspires me to work with these kinds of images. It’s chaotic, but it's also organized, because everything has once been placed intentionally by hand. Once, these had a clear purpose. There was an idea of usage, so things were stored, because they were considered useful or valuable in some sense. The decay fascinates me, because it makes the time visible that has passed between the useful and rotten state of an object. Deterioration gives items and material their own life. For that reason I do find beauty in older objects or buildings, because each of them holds a story, they develop a patina that can be opened up for narratives. The entire shed still has this quality, representing the once glorious times that have vanished into absolute purposelessness. The hut is just a container of these decaying purposes. 

Although they depict the same motif, where do you see the major differences between the painting and the installation?
I probably wouldn't have built the shed without having painted it first. It's a circle, reflecting a certain time. For me the dialogue between the painting and the actual interior of the shed with the architecture of the exhibition space is really important. Both materials, the installation and the painting, play with structures. In the painting, though, I used more techniques of manipulation, maybe I mystified it a bit, merging my own childhood phantasies with the actual memory of being in the space as an adult. The colours are actually much brighter and stronger that the ones in the original shed. The white object in the foreground or the small matchbox, for example, are both items that I had simply imagined to be there. The installation, on the other hand, feels more like a time capsule to me. Rebuilding the shed with its original, dusty items, and placing them at the exact same position here in the museum turns the interior into a ready-made. Visitors can access it now; maybe even project their own childhood memories into this shed.

Next to the installation hangs a painting of your grandmother's living room. She bends over the dining table, serving an over dimensional crab. Is this work bringing the present day into the exhibition?
Like the other works, it combines past and presence. The name of this work is Dining room with a view, because you can see the shed through the window of my grandmother's dining room. The crab is also a childhood memory from my past, a prank actually. My cousins were afraid of crabs, because I always ran after them with a crab in my hand. Since then they have been horrified of crabs. 

You separated the shed into two parts, opening a painterly perspective into the space. Is it a strategy addressing the aesthetics of a still life?
The main reason why I cut the shed in two parts was to work with the exhibition space. While the painting has the title If I was not afraid, I would go in, the installation forces every visitor to go through it. The cut also created a visual resemblance to all the paintings, because it follows a similar composition. I actually don't think so much of a still life, as much as I think of a stage or a movie setting. Although I don't make movies, I often think in moving images and I work with scenes, employing cinematic elements into paintings and installations. Most series I do relate to one specific story. They use the same language and aesthetics, but they tell a different story each time. This one is of course really personal, because it goes back to my own childhood. 

Each of the works represented in this show is united by this very cinematic quality of showing a perspective into an interior, like a stage. Why do you put such an emphasis on interiors?
It's not the interior in general that I am interested in, but certain interiors that suggest stories through their visible history and maybe their possible future. I see my works more as movie-stills rather than interiors. They are stages for a story. 

In his book The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard famously traces emotionality attached to interiors. He believed that rooms would embody emotional reserves. Do you attribute a similar emotionality to spaces?
Yes, definitely. Visiting a space that you know from your past can bring you back to emotions that you had many years ago. Spaces can store and contain these emotions and re-evoke them. My grandmother's shed contained these emotions for me. Therefore, the rebuilt shed is like a before and after photo. When the interior was moved and reinstalled at Kunstbygningen I was quite surprised that I could still reach back to the same memories from the actual space in my grandmother’s garden. Despite the transport, it preserved an archive of memories and emotions. Actually, there was a beautiful image coming to life when a butterfly appeared from the big shelf and started to fly around the exhibition space. My grandmother’s garden was full of these butterflies in the summer. 

When your paintings are stages, does your own role or the one of the spectator change in some way?
For some of the works, for example the two large paintings, I tried to create a one to one dimension of a space that one could enter, like observers of a scene. One of the paintings shows a man in his seventies from behind. I imagine him to be the owner of this place, reflecting over the past.

Both large paintings show interiors of abandoned farms on the countryside, each with a person in the foreground. How are these paintings connected to the more personal works?
Although I know the surroundings of these buildings, they are not directly connected to my own past. What they have in common with the works of my grandmother's shed is the notion of passed time, of emotionality stored in architecture and the loss of purpose becoming visible. Once they were a symbol for progress and value, they reached a peak, and then eventually the progress ends. Both works are called I escaped when the trees started to grow, which refers to leaving a place to its own fate, waiting for nature to come back, to start over again. But it also addresses the obvious problem of rural depopulation that concerns many small countryside villages and towns. The decrease of available jobs and infrastructure makes people move away, creating countless abandoned buildings. After that, trees are starting to grow; the cycle starts over again.  The decay of these buildings is ambivalent to me: it's just as sad, as it is beautiful.

Are you romanticising nature?
I guess I am romanticising the past. Memories can be nice and they can be scary.

In your paintings you combine a very fine and figurative painting style, with more abstract and thick-layered areas. Why do you work with this contradiction? 
It's like a play between a more loose and a more graphic approach. I do have a clear plan how a painting should look before I start working on it, but these loose areas give me the freedom to change my mind, to change textures and structures through the way I apply paint. It's the energy of the painting style that I like.

Thank you.

Lars Bjerre: If I was not afraid I would go in, 2013.

Lars Bjerre: View I Escaped When the Trees Started to Grow, 2015. Installation view.

Lars Bjerre: Untitled, 2015.

Lars Bjerre: Untitled (detail), 2015.

Lars Bjerre: I Escaped When the Trees Started to Grow, 2015. Installation view.

Lars Bjerre: Untitled, 2015.

Lars Bjerre: Untitled (detail), 2015.

Lars Bjerre: Untitled, 2015.

Lars Bjerre: I Escaped When the Trees Started to Grow, 2015. Installation view.

Lars Bjerre: I Escaped When the Trees Started to Grow, 2015. Installation view.

Lars Bjerre: I Escaped When the Trees Started to Grow II, 2015.

Lars Bjerre: I Escaped When the Trees Started to Grow I, 2015.

Lars Bjerre: I Escaped When the Trees Started to Grow, 2015. Installation view.

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