Is it just a coincidence that a row of mirrors makes up the majority of the physical, concrete display of the most recent exhibition at Toves in Copenhagen? The collective behind the venue has increasingly turned inwards towards itself, forming – metaphorically speaking – an ultra-concave mirror that constantly reflects itself and everything the collective does. The tendency peaked (or maybe it didn’t, who knows?) with the annual report exhibited on numerous occasions in 2015; a report based on a hugely self-enamoured user survey sent out to various players on the local art scene and reworked into a kind of speculative sculptural diagram.
So no, of course it is no coincidence that the new exhibition presents a range of partially smashed, scratched, dilapidated mirrors with fragments of photographs attached. The French philosopher Michel Foucault called the mirror a heterotopia – a separate world that contains the world; a world in the world. Toves and the art that springs from Toves have long since become heterotopias.
The basis for this exhibition is an excursion to Bornholm initiated by Janus Høm, a member of Toves and the driving force behind this exhibition. The excursion was attended by a mixture of members of Toves and special guests, including the artists Magni Borgehed, Stian Eide Kluge, Gabriel Säll, Sara Sandfær and curator Magnus Kaslov.
In addition to the aforementioned rows of mirrors, the exhibition features video footage from the trip, recorded using handheld and drone-held cameras and projected, without audio, onto the end wall of the exhibition space like wallpaper. This part of the exhibition constitutes a key to the project, offering direct access to the various experiments with the exhibition format enacted by the group on Bornholm. Another key is provided, in familiar post-institutional style, by the list of materials: difficult to comprehend in itself, it only really makes sense to outsiders if they engage in a – very – close and simultaneous reading of the list and video projection.
Essentially, the list of materials represents three different exhibition experiments, each with its own title and extensive list of works. All three experiments were carried out on the trip to Bornholm: in a car, in a trailer or on a beach.
During the Bornholm excursion, works from these three separate exhibitions were reused from one event to the next, or possibly incorporated into entirely different works. The latter is true in the case of Gabriel Säll’s work: first it was burnt, and then its ashes were used in ceramic hooks made by Sandfær. At the Toves exhibition venue on Amager, those hooks are used to mount the mirrors. The film also shows soaps made by Toves member Hannah Heilmann – called Estrous.life, containing hormones, birth prevention pills, Chanel perfume, and artificial pheromones – being dissolved in see-through containers. This soapy water was subsequently used to glue together the mirrors now featured in the exhibition at Toves.
It would appear that this process of dissolving and recycling works of art has been an underlying premise of the work, creating a separate ecology and, importantly, economy. These muddy waters coalesce convincingly into a social art experiment, and when taken as a whole the work may also offer an answer to the question of how you can create socially (and perhaps psychologically) experimental and exorcising Land Art on a Danish island in 2015 without turning into a 1970s pastiche?
Another answer might be offered by the large-format printer spurting reams of inkjet prints out of the boot of a car, or by the trailer following in its wake, standing in for a white cube. And, of course, an answer may be provided by the sheer fact of having no intentions to save the world, preferring instead to regard oneself and one’s group as an autonomous eco(nomic)system of incorporated businesses, one inside the other, ready to venture out into the market – as is evident by the exhibition title, Going Public – but on the basis of a gentle kind of shared economics. The fact that the exhibition was subsequently acquired by the Danish Arts Foundation and the funds generated by the sale distributed evenly among the artists who contributed to the project can only be said to constitute the final perfection of that intention.
At the official opening Magnus Kaslov was in charge of handling all documentation (he also acted as photographer on the trip to Bornholm), and the rule was that all photographs must be taken by way of the mirrors – perhaps to penetrate more fully into the rather ungraspable mode of representation.
The exercise was, in fact, surprisingly successful – as if all those who attended the opening were on the other side of the mirror together. Everyone took the part of Morten Harket, lead vocalist of A-ha, in the video for “Take on me” as Kaslov sought to capture the world on the other side – the side we usually occupy.
Most importantly of all, this exhibition is not simply a banal attempt at restaging or representing the ambience and emotional scope of the trip to Bornholm; rather, it is a conjurer’s trick aimed at dragging us into Toves’ concave mirror. Now, today, I am back, out of the mirror again – and all things considered I’d rather be here. But Toves’ tattered and self-enamoured soul is still stuck inside the mirror. Perhaps it’s there to stay.