[March 5 2018]
The Norwegian artist’s new show at London’s Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, ‘Bodyparty (Substance Paintings)’, features an installation of paintings created since he moved back to Norway from New York in summer 2017. Running in parallel on the gallery’s instagram channel, ‘Life Killed My Chihuahua’, is a digital concept created with Julia Peyton-Jones, and curated by Melgaard and publisher Elise By Olsen, showcasing the Norwegian capital’s contemporary art and music scene through some of its more prominent underground creatives. We chatted on the phone after he’d flown back to Oslo from the opening.
JETHRO TURNER – I’m in London and it’s trying to do an impression of winter in New York and Norway at the moment – it’s super cold and snowing, which almost never happens. It’s weird.
BJARNE MELGAARD – The weather is crazy. Climate change is horrible.
JETHRO TURNER – Have you noticed a change in the Norwegian climate since you moved back?
BJARNE MELGAARD – Yes. It’s warmer in days and months which would regularly be colder. They say that global warming means everything here gets warmer, but it seems like here everything is getting colder, and the weather forecast for the next month is that it’s going to be super cold. I don’t know what’s happening anymore.
JETHRO TURNER – At the same time the North Pole is 30°C above what is normal right now. So it’s hot where it shouldn’t be, and cold where it shouldn’t be. Why did you choose to return to Norway?
BJARNE MELGAARD – I had been living in New York for over ten years and I felt a bit like I’d done it. I did all the galleries and museums and shows I wanted to do. I had an enormous studio with assistants. I had all that, and I wanted to scale down and kind of escape the ‘professional artist’ role that you get in New York a little bit. I also wanted to move back to Norway because my mum is ill, and I wanted to be able to take care of her and be there for her because she’s 88 years old and she’s half-paralyzed. That was one of the main reasons. But I was also tired of the tenseness the pace, all the stress and the political climate became horrible.
JETHRO TURNER – Does that play out in this show subconsciously? Your feelings about what happened with the Trump US presidency.
BJARNE MELGAARD – It has to be subconsciously because I definitely don’t want to make any artworks about Donald Trump. I don’t think he’s worth the attention. As much as I understand it, I also think it’s a big weakness to give this man all this attention, because it takes away from much more urgent and important matters and political questions. Like for instance what’s going on in Africa right now, with Congo on the brink of another war that will destabilize half of the continent. And it’s not mentioned anywhere.
JETHRO TURNER – It seems like there’s so little media attention on some of the most important things going on, and I think to some extent it’s because people already know and understand something about Donald Trump. And that links to some of the Instagram aspects of this show – people are online on social media platforms which are strangely introspective. They tell us a lot about things we already know about ourselves. How do you escape out of that when you’re using it as an artistic medium?
BJARNE MELGAARD – We wanted to use it to challenge the form of an exhibition, and the challenge the normative thinking of how to do a show. Julia Peyton-Jones and I came up with this idea that the show could continue on a much larger scale outside the exhibition space. And my idea was that it was supposed to function a bit like a time capsule.
JETHRO TURNER – What are the limitations of using Instagram? It’s an interesting space, but there are also different issues of advertising and censorship than those you get in a gallery space.
BJARNE MELGAARD – The whole thing with Instagram is that you can put an image out there and it can go in 1000 directions. And you have literally no control over it. You can post one thing and people can read whatever they want into it and it explodes somewhere. It’s fascinating because you lose control over the work and it’s scary because it’s so easy to get things blown out of all proportions on that medium, which is something you have to be really careful with.
JETHRO TURNER –You’re an artist who has always played with a certain amount of danger and risk-taking though. You also work a lot in collaboration with other people. Do they push you towards risk-taking or pull you back from it? How does it work?
BJARNE MELGAARD – I did a lot of collaborations in my life from Proenza Schouler to Eckhaus Latta to Maharishi, I worked with Instagram, I worked with a lot of Norwegian Black Metal bands, I did my own record labels, I worked with DJs, and I think that for this show it was very important, even if I do some collaborations within it to say that this is a show my me. This is a show by Bjarne Melgaard, and I wanted it to be intimate and bare and raw and immediate. As great as the collaborations can be, they can also be something you hide behind because you’re not totally fully responsible for the end result. For me now, the biggest risk was to do a show that was fully my own, where I owned the content and the result was my intention.
“Bodyparty (Substance Paintings)” is on view until March 31st, 2018 at Galerie Thaddeus Ropac – Ely House, 37 Dover Street, London.
Text Jethro Turner and photo Flo Kohl