In the estate of my late father there are 600-800 paintings. If you include ceramics, drawings and graphic art there is much more material. In many ways this collection can be seen as a portrait of my father. The material is far off the mark from an aesthetical viewpoint. Here you find the crude, unadapted materiality of life in peasant societies of old and the dark fear of life and compressed energy of the Inner Mission in Denmark. This collection expresses a reality and some viewpoints that I am mainly critical towards and do not personally share.
But that does not make the material any the less interesting. Underneath all of this material there is a story that remains to be told. It is an exotic world, and an elementary nuance that was born in Denmark and is part of the foundation that modern Danish society was built upon. The three major popular movements of Denmark: Grundtvigianism, the labour movement and the Inner Mission are often described as the building stones of Denmark today. It may be noted that the two aforementioned movements are documented, represented and very visible in modern art history.
The mind-set and perception of art in Grundtvigianism is visible and accessible among other places at the Skovgaard Museum in Viborg. The art collection of the Workers’ Museum in Copenhagen makes the mind-set of the workers accessible. There is no direct equivalent for the Inner Mission. One reason may be the ancient ban of images. In the Inner Mission it was believed that the image would draw people’s attention away from the word: That the mission itself had a problem with oil paintings on canvas. That the ‘fine arts’ were unnecessary and only signified wasteful behaviour – strongly contrasting a life of modesty and faith. Another factor in this is that the Inner Mission is most prevalent in the poorest and toughest regions of Denmark. Rural Denmark. The discipline that the Inner Mission brought to these places is an important premise for Western Jutland to have been liberated from famine and hopelessness. The mind-set of the Inner Mission can be summed up by turning to Bjerre's painting at AROS, the novel The Fishermen by Hans Kirk and examples from the art of Anton Laier – and perhaps Jens Nielsen in Holstebro. Viewed against this backdrop, my father’s pictures are helpless, crude, tasteless and to me, personally slightly disturbing. From my own reaction to his paintings I see that the material in its quantity and inadaptability harbours many stories that are relevant today.
A missionary. When I try to understand and formulate why it becomes obvious that my father viewed himself as a missionary. This is what he identified with. And this is how his work progressed throughout the years. The way I see it this multitude of images can be viewed as an expression of religious fundamentalism. This is one out of many examples that fundamentalism is not a particularly Muslim phenomenon.
Migration away from agriculture. In one perspective you may view my father’s life and work as an expression of the migration that occurred in agriculture in the years after the war. This phenomenon highly resembles the migration from the medieval Kurdish village communities in east Turkey that could be observed in the 1970’s to major Danish cities like Frederiksværk and Copenhagen. The story of the migration that happened in Denmark in the 1950’s is narrated in the Danish TV-series The Chronicle (Danish: Krøniken) Here Ida calls her parents living in Ringkøbing from a pay phone at Copenhagen Main Station. This is a week after Ida’s arrival to Copenhagen. The scene is beautiful and ensnaring, but unfortunately completely untrue. In The Chronicle we understand Ida and her parents perfectly, but in real life they would have been speaking dialect. Very few people in Copenhagen would have understood this. Perhaps they might even have looked down upon it. And this is in spite of the recognition that Copenhagen in the 1950’s based on native regions was the largest city of Jutland. I see the language and the contents that may be viewed in my father’s pictures as an example of how the immigrants of every age bring their culture to their new homes, where it is sometimes frozen down. My father’s works present a mind-set that is just as foreign and non-compatible to the Danish culture of today, as the mind-set of fundamentalists; Comparisons can be made, but the religious starting points are very different.
Painting on canvas. A third line of approach is in the act of painting on canvas. I see this as an expression of change. This is where my father changes his own context. Painting on canvas is not part of the background he was born into. He started painting towards the end of the 1940’s, which I see as expression of an investigation of the secular, like Botticelli investigated this theme in his art in the 1480’s in relation to the Medici family. It is a rearticulation of religious society put against secular society. In my father’s case it seems to be an examination and assumption of the mind-set, icons and communicative resources of the new, emerging bourgeoisie, the move from one culture to another. This is what painting on canvas meant to him. And my father did change his starting point, both mentally and physically. He even had a chance to explore the Internet toward the end of his life. But on the inside throughout his life he stayed on the farm of his childhood in a medieval agricultural society without any electricity or inlaid water supply – back in a childhood where on the manor house on the other side of the endless moors, they still used oxen in front of the wagons of the farm in the late twenties. From this mixture something arose that had not been seen before. In the discussion of the 1950’s a religious, cultural conflict emerges, which is very similar to what we have seen in the last decade: Secularity contrasted against religion. This discussion culminates in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Denmark with the art funds showdown, the film by Jens-Jørgen Thorsen and the eye-song by Danish musician Trille. The way I see it, this is also a repressed city/country-conflict. In the last decade this was expressed in the former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s battle against knowledge, competence and qualified discussions. He derogatively called people possessing such qualities ‘arbiters of taste.’ My own approach to art does not begin with what I like, or what I dislike. To me the importance of art rather depends on whether relevant and oppositional information is available. You might claim that some modern second-generation immigrants to some extent have their appearances against them, which is an obstacle those of us who moved from one culture to another 50 years ago were not faced with. But back then many of us were also bilingual. We spoke one language when we were away, and another language when we came back home. Unlike many immigrants today, we had the advantage that we could cover ourselves under something resembling the same colour in our skin and hair.
From object to idea. A fourth layer in my father’s abandoned collection is the change of focus from object to idea. Today we demand experiences and challenges. One object in itself is easily secondary and abundant. Here these piles of paintings express a new reality – they are abandoned collections, endless layers and monuments for art that cannot be sold, as the children of late artists can well verify. The right material that may be used for discussions, debates and exhibitions is not necessarily easy to sell - that an exhibition today exists on the basis of providing people with experiences rather than on the basis of selling and buying craftsmanship. Primal liberalism depends on the procurement of the resources available in the culture industry, even if this is a mind-set that has been abandoned in many other areas, such as agricultural production. Here I see my father’s pictures as an expression of a market that has collapsed. This is a cross that most children of artists carry.
Finally I see the concept of ‘quantity’ as a tool to communicate in the knowledge-based society of today. The exclusively selected art has been thrown aside and replaced by full-blown sensational experiences. I read something about a young, Chinese artist’s installation. She exhibited all of the belongings of her deceased grandmother. That was the portrait of her grandmother. Multitude as an art tool has often been used in the art of the latest decades. Kabakov and Rheinsberg used it, just to mention a few.
Omitting a discussion on any singular pieces from my father’s collection from artistic, aesthetic perspectives, it is my viewpoint that the collection as a whole has a certain, powerful effect of its own. In its full-blown aggression it questions the agenda that has been set in Danish society of today. Mobility, immigration/emigration, the formation of language and fundamentalism vs. secularism. This material is larger than itself, and it is not only about my father or his mission.
See link to original text and pictures: http://www.gormspaabaek.dk/far.htm
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