The Grand Cabinet

A conversation between Trine Boesen and curator Anna Krogh (Brandts) with an introduction by Anna Krogh, 2014.

You can’t just stand in a painting?

Yet this is where any conversation about Trine Boesen’s recent monumental work The Grand Cabinet must begin. Nothing less than a 146 m2 space consisting of painted floors and walls held in a limited colour palette: Delicate blue and black fields of colour come alive through Boesen’s dynamic line work, both angular and organic. Twisted viewpoints and sequences of interrupted contours create the impression of a funhouse on drugs.

The installation presents a very physical encounter with a painting in an expanded field, wild and unruly. One senses the influence of fellow artists like Katharina Grosse and Jessica Stockholder, where artistic force is used to collapse the limitations of painting, creating an open, virtual space. At the same time The Grand Cabinet is so focussed and tightly composed that you realise the work makes use of deliberate gesture and direction; that a path has been provided for the eye, the body and the senses.

If you know the feeling of looking up at a starry sky and really sensinginfinity, then you’ll know what it’s like to step into Boesen’s work. It is unmistakably like standing in a galaxy of stars, planets, space probes, satellites and other UFOs – literally unidentified flying objects. Perhaps this is where the obvious reference to the horror film Dr. Caligari’s Cabinet from 1920 is located, by German director Robert Wiene. The legendary film set design, created by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, symbolizes the mental state of the emotionally unstable protagonist. Boesen’s sci-fi universe also challenges the physical experience of the work, allowing it to settle as a state of mind; not as an emotional imbalance, rather it is about letting the energy of the space act in symbiosis with the viewer’s mind.

It is not an uninteresting point, to consider, that out of the American theorist Rosalind Krauss’ famous essay Sculpture in the Expanded Field, from 1979, grew thoughts on painting in an expanded field as well. In the 1970’s not only sculpture would collapse traditional concepts of space, defy the dogma of the pedestal and affect the surrounding reality, but also the framework of painting would be challenged. In the 1990’s painters took on painting as three-dimensional space and Trine Boesen is one of Denmark’s most prominent exponents of this practice, having experimented considerably with the possibilities and implications of painting. The Grand Cabinet is no exception. Within the physical scope of the piece, the eye meets yet another depth, namely the two-dimensional space of the image. It is from this painted surface that the motion of the work takes place. It whirls.

AK: In relation to theories of painting in the expanded field it might be interesting to discuss whether an understanding of The Grand Cabinet is anchored in seeing the work as sculpture or as painting. Does it matter, which category of work we refer to?

TB: I call The Grand Cabinet a painting-installation. In this way you can talk about the work using several approaches, rather than limiting it to a clear definition. I’ve been interested in staging painting to such a degree that it shifted from what could be perceived as an actual painting but at the same time you wouldn’t be able to place it within the tradition of sculpture either. It is an amalgamation of several genres; the style, the staging, the painted surfaces, and in this way The Grand Cabinet is really just a natural extension of the hybrid universe I usually work in. I’ve been developing strategies in relation to space and surface in my paintings for a while now, exploring how to visually create the illusion of space while evoking something infinite and also representing reality as a false front. I don’t know if it would be meaningful to call The Grand Cabinet a rather large three-dimensional painting or if you could call it an installation set-painting or something else. It’s precisely one of the points of working with painting in the expanded field, that the work does something else than usual and that this something else is perhaps part of renewing the understanding of what painting is today. I approached the surfaces of The Grand Cabinet on different terms than I would have if it had been an ordinary painting because I knew it was a total universe I was building, but I engaged in the process as if it were one big giant painting.

AK: How do you compose a complex work such as The Grand Cabinet?

TB: I had laid out some dogmas for myself. I wanted to create one large whole with as few devices as possible, but also, and through this, to liberate my visual vocabulary to such an extent that it would be possible for me to ditch some of the considerations I usually act upon in the painting process. I chose the palette of black, blue and white to create a sense of calm within the turbulent mesh of lines and shapes that were to create the experience of infinite space in the work. As a result of many of my earlier explorations into abandoning linear perspective, I could freely move around on all the surfaces creating the entrances and exits needed for a sense of space in the piece. I had the idea that I, with Brian Eno in one ear and Tortoise in the other, would be able to cancel the pull of gravity merging images of distant galaxies, reminiscences from daily life, rules and regulations, manuals, machine parts, signs, vanishing points and explosions into a single whole.

AK: It is interesting that you insist on highlighting pictorial elements, which you fetch in the real world. The installation also appears to refer to an aesthetic informed by stage sets and scenography, i.e. a fictional universe. You have spoken about your interest in the film Dr. Caligari’s Cabinet? Could you elaborate?

TB: My method for working with the space and the construction of The Grand Cabinet is inspired by the film in as much as I have made use of some of its effects and devises, i.e. the use of theatrical movie sets and the warped universe. The Grand Cabinet is not a paraphrase of Robert Wiene’s work but when I saw the film it really pushed me into pursuing ideas I had been considering working on for a long time. The thoughts I had about expanding my painting by creating a set-like staging of the work were somehow framed by the film, but where the film is dense and claustrophobic, I chose to open up The Grand Cabinet releasing it out toward the universe. Dr. Caligari’s Cabinet reflects a mental condition of fear and insecurity using, among other things, elaborate set design. It reveals a state where reality is distorted. I noticed that the sets in the film allow you to become caught up in the universe, despite the obvious staging. I was also interested in creating an environment that could grab the viewer and make a non-place visible, a place that does not exist, but would be recognised by many even so.

AK: The idea of the spectator being incorporated into the piece, so to speak – partly by the simple fact that it is three-dimensional, partly by you insisting on referring to an environment that many recognise – seems to be a recurring theme in your work. It is a well-known strategy from the 1990’s to place both the production and perception of meaning into the hands of the viewer. A practice you are also an exponent for. What is it that painting can and should be able to offer to be relevant to the viewer?

TB: Well, it’s a bit tricky to come up with a recipe for that but I feel that painting is a powerful means of expression, that to a very high degree painting is able to communicate ideas and emotions. Anything is possible on a canvas. Essential thoughts can be translated and made ​​visible in a painting. There is such a large range for what painting can examine and how it looks. Sometimes it speaks directly to your soul because it strikes a sore spot or opens up to something completely new you never saw coming. Painting can be unfolded in so many ways that make it relevant. In my work I explore how to visually involve the viewer in the piece. One of the ways I do this is through my installation-like staging of painting. I invite the viewer to experience a sense of unity where the communications of various influences interweave. I have an idea that the distance between viewer and piece is broken down when the painting is no longer confined by a frame but instead enters into the space around it, and when, as a viewer, it becomes necessary for you to move around within this space.

AK: Where do you find your inspiration?

TB: I’m a bit like a sponge absorbing everything around it. I’m constantly seeing new connections between different things which don’t necessarily belong together. I photograph quite a lot of what I come across and use these images as models. A painting is often shaped from the observations and records I’ve collected. It’s often what surrounds us that I’m interested in, such as architecture. It tells us of history, of time and place, and creates the environments we operate in. At the same time I’m also fascinated by odd details like things that have lost their function or have simply been abandoned. The world of things held up against the intangible has always been an area of ​​interest to me. I’ve been looking at the Baroque quite a bit, at its philosophies of eternity, because I find the thoughts and ideas of the period inspiring. It seems to me that when these notions are brought into our time, they still appear relevant. A film like Gravity from 2013, by the Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, where the depiction of vast infinite space puts both the fear and the attractiveness of indefinable perpetuity into perspective, is similarly inspiring. The extended moment where everything quivers before it shatters into a thousand pieces, changes its shape and becomes something else. I also have many references and sources of inspiration from both art and music. But like so many other artists I particularly get a lot out of travelling and meeting other cultures. It’s as if all your senses are sharpened when you are away, and you look at everything with renewed interest. It’s all around us.