Interview with Rose Eken about her exhibition

Rose Eken crafts a culture of resistance at V1 Gallery

The Danish sculpture artist takes us back to a more rebellious youth through her newest collection and speaks about how resistance is more important than ever.

Published: May 8, 2017Words: Rose Eken & J.Scott StrattonArtist Link: Period: Current – May 19Exhibition Details: V1 Gallery

Walking into Rose Eken’s newest exhibition, I was immediately struck by a nostalgic memory of my more radicalized and rebellious youth. The Decline of Western Civilization, cassette tapes, skateboards, colored hair and “fuck everything” attitude. Yet the harder I looked at her exhibition, the more it began to encompass more than a walk down memory lane.

Rose’s collection is entitled, ‘Resistance,’ and that is exactly what it conveys underneath the simple, charming sculptures – a culture where resistance was part of the identity. Although her experience came from her time spent in Copenhagen’s Ungdomshuset, the objects and what they represent are something that I could connect with, even though that connection stemmed from a past which was 25 years and 6500 km away.

But let me backpedal a little bit, in order to give some reference to those outside of Denmark who are unfamiliar with Copenhagen’s Ungdomshuset (The Youth House).

(Formerly) Located in the center of Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district, Ungdomshuset was originally built in the late 1800’s by the local worker’s movement to function as a base in the struggle of social justice. Originally deemed Folkets Hus (The People’s House), the span of its lifetime was a series of on-and-off again occupations by more resistant or “people-first” communities.

During the 1980’s, coinciding with the birth of punk squatter culture, a more radicalized and resistant politic youth began occupying the building and appropriating it into a Youth House (Ungdomshuset). Up until its demolishment in the summer of 2007, Ungdomshuset “functioned as an underground scene venue for music and rendezvous point for varying autonomist and leftist groups.”

While it is clear in Rose Eken’s work that Ungdomshuset was a great influence on her youth, when we spoke she made it clear that the exhibition wasn’t really about Ungdomshuset. Her collection is about what the youth house represented – a resistance towards authoritarian actions which aim dismantle free-thinking and radical communities.

I caught some words with Rose to dig a little deeper into her thoughts behind the work.

Interview with Rose Eken about her exhibition

With this exhibition, Resistance, you tap into subject matter that holds special meaning for many people – with a homage to Ungdomshuset and the counter-culture that it represented. Can you tell me about your own thoughts about that icon of Danish history?

Ungdomshuset was very much part of my youth. As such, I can’t separate it from the notion of counter-culture and the subject matter I chose for this exhibition. But to me, Ungdomshuset was about much more than a house full of rebellious teenagers.

What attracted me was the fact that people cared about more than just going to parties or getting laid. They cared about their society and current political climate. It also represented freedom and creativity.

It was there where I could work as a set and light designer and stage technician at the age of 15 without any grownups telling me the rules. Something which has very much laid the foundation for my later artistic career. Being a teenager is very much about finding out who you are as a person, and what you want in life.

The time I spent in Ungdomshuset has definitely shaped me and still does as so many of the people I got to know back then are still some of my closest friends today.

Actually, I find it hard, to sum up my thoughts about Ungdomshuset – there were, of course, both good things and bad things to say… and I really don’t want to just put on the rose-tinted glasses and hallelujah. But to try to sum up Ungdomshuset (or places similar to this) and what it meant to me – and to a lot of other people: Immense freedom and a sense of belonging.

I feel the Danish State decided to erased my entire youth, when they tore down that house –apparently it wasn’t good enough – it could not just be left in the past, it had to be gone….that is a quite devastating feeling.

But in saying all this, it is also important for me to stress that this collection of work ‘Resistance’ is not about me or my past. It is not specifically about Ungdomshuset or a particular moment in time.

Yes, for sure, there is a lot of references to the Danish BZ-movement and the 80 and 90’s punk scene, but it is also not specifically about this. It’s a medley in time and place, jumping back and forth from the 70’s to now.

‘Resistance’ is flashes of memory, – moods and states of mind, fragments of individual and collective history that can be assembled into a picture of our past and thereby also point to how we perceive ourselves here and now.

Interview with Rose Eken about her exhibition
Interview with Rose Eken about her exhibition

Although the objects that you’ve chosen represent another time, the underlying theme of “resistance” is timeless. How do you feel this subject matter relates to our current cultural climate?

Sadly, I think it is highly relevant. Speaking for myself, I have never been more disillusioned with politics that I am currently. But I also get a great sense of hope looking at our current climate and seeing the great rise in anti-rallies and counter movements. From Occupy Wall Street to marches against Donald Trump, the commence of the ME TOO movement, and lately #Marchforoutlives – teenagers rallying against the NRA and the gun laws in the US.

But saying this my exhibition is not overly political – not from the onset at least. Yes, I was active on the far left when I was in my teens, and this is of course still a part of me and my way of looking at the world.

‘Resistance’ is also, in many ways, the most personal and political show I’ve ever done. But my ambition here is not so much about that. The show is a part of me, I’m a part of the show – but my aim is very much to transcend this and talk about the world in a much broader context.

Through the transformation of objects, I aim to draw our collective memories towards elements and symbols drawn from our shared history and popular culture. I want to visually evoke the ambience and mood which resonates within each of us.

Building on those thoughts, would you consider yourself a political artist?

From the onset, no – but perhaps you can argue that all art is political…. perhaps you can’t separate the art and the artist…. perhaps it is exactly what you must.

I didn’t set out making this show with an agenda or a specific message. But of course the subject matter of ‘Resistance’ is political, but still, it is not an overtly political exhibition.

I hope it raises questions concerning our current post-truth neoliberal era and of the dilemma of gradually accepting status quo. But to me, it is also very much about process and materiality, about sculpture and form and what all of these bring about.

So perhaps ‘Resistance’ hovers somewhere between homage and rally cry…. I definitely, for one, hope it can work as a poetic reminder, that resistance may be fragile, but never futile. Sometimes it just takes one bolt and a slingshot.

Interview with Rose Eken about her exhibition

As with many of your exhibitions, each piece has an intrinsic value and artistry, yet the overall concept becomes greater when the sum of all its part are exhibited together. How do you classify the individual pieces from those that are part of a “collection” – for lack of a better term?

I’m not sure I do…. You can keep changing this. For me, it is about a dialogue between objects and the associations that they initiate within the spectator.

When I set up a show, I very much think of this always – perhaps not always consciously, but I know this is what I do.

This ‘dialogue’ between objects can take many forms and is not necessarily fixed. I mean, just because I place these and these objects together doesn’t mean it can’t be alternated. Hence you can look at the individual object as a work of art in its own right, yet placed together as a massive ‘collection’ they become monumental.

We are often stronger when we unite.

With the knowledge that an artist’s mind never stops, I’m curious what inspirations and concepts you’re thinking about, now that the “creation” part of this exhibition is behind you.

Ah well – yes – I’m already working on my next projects – something I’ve actually done parallel to making this exhibition.

I am making a large scale outdoor commission for the Rock-museum; Museum RagnaRock in Denmark which consists of some immense scale wall-paintings and bronze sculptures – and of course, I am using music and popular culture as my inspiration and theme.

The plan is to finish this around the 1st of July and then I will start working on my first solo-show at a museum in Denmark, namely Horsens Kunstmuseum which will open this fall. With that show, I will work with the main media, which have preoccupied me in the last few years, namely embroidery, ceramic and tinsel painting.

Interview with Rose Eken about her exhibition
Interview with Rose Eken about her exhibition