Airplanes: among the most sophisticated technology we experience in everyday life, they serve as powerful emblems of today’s accelerated and globalized lifestyle, its perks and its discontents. For Norwegian-German artist Yngve Holen, whose voice is increasingly well-heard on the international art scene, the airplane is a recurring theme, embodying our relationship with the things we create and consume. The title of his current exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel,“VERTICALSEAT,” refers to the standing chair introduced by budget airlines to squeeze in the largest number of passengers possible. Currently shown in Basel as well as in Berlin, as part of the artist’s contribution to the 9th Berlin Biennale, is a new series of glass-blown objects that resemble nazars (Arabic talismans), shaped and sized like the portholes of Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes, installed in a row and titled “Window Seats.” Back in 2014, as part of a project at 032c Workshop in Berlin titled “Economy Class Legs,” he presented a video work shot on another Dreamliner: Flight 186 from Newark to London. In an accompanying text, Holen wrote: “Brace for take off. Knees to chest? Assume the butterfly position? Twisted spine. Very uncomfortable. Flight time: 7 hours, 10 minutes.”
How objects shape our existence and how, in turn, our corporeality shapes them
Succinctly yet eloquently, this excerpt reveals how, behind the Berlin-based artist’s ongoing exploration of commercial air travel, the artist addresses the complex psychological implications of today’s industrial speed. In Holen’s sleek, almost sterile works—built with consumer spare parts, realized via techniques of 3D printing, water-cutting and tailoring, and seemingly informed by an analysis of the material processes and economic trajectories of industrial production—the invisible protagonist is the latent, absent body. What most preoccupies the artist is our interaction with these objects: how they shape our existence, psychological patterns, social behaviours and physical perceptions—and how, in turn, our corporeality shapes them, affording them haptic, anatomical, ergonomic qualities. The artist applies the same “animistic” approach to other fields of production and consumption, from transportation (the Basel show features a Porsche Panamera dissected into four parts like a cake, while his 2015 solo show at Modern Art, London, consisted of a constellation of wall-mounted scooter headlights) to security systems (for his 2013 show at Société in Berlin, he fabricated a countersunk security screw, like those used by companies such as Apple to render products non-serviceable by the consumer). Somewhat unexpectedly, a close reading of Holen’s apparently cold, quasi-anthropological investigations even reveals an eye for the sensual: in 2015, parallel to his exhibition at Galerie Neu in Berlin, the artist launched Extended Operation II, a magazine featuring interviews with plastic surgeons and adult entertainment professionals; and in his first monograph, published on the occasion of the Basel exhibition, an essay by Victoria Camblin discusses his use of industrial objects featuring holes, with all their esoteric and erotic significance.
As collateral output of his participation in the Berlin Biennale, Holen has also produced Hater Blocker Contact Lenses, available to purchase both online and at exhibition venues, and intended to be worn while experiencing the work. Once again, the futuristic aesthetic hides a humanist concern: at the heart of the work is the notion of “user,” defined as an entity that has authority to use an application, equipment, facility, process or system as desired—but who, increasingly, can also expect those exploitations to be reciprocated.
Yngve Holen (Norwegian/German born, b. 1982) is an artist who lives and works
in Berlin. He is represented by Modern Art, London; Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt; Galerie Neu, Berlin;
and Johan Berggren Gallery, Malmö.
Holen’s solo show “VERTICALSEAT” is currently on view at Kunsthalle Basel through 14 August.
His work is also exhibited at the 9th Berlin Biennale, on view through 18 September.
Cristina Travaglini is Co-Founder and Managing Editor of KALEIDOSCOPE.
Image: Earthling, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Stuart Shave/ Modern Art, London