Uptown High Rise No. 2 at Vermilion Sands, Copenhagen

By Nathaniel Budzinski

Heine Thorhauge Mathiasen, butternutbottomup. betternot, 2018, flocking on hardboard, steel, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Vermilion Sands, Copenhagen

The artist-run gallery Vermilion Sands opened in the traditionally working class and immigrant district of Nørrebro, a short cycle ride north from Copenhagen’s tourist-friendly old city, in 2016. Named after J.G. Ballard’s 1971 collection of science-fiction short stories, the gallery’s open and explorative programme is not normally beholden to the author’s tastes. But this group show dovetails neatly with some of his fascinations, specifically urban life, alienation and contemporary architecture. The exhibition’s titular high-rise – itself an echo of Ballard’s 1975 High-Rise novel – refers to Uptown Nørrebro, a student housing complex that’s being constructed nearby the gallery, now renamed simply Nordbro (Northbridge in English). Slick promotional imagery makes it clear that Nordbro is a luxury student-housing solution, a symbol of the neighbourhood’s gentrification.

The show features work by a roster of Copenhagen-based and international artists, Mette Hammer Juhl and Lorenzo Tebano, Henning Lundkvist, Tessa Lynch, Asta Lynge and Heine Thorhauge Mathiasen. Mathiasen’s butternutbottomup. betternot (2018) takes up most of one wall, involving what look to be four large reclaimed desktops with two intersecting black and red circles satisfyingly routed into the soft, discoloured fibreboard underbelly of each. Lynch’s Umbrellas (Remembered) (2016) – umbrella frames that the artist has interpreted in weld-marked metal, turning street refuse into vibrant, insectlike clusters – dots the gallery floor. The sculpture series is accompanied by a video, The Wave Machine & The Flâneuse (2016), projected onto the white wall. Here, faint scrolling text relates a fragmented discussion between two women, taking in architecture, parenthood, Jacques Rancière and ultrasound therapy, among other subjects. 

I was unable to visit Lynge’s Real Estate Trick (2018) in situ – installed in a finished, private room in Nordbro itself – but the video has been published online. In it, a pitch-shifted voice reads out text simultaneously shown onscreen. Peppy orchestral library music plays in the background, as the cheesily anonymised voice speaks about playing the Sims videogame: “choose the evict button and throw out your users out here on the street…” Lundkvist’s Old Plans (2018), meanwhile, is a series of exhibition maps on A4 paper, with enigmatic doodles and markings on some of them. Placed humbly on the floor in a corner is a small pile of Lundkvist’s publication Planned Obsolescence – A Retrospective (2018). Narrating his thoughts on the abjection and poverty of the artist’s life under late capitalism, it’s as self-reflexive as his maps, but less fey and far funnier.

Mette Hammer Juhl and Lorenzo Tebano’s Are you still here (2018) is a videowork experienced during a car ride around Nørrebro. Screens set into the back of the car’s headrests show a collage of found images of buildings collapsing and closeups of organic, gutlike matter, as well as shots of locations along the journey, while ominous synth pads sweep and drone underneath. Inevitably our trip falls in and out of sync with our surroundings, creating a dreamy feeling. The ride ends in a dramatic climax as the car climbs to the top of a hospital carpark. It’s a melodramatic but effective moment when the engine shuts off to a view of Copenhagen’s subdued skyline, spiked by numerous church spires and a few newer tower blocks creeping up towards the clouds. 

Vermilion Sands didn’t offer much in the way of exhibition literature, so viewers – at least those who might not live in Copenhagen – have to navigate the show’s different strands without much help. It’s confusing to start with, but also offers permission to slip away into the pieces, their shared rhythms and cross-dissolves. As a result, this is a strikingly cohesive group exhibition, leaving the viewer with a feeling for the show holistically, each work’s sensuality – fading, used material, half-remembered objects, displaced and disjointed voices and journeys – intersecting with and complementing the others in representing the loss accompanying gentrification.

Uptown High Rise No. 2 at Vermilion Sands, Copenhagen, 5 May – 16 June

From the September 2018 issue of ArtReview