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Metamorfosens mester by Trine Ross

text ENG/DK



Facing René Schmidt’s works is getting your sense of reality turned inside out. Everything that is immediately recognizable disguises itself right in front of our eyes – or is it the other way around? This fertile instability is complimented by Schmidt’s ability to work with the kind of contradictory imagery that can spawn world-class art. As an example, take a look at the sculpture ‘Flipping Normals’, which physically appears as if it could rock from side to side in front of the astounded viewer.  The extremes here are fundamentally made up of the hand done multicolored graffiti that twines around the physical form, and the title of the piece, which Schmidt has borrowed from the digital modeling software he frequently uses to actually shape his pieces.


This crossing of the hand-made and the computer-generated appears in most of René Schmidt’s pieces and reflects one of the central themes of his artistic practice. But simultaneously to this crossing, the graffiti makes the entire three- dimensional construction of ‘Flipping Normals’ tremble. It is like watching a fight between surface and volume. In classical art history this combat is between two schools, with one swearing by the line and the other by the color as an artwork’s most fundamental component. But for Schmidt this battle takes place within one piece, before our very own eyes. 


Schmidt adds an additional dimension of tension to the experience of the piece by letting the two seemingly incompatible elements, surface and meaning, intersect in a brand new way. Linguistically and visually we are accustomed to finding no literal or symbolic depth in pieces focusing on the aesthetic surfaces. René Schmidt breaks with this expectation. Rarely do we see as ultra-shiny, hairy, multicolored, and almost naughtily present surfaces, but here there is also a profusion of connotations to be found.


Traditionally, art with a message has been far less tactile, and definitely way less colorful, than René Schmidt’s. The sincerity and social criticism, which Smith deals with, has typically been expressed in black and white imagery, perhaps with a few somber earth tones mixed in. But Schmidt shows us that it can be done differently. Having an earnest message to convey (and being born here in Scandinavia) does not have to limit an artist to using straight lines and a subdued range of colors.


As if it wasn’t enough to shatter the traditional barrier between surface and content, Schmidt bends the concepts even further by incorporating a strong element of humor. Looking at a sculpture like ‘Elecon 100’, I cannot help smiling. For a really long time I stood there wondering why this shape seemed so familiar, and finally it hit me: It is one of those old computer hard drives that had to be hidden in special brackets under the desk. The word Spasser! (Retard!) is written on it, perhaps indicating that Schmidt and the hard drive have had a troubled relationship.


It is not that common to find shapes from our prosaic everyday lives in art works, so when we do it is instantly amusing. But it is also unsettling. Especially since René Schmidt manages to change the perception of the shape solely by his use of color. Even the ancient Greeks painted their sculptures, although we have gotten to know them as virgin white, and every day lots of people apply make-up to modify elements and expressions of their faces. In computer games all shapes are created by triangles, which does not actually seem to present a problem as long as there are millions of them available. Then it is no trouble making a rolling ball out of triangles. The only setback is that it is digitally heavy to load that many triangles. The solution is to color the digital surface in a way that tricks the eye to believe that it is looking at a perfectly round object.


It can be argued that the visual aspects of the works are a visual artist’s natural concern. However, very few artists work with these aspects the way René Schmidt does. For him it is not a question of beauty in the classical sense – it is actually not about art at all. At least not the art of other artists. While the majority of all art works to some degree position themselves in relation to other art, art history, or institutions that the works are meant to become a part of, René Schmidt is aiming in a different direction.


Schmidt labels his works ‘objects’ and it is his goal and intension that they have to find their own place in the world. And the world and reality, which the objects are to be part of, are far from institutional. This is why René Schmidt imagined the inside of a camper when he produced his floating pieces, ‘PONG’, which are reminiscent of space ships from far away galaxies. This is where they should be able to fit in – or in the sitting rooms of a nursing home. Schmidt wants his works to get out into the real world, away from the institutional art world, to be put to the test. For a while this attitude also led him to try to make them sturdy and resilient enough for even children to handle without either of them getting hurt.


But René Schmidt does not only send his objects into the world, he also lets the surrounding world be his key source of inspiration. And what is more everyday like than the supermarket? Schmidt has taken quite a bit of inspiration from it, both in regards to the physical shape of his pieces as well as his presentation of them. Examples of this were seen at Schmidt’s extensive solo exhibition at Brænderigården, where sculptures were placed on stands made out of used cardboard boxes. The boxes had marks and text indicating that they had previously transported everything from tomatoes to frozen hamburgers across Europe.


This constant hauling of all things – and especially consumer goods – is an issue Schmidt would like us to notice. The shipping happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and year round we can buy Spanish tomatoes (and strawberries in December!) and often they are even less expensive than the locally grown produce. Food and other products do not just materialize at the store. There are people behind. We just don’t always consider them.


But transportation of things are on René Schmidt’s mind, actually to such a degree that he works with some of the same techniques used to benefit the shipping industry. When an object is prepared for the market place, the transportability is an integral part of it, mainly because it influences its final cost. So it has to be designed to be as efficiently transportable as possible, a fact that has been a focal point ever since the golden age of Danish design.

This day and age, the available digital modeling processes provide endless possibilities for variations and diversity. The fact that things are not square doesn’t automatically mean that they will be more expensive. In a future that is actually already here, we can custom make a variety of objects and devices, personally adjust everything around us and customize it all to our personal likings. René Schmidt even envisions that in a few years we will all have some kind of a 3-D printer available in our homes to produce any object we desire.


This unlocks the possibility of an unprecedented degree of diversity – and a new kind of democracy.  Everyone (at least in the Western World) will get unrestricted access to the means of production and be able to shape our everyday life and work life in brand new ways. And as I mentioned, René Schmidt is already using his computer as an artistic tool. Just take a look at the two steel sculptures, ‘Beacon for People’ and ‘Kæden’(‘The Chain’). Every single shape and facet is the result of the welding together of flat pieces of steel and Schmidt has controlled both the placement of the welds and the shapes and dimensions of the metal pieces via his computer, which then has passed on the information to a machine that physically has carried out the sculptures.


These two pieces are also great examples of how the technique in itself does not make up the work of art. Although the two sculptures clearly are related, there are also significant differences: ‘Beacon for People’ has a presence that vaguely resembles a human contour, while ‘Kæden’ (‘The Chain’) winds around itself like an expansion of the infinite Möbius strip. Considering René Schmidt’s results one can only wonder why more artists don’t take creative control of their computers.


But even if we in the future will be able to print out whatever we might want, the question remains whether we even know what it is that we want to wish for. With such a multitude of possibilities it is easy to get quite overwhelmed. But there is no reason to get panicky. If we can’t figure it out for ourselves, René Schmidt will be ready to give us a few good ideas! And it for sure won’t be dull since he has a knack of “adding some country”, as he puts it, if everything starts getting a little too neat and pure.


Schmidt has a fascination with Americana, like the giant billboards that often have the character of autonomous architecture. Well, they kind of have to be massive, since they are meant to capture the attention of people who are passing by in cars, rather than walking by on the sidewalk as in Europe. So the billboards shoot up, often in the shape of the advertised products. They completely clash with anything considered good, Scandinavian taste, where the colors in both design and art are most often earthy and any decoration is reduced to an absolute minimum. The Nordic constraint contrasts the still prevalent American belief in bigger, faster, better!


However, it is not the giant size in itself that fascinates and inspires René Schmidt. It is more the kind of unruliness and lack of perfection that characterize these often partially hand made adornments of public space.


As René Schmidt has pointed out, it is a paradoxical fact that even if we in this country nowadays rarely have anything manufactured by hand, we are still surrounding ourselves with lots of handmade products. They just all come from Asia, where manual production is still less expensive than machining. Yet even the most mass-produced merchandise has its individual variations. Just ask a child who is buying a toy like a teddy bear or a doll.  Every single one has its very own expression that translates into an individual personality.


René Schmidt is not alone with his attraction to what in broad terms can be called folk art. Back on the 1930s and 1940s, Asger Jorn was very preoccupied with what he called “the banal”. And already back in the 19th century, the French author Arthur Rimbaud wrote about “loving the idiotic imagery, carvings above doors, decorations, curtains in front of performer booths at fairs, signage, broadsheets”. Jorn quoted him in the magazine Helhesten that was publish in Denmark during World War II.


Also, when it comes to the purpose of art, there are a few congruent beliefs across the generations. Both Jorn and René Schmidt want to free the artwork from its isolation inside the institution and send the art into the real world – and observe how it is able to compete. However, the finished works of Jorn and Schmidt, and the way they were completed, differ vastly.


René Schmidt clearly works in the 21st century, and he noticeably embodies our potential future in his pieces in a way Jorn would never have dreamt of doing it. An essential part of this future is the struggle for the cultural capital, which in René Schmidt’s opinion will be crucial. In Denmark we don’t have any other basic resources and this is why we constantly have to secure and carry on this cultural capital in every way possible. But culture is not just high culture and there are a large number of players who have very different motivations for their attempts to seize power in this field. This is one of the reasons why one of René Schmidt’s sculptures is titled “Cola”. By letting the sculpture’s material and the evidence of Schmidt’s work process appear raw and exposed the piece calls attention to the fact that big business and its commercial interests continuously mold our minds and bodies.


We let our bodies and souls dissolve by cola fizz, but is doesn’t have to be this way. That is why René Schmidt sends his pieces out to meet us in the midst of our lives, in our everyday situations, to give us food for thought. To make us recognize that we can take over that power – if we dare to reflect.




At stå overfor René Schmidts værker, er som at få vendt vrangen ud på sin virkelighedsopfattelse. Alt, hvad der er umiddelbart genkendeligt, forklæder sig for øjnene af os – eller er det omvendt? Denne frugtbare usikkerhed står ikke alene, for Schmidt forstår samtidig at arbejde med den form for modsætningspar, der kan sende god kunst op i verdensklassen. Tag som eksempel skulpturen ’Flipping Normals’, der rent fysisk fremstår, som om den kunne vippe fra side til side foran den måbede beskuer. Mere grundliggende opstår modsætningen her dog mellem håndens arbejde, i form af den farvestrålende graffiti, der slynger sig omkring formen, og så værkets titel, som Schmidt har hentet fra et digitalt modelleringsprogram, han gør flittigt brug af, når hans værker skal tage fysisk form.


Dette møde mellem det håndgjorte og det computergenererede går igen i hovedparten af René Schmidts værker, og det er ingen tilfældighed, for det er en af de centrale problemstillinger, Schmidt arbejder så intenst med. Men samtidig sker der det, at graffitien får hele ’Flipping Normals’ tredimensionale konstruktion til at vakle. Det er som om man overvære en kamp mellem (over)fladen og formen. I den klassiske kunsthistorie udkæmpes denne tvekamp mellem to skoler, hvor den ene sværger til linjen og den anden til farven som værkets mest grundliggende bestanddel. Men hos Schmidt sker det hele i ét og samme værk. For øjnene af os.


Desuden skaber Schmidt endnu et spændingsfelt i oplevelsen af værket, idet han lader de, tilsyneladende, uforenelige størrelser, overflade og mening, mødes på en helt ny måde. Både sprogligt og visuelt er vi vant til, at dér, hvor der er fokus på overfladen, finder man ingen dybde – hverken bogstaveligt eller i overført betydning. Men sådan er det ikke hos René Schmidt. Sjældent har man set så spejlblanke, behårede, farvestrålende og nærmest uartigt tilstedeværende overflader, som i Schmidts værker – samtidig med at der er masser af mening at hente.


Traditionelt set har kunst med budskaber været langt mindre taktile, og bestemt meget mindre farvestrålende, end René Schmidts. Alvor og samfundskritik, for det er det, vi er ude i sammen med Schmidt, har typisk været holdt i sort/hvid, måske iblandet en smule traurige jordfarver. Men Schmidt viser os, at sådan behøver det slet ikke at være. Bare fordi man har noget på hjertet (og er født her oppe mod Nord), behøver man ikke holde sig til de lige linjer og den nedtonede farveskala, hvis man vil tages alvorligt.


Som om det ikke var nok at bryde det traditionelle skel mellem overflade og indhold, tilføjer Schmidt endnu en anderledes bøjning af begreberne, ved samtidig at holde humoren højt. Jeg kan i alle tilfælde ikke lade være med at smile, konfronteret med skulpturer som ’Elecon 100’. Længe stod jeg og undrede mig over, hvor i al verden jeg kendte den form fra, og så slog det mig: det er en gammel harddisk af den slags, der måtte gemmes væk i særlige bærebøjler under skrivebordet. Spasser! står der på den, så noget tyder på, at Schmidt og harddisken har haft et nært forhold til hinanden.


Det er ikke så almindeligt at genfinde former fra hverdagens prosariske gang i kunstværker, så når det sker, er det allerede morsomt. Men det er samtidig foruroligende. Ikke mindst fordi René Schmidt mestrer at ændre på formen, udelukkende ved hjælp af farve. Allerede de gamle grækere bemalede deres skulpturer, selvom vi har lært dem at kende som uberørt hvide, og hver dag lægger masser af mennesker make-up for at ændre på ansigts elementer og udtryk. I computerspil skabes alle former af trekanter, hvilket egentlig ikke er noget problem – hvis man bare har millioner af dem til rådighed. Så er det ikke svært at få trekanter til at skabe en trillende kugle. Problemet er bare, at så mange trekanter er tunge at trække rent digitalt. Løsningen er i stedet at farvelægge den digitale overflade således, at øjet snydes til at tro, at der er tale om en cirkelrund genstand.


Man kan mene, at det er ganske naturligt for en kunstner at interessere sig for værkernes visuelle aspekter. Men det er ikke mange, der gør det på samme måde som René Schmidt. For ham handler det ikke om skønhed i klassisk forstand – ja faktisk handler det end ikke om kunst. I alle tilfælde ikke andre kunstneres kunst. Hvor store dele af verdens kunstværker på en eller anden måde forholder sig til anden kunst, kunsthistorien eller til de institutioner, værket er ment til at blive en del af, retter René Schmidt sin opmærksomhed i en anden retning.


Selv omtaler Schmidt sine værker som objekter, og det er hans mål og mening, at de skal forsøge at finde deres eget ståsted i verden. Og den verden og virkelighed, objekterne skal indgå i, er alt andet end institutionel. Derfor forestillede René Schmidt sig det indre af en campingvogn, da han udførte de svævende værker, ’PONG’, der kan give mindelser om rumskibe fra fjerne galakser. Det var her de skulle kunne hænge – eller i dagligstuen på et plejehjem. For Schmidts værker skal ud i den virkeligheden, udenfor kunstinstitutionen og stå deres prøve.

Dette førte en overgang ligefrem førte til, at han forsøgte at gøre dem så stabile og holdbare, at også børn kunne få fingre i dem, uden at hverken de eller værkerne tog skade af den grund.


René Schmidt nøjes dog ikke med at sende sine objekter ud i verden, han lader også den omkringliggende virkelighed være sin grundlæggende inspirationskilde. Og hvad er mere hverdagsvelkendt end et supermarked? Her har Schmidt hentet en hel del inspiration, både til værkernes fysiske udformning og til præsentationen af dem. Det kunne man opleve på Schmidts store separatudstilling i Brænderigården, hvor skulpturerne i den ene udstillingssal alle var placeret på sokler – af brugte papkasser. På kasserne kunne man både se og læse, hvordan de tidligere havde transporteret alt fra tomater til frosne hamburgere gennem Europa.


Denne konstante flytten rundt på alting og ikke mindst forbrugsgoder, er et tema, som Schmidt gerne vil henlede vores opmærksomhed på. Transporterne foregår 24 timer i døgnet, 7 dage om ugen og året rundt for at vi kan købe spanske tomater (og jordbær i december!), der endda ofte er billige end dem, der er dyrket lokalt. Fødevarer og andre produkter har ikke bare materialiseret sig selv nede i supermarkedet. Der står mennesker bag. Vi tænker bare ikke altid over det.


Men René Schmidt tænker over transporten af ting, faktisk så meget, at han arbejder med en del af de samme teknikker, som man benytter for at tilgodese transportsektoren. Når en genstand skal ud på markedet, er transporten af den nemlig en integreret del – ikke mindst fordi den har indflydelse på prisen. Derfor gælder det om at designe så transportvenligt som muligt, noget man allerede tilbage i dansk designs guldalder var mere end opmærksomme på.


I dag giver de digitale moddeleringsprocessorne uanede muligheder for variation og mangfoldighed. Alting behøver ikke længere blive dyrere, bare fordi det ikke er firkantet. I den fremtid, der faktisk allerede er her, kan vi specialfremstille diverse objekter og genstande, tilpasse alting omkring os og få det præcis, som vi vil have det. René Schmidt forestiller sig ligefrem, at vi om få år alle vil have en form for 3D-printer stående i vores hjem, så vi selv kan fremstille alle de genstande, vi har lyst til.


Derved opstår muligheden for en hidtil uset grad af diversitet – og for en ny form for demokrati: Alle (i alle tilfælde i den vestlige verden) vil få fri adgang til produktionsmidlerne og bliver i stand til at forme både hverdag og arbejdsliv på helt nye måder. Og Schmidt er, som sagt, allerede godt i gang med at bruge computeren som kunstnerisk værktøj. Se bare på de to stålskulpturer, ’Beacon for People’ og ’Kæden’. Samtlige former og facetter fremkommer som resultat af sammensvejsninger, der forener flade stålstykker, og Schmidt har styret både svejsningernes placering og stykkernes form og størrelse på computeren, som derefter har sendt informationerne videre til en maskine, der rent fysisk har udført skulpturerne.


De to værker er desuden glimrende eksempler på, at teknikken i sig selv ikke former værket, for selvom de tydeligvis er i familie med hinanden, er der også centrale forskelle: ’Beacon for People’ rejser sig i noget, der giver vage mindelser om menneskelig form, mens ’Kæden’ slynger sig om sig selv, som en videreudvikling af det uendelige Möbiusbånd. At ikke flere kunstnere tager kreativ kontrol over computeren, kan kun undre, René Schmidts resultater taget i betragtning.


Men selvom vi i fremtiden vil kunne printe os til lige hvad vi vil, er spørgsmålet måske, om vi overhovedet ved, hvad det egentlig er, vi ønsker os. Med så mange muligheder kan man let blive ganske overvældet. Der er dog ingen grund til panik, for kan vi ikke selv finde ud af det, så skal René Schmidt nok give os et par gode idéer! Og kedeligt bliver det i alle tilfælde ikke, for han besidder en evne til at ” Gi’ den noget country”, som han selv kalder det, hvis det hele går hen og bliver lidt for pænt.


Schmidt er fascineret af amerikansk folkekunst, sådan som den kommer til udtryk i de gigantiske reklameskilte, der ofte antager karakter af selvstændig arkitektur. Hvilket de sådan set også er nød til, da de skal fange opmærksomheden hos mennesker, der ikke, som i Europa, bevæger sig forbi på fortorvet, men kører i biler. Derfor tårner reklamerne sig op – gerne i form af det, de reklamerer for. Dette er i direkte modstrid med alt, hvad der karakteriserer den gode, nordiske smag, hvor farverne, både i design og kunst, oftest er jordnære og enhver form for dekoration er reduceret til et absolut minimum. Ganske modsat hos amerikanerne, der stadig hylder princippet om bigger, faster, better!


Det er nu ikke størrelsen i sig selv, der fascinerer og inspirerer René Schmidt. Det handler nærmere om en form for løssluppenhed og den mangel på perfektion, der kendetegner de oftest lettere håndlavede amerikanske udsmykninger af det offentlige rum. Det mærkværdige er, som René Schmidt har påpeget, at selvom vi her i landet efterhånden meget sjældent får udført noget som helst i hånden, så omgiver vi os alligevel med masser af håndlavede produkter. De stammer bare fra Asien, hvor mennesker stadig er billigere end maskiner. Men selv de mest masseproducerede varer har deres individuelle forskelle. Spørg bare et barn, der skal købe et stykke legetøj. Ikke mindst hvis det drejer sig om bamsedyr eller dukker, der kan have højst forskellige ansigtsudtryk og dermed personligheder.


Fascinationen af det, man sådan lidt flot kan kalde ”folkekunst”, står René Schmidt ikke alene med. Allerede Asger Jorn var i 1930’erne og 40’erne stærkt optaget af det, som han betegnede ”det banale”. Men heller ikke han var alene, for allerede i 1800-tallet havde den franske forfatter Arthur Rimbaud skrevet om at

elske ” idiotiske billeder, figurer over døre, dekorationer, fortæpper i gøglertelte, skilte, skillingstryk”. Hvilket Jorn citerede ham for i magasinet Helhesten, der udkom herhjemme i under Anden Verdenskrig.


Også når det kommer til målet med kunsten, er der et par sammenfald på tværs af et flere generationer, for både Jorn og René Schmidt vil frisætte kunstværket fra dets isolation i institutionen, de vil sende kunsten ud i virkeligheden – og se om den kan klare sig i konkurrencen. Til gengæld er der stor forskel på, hvordan Jorns og Schmidts færdige værker tager sig ud, og på hvordan de er blevet til. René Schmidt arbejder tydeligvis i det 21. århundrede, og han indarbejder vores potentielle fremtid i sine værker på en måde, Jorn end ikke kunne have drømt om.


En central del af denne fremtid er kampen om den kuturelle kapital, som René Schmidt mener bliver helt afgørende fremover. I Danmark har vi intet andet grundstof at gøre godt med, og derfor må vi konstant bygger videre på og tilegner os denne kulturelle kapital på kryds og tværs. Men kulturen er ikke kun finkulturel, og der er mange aktører, der med højst forskellige bevæggrunde forsøger at bemægtige sig magt i dette felt. Blandt andet derfor bærer en af Schmidts skulpturer titlen ’Cola’. Ved at lade skulpturens materiale, og ikke mindst Schmidts bearbejdning af det, stå råt og blottet, peger værket på, at vi og vores kroppe konstant bliver modelleret af erhvervslivet og dets interesser.


Vi opløser krop og sjæl i colabrus, men sådan behøver det ikke at være. Det er derfor René Schmidt sender sine værker ud for at møde os midt i livet, i hverdagen og give os noget at tænke over. Få os til at forstå, at vi selv kan tage magten – hvis bare vi tør at tænke os om.

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