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Jens Fänge: Aura at Perrotin Hong Kong

Exhibition details

Opening / Event Date:
22 October, 2022
11:00 am - 7:00 pm
Closing / End Date:
1 December, 2022
Event Category:
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Perrotin Hong Kong is pleased to present the second solo exhibition by Jens Fänge in Hong Kong since 2017, featuring a body of new paintings as part of greater mise-en-scene that will transform the gallery itself into a human-scale composition.

Often exploring the relations between people and architecture, Fänge’s surreal compositions hint at profuse art historical influences, from the darkened archways of Giorgio de Chirico and the steely portraits of Tamara de Lempicka to Georges Braque’s faceted forms and Wassily Kandinsky’s colourful intersecting shapes. Yet Fänge seldom incorporates overt references, deferring instead to the vague and generic. What we see are impressions of art historical tropes—snatches of geometric abstraction in the pattern on a figure’s jumper, a picture of a Renaissance-style infant Christ on the wall of a domestic interior. Disparate styles and genres collide and converge through these cleverly painted elements and frames within frames, locating the work at once everywhere and nowhere. The parlour game of spot-the-reference leads to dead ends in the reality of our cultural canon but draws us deeper into the diegesis, prompting us to dispense with the certainty that anyone we think we recognise even exists in the universe of Fänge’s characters.

Even more puzzling are the diffuse boundaries between subject and object, figure and ground. Although one might expect Fänge’s architectural settings to lend a solid structure to his compositions, they are more often characterised by paradox. Walls in the painted background melt in bleeding pools of ink and oil. The illusion of depth is undone by collaging miniature paintings on card or copper over corner seams and doorways. Fänge occasionally adds contrast by conflating interior and exterior, for example by including a painting of a tree or a façade inside a cramped room.

Fänge’s characters, meanwhile, are awkward occupants of these spaces. People are typically truncated and flattened, reduced to floating heads or partially painted bodies. These cut-outs intrude rather than inhabit, hovering like apparitions in stairwells and rooms, or opening stark voids amid densely patterned abstract backgrounds. Conversely, in works where the background has sparsely coloured sections, a painted arm or tufts of hair might come to the fore while the rest of the person dissipates into the blank wall or floor.

Still other works rely on incongruities in scale to estrange characters from their settings, shrinking a room or façade so the legs of the overlaid figures dangle beyond the edge of the space, as if they are walking in front of an artificial backdrop. More disconcerting is when the architecture is superimposed onto the figure, as in works where characters’ eyes are eerily occluded by small images of an alcove or basement steps.

Looking at the multitude of overlapping elements in Fänge’s surreal compositions, it is impossible to parse their relative positions and associations. Does the alcove-eye suggest a secret locked in the character’s mind? Does a person embracing a blank cut-out feel longing or loss? Is an upside-down man stuck beneath a giant female head a figment of her imagination?

These ambiguities derive from the free-associative circumstances of their creation. Invoking the undirected creativity of play, Fänge collates various painted backgrounds, materials, and cut-outs on the floor of his Stockholm studio and experiments with different chimerical configurations. Irregular shapes can be pieced together and painted to form a face; human cut-outs can be rotated to suggest peaceful repose or a headlong plummet. Fänge’s process is one of motion and transmogrification, and it is this boundless dynamism that is imprinted upon his dioramas. There are no conceptual or narrative strictures here, only tangled associations for the beholder to unravel according to their own projections of narrative logic. The works are enigmas even to the artist himself, a dissociation between the conscious and subconscious self that evokes what psychologist Kelly Bulkeley described as “the autonomous otherness of dreaming.”

The clearest sense of continuity stems from the recurrence of motifs. A room with an off-white door and tiled wall reappears with variations in palette, scale, and occupants. Near-identical people and animals populate multiple settings. More radically, the means by which characters enter the scene can alter: a group of friends in one assemblage are framed in a small picture-within-a-picture elsewhere, perhaps indicating an unseen photographer who captured the moment. These repetitions are like spatial-temporal footholds, allowing the viewer to organise the visual elements into a semi-coherent history in which people visit places, keep mementoes, and refurbish homes. Yet this is an unreliable history spun by conscious reasoning and subconscious instinct.

The intertextuality extends beyond the picture plane in Fänge’s exhibitions, where murals and custom carpets echo elements in the works. “Aura” features posters of a façade photographed from the artist’s studio, but digitally altered so the windows are blacked out like the panes in a displayed painting of a house. The viewers are thus invited to step into the unfolding dramas of his mysterious mises-en-scène. If Fänge’s works can be said to exude a kind of aura, it is one structured not by the materiality of the aesthetic experience but by the unstable logic of a half-remembered dream, elusive even as it manifests before us.


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