Artist: Søren Engsted
Exhibition title: If the Future isn’t Bright at least it’s Colorful
Curated by: Paola Paleari and Anne Zychalak Stolten
Venue: Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon, Videbæk , Denmark
Date: July 24 – August 22, 2021
Photography: Georg Petermichl / all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon
According to one of the most estimated experts on energy, the Czech-Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil, the world will not become fossil-free anytime soon. The greatest part of global energy consumption is still reliant on fossil fuel while infrastructure is being built in steel and concrete, whose extraction and processing are powered by carbon-based fuels. Even a windmill – which many perceive as the icon of green energy – must be built out of concrete (base), steel (tower) and plastic (wings), while its machinery is lubricated with oil.
For his solo exhibition at Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon, Danish artist Søren Engsted presents a site-specific installation that challenges the viewers’ beliefs and knowledge about the energy industry on a visual, sensorial and conceptual level. A platform occupying most of the floor surface and filled with exhausted motor oil operates as an ephemeral and mirroring stage set for a number of sculptural assemblages that hybridise and morph found objects with hand-crafted interventions.
Engsted combines discarded materials of industrial origin, normally belonging to recycling production cycles, and follows an artistic process that oscillates between visionary intuition and empirical investigation. His predilection for steel, for example, has its roots in the factual observation that this is still a core material in the world. In most manufactures, from building constructions and car production, to hardware computing and numerous technological innovations, demand is now so high that the price has increased 200% since March 2020. Similarly, the imposing and overwhelming presence of motor oil in the gallery space reflects on the pervasiveness of petroleum into our lives: an entity that narrates the dynamics of global economies.
Many of the sculptures play with the formalist aesthetic of Modernist abstraction and the proliferation of monumental public art in the West during the second half of the 20th century on urban sites with fountains. By associating a server cabinet with a pool of oil, Engsted points at an immaterial future, what British mathematician Clive Humby defines as “data is the new oil”: like oil, data is valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used; to become a valuable entity, it has to be converted into gas, plastic, chemicals.
If the Future isn’t Bright at least it’s Colorful leverages our emotional unawareness and invites us to re-evaluate our position towards what is “out there”. By staging the interconnectedness of elements and situations that we conceive as remote and abstract, Engsted bypasses the adversity to address uncomfortable scenarios and provides us with a new perspective based on empathic involvement.
The exhibition is supported by The Danish Arts Foundation. The VK contemporary art program 2021-2022 is curated by Paola Paleari and Anne Zychalak Stolten and supported by Det Obelske Familiefond and The Danish Arts Foundation.