A wish for Humanity from Superflex
A conversation with Bjørnstjerne Christiansen from the artist trio about our potential to change the future, and how to thrive in friction
How can those of us on land respond to a message from the ocean? Our recently opened exhibition with SUPERFLEX – ‘There Is An Elephant In The Room’ – brings together multiple works that address the need for humans to find ways to co-exist with other species. The works range from prophetic warnings to proposals for new forms of interspecies infrastructure.
We asked Bjørnstjerne Christiansen from the SUPERFLEX trio about his wishes for humanity, the rising water level and the difference between political and protest art.
Should your political art be read as a form of protest?
I don’t see our work as a form of protest. We believe in the power of citizens to engage in big debates through protests, through activism, through being present and raising their voices. So, we do not do protest art. What we create is more like engaged art and engaged autonomy.
We believe that we, with our art practice, can go into any kind of power structure—or even infrastructure—and present proposals and projects, and make them happen. In this way, art is about taking thoughts and ideas, concepts and contexts into consideration, and then turning them into physical manifestations at every possible scale, from small to grand. In that sense, we are actively taking part in societal change and transformation, not by standing outside and protesting, but rather by infiltrating power structures. That’s why we like to say that ‘we thrive in friction.’
Inside these structures there are gaps and holes that you can start carving out in order to approach difficult questions. And that’s where you can use art as a tool for actually doing something, something that is political for some and apolitical for others. There’s an interesting tension there depending on how you decide to respond, and maybe your own decisions can change according what you experience through art.
As SUPERFLEX live close to the sea in Denmark, the issue of rising sea levels is also in a physical sense close to you. Given the current situation, do you think that our lighthouse (our upcoming von Bartha gallery space, opening in December 2021) in the Carlsberg area of Copenhagen may serve as an actual lighthouse one day?
Carlsberg is up on a hill. It’s going to take a little longer for that. There are parts of Denmark, especially in the South, that are already at risk: if the sea level raises by half a metre, then it they will be submerged.
But it’s going to take some time before the building becomes a working Lighthouse again. On a more meta level, I would look at your new Copenhagen gallery as a Lighthouse that doesn’t project light but great ideas for our society through art.
Actually, we have worked in places in the Pacific—Tonga, the Marshall Islands, Fiji— where sea levels have already risen by already 10, 20, 30 centimetres because of climate change conditions. Such realities exist. This is all is very much present and also already in the past. It has happened. The problem is accelerating, and we as a human race and as a gigantic collective have the possibility of stalling it by making changes and influencing nature. We can also help nature recover. Most importantly, we need to change our perspective and understand that we are also part of nature, one of many species. We’re not exceptional, we only more power compared to other species. If we want to continue living and acting as a part of a collective, which includes this planet and nature, then we seriously have to pause and listen.
All this considered, what is your wish for humanity?
I wish for us to be able to align ourselves with the rest of the world and the rest of nature. We have enormous capacities. We need to pause a little and gather the knowledge that we’re being given by all other species in nature, to cultivate that and be become part of a recovery process.
And I wish for us to not be afraid of it. We are often afraid of the situation, and we imagine all these scary apocalyptic scenarios, but we are here and we belong to nature. Most likely, we will also transform and morph like we have done in the past, having come from the ocean. That’s also why the ocean should be our main friend. We came from it as little organisms, transforming and becoming what we are today, and 70% of our bodies is water. It is only natural to take care of the place we come from, because it is in our system.