Interview#27: Jes Brinch

In art Jes Brinch uses any media. The primary goal is to experiment and develop new concepts and forms of expression, while questioning and redefining the concept of art, all done in a format that communi- cates directly and is accessible to the general audi- ence.

For Jes Brinch art is communication. The media is the messenger, not the message. The concept generates the form of artwork. Any media is used uninhibited, both brand new as well as traditional media, and of- ten in atypical combinations.

Jes Brinch’s production includes installation art, ob- ject, light, sound, music, text, pure conceptual work, painting, sculpture, graphic print, t-shirts, posters, anything without limitation.

Art is made for the spectator, and Jes Brinch’s makes art that is both understandable and entertaining while giving food for thought and intellectual reflec- tion. The art projects are produced from an existen- tial point of view, and take a stand. Art is used as a critical tool to debate and question the values for life that is often taken for granted. Jes Brinch never worked in a linear style, but has made an effort to renew his means of expression.

Jes Brinch is born in Copenhagen in 1966. Lives and works in Malmö Sweden since 2012.

RAP showcased the works that Jes produced while he was in Singapore for Queer Creatures at Stockholm Independent Art Fair.

Questions (Q):Thanks for joining us in Supermarket, Stockholm. What is the series Faith about?

Jes Brinch (Jes): About faith in God. Part of the series is a short narrative about an alcoholic stage magician, and his ventriloquist doll and three pink rabbits. He is a disillusioned idealist who is hanging out in bars and drinking too much. One picture shows him searching for his car keys, and the story continues as he gets delirium tremens and starts to have visions of Jesus.

On the last drawing he is finally meeting God, who shows his enormous penis, which has a human head. It’s actually quite common for alcoholics to have visions of Jesus, they probably have it more often than priests. Another drawing shows a fat little boy with a cross, and another shows an angel fucking a unicorn. These are sort of bizarre parodies of Christian iconography.

Q: Those works were created in Singapore, any motivation from the society that leads to the works?

Jes: I am from Denmark, which is traditionally a Christian culture, but nowadays quite disconnected from Christianity. Christianity is a dying religion, and it’s quite common and widely accepted to be critical of Christianity, both in private and public, in art as well as in the media. Most taboos have been broken a long time ago.

Living and working as an artist in Singapore I realized that a lot of the rebellions against repressive Christianity that we take for granted in Scandinavia has never been done in Singapore, where a kind of modern repressive Christianity is common. This stirred an interest in the topic of Christian faith, and an attempt to work with that topic in a series of drawings.

I think art has a great potential as a critical tool, and as a field where the norms and values of the society we live in can be questioned, and alternatives can be proposed and discussed. Art can also be used as a tool to break down prejudice that limits free thinking and creative action. And this was what I attempted to do with this humorist narrative about the alcoholic stage magician meeting God, and God being a flasher, flashing his dick.

Q: You were in Singapore for one and a half years, how do you see the visual art culture here?

Jes: The visual art culture in Singapore is contemporary on the surface and not so much in content, due to the heavy handed government control, and not least self-censorship. There is a lot of good artists, who can’t live of art, and a lot of art teachers caught in a tight spot where they can’t really teach as they want to if they want to keep their jobs.

A short time after I arrived in Singapore a curator lost his Permanent Resident status for being publicly against death penalty. This person would have been a star in Europe, but was kicked out of Singapore. The government sent a strong signal to the entire art community by doing this, showing that if you are critical against government politics in art you get kicked out. Strangely enough I didn’t see many reactions to this. It was a like people wasn’t surprised about this, but rather expected it.

This does of course not create a great climate for contemporary art.

This is just my interpretations. I am sure that people like yourself has a much clearer view of this.

Q: As part of The Pearly Gates exhibition in Post Museum, how did that come about? It was very interesting for local audience to see the works. And I heard that the police visited the exhibition.

Jes: I more or less organized the Pearly gates exhibition. I got Post Museum recommend, and met Jennifer and Tien, who accepted my proposal to organize a show there, as a collaboration between Singaporean and Danish artists.

When I lived in Hanoi, before moving to Singapore, I ran an artist run exhibition space called Hanoi Future Art, where all projects were 50/50 collaborations between local and foreign artists. I wanted to continue that line of work in Singapore, and invited my friend and artist colleague Jon Stahn from Denmark, who had done a great collaborative show with two Vietnamese artists in Hanoi Future Art in 2008. Jon is a great guy, and was very enthusiastic about going to Singapore, which made the project realizable. Alan Oei recommended me to meet Clare Marie Ryan, and she suggested to bring her friend Marc Gabriel Loh. Even though we are 20 years apart we quickly became friends and agreed to collaborate on the exhibition.

When discussing what theme to choose for the show, Clare and Marc suggested sexual liberation as a theme. It’s not exactly the theme that Jon and I would have chosen in Denmark, since it’s a topic that was strongly debated by my parent’s generation, the hippies in the 60’s and 70’s. For open-minded people of my generation it seemed like moralizing about other peoples sexual life was a thing of the past, and sexual liberation a topic that didn’t need to be debated anymore. But that didn’t mean that we couldn’t work with the topic, on the contrary, it just meant that Jon and I didn’t expect to work with this theme. But it’s very relevant in Singapore which is still very restrictive, and it became a fun, interesting and somewhat provocative show, and quite innocent at the same time in the way the topic was dealt with.

One of the wall paintings in the show was a self-portrait of Marc as an angel with an enormous erect penis that was tickled with a feather by a priest. Clare told us a story about her priest who gave her some silly advice, and from that story I decided to paint him. It was logic to connect him as a figure to the angel by the penis-tickling feather.

A photo of me painting the priest was mailed out as promotion by Post Museum, and somebody got offended, and alerted a Christian church who attempted to demonstrate against the show, but failed, since they came outside the opening hours. But they did call the police on our party at the end of the show, and we had a long discussion with a high ranking police officer on the phone, who checked everything according to the law, and finally decided that he couldn’t stop the end party, since it was an art promotional full moon rave party. After all commerce is holier than anything else in Singapore. I have some experience with controversial art before, but never with offending Christians by promoting sodomy. So this was a new one for me.

Q: Your works in general too involve a certain sexually playful characters, including the one you showed at Salon Project gallery as post-Open House exhibition. Any reason why the interest?

Jes: I think it’s fun to break taboos in a playful manner. Art is actually harmless. It can only really offend people’s vanity symbolically. There are too many rules and taboos in the world already, so why not repeal them in art?

Q: You’ve left Asia for couple of years now. Any plans to return?

Jes: Not really. I want to go back to visit friends, and I would like to do more shows and collaborations in Asia, but don’t have any concrete plans. I don’t think I am ever going to live in Singapore again, since Sweden is much better with kids. Gender equality starts in kinder garden here, and feminism isn’t a swear word.

Q: What are your future plans in Malmö?

Jes: Being the sole provider for my family of two adults and two kids, working to make an income has first priority. I teach art freelance in art schools in Sweden and Denmark, do lectures, workshops, as well art shows in the hope of selling art in spite of the crisis and the crashed art market, while trying to maintain some enthusiasm for making art, doing collaborations and trying to keep my imagination alive. I may even apply for a full time job, even though that was what I always wanted to avoid by making art.

On the positive side I quite enjoy teaching, and are considering getting additional education in so called narrative therapy and pedagogic to develop better teaching skills and maybe even work with art therapy. Art has an enormous potential in providing a platform for people to tell their own preferred stories and define their identity, as well as to debate our values, while communicating through both intellectual and sensual experience at the same time.

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