Market Forces

Artist Rasmus Nielsen of Danish group Superflex, which has been at receiving end of legal orders and prohibitions for their artistic practices, describes their inspiration.

Published: February 9, 2014 11:09:28 pm

Any new movie that is longer than four hours significantly reduces its chances of financial success in theatres. But none of these factors served as a deterrent to Danish artists’ group Superflex, who shot Modern Times Forever, which is 240 hours long and runs over a period of 10 days. Devoid of any human intervention, the film captures centuries of decay to the box-like Stora Enso building in Helsinki, Finland. The film is currently on view at the INSERT2014 exhibition at Mati Ghar, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). It has been deliberately shot in a way that resembles amateur camera footage captured by bystanders during the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers. The film was also screened in front of the Stora Enso building as part of the
IHME Contemporary Art Festival in 2011.

“It shows modernism trying to conquer time. They have never succeeded in doing so,” says artist Rasmus Nielsen, as he fast forwards the video to show what will unfold over the next few days, effects of which have been digitally done. Going out of the way and doing spectacular thought-provoking artwork is not new for Superflex, who challenge existing economic structures and whose office is located in Copenhagen. Superflex was formed in 1993 by three artists Jakob Fenger, Nielsen and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen, who met in high school.

The group came up with the concept Free Beer, which was conceived as a metaphor for freedom in 2004 along with students from Copenhagen IT University. It enables anyone to brew and distribute their own beer using the recipe under a Creative Commons license. The drink has already been sold and served at Taipei, Los Angeles, Munich, Knoxville and Auckland, among other locations. “The inspiration for it came from the application of the contemporary free software movement on the web to real world products. It is a subtle critique on the issue of copyright, which affects every person since everyone has something illegal on their computers. All of us are criminals and that is what
should be challenged,” says 44-year-old Nielsen.

Power Toilets is one of Superflex’s permanent public artworks. As much curiosity that the title generated, so did its creation on a beach in Heerhugowaard, Netherlands, where they made a copy of toilets used by members of the United Nations Security Council at the UN headquarters in New York. Their other trysts include working with guarana farmers in the Brazilian Amazon to create the Guarana Power soft drink. The intention was simple — to end the monopoly of certain multinational corporations, which drove the price paid to the farmers for guarana seeds down by 80 per cent while the product cost to the consumers rose up.

The group’s practices resulted in police raids, prohibition orders and legal disputes for their use of commercial signs and symbols. The legal problems only got them “more interested” in coming up with more works. “Globalisation is like a Tsunami taking over the world. One should question how much freedom we give to those forces because they can be destructive if we do not stop them,” says Nielson.

Talking about their choice of working as a collective, as opposed to going solo, Nielson says, “None of us felt comfortable with the romantic idea of an artist, who sits in a studio, comes out every six months with his work and is seen at exhibitions with a glass of wine. A collective enables us to try out new things and the rest two often act as the audience. You do not have that privilege as a lonely artist.”

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