“How I wish you were here” – a famous Pink Floyd lyric. However, in Danish artist Mette Boel’s exhibition ‘Sunkissed’, it is as if the line has been turned on its head. Because this is an exhibition that dreams about the elsewhere. How I wish I was there …
The clue is in the name of the exhibition space: Spanien – Danish for ‘Spain’. It is indeed an odd name, though one that is typical of the names of locations in Danish harbour areas. And that is where we are: in an odd, old, industrial-looking, redbrick building, placed near Aarhus’ industrial harbour. Here, everything points towards something else. Ships come and go. Street names bear witness to this logic. There is a longing here. ‘Sunkissed’ is the logical extension of this. Boel has created a so-called ‘total installation’; one that engulfs you – and, in turn, takes you to Spain. That is, the ‘real’ Spain. Or rather, the dream about being in Spain.
In Boel’s work, Spain becomes an abstract place. In her sculptures, industrial materials such as steal clash with papier-mâché stirred with granulate from oranges. Trainers pair up with swimming pool noodles to create weird, often amusing pairings, as the noodles appear to be wearing shoes and claim the space for themselves. Posters look like tourist ads and then again not. Then there is the sand on the floor, which reminds us of relaxing days at the beach. Yet, here, the sand does not move; it has become like a carpet. Not a carpet to lie down upon, but something to investigate, to brush up against.
Jonathan Culler writes about the semiotics of tourism, about how we imagine places before we meet them. How they become signs for us. To dream of Spain may be to dream of oranges and the sun. In Boel’s work, this spatial ‘stretching-out’ comes to the fore. Her pieces are also about potentiality as such. They are about things that are on their way. Things that are in a stage of becoming. As if her sculptures could suddenly wander off and take up residency elsewhere. All by their own account.
We are neither here nor there but in both places at once, one might say. I may sit in Denmark and dream of Spain. I may sit in London and dream of Rome. We are never fully present. In this sense, Boel’s work also becomes about our more existential longings, our potential lives. That is, about the issues that Adam Phillips discusses in his book, ‘Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life’ (2012) – about how the places that we did not go may keep on haunting us and the gap that inevitably opens whenever we have to be in one place and save the other for our imagination. And how this may also be a source of artistic creation. This is what makes ‘Sunkissed’ an important exhibition.