Allen Grubesic. #WTF?
Allen Grubesic is a master of messaging. He uses photography, sculpture and text to dissect the very nature of communication and image making with a scalpel-sharp sense of humor. He focuses his energy on ideas not production. In terms of art practice, Grubesic takes some of the 3000 messages that you’ve been hit with in the last 24 hours of your life, and strips them back to their purest form. The moment of confrontation may provoke a smile or a ‘WTF!’ reaction – for Grubesic both are equally poignant. His message then resonates with a cascade of personal connotations dependent upon the media stories of the day.
Self Portrait. Allen Grubesic, 2014.
During the one of the early media storms in Sweden on rising right-wing extremism, for example, Grubesic exhibited a painting of the shampoo brand Schwarzkopf’s word mark and logo, that loosely translates into Swedish as Svartskalle, a derogative word for a foreigner.
Schwarzkopf. Allen Grubesic. Oil on canvas. 2005.
Conspiracy Theory, Allen Grubesic. Screen-printed panels, placed in a random matrix. 2010.
In Conspiracy Theory, each acronym is connected through association with its neighbours in the grid. You may associate the acronym WTF with ‘Wikileaks Task Force’. Does PDA represent ‘Public Display of Affection’ or ‘Personal Digital Assistant’?
Grubesic positions himself as court jester, pointing out contradictions in the ongoing cacophony of media content that shapes our world-view. In his world, however, there are no foregone conclusions or easy answers. It’s our collective psyche he is interested in; how complex issues are over-simplified by politics, media and all the mechanisms of commercialism. How our modern-day myths are designed into bite-sized bytes of shareable content. We are all part of the spectacle, performers and producers of the culture we are so critical of, fools and tools for mass public relations.
Islay Mist/ Islamist Allen Grubesic, Instagram picture, January 2015.
At the height of the media ‘Je suis Charlie’ frenzy this year, Grubesic quietly posts an Instagram picture of a box of whiskey, branded Islay Mist, tagged with Islay Mist/ Islamist.
“The most frightening thought today is that we will be infected with some invisible, outside enemy,” Grubesic calmly announces, across his kitchen table. “Whether it’s biological, like Ebola, or an idea or belief system, the fear of alien invasion is a story we love to wallow in.”
I asked him if he had managed to watch the Adam Curtis documentary Bitter Lake I had sent him a link of. He rolls his eyes at me. Obviously he hadn’t. “Everyone’s waiting for a pandemic. That’s the pandemic,” he replies. “I’m just waiting for my visa to go back to Turkey.”
Grubesic divides his time between Stockholm and his new home, Istanbul. I ask him about the situation in Istanbul.
“Well, it’s different living there. I’m more concerned about cats pissing on my balcony than getting tear-gassed. I have my studio there now. It’s my home. It’s full of life, almost the opposite of here (Stockholm). I’ve started taking photos of graffiti and texts I see about town, so I can ask my friends what they mean. It’s a way for me to learn Turkish. Yesterday I saw a wall of graffiti that had been painted over in white. Someone wrote underneath it: ‘white space’. It made me laugh.”
Sex and Beer? Allen Grubesic. Acrylic on canvas, December 2014.
Grubesic was also invited to create a piece for the opening of a new Soho House in Istanbul. His response to the commission was a painting of the number 81.
“81 sounds the same as ‘sex and beer’ in Turkish,” he explains, still smiling.
Grubesic is modest about his work, but in the space of a few months of moving to Istanbul, he has established new gallery representation in both Istanbul and London, produced a solo exhibition at Oslo Konstföreningen, and created a totally new body of work for another upcoming solo exhibition.
“It’s the dichotomies and contradictions of life that interest me. And when you start looking for them, they are everywhere.”
Grubesic is obviously at home in the field of production he is participating in. Humour, detachment and critical thinking are all part of his practice. But his work is not cynical or bombastic. He humbly invites us to see the world through his eyes, with large amounts of wit and generosity.
Vacation wanted. Allen Grubesic, Instagram picture, January 2015.
About the artist
Allen Grubesic (b. 1974) graduated from The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm in 2003. Grubesic has had solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Natalia Goldin Gallery in Stockholm, Alida Ivanov Gallery in Stockholm, Charles Bank Gallery in New York, and Oslo Konstföreningen. His work has been exhibited at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, The Modern and National Museums of Stockholm as well as Tensta Konsthall, Kiasma in Helsinki, Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt, Lautom Contemporary in Oslo, Laviola Banks Gallery in New York, and Maria Stenfors Gallery in London. He is represented by Niclas Belenius Gallery in Stockholm.
Words by Tanya Kim Grassley