OFF-GRID but on the map: How two emerging artists took over and transformed an abandoned house on the coast of Denmark. Frederik Næblerød and Casper Aguila are two Danish artists who have known each for fifteen years and collaborated for ten of them. Their most recent and celebrated collaboration was a project called Korshage, which is the focus of their current exhibition OFF-GRID at one of Copenhagen’s newest and exciting galleries, Alice Folker Gallery.
Alice Folker Gallery is located in the center of Copenhagen, on the fifth floor of a building in a side street, next to tourist hot-spot Nyhavn. It is relatively hidden and once you reach the gallery, it immediately feels like a familiar and welcoming place. “The light here is quite extraordinary. There is a beautiful natural light and an intimate atmosphere. Artists love this kind of space as a studio because you can really see everything that you do, and it also helps brighten up the colours” Alice Folker tells me. Folker is the owner of the gallery and a curator, who has worked hard to create a space that enables emerging artists to have a platform where they can showcase their art and use as a work space. Although she predominantly works with Danish artists, she has also worked with artists from Sweden, France, Germany and China. But her main focus is to work with emerging artists, for example those who, like Frederik Næblerød, have just graduated from art-school. “I just tend to gravitate towards young artists. Emerging artists are appealing to me because they represent something very new and exciting. I want to follow their careers and development, keep an eye on them for the next thirty to forty years. That’s exciting to me. I like artists that are a bit underground, so I keep a lookout for the new ones.”
Her current exhibition OFF-GRID focuses on a collaboration between two young Danish artists, Casper Aguila and Frederik Næblerød and their joint project Korshage (2015-2017), a work that was nominated for the art critic award AICA in 2018. Korshage revolves around an abandoned house close to the coast in the north of Denmark that became uninhabitable due to a storm, some three years ago. Curious and intrigued, the artists took over the space and renovated it to their liking, by changing the architecture, painting the floors and placing reflective foil on the outside as a way to catch the sunlight and surrounding. Alice Folker’s exhibition OFF-GRID encapsulates those years when the two artists took over the demolished house and in addition to sculptures, paintings and photos, essentially made using the house’s debris and recycled materials, there is also an engaging video montage documenting the project.
The exhibition contains both individual works and joint works. When asked about the process of the collaboration, and its surprising and enviable cohesiveness, Frederik Næblerød replies “We have a good energy together, the same ideas, same vision… us working together came very naturally. I just have a good instinct with Casper”. But collaboration is not something he necessarily searches for as he also wants to focus on his own work. “I get offers from people to collaborate on projects, but sometimes you just have to do your own thing. It’s maybe only Casper that I really click with. After all, we’ve known each other for fifteen years and we still work together.” Frederik graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of fine arts in April 2018, an education that made it possible for him to experiment with different styles. “I haven’t really found my style yet. If I had to describe my work, I’d say it would fall into the category of expressionism. What I create is quite naive and childish, and also grotesque. But what’s most important for me is to keep experimenting and creating. I love using different mediums. Recently, I started doing prints and lithography which I really like. And when I paint I use all kinds of surfaces. I like to make raw canvasses, with different colours and all sorts of materials.” Even though Næblerød experiments with different themes, materials, mediums and styles, it all seems interconnected (he refers to his ceramics as “three dimensional versions” of his paintings) and his universe is very distinct. There are undoubtedly elements of grotesque in his work, for example with pieces such as Zamir and Harald, that have an almost monster-like quality. “I never think about shocking people with my work, but if it does, great. What I like to do is to confuse and challenge people, to make them sad or angry as opposed to maybe happy or pleased.” Næblerød describes his working process as very immediate and instantaneous which is very visible in his work. “I just follow an idea and make it into something concrete. I don’t turn to books or the internet and I don’t write things down. I can get an idea simply by going to the supermarket and buying bread” He does mention artists like Mark Rothko, Edvard Munch and Jonathan Meese, a German artist whose “energy and style” he really responds to, but he explains that he does not so much draw inspiration from them as simply like the work that they do. And has being Danish influenced his work at all? “Living in a country like Denmark we have freedom of speech and I am able to address subjects that are a bit far-out, even [taboo] subjects like pedophilia. If I was living in another country, maybe I wouldn’t have that freedom and I would probably think differently. So yes, I guess it has”.
In 2015, he and Casper Aguila found an abandoned house in the countryside north of Denmark, that became a two year project where both artists created sculptures, paintings, photos and installations. Referred to as an “art squat”, since they were never officially allowed to use the space, the house eventually gave in to the sea’s tempestuous waves and disappeared for good in 2017. “The house was given to us by nature and taken from us by nature” Aguila poetically recites. “It was an extremely good location and a nice setup. It also happened to be a place where a famous Danish poet used to reside called Kai Hoffman, who once wrote beautiful poetry. It was a nice location, on a deserted beach, and after hanging out there a lot we began making artworks and building things. People came to see it. The house became like a getaway for us, we just kept building and renovating it.” Aguila is mostly known for his photography but like Næblerød he likes to experiment and also does oil paintings, drawings and sculptures. “I don’t really think about which mediums I use. It’s more about the energy, the feeling, the action… if I feel a strong energy, I have to act on it.” Although he went to an art school in Florence for two years (“many many years ago”), he considers himself to be mostly self-taught and started out doing graffiti at a young age. He then goes on to describe his early photography, which he says were mostly snapshots of people he knew. “I didn’t think about it so much. I had a camera and just wanted to create memories whereas now I find inspiration everywhere. I include more landscapes, I find new places to go and see and try to capture them.” His photographs of the house in Korshage displayed at the exhibition are large and impressive, and truly capture the uniqueness of the project. Curious to know if there is a specific intention or reason behind his work, he responds pensively “I don’t think my work necessarily has a direct meaning. I make [art] to inspire or save memories. We do it for ourselves essentially, and it enables us to create the lives that we want to live, where we want to live it. Thanks to art you enter a world where there are no constraints, no one is telling you what to do or how to behave. Of course I’m expressing myself in my work, so there are undeniably hidden messages, but then again all art has some sort of meaning and that’s what people want!”
Alice Folker Gallery is one of those hidden gems that makes you discover new talents from Scandinavia and beyond, and that presents fresh and interesting artworks that are available to purchase at a fair price. But she insists that although the artworks are perhaps accessible price- wise, it should still be something that has been thought out properly, as each piece on display is unique and takes a lot of work. As for Folker herself, she describes her experience of buying artwork as very visceral and intuitive. “I wouldn’t call myself an art-collector as I don’t want to put a label on myself. When I buy works it’s usually because my heart starts to pound and I know I just really, really want to buy it. I am not on the lookout for something specific, I just rely on my intuition.” It goes without saying that intuition is probably a good call when making a decision to buy a piece, and evidently when it comes to choosing a place, like a deserted house, as a haven and creative space for making inspiring and intriguing art.
OFF-GRID from 15th January to 2 March 2019 @ Alice Folker Gallery, Copenhagen.