Mapping structures – explored from a distance

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Uncertain Traces — Comments on Mapping in-between Order and Randomness. Tusche auf Fotopapier, 106x145 cm. 

Mapping structures – explored from a distance

Ausstellung mit Kay Arne Kirkebø und Aage Langhelle

Kurator Rasmus Hungnes

As it first meets the eye, the art of Kay Arne Kirkebø and the art of Aage Langhelle may strike the beholder as fundamentally different. Kirkebø's clean black and white cityscapes contain an impressive amount of detail, radiate a great abundance of control. Langhelle's chaotic, colorful painterly abstractions rest upon paper which has apparently taken a heavy beating, where errant lines and smudged ink weave into each other in webs of erratic, seemingly random pathways. But still, both artists chose the other as artistic reflections of their own work for a series of exhibitions, of which Mapping structures – explored from a distance constitutes the first. And as it turns out upon closer examination of their œuvres, unexpected similarities rise to the surface.

The most readily apparent common denominator is the representational navigation of urban life. Kirkebø, in the series Isometric Structures, draws maps of constructed manifestations of the imagination. While his game world-like maps are indisputably figurative, the real-world references within Langhelle's ongoing series are far more abstract. Langhelle has long dealt with notions of urbanity, often focusing on minute details, the unnoticed, the seemingly insignificant constituents of city life.

His series Uncertain Traces — Comments on Mapping in-between Order and Randomness is an evolution of Uncertain Maps, a body of work where photos of details from the urban scene are used as the starting point. Aage Langhelle´s photographic practice, as seen in Uncertain Maps, documents objects – such as birdhouses, discarded furniture, scarves hung from branches and lamp posts by protesters to commemorate victims of violent clashes, water bowls for dogs – left by Berliners on the street – non-verbal acts of communication articulated through miniature interventions in public space. These snapshots of the urban microcosm are developed onto photo paper, before being covered in inked networks of lines. These, in turn, are washed, treated with heat, drawn upon once more, the process repeated until the original image is transformed to the limits of recogntion.

The juxtaposition, or superimposition of reality and pure abstraction, could be said to be a treatment of both the macroscopic – city planning, infrastructure, satellite imagery – and microscopic – traces, remnants, of individual life. In Uncertain Traces — Comments on Mapping in-between Order and Randomness, a new series made for Mapping structures – explored from a distance, Langhelle has abandoned the photographic altogether (except from the actual photo paper), thereby distilling the creative process down to the purely material, emphasizing qualities pertaining to artistic control versus tumultuous physical conditions, giving rise to a unique color spectrum as well as cracks and bulges in the paper – a topography guiding the flow of rivers of ink. By removing the photographic references (even though they were never easily recognizable, obscured by layers of cracks and ink), Langhelle shifts his focus to these layers of material interactions, possible interpretations and ways of perception.

Kirkebø’s cityscapes, on the other hand, manifest as futuristic fantasies of a dystopian world, bringing to mind the cold societal structures of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Lucas’ THX 1138. Here, people are faceless, featureless, seemingly going about their daily routine without complaint nor joy – a notable exception being one unfortunate suicide which goes by rather unnoticed in the artist’s book Walkthrough (2015). These are futurescapes where architecture seems to be reduced, or distilled, into modules moulded to fit the needs of the masses, and the masses moulded to fit into their modules. The system is rigid, but a closer look will reveal the hand-drawn quality of the line.

The title Walkthrough is a reference to guides for beating video games. In computer games, especially concerning the 90's era, one talks about two kinds of bird's eye views of the in-game world: isometric and top-down perspective. The isometric (projections of three-dimensional space on a flat surface where the world is seen at a slight angle, tilted towards the horizon so to speak, while elements remain the same scale even towards this «horizon»), as seen in classic tactical games such as Syndicate (1993) and UFO: Enemy Unknown (1994) (two of Kirkebø's early influences), could be viewed as a modern heritage of the shifts in perspective sometimes apparent in Chinese hand scrolls depicting urban environments. The top-down perspective, where the depicted world is seen from straight above, at a right angle, brings to mind the early abstractions of Kazimir Malevich's proto-colour field paintings such as Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying (1915) – a far more fitting reference for Langhelle's Uncertain Maps and Uncertain Traces, which are in part influenced by phenomenon such as Google Maps and Google Earth depicting the surface of our planet by satellite imagery, than the apparent visual similarity to Jackson Pollock’s dripster painting. Langhelle’s images could, akin to Wassily Kandinsky’s non-representational painting, be thought of as intermediaries between the inner and outer world: the inner explored from the outer, and vice versa – from a distance.

The art – the creative process and resulting images alike – of Langhelle and Kirkebø both possess a contemplative quality at their core. Langhelle enters a sort of meditative state, an intuitive, nearly non-thinking flow, while working on his pictures. The resulting patterns – requiring intensive work, editing and repetition – bring to mind both street maps and neural networks, lines intertwined with lines which often seem to be frozen in the midst of a choreographed set of movements. The rhythm flows organically, but is certainly also tight – as the artist himself puts it: It has to swing. But the patterns are in no way calculated – they arise, organically, arbitrarily and fluently, like synaptic connections of the brain or asphalt around housing blocks. Kirkebø also “dances in chains”, as Nietzsche said about the abundant inspiration offered to the old poets by imposing constraints on themselves.  His Isometric Structures start out from the setting up of rulers and compasses. Thus, the stage – of paper – is set for the artist's hand to get to work. The process is fluid, where – akin to what comics writer Alan Moore once said in an interview about the inspiration for writing coming out of the act of writing – the drawing “grows” out of itself, line by line, room after room, building to building. In Isometric Structures, the artist is the intuitive creator, and omniscience is bestowed by Him upon the viewer.

The subtitle of Langhelle’s work – Comments on Mapping in-between Order and Randomness – seems to provide a key of sorts to the decryption of the collaboration at hand. The ancient Chinese sages created the I Ching, a divinatory system involving the throwing of sticks and the subsequent interpretation of the incidental result, because they believed that random events – due to the very fact that they are devoid of apparent, instant, inherent meaning – may reveal deeper truths. Even though the structures they map out are explored from a distance, the art of Aage Langhelle and Kay Arne Kirkebø demands a closer look. Your patient glance may be well rewarded.

Rasmus Hungnes. Editor-in-chief, KUNSTforum


Total Monument. Kay Arne Kirkebø 2016.


Cubecity. Kay Arne Kirkebø 2015.

5N8A1635 kopi

Uncertain Traces — Comments on Mapping in-between Order and Randomness. Tusche auf Fotopapier, 106x145 cm. 

Uncertain Traces — Comments on Mapping in-between Order and Randomness. Tusche auf Foto. 21x28 cm.