– Spring 2008

Working Class Abstractions

Ina Blom

At the time, it seemed like a clear enough concept. This is 1993, on the opening night of a brand new Stockholm gallery. In the middle of an exhibition consisting of bleak writings and drawings on the wall - 'like telephone doodles', in the words of the press release - the artist Bjarne Melgaard, outfitted in a brand-new Thierry Mugler jacket, picks up the gallery phone and places a call to his boyfriend in Oslo.1 The call - which may or may not be experienced as a performance - soon evolves into a full-blown quarrel. The boyfriend does not appreciate Melgaard's antics. He does not like being drawn into an art situation in this way. He finds Melgaard's work, his aesthetic strategies, meaningless and exploitative - and tells him so, loud and clear. Melgaard, not one to mince his words, gives as good as he gets, all the while discreetly popping his habitual pills. But in the heat of the moment they spill out of his pocket and all over the floor, pathetic figures of a situation out of control.

If it was a performance - and the press release had certainly announced it as such - it was a performance gone wrong. Actually, Melgaard had imagined the whole thing in less specific and more cautious terms: not even really a performance, but more of a coolly ephemeral pose: a well-dressed lover's phone exchange set off by an ephemeral wall drawing. Something more in the spirit of the polished melancholy of a George Michael song, where gusts of passion and cruelty are kept in check by of one of the

  1. Bjarne Melgaard, solo exhibition, Ynglingagatan 1, Stockholm, September 1993.

  2. See Nicola Field, Over the Rainbow. Money, Class and Homophobia, London: Pluto Press, 1995, pp.37-73.

  3. See Leo Bersani, 'Is the Rectum a Grave?'. October, vol.43, Winter 1987, pp.197-222.

  4. Bjarne Melgaard, 'Artist in search of God within his own limitations (an indoor swimming pool for Yolanda the Jack Smith Pinguin)', Manifesta 2, 1998, Luxembourg.

  5. Bjarne Melgaard, 'Black Low: The Punk Movement Was Just Hippies with Short Hair', MARTa Herford, 2002. The exhibition was closed by the legal authorities for its depiction of violence, but was reopened later on. A recent shooting accident in the local community seems to have influenced public opinion concerning the relation between violence and artistic expression.

  6. Bjarne Melgaard, 'Interface to God', Kunsthalle zu Kiel, 2002. As in 'Black Low', Melgaard was processing material related to gay snuff film milieus and to the cults of violence in Black Metal.

  7. Beate Ermacora, 'Interface to God', in B. Ermacora (ed.), Bjarne Melgaard. Société Anonyme (exh. cat.), Kiel: Kunsthalle zu Kiel, 2002, pp.65-69.

  8. Ann Demeester, 'Non Serviam, No Answers, Keine Antworten', in A. Demeester (ed.), Bjarne Melgaard. Black Low. The Punk Movement Was Just Hippies with Short Hair (exh. cat.), Herford: MARTa Herford, 2002, p.27.

  9. Bjarne Melgaard, 'Free from Content', Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1997.

  10. See Bjarne Melgaard, Casanova in the South Pacific. A Novel, Sydney: South Pacific Publishing Company, 1995.

  11. See Eric Alliez and Jean-Clet Martin, L'Oeuil-cerveau. Nouvelles histories de la peinture moderne, Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2007.