Danish artist Stine Tranekjær’s main artistic concern lies in understanding the philosophical paradox of “right and wrong.” Stine explores the opposites through color, and light experiments, short statements, and riddles. There was a time when Stine wanted to study law to understand how the society regulates itself. What is Law if not a written justification of how the society distinguishes rightness or wrongness of a certain act? Stine says: “the idiomatic concept of right and wrong is a very fruitful concept to work around as an artist.” Art has no limits and is a space where one can create their own rules; Stine’s art is a point of entry for an age-old question.
We spoke with Danish painter Stine Tranekjær to find out more about her inspiration and work.
When and how did you begin working as an artist?
I once read an interview with Diana Vreeland where she was quoted as saying “all artists are born in bias.” I guess an artist is what you become when you question the world and your curiosity is not satisfied by common knowledge, “facts” or science. At least that’s what happened to me; I can’t remember it being otherwise.
You are mainly concerned with the difference between the right and wrong. What have you discovered during your artistic journey?
When I was a kid, I dreamt of studying law. I was baffled by the tremendous amount of laws that existed and saw the law as some sort of matrix that held the heavens and kept our world from collapsing. I wanted to learn it to understand the world. As I grew older, I became aware that a given law is nothing but a written reflection of the society it governs. If the law is bad society becomes bad, and if society is bad the law becomes bad. Of course not instantly, but like a slow dance over time.
My interest in the space between right and wrong grew. I discovered that the idiomatic concept of right and wrong is a very fruitful concept to work around as an artist because it is inherent in every culture and is very real to all humans. Many people have strong and normative opinions about rightness and wrongness, and the same people often see the two terms as direct opposites. These people often bring up their children to distinguish in the same way, and to deem their own (and other peoples) actions either right or wrong in their reflection. From a phenomenological or artistic point of view, things can be perfectly right and wrong at the same time. If you start seeing the world this way, the distance between right and wrong can become very small.
I personally really like the idea of the phenomenological term ”lifeworld:” a term used to describe the individual’s own perception of his/her life. A lifeworld can be partly shared with other individuals, but seen as a whole, the individual’s own lifeworld is solely governed by subjective perception. In my view humans could learn a lot from honoring the subjective position and sort of “agree to disagree.” What is right from your side does not need to be right from mine. So to answer the question: in my personal view, nothing’s ever utterly right or utterly wrong.
Your website says “Welcome to the secret site of Stine Tranekjær.” What’s so secretive about your work and where did your interest towards unknown arise from?
When I built the site years ago, I felt that I was putting a paper boat or a fragile bottled message into the endless waves. I thought that my site would have been almost impossible to find in those waves and most visitors would have been random guests. So I found an appropriate name: “the secret site.”
I do like things that need to be explored. I like when things add up and make sense, but since I always have many questions, that sense seldom occurs quickly or easily.
You conduct experiments on light and color theory through your art. Can you tell us about these theories and specifically about your project “Color Experiment?”
Color is a funny thing because most of us have a very direct response to it, although it does not carry objective messages. Colors are more like smells, either you like a given color or not, and it can be hard to describe why or what you like it. I like some tones of yellow very much, but I have no idea why. I lack the language to describe my emotions towards color, or maybe I just lack the direct connection to the memories that predisposed my likes and dislikes. Turquoise, for instance: I have problems with turquoise. I rarely use this color and I own no turquoise objects or clothes, but don’t know why.
On the other hand, it is interesting that different cultures have different systems of colors. A system that has dominated continental Europe comes from the German painter and writer Johannes Itten’s “Wheel of Contrasts.” The Itten Wheel of Contrasts is a color theory that defines and identifies strategies for successful color combinations. The theory itself is a rigid system of hue, intensity and light or darkness. Since Itten’s theories have been used quite a lot by designers, artists, and architects, we are very exposed to his ideas and his combinations seem familiar and maybe even appealing to many.
My “Color Experiment” evolves around Itten’s color wheel, and in some ways, this piece is an experiment of perception, or maybe rather possibilities for leading perception astray.
Back when I made “Color Experiment,” I was listening to an audio recording of Jean Baudrillard giving a lecture at Wellek Library at the University of California in 1999 on Youtube. Baudrillard talks about what he calls “The Murder Of The Real.” Reality is set up against virtuality and Baudrillard discusses the end of reversibility: “nothing is ever identical to itself” and ”nothing moves any longer from cause to effect.”
From Baudrillard’s lecture, I became interested in his concepts of simulation and simulacrum, and this question: “can wrong become right, if alternated and repeated to an adequate extent?” formed in my mind. I questioned if simulacrum might have the capacity to take over the world. Consequently, I made a color experiment of seven mega-prints. Each is printed in a duo-color combination of two rectangular shapes that don’t overlap but accurately meet on the exact mid of the paper, building a striking contrast of the colors in the rectangular shapes.
The colors for the seven combinations are all selected for their closeness to the Johannes Itten’s complementary contrast. The size of the prints is chosen so that the print itself might bring reference to the body mass of the viewer in order for the prints to validate themselves and their presence. Possibly the full image of the seven prints may consolidate a sense of “complementary contrast” but in fact, none of the seven contrasts alone resemble a valid complementary contrast.
As an example, the red/green center contrast of the experiment is burdened from vast amounts of yellow on both the red and the green. One of the two colors should have tilted in a more cold direction to fulfil the complementary contrast. What might seem like a display of seven complementary contrasts is, in fact, none at all.
In Denmark, plants are holy; they are an integral part of living and you hardly find greens that are unwanted. What was the inspiration behind the series named “Unwanted Greens?”
I like your observation about plants being holy in Denmark. I never thought of it in that way, but there might be some truth to it. Plants are something that many Danes cherish and keep in their homes for generations, from seedling to seedling. I guess my own family is a perfect example of this habit.
My painting “Unwanted Greens” is about plants I had when I lived in Berlin several years ago. When I moved from Copenhagen to Berlin I have brought some seeds and seedlings with me. They grew fast and helped me feel at home in a new city. Maybe they even grew to become holy, as you suggest. When I decided to move back to Copenhagen, they had grown rather luscious and big, but I couldn’t find a way to bring them back, they were too fragile. Strange as it may sound this made me feel sad and guilty because I felt as if I was letting them down. Attachment is a tricky thing. As soon as you attach yourself to people or things or plants, you become vulnerable because you give away mandate to be hurt.
Your piece “Flexible Artist” brings to mind how many artists are “flexible” to what social media asks them to create, or what galleries are looking for, perhaps leading to a loss of individuality. What do you think about this tendency?
That is a very valid parallel. I think it has always been like that, however, all the way back to Michelangelo. Artists have always been creative in fitting to the trend of the time and the needs of their customers. This is the perpetual dodo’s conundrum of being an artist.
Do you feel your art is particularly Danish or Scandinavian? And what’s your opinion about current Danish Art scene?
I don’t know a lot about the Danish art scene as a whole and I don’t feel particularly Danish myself, but maybe my art is? It is always interesting to look for traces of culture in works of art. I am sure that due to the fact that I live in Denmark and grew up here, there should be some inherent cultural connotations in my work. The world has sort of exploded lately both in terms of the Internet, war, migration, and tourism. On many levels, we all live in a state of emergency these days, as formulated by the philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his “Homo Sacer” project.
Etymologically, the word “nation” derives from the Latin “nasci” meaning ”to be born”. Thus, a nation-state is a state, where the way of obtaining civil rights is by being born in it. Maybe it’s time for us to start questioning the quality of this nationalist dogma. I believe, we, the human race, could greatly benefit from abandoning our ideas of nation-states and instead begin viewing each other first and foremost as individual human beings.
Where can people find or buy your art, if possible?
See more of Stine Tranekjær’s work.