Image containers, 2012
On the recent work of Theis Wendt
By Carl Martin Faurby
Theis Wendt reminds me of an entomologist, but contrary to the insect catcher’s expeditions
to distant regions, Wendt installs his nets among people. He sets them up in the densest areas
where we behave strangely alike and the spaces we build are visible only in our mind’s eye.
The frozen Now
Wendt’s digital prints don’t reveal what we don’t know, but the already known is shown from
impossible angles. Furthermore the images in his works are not just reflections – they seem to
turn the spaces we inhabit, inside out. In Frozen Reflection (2011) he photographed the facade
window’s reflection and installed the picture, inside the space in a 1:1 scale, hovering
between the floor and ceiling. The work was created for NLH Space, a project space that
remains locked, and therefore always seen through the large facade window facing the
sidewalk. Instead of looking through the window you both look through and at the reflection
and the “Now” that the reflection constitutes. The moment of viewing is divided into layers of
time, in several “Nows”, that both contain and exclude one’s own presence.
The “Now” is the temporality of contemporaneity with its subjective feedback and closed
historical loops. Jan Verwoert calls this “the contemporary hell”1 and it’s the returns from this
hell, that stick to the surfaces of Wendts installations.
When the image disappeared
My story about the recent works of Theis Wendt begins around 2010, where he’s staring at
his pictures to the point where his own reflection, the wooden frame and all that constitutes
the image for the gaze becomes apparent. If you ask the old timers in Copenhagen, they’ll
still say that Theis Wendt makes drawings – fantastic drawings, but with time the drawings
have disappeared from his practice. The drawings that grew out of a sense of discharge and
overload – chaos and hell fire - have evaporated. First the motif, then the paper, then the
transparency of the glass fell victim to his investigations. In Among the Hallucinations of
Delirium Tremens (2010) at the bar Byens Kro, the drawings were completely gone. What
remained was only scratched plates of glass, like echoes from the picture frame’s autonomy.
The glass plates were placed on the walls all around the room, but with increasingly scratched
surfaces. The deeper one moved into the space, the more the reflection would disappear.
Gallery Christopher Egelund, Copenhagen shortly after. Gray Trampled Grass. Grey Snow
(2011): The gallery’s front room is encompassed by glass plates, their scratched lower parts
creating a horizon on the black gallery walls.
The ghostlike reflection obtains an eerie materiality because of the scratches that both
removes and attracts attention to the reflection. Moving into the gallery’s back room one’s
reflection acquires a body through the bodies of others printed onto wall sized transparent
prints hung from the ceiling. The prints show photographs from the Copenhagen climate
fiasco COP 152, where nothing was decided and more than 100.000 demonstrated without
tangible effect. There you are, feeling strangely claustrophobic after the frame’s scratched
horizon. You look at the demonstrating bodies, whose political slogans and faces have been
erased in Theis Wendt’s computer; now nothing more than empty political vessels in a space
of scratched image containers.
In the work Swarm from 2012, the frame and reflection as pictorial surface is reduced to the
point of spatial collapse. Down the stairs and through the basement door you encounter an
overwhelming 3-d mirroring of the room you are standing in. The prints fill the opposite walls
from floor to ceiling and in the corner of the room, where the prints join, another space is
created by the reflections, mirroring each other. On the floor lies a roll of mirroring film that
blurrily reflect the actual space and you in it. With a generous investment in an otherwise
modest basement space, where the exhibition series Object This Picture, was held, Wendt
transformed the space into a reflection, and the reflection into space. The entire room has
become a container where picture and viewer, space and virtuality exchange meanings and
roles. For Wendt Swarm came out of a desire to show a space already represented in all its facets.
The work’s starting point is the contemporary pictorial situation, where the image acts as a
prosthetic for navigation, more than representation. In Swarm orientation is aided by the
computer-built walls and lines. One navigates in the same way the masses of the internet
does, or swarms, as theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri call them. In their book
“Multitudes” they point towards a political potential in the term “swarm intelligence”, but a
subsequent critique shows that this potential is double edged. The swarm has the possibility
of global political impact, but only by surrendering to the controlling logics of the network.
In Swarm, Wendt offers a spatial rendering of the swarm’s unique aesthetic and cognitive
spaces. In this work he points toward the swarms ability to see the space it moves around in,
but not itself as a swarm.
Work and romance
After 2 years at the Carlsberg grounds, where the Danish industrial giant had invited the
creative class to make use of the production facilities, Wendt showed the work Phantasm
(2011). On semi-transparent prints hanging from the ceiling he had transferred photographs of
his atelier in the former brewery in a 1:1 scale. The prints made out a cube inside the gallery
space’s white cube and made it possible to visually inhabit the workspace while being
outside. The work didn’t only orbit around notions of the contemporary artist’s workplace as
a prototype for the workplace of immaterial labour, but also its participation in the experience
economy strategies of Carlsberg, and maybe most of all, Theis Wendt’s own role in it.
In Extended Landscape (2012) Wendt coated standard plywood boards with smudged digital
prints of the board’s own surface and dispersed 5000 copies of fallen fall leaves throughout
the gallery space. Instead of turning towards the unreflective mental space of nostalgia and
authenticity, he finds a role for digital technologies as bearer of the romantic through their
The virtual world of the new image technologies is a central theme in the works of Wendt, but
still, it is always within the spaces of the real, that the experience is grounded. It’s always
through our bodies that we come into contact with the works. Wendt’s cool reduction seems
critical towards contemporaneity’s streams of codes, where anything heavier than ones and
zeroes seems to sink, but in the works, one also understands that disillusion and romance