Neck Plus Ultra: Henrik Vibskov

pictured: Bird Kite Necks, Photographer: Torben Strøyer
Neck Plus Ultra: Henrik Vibskov
Kunstforeningen GL Strand, Copenhagen
May 25 – September 8, 2013

The Latin phrase nec plus ultra translates as “nothing farther beyond”; terra incognita is another way of putting it, or here be dragons, all mottos that mark unknown, or yet to be surveyed, territory on early maps. Danish artist and fashion designer Henrik Vibskov alludes to these associations in his exhibition title, suggesting that we are about to encounter a journey into uncharted waters. A further reading of the title refers literally – and somewhat ominously – to the neck as a body part or shape and makes regular appearances throughout the exhibition. Speaking to Anne Kielgast, curator at Kunstforeningen GL Strand, Vibskov explains that the show’s theme “began with an interest in death… as a phenomenon, as a word, and as exemplifying cultural differences”. Slaughter houses, Guatemalan death ceremonies, and Native American burial rituals are all cited as research material.

All this is curious when faced with the show in person: eccentric it certainly is, but dark it is not. The exhibition catalogue also, and accurately, refers to Vibskov’s “poetic, playful, and strange tone” summing up the collection of material puns he has loosely gathered around the notion of the neck. The lesson here may be that some insight into the creative process can be illuminating, but these insights can also distract from a more innocent reaction to the actual stuff at hand. Face Wool Explosion, for example, is made of large circular wall hangings of raw wool that seem to be magnified and extruded through several large orifices in the gallery wall. Vibskov describes the series as “abstract wool paintings with a slightly odd facial structure” that he likens to “shearing sheep or trimming poodles!” Nylon Sock Foam Parts expresses a similar sense of constriction and extrusion, but the scale is reduced. Here too production methods are basic: various configurations of bound socks are filled with expanding foam to create permanent forms. Displayed framed in wooden boxes the collection has a pseudo-scientific air. Have we stumbled across an entomologist’s rare cache or, like Face Wool Explosion, some bizarre engineering experiment?

In contrast to these wall pieces, Bird Kite Necks occupy an entire room in the gallery, forcing the viewer to pick their way through a field of elongated, black fabric necks. The experience is far more surreal than macabre, as though an unsuspecting flock of flamingos had decided to borrow a trick from their distant bat cousins, unaware that their inverted slumber would stretch their already elongated necks to untold proportions. As a viewer it is impossible to linger on the edge of Bird Kite Necks. To get anywhere you have to plunge into this other world and enjoy the optical games that split and reorder the bodies that move around you. Immersion may in fact be a good way of approaching all of Vibskov’s creations. And in our era of ubiquitous google mapping, immersion in the impossible nec plus ultra makes for a refreshing change.

Surface Design Journal (winter 2014: 54)