The work with the outlandish title Flex Pissing/Björk Is a Prat [a.k.a. Bringing It All Back Home] I informs (us) of the depicted artists and their art in several ways. The photograph portrays Claus Carstensen and the group Superflex but a detailed knowledge of Danish art is necessary to be able to make that identification.
Carstensen, his back turned, is urinating; Superflex are wearing animal masks, making it impossible to distinguish the individual members. Their masks and t-shirts allude to respectively a CD and their biogas project in Africa (ARKEN's Collection). The photograph was taken during a field trip to the Joshua Tree national park in California while Superflex were students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and Carstensen a professor.
Claus Carsensen and Superflex hold different positions on the Danish art scene. They belong to separate generations distinguished by each their outlook on art. Carstensen is an exponent of the Young Wild painting with large, chromatic and expressive paintings, amply represented in the Danish museums. The Wild painting was the predominant trend in the 1980s.
Conversely Superflex's art is typical of the 1990s with an emphasis on direct intervention in society and appropriate in a museum only to a limited extent. Carstensen stresses the subjective genesis of his works (also when collaborating with other artists) whereas Superflex act as a group or company, underscoring their collective identity. Thus the picture evinces a crossover between two prominent and partly antithetical artist generations.
A WEALTH OF REFERENCES
Flex Pissing/Björk Is a Prat [a.k.a. Bringing It All Back Home] I is an example of intertextuality in contemporary art. Intertextuality denotes how the artist consciously includes references to other pictures or texts in his work. In other words, a solid foundation in art, music and geography is necessary to delve into this piece.
The billboard work was originally exhibited by Carstensen at the 1997 Venice Biennial under the title Bringing It All Back Home in a context of geographical, biographical and musical allusions, e.g. referencing the city of Venice, California. The title refers both to Carstensen's earlier works and to an album by the American singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. Later on the work was exhibited at an exhibition focusing on Claus Carstensen's collaborations with other artists. In this connection the work was given its present title: Flex Pissing/Björk Is a Prat [a.k.a. Bringing It All Back Home] I which emphasises Superflex's share in the work.
COLLECTIVE AND INDIVIDUAL
Superflex are responsible for the phrase 'Björk is a prat', and the second part of the title is attributed to Claus Carstensen. Thus the title emphasises how the work expresses different artistic strategies and modi operandi. Claus Carstensen urinating alludes to previous works in which he pissed on his canvases. This was as a symbolic way of 'marking his territory' – a way of jockeying for position in the art world.
Carstensen has always referred to himself and his personal history in his works. Unlike him the members of Superflex work collectively and in their joint company emphasise the dynamics of the group. Their masks, concealing the individual persons, are a reference to their music CD Warum sollten wir Angst vor grossen Tieren haben (Why should we be afraid of big animals). The arrangement of the photograph is directly inspired by the cover of the Irish rock band U2's album The Joshua Tree from 1987.
In the winter 1998/99 the work was given a key role in a campaign by the Danish tabloid paper Ekstra Bladet against pseudo art and the Danish so-called art mafia. As a result, the work was included in a large exhibition at Aarhus Art Museum which presented paintings and sculptures which have caused scandals in the twentieth century. Here it was on display alongside a prominent selection of essential works from Danish art history, including Wilhelm Freddie's Sex-paralysis Appeal (1936).
Claus Carstensen's art in general
Claus Carstensen focuses primarily on an expressive painting in various manifestations. The ambiguous paintings challenge familiar expectations to the classical medium. He relates consciously and reflectedly to the history, language and idiom that he joins with his painting. Carstensen is interested in the space occupied by painting. A political, biographical, art historical and social space that his works stage through a wealth of references. The many references and inspirations give the paintings a quality of crossings, spanning traditional boundaries.
Carstensen has shown a vivid interest in the biographical and subjective signature's significance to the art, in both the written and the tangible, physical presence of the artist on the canvas. Carstensen has achieved this presence by pissing on the canvas. Many of his works discuss the notion of the artist as the sole author of the work. As a result he has worked closely with other people over the years, including his daughter Zoe from the age of two and his uncle Alfred Friis who is also an artist.
Superflex's art in general
Superflex describe their artistic projects as tools. Superflex Biogas in Africa is both a serious suggestion for a substantial improvement of day-to-day life in a Third World country and a work of art that invites reflection on the relationship between rich and poor countries.
ART WITH CONSEQUENCES
Unlike traditional art critical of society Superflex do not stop at pointing out specific problems. They regard art as a domain in which it is possible to set up actual, practical solutions and they intervene actively in social and political structures. With various places and problems as their point of departure. Superflex create works, or tools, that contribute either to solving a concrete problem for a community or increasing the communication and cooperation. Superflex seek close collaborations with their users and each work functions as a physical and social framework and starting point for concrete use.
Superflex challenge the traditional role of the artist. Instead of using their Christian names they have devised the Superflex concept. Like the avant-garde artists of the 1960s who discussed the prevalent perception of the artist, Superflex downplay the character of the individual artist in favour of the group dynamic. Superflex are not only an artist collective; they are also a company trying to function on the prevailing market terms.