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Home > Proyectos > JENS HAANING. Antonio, Aurangzeab, Deniz, Ecevit, Faysal, Hakan, Murat, (...)

JENS HAANING. Antonio, Aurangzeab, Deniz, Ecevit, Faysal, Hakan, Murat, Oemer, Radovan, Sambas, Shabeer and Dennis (ENG)

Espai 13, Fundación Joan Miró, Barcelona, 2004

Friday 30 January 2009, by Montse Badia

All the versions of this article: [English] [Español]

The work of Jens Haaning (Copenhagen, 1965) focuses on the composition of our society and on strategies for communication and for expressing power. The notion of "frontier" to determine the idea of belonging or exclusion is fundamental to his discourse. Haaning explores the complexity of cultural assimilation from two points of view: that of the majority and that of the minority. He began investigating these subjects in 1994, when the impact of globalisation and standardisation had only made a timid appearance. Now, when countries such as Denmark are proposing to lower the salaries of refugees simply because they are refugees, or when in Spain the drama of the boatloads of immigrants crossing the straits of Gibraltar is an everyday news item, Haaning’s reflections have become matters of priority.

This exhibition titled "Antonio, Aurangzeab, Deniz, Ecevit, Faysal, Hakan, Murat, Ömer, Radovan, Sambas, Shabeer and Dennis" is a selection of visual and audio items from some of the artist’s earlier projects (most of them designed for public open spaces), which explore the notions of cultural difference, foreignness, frontiers and exclusion.

Ma’lesh (2000) is a large box of light with the phrase "Who cares?" written on it in Arabic - an ambiguous statement that can be interpreted as one of either resentment or resignation. The message conveyed by this box of light - which in form could resemble a advertisement - is intelligible only to those who know the language. If belonging or exclusion are determined by access to certain codes, here Haaning inverts them, so that those people who are usually excluded are now the ones who can understand the message. It is not surprising that Ma’lesh, originally designed for the front of a building in Besançon, France, was not allowed to be installed during the election campaign because the mayor considered it a provocation.

Antonio, Aurangzeab, Deniz, Ecevit, Faysal, Hakan, Murat, Ömer, Radovan, Sambas, Shabeer and Dennis are the names of the persons in Foreigners Portraits (2000). All of them are first-generation refugees in Copenhagen. In this series of photographs, the members of a community that are generally excluded from the dominant systems of representation are converted by the artist into the principal characters. Despite the fact that the twelve persons portrayed have fully assimilated the dress codes and accessories of our standardised Western societies - Jack & Jones trousers, Diesel jacket, Puma tee-shirt, Fred Perry polo shirt, Calvin Klein shoes, Nokia mobile phone, etc. - they are highly unlikely to be chosen as images for advertising these brands.

The culture of the "others", of the foreigners, is also transposed in a different context in Turkish Jokes (1994) and Arabic Jokes (2002). In the first of these, a loudspeaker installed in an Oslo square (and later too in Kassel in the context of Documenta 11) broadcast jokes in Turkish. In Arabic Jokes, a poster showing a joke in Arabic was distributed around the centre of Geneva. Once again, by means of subtle displacement, the artist has completely changed the relationship between the pedestrians and the public space. Suddenly, only those who know the language have the key to understanding the situation.

Foreigners Free (1997-2001) invites foreigners to visit the exhibitions in an art centre free of charge. In this particular context, the foreigner is usually the tourist who can afford to travel. But foreigners are also the immigrants who are obliged to live in societies that don’t accept them or, worse still, that treat them as invisible. Haaning demonstrates these mechanisms by placing them in the foreground. By including foreigners - whether tourists or immigrants - in the group of people who merit special attention, together with the unemployed, the elderly, children and the disabled, he highlights the precarious nature of their situation.

The contradiction between the lack of power and the desire for differentiation defines the social and aesthetic experience in Haaning’s work. He adopts the Duchampian strategy of turning everyday objects into objects of art, but unlike Duchamp he does this by taking real-life situations and turning them into forthright questions that give the viewer the opportunity to decide for himself on the values they possess. Haaning’s discourse is tremendously critical and political, but far from being either provocative or dogmatic it confronts "what is different" and invites us to change our perception of things and to question our own prejudices.

Montse Badia
November 2003

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