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Blankets on the Seashore

"Search nothing beyond the phenomena, they themselves are the theory."

A woman in a one-piece swimming suit walks down a dark street, where the main source of light is a solarium bed. We have seen the solarium in various parts of the dark city, always outside buildings, in the open. Now, the female figure sits down, plugs her ears, covers her eyes, reclines, and in this state of self-imposed deafness and blindness, lets the cover of the solarium close down on her, exposing herself to the rays of the artificial sun, which would be blinding without the eye-cover, and now caress – but could also burn – her body.

In Kai Rennes' Solarium project (2001), performed and recorded on video in several versions, the act is repeated by other personae, male and female. The versions are fully consistent but various elements in the project's wide array of connotations gain dominance each time. The version described above serves as a very convenient starting point for a discussion of Rennes works. The performers of the project are artists, and, according to Rennes himself, the work is "an aesthetic play that reminds of the conditions in which we artists show our works, and imitates the communication lag between the artist and the spectator." As if it were the realization of the semantics of the terms exhibition and exposition - at a distinguished, shining spot, in a locus cut out of darkness by light, cut off from the rest of the world by not seeing and not hearing it, in the focus of attention, the artists strip, expose themselves to the audience, to the world, in a most intimate, at the same time exhibitionistic act. In its manner of reflecting to the artists position, this project may bring its viewers to remember one at the 1999 Venice Biennale, where, a group of Slovakian artists set up a tattoo parlor in their country's pavilion, and offered the audience a lasting experience of the artists position by making real tattoos of patterns made by some fifty fellow artists on any volunteering visitors. At the beginning of Rennes video, the audiences position is represented by a few people, fully dressed, passing the solarium bed casting some casual glances at the spot where the artists would expose themselves.'

Rennes self-reflexive work described above is specific to himself in its subtle formulation and fine irony, and generically relevant in its demonstration of artists position. And this kind of self-reflexion, an awareness of the artists social, psychological, theoretical, ethical, cognitive and perceptual situation and also of the characteristics, specifics and peculiarities of the medium, is one of the interrelated aspects that provide consistency and coherence throughout this artists works, be it photography, painting, video or performance. In Red Eyes (2010), the human eye itself is portrayed in the work. In fact, what we see is the organ of our perception, the one through which we perceive art, and visual stimuli general. Here, arts self-reflexion and the artists media awareness are carried to the point where the work basically performs the act of the very subject that it portrays: the C print on plexi glass hangs in the exhibition space, it is lit with strong, pointed light, and the actual image is created on the wall. Since the red eye, as Rennes describes it, is an effect in photography that is a result of flash-light hitting the retina and rendering it visible, in the work, the image of the red eye on the wall becomes a visualization of the otherwise invisible object itself, also directing attention to the optical and physiological aspects involved in viewing art - and in perceiving the world.

Of the many of connotations in philosophy and the theory of art that Red Eyes involve, let me refer to two here. By reducing the theme of the work to the very organ of perception, Rennes seems to perform his version of the phenomenological reduction in the Husserlian sense: in order to establish a firm ground for observation and exploration, at first we must be aware of the fact that the only valid statement we can initially make about the subject of the inquirer is that it acts. What cogito means for Husserl, (rejecting Descartes conclusion -"ergo sum"), I see means for Rennes here. The starting point of valid artistic inquiry is this kind of most fundamental self-awareness. Any inquiry may unfold from this. At the same time, Red Eyes raises the theme of the error. Rennes makes the theme of his work an effect that photographers regard as a technical glitch. Ironically, however, this glitch becomes the phenomenon inspiring the birth of a work of art, a new phenomenon, and a new (aesthetic) quality - whereby it also presents an analogy with the world in general, considering that evolution is a series of "faults" or errors. Novelty is a result of deviation from the ordinary working of an established system - a result of errors.

This glitch is also the technical starting point of Andromeda (2005 - 2011), a work composed of self-portraits of men they posted of themselves on the internet. However, as they took the photos standing in front of a mirror, the flashlight hides their faces, the most evident and common markers - or features (as of a face) - in one's identification. This paradoxical situation can be seen as ironical or tragic, depending on your actual state of mind or predisposition. Rennes subject of inquiry is the individual here, the identification through action, the body, gender, sex, through belonging to a particular part of the universe. Do you gain or lose your identity in a community like the ones in the digital reality of the internet - in this constellation of flashlight-stars? Are you visible or lost in Andromeda - which means, among others, "mindful of men","ruling over men"?

From the perceptory organ of visual arts, the emphasis shifts to the brain, in Gray Matter (2010). In one of the two C prints, three gray heaps of cloth resembling brains are nested in the landscape. From the description of the technique, we find out that thee pieces of cloth are military blankets, which also evokes the association of hiding, being camouflaged in nature. These brains blend in the scenery, not only through their color - the gray of the brain is the same tone as the grain of the rocks and the sea here - but also due to the fact that the brains with their sulci are like scale models of the landscape with its curves and lines. Several analogies of the cognitive process and, related to that, of artistic inquiry are at work here, including that of spying and observation, the presence of the universal in the particular, model and original, natural-unreflected versus abstract-theoretical. All this may sound grave and heavy, but one of the many remarkable merits of Rennes art is that although thematically it is subtle and complex, a kind of lightness, natural elegance, soft touch and delicate humor are also present.

Obviously, his education in architecture, philosophy, semantics and aesthetics are determining factors in Rennes art. However, it would be unfortunate if the same background were required of everyone in order to appreciate his work. If I had to single out just one quality of his oeuvre, it would be that with all his erudition and fine artistic sensitivity at work, his art pleases and inspires thought through its genuine aesthetic an intellectual quality, speaking a language of its own to many.

Zsolt Kosma, curator

'On Vision and Perception' - Notes on Kai Rennes


In his work, Kai Rennes investigates the meaning of vision and knowing in art. He is fascinated by the encounter between different worlds, when things acquire entirely new dimensions of meaning. An enduring feature in Rennes’s art is the exploration of issues of masculinity, which extends also to identities and sexualities. In this context, ‘the other’s knowledge’ is of paramount significance. For instance, Rennes’ series featuring the glory hole as its key motif remains incomprehensible unless one has some knowledge of the practices of anonymous sex between men. The current exhibition references the series through an installation featuring hand towels.
Andromeda (2005 -2011) exploits pictures of themselves which people have uploaded to online dating services. Rennes has arranged the photos into a composition resembling the Milky Way. He has been collecting images for the piece since 2005, and he is fascinated by the idea that the pictures will remain in existence for as long as the Internet lasts. The photos in the work represent the idea of the readymade, favored already by the surrealists, the use of which as a medium also implies a certain randomness. Faces rendered anonymous by the camera flash and bodies revealed to invite company are a kind of labyrinth of desire into which viewers can disappear to study people who might not exist anymore or whom they will never meet.
One of the works in the exhibition is based on spy technology devices developed by the DDR which Rennes saw in the Stasi Museum in Berlin. One of them was a nesting box fitted with a spy camera, of which the artist has made his own version. The suspicious actions of the state which harnessed even nesting boxes to spy on its own citizens is compared to contemporary reality, in which visual surveillance has increased and people do not always realise they are under constant surveillance, such as on the Internet. The notion of invisible surveillance which moulds us as individuals is a central theme in the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926–1984).
The idea for the piece Red Eyes came to Rennes when he was working at a camera manufacturer where he learned about the technology to remove red eyes in photographs. A key feature of the photographs in Rennes’ work, printed on Plexiglas, are the red eyes showing the retina which so irritate photographers. Understanding the piece depends on knowledge of the technology of its time; if camera flashes are no longer used in the future, the phenomenon of red eyes will be difficult to understand. Context is important also in the photographic piece Gray Matter I, inspired by the results of a research Rennes read about. According to the study, the brains of heterosexual women and homosexual men are more symmetrical than those of heterosexual men. The photograph shows a blanket from Ikea which resembles cortical grey matter and is reflected by a mirror so that the result looks like a totally symmetrical brain. The same basic idea features in Gray Matter II which is a picture of a rocky shoreline where grey Finnish army blankets create brainlike mounds in the scenery. Once again, the work appears differently to those who know the context than to those who do not.
One central aspect of Rennes’ art is the relativity of perception and vision. What do we really see, and at what point do we grasp its meaning? In his works, Rennes has sketched a kind of theory of perception and vision which reminds the viewer that there is also an informational side to art. The artist shows us astonishing things which force us to actively reflect upon what we are seeing, and also upon the relationship between vision and knowing. What Rennes in fact presents us is a critical assessment of the notion of the innocent gaze, because his works demonstrate time and again the crucial role knowledge plays in perception. Rennes himself has expressed the idea as follows: “What interests me in perception is what I call ‘resistance of the medium’. By that I refer to how perception is determined not only by the object of perception and the observer’s abilities and knowledge, but also by the contexts as well as the temporal distance, or atmosphere, the one in which colors too are born.”
Perception becomes crucial in Rennes’ grey paintings, because with up to two hundred layers of paint, the object of the painting can hardly be perceived at all. The spectators must exert themselves to discover the ‘motif’ of the work. Things begin to emerge from the greyness, and suddenly the work is totally different. Rennes has altered our perception and remarked upon the magic of art. How something which initially appears to be one thing, ultimately turns out to be something totally different. Art is slow magic.
Juha-Heikki Tihinen, art historian (PhD), art critic (AICA)





Utställning på Galleri Hippolyte


Två verk om sociala medier


"Internet är Gud" svarade nobelpristagaren Elfride Jelinek i en intervju angående frågan om internets betydelse. Är det en spegelbild eller karikatyr av verkligheten eller bara en snabbt växande del av den? Och hur ser den ut? Hur skiljer sig internet från andra medier? Den amerikanska forskaren Amber Case har försökt att visualisera nätverket och resultatet påminner om ett stjärnsystem som i sin tur formar galaxer.

Digital fotografi och särskilt dess användning på nätet har ändrat fotografiet. Sociala medier och digital teknik är också tidsmässigt en stor del av /människors vardag. Med hjälp av digitalkameror och mobiltelefoner kan vi sprida bilder och videor i direktsändning eller med mycket kort fördröjning. Vem som helst kan ladda upp bilder eller videor, vem som helst kan också bli avfotograferad eller filmad.

Enligt Wikipedia: Sociala medier (singular: socialt medium) betecknar webbplatser och mobila appar med vars hjälp människor kan interagera i mänskliga sociala nätverk och, i motsats till traditionella medier, bidra med användargenererat innehåll. Sociala medier kan innefatta Internetforum, sociala nätverkstjänster, bloggar, vloggar, wikier, poddradio och artikelkommentarer. Sociala medier som teknik är exempel på Webb 2.0.

En annan definition är ”Sociala medier är demokratisering av innehåll och förståelse för den roll människor spelar i arbetet med att inte bara läsa och sprida information, utan också hur de delar och skapar innehåll för andra att delta i.”[1]

En tredje spridd definition är "Sociala medier definieras av de miljontals samtal som sker på webben varje dag, samt konsten för hur de förs."[2]


Kommunikation i sociala medier är förhållandevis individuell eller rentav av privat karaktär. En privat sida på Facebook innehåller ofta text och bildmaterial om ägaren, vänskapskretsen och om viktiga händelser i livet och den egna sidan upplevs ofta som ett personligt fönster mot världen. Rättigheterna till material som laddas upp på privat sida är i själva verket också sajtens egendom, som i sin tur har rätt att använda uppladdat material som den vill.


Jaget och jagbilden, självbilden är begrepp inom filosofin och psykologin. Under postmodernismen diskuterades ofta jagets upplösning. Jaget som tidigare uppfattats som något konstant och individuellt beskrevs nu snarare som bestående av valda eller tillskansade egenskaper, eller som resultat av poserande (posing) eller positionering (positioning). Till exempel  en facebook sida innehåller   text och bilder som kan uppfattas som viktiga och intressanta.På sidan är de placerade i kronologisk ordning. Materialet ger en redigerad bild som motsvarar idealjaget mer än realjaget. Allvarlig, tråkig och negativ information saknas nästan helt. Sidans kronologiska ordning motsvarar i viss mån det narrativa jagets struktur: ett självvalt material som formas av urvalet. Det narrativa jaget blir här en kronologiskt redigerad berättelse som innehåller de upplevelser och händelser som beskriver utvecklingen av ens egen personlighet. Självbilden är ofta resultat av olika försök och experimenterande med roller och formas i ett speglande och justerande i sociala sammanhang. Det är en helhet som revideras livet ut som ackumulerad kunskap. Det är en byggnad som består av minnesbilder av faktiska händelser ur livet.

En del a sociala medier fungerar med samma inre logik som det narrativa jaget. Branding, posering och positionering är en stor del av helheten. På nätet hittar man gemenskap i grupperingar liknande verklighetens subkulturer med gemensamma egenskaper, åsikter eller världsbilder. Geografiskt läge eller nationalitet spelar mindre roll i dessa sammanhang. Religion, världsåskådning, åsikter, världsbild, aktivism, minoritetstillhörighet eller sexuell läggning kan bli en gemensam nämnare som förenar människor.


För några generationer sedan var antalet människor man mötte under ett helt liv betydligt lägre än nu. De som bodde på landsbygden mötte kanske bara några hundra främmande människor under hela livet. Lika många som ett dagisbarn träffar under en dag, och för en vuxen människa som lever i en storstad kan antalet möten vara ännu mycket större. Dessutom använder många människor internet, ofta flera timmar per dag. I varje möte ingår ett en aspekt av tillit. En promenad i en modern storstad innebär hundratals möten. För att detta överhuvudet taget vara möjligt krävs en grundläggande tillit, ett kulturellt inlärt fenomen. En växande andel möten med främmande människor äger idag rum på nätet. En medeleuropé lajkar flera gånger per dygn än hen hälsar på sina medmänniskor i den analoga verkligheten.


Filosofen Emmanuel Levinas (föddes i en judisk familj i Kaunas, Litauen 1906) studerade filosofi och arbetade senare på flera olika universitet i Frankrike. I Levinas etik (hans filosofiska texter) har det mänskliga ansiktet avgörande roll. Ansiktet representerar det mest avklädda och grundläggande i mänskligheten. Sårbarhet, brist på kontroll i ansiktsuttryck kan tolkas oberoende av kultur, klädsel, språk eller nationalitet. Sinnestillstånd förmedlas mellan olika kulturer oberoende av normer eller beteendemönster. Men utan ansiktskontakt saknas insikten om uttrycket Ansiktets utryck är primärt.


Kommunikation inom sociala medier ä innebär inte nödvändigtvis dialog. Ansiktskontakt och de etiska aspekter som tillhör den omedelbara kommunikationen saknas. Kommunikation är inte reciprokt vilket i sin tur kan vara en viktig förklaring till fenomen som näthat och nätmobbning. Smileys och emotioner ersätter ansiktsuttrycken i den textbaserade kommunikationen. Ansiktet är en väsentlig del av den identitetskapande visuella faktorn. Nätet ger möjlighet att kommunicera utan ansiktskontakt och att behålla anonymiteten, vilket påverkar innehållet av kommunikationen avsevärt.


Gränsen mellan den privata och den offentliga sfären är oklar. Många företeelser och fenomen som annars hör till den privata sfären finns representerade i de sociala medierna tillgängliga för allmänheten. Normer och etiska regler är ofta lokala, men internet är globalt. Näthat upplevs mer och mer problematiskt. Ansiktskontakt saknas och några självklara regler finns inte. Som ung lär man sig etiska regler i ett socialt samspel och en äldre generation uttrycker sitt ogillande gärna just med ansiktsuttryck. På nätet förmedlas inte spelreglerna på samma sätt. Nya applikationer har sin egen logik och struktur. . Spelreglerna måste således följa applikationens inre logik.


Kai Rennes, konstnär

The exhibition by Kai Rennes features two works, Andromeda and Molenbeek, that address the issue of social media. In both pieces, Rennes makes use of pictures uploaded to social media platforms; decontextualised, the pictures awaken questions about the way our self-image and personal encounters become altered in these media. Our behaviour is at once concealed and revealed and steered by desire, thus turning our self-image into a brand.

Andromeda consists of online images of men in front of a mirror. In the mirror images, their faces are obscured by the flash even when the rest of the body can be very exposed. Hung on a wall, the multitude of flashes creates a kind of star map in which individual ‘stars’ disappear into the mass. Molenbeek consists of captured stills from a social media service that allows real-time streaming. In the pictures, young people in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, a municipality in the Brussels capital region, exhale clouds of smoke in front of their faces. The Molenbeek district loomed large in world press following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The common denominators of the two works are not only the use of the internet for sourcing but also the hiding of identity through facial concealment. Eye contact and the face are vital elements for identity recognition, and when they are not present or are replaced by some other signs, such as smiley faces, the nature of the communication changes radically. Rennes’s works also highlight the possibility, enabled by social media, to be heard even while remaining anonymous or within a community that you feel is your own or within a community that is determined by other factors than mere geographical location.

A key issue explored in the exhibition is freedom. The freedom of speech and expression, even the freedom of culture or religion, is today constantly present in the discussions about social media. These freedoms are also closely allied with the artist’s freedom to employ material supplied by those very freedoms as a starting point of a work of art. Individual freedom and the formation of identity acquire new forms, while new modes of communication call for a form of self-censorship that is different than in face-to-face encounters.

Kai Rennes is a media artist living in Brussels, Belgium. He worked for several years in Sweden, both as an artist and on the Board of Gallery 54. His media are photography, video, painting and performance. Rennes’s goal in his artistic practice is to create works that are loaded with cultural content and history and that pose questions regarding the true nature of things. The scale of his works range across many levels, from microcosms to the universe. He has exhibited his work in the Nordic countries, as well as in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Cuba.

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