Kaspar Oppen Samuelsen

Installation views
Selected works


Fruit Juicing

on the work of Kaspar Oppen Samuelsen


What can I remember about the man from Del Monte? I remember that he had a white linen suit and a panama hat. I remember that he lorded over fruit fields, orange groves and apple orchards. I seem to remember a plane that landed on water. Or was it a helicopter? It was something at least that expressed his wealthy, panoptican powers. I remember that on more than one occasion he hand-picked fruit from a tree, peeled it with a knife drawn from his own pocket (or from outer space) and gave it a taste. I remember that after a long pause that must have wrecked the nerves of the Latin Americans that scurried around him, he would say 'yes' to a banana, a pineapple, or whatever other beautiful fruit. I remember that the advertisement finished with the overlaid text (or was it a voice?): 'the man from Del Monte says yes'.

In his white suit and white hat and in the bright sun of the fruit fields, and with all the re-constituted air of 80s, 90s daytime television, I remember the man from Del Monte like an overexposed white sheet ghost on the screen. Perhaps for this reason, in the memory junk box of other minor television personalities – many of which have been recalled to face paedophilia charges – I can't even get close to picturing his face. I imagine the man from Del Monte living out his days unhindered, somewhere in the middle of France.

In KOS's paintings and sculptural works, there seems to be a new ecological culture underway. Here, the dull hierarchies of human, animal, object, fruit and vegetable, have been replaced by a theatrical democratic order. Human life is rendered as a supernatural carnival happening somewhere at the edge of the village, overflowing with guises and shape-shifting possibilities. The animals too raise their glasses. The fruit and flowers seem dressed up and delighted. In KOS's paintings, every single thing is conjured with the inner benefits of a bountiful world. In one such painting, Untitled [fig.1], a bearded man daintily picks a pear from an ornamented tree; painted with the economy of it potentially being more than a pear, perhaps even a jewel or a tear-drop decoration. Why not. Let's enjoy life and turn all our earthly needs into flourishes. Let's enjoy life just like the man himself with old fashioned hair and a tail that emerges from the backside of his multi-coloured cosmic trousers. Is this a man or an animal? Is the animal actually man? Is this a fanciful costume, or pose or the suggestion of a human animal slap and tickle? The heckling of this question and other questions of figurative definition will only spoil the play.

History also seems wrapped in the ecological order of KOS's work. The characters in his paintings are out of time and heading nowhere, unanchored and without momentum. In Untitled [fig.2] we see a young woman and horse. The young woman holds the reins in one hand, and in the other a spear. At the end of the spear, a meaty sausage. She has a European face, pale and fine- featured, like the young princesses-in-waiting they picture in films. She wears an elaborate yellow dress sketched with the frills and patterns of the clothes from the Victorian era. Or perhaps the era is Jacobean or Tudor. Or perhaps we should turn on our heels and look in another direction, toward the retro fashion freefall of our present day. Who knows. Who can tell. The spear and sausage don't help to settle the instability; the sausage seeming to urge the horse forward, in the same fabled way that carrots are said to tease donkeys. The horse has its eyes on the sausage with a cartoonish and unlucky expression, while its long legs (despite the head) assumes the elegant pose of a horse on a royal parade showing off the geometry of its step; as though learned from the horsey pictures hanging in many of the world's national galleries. The protagonists in the painting - the young woman, the horse and the speared sausage - all play an equal part in this anachronistic drama; each doing a job of puppeting or propping one another out of the regulatory schemes of historical time and its causal effects. In another of KOS's paintings, Untitled [fig.3], we see a small group – two men, two women – carrying a boat. As before, the clothes upon these characters are elaborate and formal, and again it is possible to detect the styles of one historical epoch or another. Yet their clothes are more 'historicist' than historical in any exact sense. They seem to be worn as a costume of history 'in general' (if such a thing is even imaginable) rather than as a blind fashionable expression of history in its stride.

Clothes, animals, and the ritual flourishes of modern and pre-modern culture are regular components of KOS's works. It would be reductive however, to describe his paintings purely in terms of their depicted scenarios and figurations. These are paintings, after all. There is something about the liquidity and colour of their depiction that is integral, and more so symbiotic, with the depiction itself. In KOS's use of coloured paper for instance, the layers of representation and material foundation become inseparably bound. Without any neutral colour register (traditionally, the white of the paper or canvas), it becomes impossible to discern whether the colours of the clothes (or everything else for that matter) are suggestively determined by the thing itself or the non-imaged 'background'. Or perhaps a contaminated mixture of both? That impossibility of being able to discern one thing from another – a figure, a history, a colour – is only part of the possibility of conjuring in the first place. And in this respect, KOS is like a dandy by Giorgio Agamben's description, as a 'redeemer of things' beyond their exchange value and beyond all unitary equivalence. This is a painting of non- reduction. While we describe a couple of men and a couple of women pushing a boat, the neglect of other elements of the painting catches up with us: the sinking merchant ship in the distance, a horizon of coloured pyramids, a tree on a pedestal, two antiquated characters lurking in the corner of the image; all of these elements sparingly outlined against the coloured paper. In Untitled [fig.3], like in other works, these various elements operate together in a theatrical hustle, but each on their own terms of scale and pictorial projection; the use of multiple sheets of paper in the entire ensemble of a single work, adding to this de-limiting sense of narrative and formal boundary.

There is so much in KOS's world that goes beyond our recognition of human capacities, that we might be tempted to see this as a misanthropic approach in favour of the brighter life of animal, fruits and inanimate objects. Yet the de- privileging of humankind as the master of both nature and the constructed world, only grants KOS's subjects of humankind a greater conviviality with their non-human counterparts. This is also true of his sculptural works. These small- scale sculptures, often presented on furniture and together in groups, are crudely fashioned animals that seem to carry all the same emotional characteristics and social pitfalls of the humankind we know and love. Tragic, curious, forlorn. Eyes are not met. Everyone's embarrassed. Somebody burps.

Across a range of works produced in recent years, we can see hybridities of human, animal, and object (be it fashion, ceramics, or natural produce). We see animals that know how to dress themselves; humans that know how to dress like animals, or just as easily like clowns or court jesters. We see objects that have ornamental powers that spread like a virus over everything depicted. There is not a single thing in KOS's paintings that is left outside the ripple of cultural decorum. Every single thing shimmers with its effects, with colour and animating spirit, yet the culture itself is a phantom. Or a pantomime.


Matt Packer, 2013
Director at the CCA in Derry/Londonderry, Ireland & Associate Director of Treignac Projet, FR


Please click on the images to view the work

Fig. 1 Fig. 2 Fig. 3