Sometimes a creative idea or concept is so fascinating, so full of creative potential, it is worth revisiting and exploring some more. This is exactly the thinking behind Danish artist Troels Carlsen's latest exhibition, Sipping from the Mirrors, at the V1 Gallery in Copenhagen. The collection of lithographs form a collection that has never been seen outside Basel before and highlights the skilful, unique detailing and distinctive style the artist has perfected throughout his acclaimed career. For Carlsen the exhibition is a chance to explore ideas of humanity, nature and duality, incorporating his early creative intrigue with a symbolical monkey figure, and exposing the fragility in the idea of a unified truth. Here the artist discusses the hilarity of producing self-portraits and why he believes 'the monkey is a beautiful misunderstood truth seeker'.
Dazed Digital: Tell us about the new exhibition. What inspired you to produce the works?
Troels Carlsen: The exhibition is called Sipping from the Mirrors and it's a series of 12 lithographs on display at V1 Gallery. The motif is both a self-portrait and a portrait of a Macaque monkey. I have composed it so you can turn it upside down depending on whether you want the monkey to be on top or not-just like the king or queen on playing cards. To make every print unique I have added some collage work on each of them. They are all things I find in old anatomy books or any old books actually. I found a 200 year-old spelling and pronunciation book from New York and I had a lot of fun cutting out pages from some pretty interesting chapters.
Another limited edition of these lithographs were originally shown at the VOLTASHOW art fair in Basel in 2010, and we wanted to show them in Copenhagen too, which we found the date to do now. This show is more about me looking back at some of my old friends; the monkeys, which I consider some of my personal all-time heroes on this planet!
DD: Your body of work covers a range of media, what made you choose to produce a selection of lithographs for this show?
Troels Carlsen: I had already been invited to create another series of lithographs at the fantastic lithography workshop in Copenhagen called Edition Copenhagen and at the time fair director Amanda Coulson, from VOLTASHOW , invited me to show as the Edition Artist in 2010. I decided it should be lithographs, so I went on to do this extra print while I was still focusing on the process in the workshop. The reason why I now show them at V1 Gallery, is because I didn't wanted to include them in my last solo show at V1 Gallery in March last year next to big sculptures and paintings. I thought it would make a more intimate show if they were shown alone.
DD: The lithographs features many layers of detail - was the process complex? Did you face any difficulties in what you were trying to achieve?
Troels Carlsen: Doing a self-portrait was pretty funny because there are so many different opinions about it-that whole portrait genre actually had its golden era way back in old days. It took some days to get it right. I wanted to create an "open" motif that deals with classic dualism, it's a slightly excited Macaque monkey and a human being portrayed as each other-shadow/reflection/subconsciousness depending on how you hang it. The third part in the lithos would be the collage technique, visualising a psychological link/pole between the two characters such as a shared kidney organism with a drinking straw and other subtle elements opening up for symbolic combinations.
DD: Your work covers many themes but one that reoccurs seems to be the life cycle of human existence. Is this something you consciously seek to explore in your work? Do you use your artwork to, in a way, help you make sense of your own human condition and existence?
Troels Carlsen: I guess, I don't know what's on the other side when we all go one day, but I know for sure that doing what I do in my artwork contributes a whole lot to holding my life together while I am here. It's a love affair to be honest- because that's how I found a way to make my life work-right? To me that means a lot. And with that comes also a sense of appreciation for what other people do to make their time valuable. The dying are desperate for more time and the bored have too much on their hands. In between these two extremes lies the narrative in my work.
DD: Monkeys feature quite a lot in a range of your work. Why is that?! What do they signify to you?
Troels Carlsen: The way I portrayed monkeys in a lot of my earlier work was sentimental and brutal at the same time. I was always fascinated with these creatures because they have often been driven into the human entourage-whether that has been for a entertainment value or exploitation. I am certainly not advocating for animal torture...it's complex matters...it's part of our nature to look for solutions and part of that involves animal experiments. This is one area I put a lot of focus on some years ago, when I was heavily into portraying primates in my work. I have looked at it like this: the monkey is the beautiful misunderstood truth seeker and man is the unsophisticated coward.
DD: Are you working on any other projects? If so what?
Troels Carlsen: Yes, next up is a bunch of art fairs. My Spanish gallerist is showing my work in Madrid and Mexico, after that V1 Gallery shows my work at fairs in Cologne and Basel and in March I will have work in the Armory show in New York. Later this year I am opening my first solo show at OMR Gallery in Mexico City, which I am very much looking forward to. In addition to this I should focus on putting a book together with my work...seems like I don't have enough time on my hand right now.
Sipping From The Mirrors at V1 Gallery, Flæsketorvet 69-71, 1711 Copenhagen, Denmark, from 14 January – 4 February, 2012