John Kørner tackles the British sports of cycling, running and drinking

John Kørner tackles the British sports of cycling, running and drinking

The Danish artist gets physical with ‘Life in a Box’ at London gallery Victoria Miro

‘The pace of contemporary life has never moved so fast,’ says Copenhagen-based artist John Kørner, while peddling comically slowly on his bike installation at Victoria Miro’s Wharf Road gallery in London. The bike is attached to a moving platform topped with a stall of chairs built for visitors, parallel to a vast, 12-panel painting charting a sunrise and set. The installation is designed to ‘slow us down, and see the painting from a different perspective’.

The exhibition – ‘Life in a Box’ – revolves around the physical, emotional, and conceptual constraints of time passing, and the ways in which we attempt to ‘outrun’ them. Kørner depicts runners in cross-country garb, shifting in-and-out of focus into vivid yellow and red backgrounds, as if we’re just missing them as they zoom past. In the upstairs gallery, a sweeping, floridly-coloured race track covers the floor; the finish-line dissected by a giant climbing frame that also functions as a bar, which Kørner encourages you to climb up, and order a shot.

Installation view of ‘John Kørner: Life in a Box’ at Victoria Miro, London. © The artist. Courtesy of Victoria Miro, London/Venice

The bar, Kørner explains, is a reflection of the time-travelling transformation we undergo when drinking alcohol. ‘It seems that lots of people change personality when they go drinking. Especially in the UK, there’s so many pubs – and I’m fascinated by this culture. It has a great impact on the demeanour. For instance, I smile more when I drink. For some people, it’s a way of escaping to a place where time moves differently.’ For better or worse.

There are lighthearted notes to the exhibition, but, as is common in Kørner’s complex practice, it’s also dense with metaphor, symbol, and serious commentary. On what exactly, Kørner leaves largely up to the viewer. The snow-peaked mountains he paints, for instance, are not meant to represent a particular range, but the idea of a mountain more broadly. Here, they seem to represent natural order and peace, offering refreshing calm from the self-defeating, fast-paced racing occuring elsewhere in the gallery.

Likewise the boxes seen throughout the exhibition have manifold meaning. At times, they appear prison-like and claustrophobic, drawing you in like a box set. At other times, they are protective; containing within them calming, vast green planes. For the artist, ‘they refer to anything from mental “boxes”, to apartments, to crates of apples, to TV sets, to the tall walls of a valley’. Rather than prescribe meaning, his ‘main aim is to communicate with the viewer, and have my work resonate with something in their life’.

Installation view of ‘John Kørner: Life in a Box’ at Victoria Miro, London. © The artist. Courtesy of Victoria Miro, London/Venice

The exhibition also contains a number of Kørner’s storied ‘problems’: egg-shaped sculptures that represent the universal nature of issues, questions and conundrums. The idea has followed Kørner for much of his career, first appearing in the years after his graduation from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Copenhagen in 1988. At Victoria Miro, they take the form of bright, primary-coloured sculptures dotted along the race track, obstacles in the way of the theoretical runners chasing their goals; and gallery visitors navigating the space, forcing them to move slowly and deliberately.

Kørner has long been of the opinion that art should exercise the imagination like a bicycle stretches the legs. He tests the theory literally, and runs the imagination ragged, in what is an edifying, dense display. Afterwards, you can climb the bar for a refreshing, transformative tipple. §

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