Opening: Saturday, 12 March 2022, 5 - 9 pm
Human Performance12 March – 07 May 2022
For his first solo exhibition 'Human Performance' at Jan Kaps, Kenneth Bergfeld presents a new body of paintings. The title is borrowed from the scientific journal of the same name concerned with industrial and organisational psychology in relation to work performance, and reflects the artist’s concern for the labour conditions of a globalised economy. In particular, exploitation, economic inequality, and hierarchical power structures. The site-specific work 'The Ruins of Exchange', 2022, a black velour carpet plotted with motifs executed in oil, serves as a continuation of the hung works. The elements depicted in the tondi – archived concepts, spectral collages and and historical as well as contemporary references lay the foundation for the metastructure of the exhibition. Together, they encourage reflection on the idea of Human Performance, a term expressing physical, sporting and intellectual efficiency.
Kenneth Bergfeld’s portraits are avatars often depicted with a shell of hair which oscillates between a bushy helmet and a sacred halo. These mystified beings, eyes obscured under a silky, velvety mass or retro-futuristic sunglasses, move between the interior and exterior, revealed without revealing themselves. The paintings are a result of the superimposition of three levels of presence: their materiality, the aura of the characters, and their internal landscapes.
In addition to this psychological ambiguity, the paintings encompass a spatial and temporal meta-reality. The open, dimensionless spaces in the background, for example in 'cellphone’s death', 2022, where disembodied heads on shelves are repeated ad infinitum, serve to address the psychological conditions of consumerism. The tight frame around these haloed faces, the realistic representation, palpable materiality and the mixture of virtual and artificial elements frees them from the constraints of time. Indeed, Kenneth Bergfeld stretches out a stylistic line that begins with sacred orthodox icons, passes through the floating strangeness of a Tarkovskian aesthetic, and leads into a digital future.
Characters drawn from the artist’s social context also make appearances in his paintings. They have similar traits to his avatars: hidden, glassy eyes or lost in a blur, with otherworldly skin or hair colour. Bergfeld turns all his subjects into fictional characters, referencing the English-Australian feminist theorist Sara Ahmed: “The fictional character can thus reach out of fiction, almost like a hand that comes out of the grave. The hand coming up and coming out can signify not only persistence and protest, but also a connection to others.”1
His technical virtuosity - a performance in itself - allows Bergfeld to move in the intersection between sacredness and the virtual to reveal a delineative view of the world. 'field of obligation', 2022, which depicts an abstracted mushroom-headed figure immolated on an evening walk through a suburb of Cologne dominated by Germany’s biggest oil refinery, Shell Energy and Chemicals Refinery Rheinland. In this work, the artist addresses questions around sustainability and pollution, laying bare the tension between the subject and its environment. Human Performance expands on Anna L. Tsing’s examinations on the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multiple landscapes.
1 Ahmed, Sara, Willflul Parts: Problem Characters or the Problem of Character, New Literary History, vol. 42, no. 2, 2011, p. 249.