Every day, countless newspapers, magazines and books flow off the printing presses worldwide at a dizzying rate. Each time, they are distributed, partially or not read, discarded, recycled and printed again. The cycle also continues to accelerate, inversely proportional to the importance of the information being imparted. This phenomenon, spurred on in the past two decades by the internet, leads to information overload, information inflation and ultimately irritation.
In essence, this annoyance drives Denmark's artistic practice (Wilrijk, 1950). While studying art history and archaeology at the University of Ghent (1968-1972), he processes his course material by crossing out already known parts of it. Striking out the material makes the document unreadable and reduces course to just its material parts. Without intending to create a work of art at the time, this ritualistic act of a young student can be seen as the start of Denmark's art practice.
Even when tearing out his textbooks, Denmark discovers new motifs. Soon, the first intended works of art form by cutting up books in stages or in strips. The resulting materials are reassembled, often at right angles to the page, leaving only an average image of the original content. Against the machine-like speed of printing, he places the tranquillity of the craftsman's studio. Soon his typical folding work also emerges, in which he meticulously folds each page of a publication into the smallest pliable shape, constricts it with metal wire and assembles it back in order on panel.
—“Wir meinen, Sie sollten in Ruhe Weiterarbeiten, Ihre Arbeit weiterentwickeln und noch nicht an Ausstellungen, etc... denken. Es ist noch zu früh - für uns.”—
Denmark's artistic activities were noticed early on. After one of our first contacts, he showed me a 1975 letter from Düsseldorf's renowned Galerie Art In Progress. It was a refusal letter backtracking on an earlier promise for an exhibition. The letter stated that it was too early for them to show the work. They advise him to continue working in peace and let the work develop. I can imagine that such a letter must have been a cold shower for the young ambitious artist but perhaps it also invigorated him. Three years after the letter, in 1978, Denmark finally got his first exhibitions: one at the ICC (Antwerp) and one at the Brussels gallery MTL. Since then, the work has found its way into museum and private collections at home and abroad.
2022 is the year when Belgian artist Denmark can look back on fifty years of artistic practice. The varied oeuvre created in that half century always remained connected to the source he has been tapping since his student days. There is also another constant in the artist's working method: he has always continued to work in peace.
Stijn Coppejans, Antwerp 2022
photos: Joost Joossen, Ronnie Heirman