The Upside-Down world of Yngve Holen

by Elda Oreto

When I entered the world of Yngve Holen, I had the impression men were hybrids of flesh and synthetic material. It’s as if the artist dreams of clandestine experiments in which the brain is injected with substances that induce hallucinations and excruciating headaches. But here sensory deprivation and excessive stimulation activate superpowers — an eruption of inorganic material and synthetic colors, hammers the body in a sexual frenzy. Simultaneously, you can see an army of electrically charged, hysterical demigods fighting for supremacy on our planet.

Yngve Holen, Parasagittal Brain, 2011 (detail)
Watercut water appliances, left and right contact lens boxes, ultrasonic humidifier, dimensions variable 
Courtesy: the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; Modern Art, London; and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt

Yngve Holen’s artistic practice emerges from the cyberpunk movements of the early 80s and evolves through the Post-Internet era in a direction that reinterprets the themes of postmodern sculpture. His path has led him to a bewildering bipolarism from which his strategy of appropriation of everyday objects unfolds, a strategy characterized by humor, like in the exhibition HEINZERLING, at the Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo and at the Kunsthall Stavanger in 2019. The starting point of the exhibition, which includes works that are representative of Holen’s various artistic periods, is the artist’s dual nationality, German and Norwegian. “Heinzerling” is, in fact, Holen’s paternal surname when he normally uses his maternal surname. Among the various works on display there’s a series of wall sculptures — huge spirals made of cross-laminated timber (CLT), each is about 200 centimeters in diameter and represents enlarged copy of an SUV tyre rim. Among the sculptures we can find Heinzerling (2019) and Rose Painting, that were exhibited at the Galerie Neu in 2018 and in the HORSES exhibition at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, also in 2018.

Installation view, Yngve Holen, HORSES, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Germany, 2018. Photo: Stefan Korte, Courtesy: the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin 

Holen uses humor as a tool to juxtapose different materials. In fact, the combination of materials with opposite qualities, soft and hard, smooth and rough, handcrafted and highly technological, creates a tension that alters the perception of the artwork and the context in which it is exhibited. But like a two-faced Janus – who in ancient Roman mythology represented the God of duality, transition and beginning, and has two faces, one for looking into the past and one into the future – these two aspects of the same element cannot be separated, on the contrary they constitute its intimate nature.

Yngve Holen, Parasagittal Brain, 2011 (detail) Watercut water appliances, left and right contact lens boxes, ultrasonic humidifier, dimensions variable, Courtesy: the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; Modern Art, London; and 
Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt

Holen’s strategy of “intervention” in everyday objects overturns the perception of the exhibition space itself, and the space becomes an experimental laboratory. In this place, the boundary between human, physical — and also ethical and economic — perceptions constantly flips between good and evil, between the domestic and the uncanny, between the licit and the illicit. This double aspect of his work is not a mere misrepresentation of reality, but it’s a way to twist it, intensifying it to the point of dissolving the familiar parameters of judgment.

In Corpus Quality, the exhibition at Stuart Shave’s Modern Art, London (2019), Holen’s sculptural series replicates the “Legends of Chima” action figures that LEGO introduced to the market in 2013 and then recalled in 2015. The figurines are created through a 3D printing process. Alongside this project, Holen presented Headache, the third issue of the magazine ETOPS, edited by the artist himself and by Matthew Evans. The magazine focuses on a series of optogenetic experiments, which inject chemicals into the brain in order to activate the neurons. These tests control the human mind but can also stem the course of neurogenetic diseases. The idea of being able to control and be controlled is another constant in Holen’s research. Often, the artist’s work ironically imitates that of a neuroscientist who uses the brain to study the brain itself. For example, in Parasagittal Brain, at the Johann Berggren Gallery in 2011, Holen dissected mass-produced electric kettles with a water saw.

Yngve Holen, CAKE, 2016 (detail), Mixed media (Porsche Panamera), 4 parts, each 145.1 × 96.5 × 250.7 cm
Courtesy: the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; Modern Art, London; and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt
Collection: Lafayette anticipations – Fonds de dotation Famille Moulin
Installation view, Yngve Holen,  VERTICALSEAT, Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, 2016. 
Photo: Nick Ash

In 2015, at the World of Hope exhibition at the Galerie Neu in Berlin, Holen exhibited a series of sculptures composed with the face panels of Siemens SOMATOM Force CT Scanners, covered with black, white or yellow stretch mesh fabric. In a solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Basel in 2016 called VERTICALSEAT— a name that refers to a special type of standing chair that low-cost airlines hoped would allow more passengers to fit on each plane —, the artist exhibited CAKE, a black Porsche Panamera sectioned into four parts. According to Holen, the pressure for wealth and power always passes through the body.

If, at first glance, Holen’s work illustrates a dynamic where the high-tech oppresses the “low-life” we can also have a glimpse at a more raw and primitive dynamic can be seen in the depths of his work, where reality becomes a posthuman nightmare, where meat, metal, technological and organic materials are mixed together to create new beings. Objects are created for us as we adapt to them, an erotic fusion of bodies in a boundless and sensual process of invasiveness and violation. Dehumanization, repression and sexuality are the basis are also recurrent themes, something where the human body becomes the spirit of things and, evanescent, it forms a thin, plasticized and glossy glaze, a varnish of stainless steel that glides over objects until they are incorporated into it.

Yngve Holen was born in Braunschweig, Germany in 1982. He studied at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, graduating in 2010. Holen received the Ars Viva 2014⁄15 Prize, for which his work was exhibited at Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany; Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, Germany; and Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria. He has also exhibited his works at Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (2013) and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany (2011). He lives and works in Berlin and Oslo.

Elda Oreto