“Behold the man!” is a fitting title for the current exhibition in London East End’s famous Brick Lane Gallery, which examines man’s existence in today’s complex and changing world.
The artists are Bjorn Veno and Antti Laitinen, two young Scandinavian artists who blur the line between performance art and visual art through film and photography by making themselves a part of their work.
The gallery is split between two levels: the main entrance showcases the work of Antti Laitinen, a Finnish artist and downstairs the photographs of Bjorn Veno, an artist from Norway.
Laitinen’s body of work is a mixture of various mediums, including photographs, film, computer media, and a giant piece of film negative. All of his works involve nature, or ideas about nature, in some form. One photograph documents Laitinen’s attempt to “split the sea like Moses”, a process which took him a week to complete where the artist used a chain saw and an ice pick to break through the frozen sea water.
On the far back wall a film called “The Snowman” is continuously projected. Laitinen stands topless with a carrot strapped to his nose while he is showered with white powder. Laitinen says, “In my performances, I place myself in different absurd situations that underlie an ironic and personal take on various social and cultural phenomena. The absurdity comes from the seriousness with which it is performed.”
The walls of the downstairs area of the gallery are covered with Veno’s photographs. His photographs are highly processed during post-production which gives the illusion that these could be paintings. The post-production processing also puts a lot of control into the artists hands which counters the improvisational elements of his style of performance art.
Veno’s photographs are stunning landscapes of nature but the calm of these landscapes is shattered through the artists unnatural presence. According to Veno, “I feel a bit lost in what is required of me to be a man in our society and I have this desire to regress back to a state where being a man meant that you were a super hero, ergo child hood. Hence I went back to locations were I used to play that I was James Bond, a pirate, etc. In these spaces I tried to regress but I was limited by the fact that I'm now a man.”
In one of Veno’s photograph’s we can really understand the artist’s insecurity over the meaning of manhood. Here, the artist is crouched down near a lake in his underwear. In front of him is a pile of white Lego pieces and a futuristic looking building, also constructed out of Lego pieces, stands off to the side.
The combination of performance art and visual arts really makes this show great. Performance art is often trapped in the mundane and contrived, however both artists have managed to overcome these trappings through their artistic integrity and ability.
The show is currently running until April 15 at the Brick Lane Gallery located on Brick Lane Road in London’s East End. The closest station is Algate East. Visit the gallery and then stop by one of the many Bangladeshi restaurants, down the road, for an inexpensive and tasty dinner.
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Veronica Paez is a freelance journalist in London.