Perrotin Shanghai is pleased to announce the solo exhibition Night School by Swedish artist Jens Fänge, showcasing his captivating new series of paintings from 2023.
Jens Fänge’s "Night School" is not an ordinary school, but an oneiric space of sea snails, octopuses, slipper orchids, deer, cats, flutes, and more. Here underground activities literally happen at night, in an endless realm symbolizing our relation to knowledge and the inner world. The painting Luftschloss, for instance, takes a marginal scene from a Göteborg suburb and turns it into a place of perpetually evolving fantasies. In other paintings, the buildings are turned into an ocean of red or transported back centuries, and it seems that their black-windowed rooms can be further unfolded and viewed into.
In Fänge’s works, representations of architecture and real space are often intertwined and intentionally confused. Using rigid wooden panels to create his collages, the artist is able to move cut-out characters and objects – made of vinyl or cardboard – between different paintings, sometimes attaching pieces of canvas or wooden panels to the background (in Europe north of the Alps, paintings on wooden panels can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when many artists used them as the base material for their work, especially in the Netherlands, Flanders, Germany, and Scandinavia). Fänge’s paintings should therefore not be seen as independent or finished but as interconnected.
Inspired by an Egon Schiele sketch, the character’s posture in Locum Tenens, for example, is the same as in Mementos. The Latin title "locum tenens" means "placeholder," referring to the collage technique employed by the painter; unlike in traditional painting, the characters and motifs are not fixed, but replaceable and moveable.
Animals and plants in the paintings occupy an equally important position as human figures, who only seem to gain new knowledge through their encounters with the former. The octopus symbolizes extreme flexibility and repeatedly appears in various scenes. The oval-shaped body of the octopus is geometrically similar to the slipper orchid’s lower lip. Portrayed in a wide range of cultures and literatures, the various body parts of octopuses and orchids have inspired a rich history of interpretation. At times associated with decay, mystery, and eroticism, they are also sought after by specimen collectors. The question arises why Fänge, contrary to biological facts, depicts the octopus as a nocturnal creature (in Nocturne) and the slipper orchid as a night-blooming plant (in The Flower that Blooms at Night).
Perhaps it is only in the pitch-black night that the world reveals its exciting side: it has not been fully understood yet, and thus there is still knowledge to be gained, awaiting scientists to explore. We enter a room and there are more rooms beyond it, located in another frame; this outward expansion of the desire to explore is actually isomorphic to the nature of inward soul-searching.
Around you this night a thousand million firefly anatomies breathe in and out in their slow-burning liturgical glow."
However, having explored the opposition between day and night, Fänge’s school, unlike the Enlightenment ideal of "illustrious" academies, remains in the depths of darkness. We can approach these objects, but ultimately, they remain unknown, inexhaustible things-in-themselves. After viewing the entire exhibition, the viewer must consider the possibility that there is no reason for the existence of those octopuses, dolphins, shadows, putti, and rooms in the paintings, that this absurdity may be a product of our obsession with naming things and calling it knowledge; or, even more elusively, that there may be some hidden order between self and universe, the microcosm and the macrocosm, but that this order is not interested in our existence and can only be grasped negatively: the essence of the world is hidden, behind the vinyl cut-outs, behind the canvas.
Text by Clement Huang
Born in 1965 in Gothenburg, Sweden
Lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden
Working at the intersection of the early-twentieth-century practice of collage and the ancient art of shadow play, Jens Fänge has developed a surrealistic matryoshka-like aesthetics that consists of assembling paintings within paintings. A master of eclecticism, he incorporates—so it seems—an entire hierarchy of genres into his composite works, juxtaposing iconic portraits, still lifes, domestic interiors, cityscapes, and landscapes with geometric abstractions, all of which he renders using a variety of media and materials, including oil paint, pencil, vinyl, cardboard, and fabric on panel. The contoured, often cut-out protagonists of the artist’s refined pictorial plays appear to be drifting into these overlapping stage-like layers of representations, giving rise to an intricate, seemingly endless maze of shifting perspectives, not only within each composition but also within each series as a whole.
His works have been exhibited many times in Scandinavia, including at the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo, the Gothenburg Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art - Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Fänge’s paintings have been included in international exhibitions, such as at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson (USA). His works can be found in the collections of the Swedish Museum of Modern Art - Moderna Museet and the Magasin III in Stockholm or at the Gothenburg Museum of Art ; as well as in private collections such as a permanent installation at the headquarters of H&M in Stockholm, or in the collection of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.