John Kørner: Life in a Box in Ten Problems

Life in a Box, John Kørner’s new exhibition at Victoria Miro, considers the things – physical, emotional, conceptual – that constrain us and the ways in which we attempt to outrun or overcome them. The show features paintings, along with an installation of participatory sculptures, as well as the artist’s signature Problems – egg-shaped forms that appear in his paintings and as sculptures, which allude not to specific problems per se but to the nature of problems as they emerge and are comprehended in the world. He discusses the problems on his mind around the show and possibilities that arise from them.


Box problems

‘We all live in a box, more or less: in modern homes, in our heads. For me, it’s interesting to see how this idea might relate to painting. Works such as Cardboard box began very simply, taking the form of a box as a starting point. But, it’s also interesting to create the contents of a box, or to think of it as an environment in itself. The opening up of the box is a whole new way of painting for me. It’s a different viewpoint on the world.’


Problems problems

‘I have been making these egg-like sculptures for a long time. They have been exhibited in many different contexts – in installations, in the theatre. Each is individual and has its own shape. I call them Problems – problems that act as metaphors for the human condition. Problems are so important to life. You have to accept them. If you imagine society as a whole, it seems that we need obstructions. It’s like a whole big engine and we need the fuel, and for me the Problems are the fuel for the engine. When you have discovered a problem it’s actually a very creative moment because everyone wants to solve the problem. If you think there’s a true paradise and everything you meet before reaching that paradise is a problem, then you are going to get a bit lost, but I like to embrace everything on my way and choose to find everything quite beautiful. I guess we’re talking Buddhism, in a way.’


Chromatic problems

‘I use white a lot but the yellow colour I use is even more abstract, as it represents an inner world. I love the fact that there is no perspective in a painting like Leaving the Sun, that the figure seems almost to disappear and become immersed in the canvas. The yellow colour adds a sense of sickness. I once had a motorbike crash where I lost consciousness. After a few seconds, when I was on the edge of consciousness, I had this experi­ence of being in a yellow room. It was an exceptional moment.’


Apple problems

‘I’m very fascinated by apples. I believe they are the most beautiful objects in the world. In my work I keep circling around them. My technique is very fast, so that in a painting such as One big box of apples they almost look like a living organism. I think what’s interesting is that people have expectations of a title. Painting a box of apples might seem old fashioned, but it’s very mysterious to look into a box of apples, and also very grounding.’


Mountain problems

‘Mountains are the most grounding situation. They are not there to be moved. I like to feel that I’m very small even though I’m very tall, which is maybe a reason why I paint mountains. If you look at a mountain, the view changes all the time. Trying to find a place for yourself, where you belong, or a place where you can react to such beauty can be a problem. I’m interested in the Romantic, and how we are seduced. With Running towards white, I turned the painting on its side, leaving this band of welcoming white, so the mountainscape becomes almost like a gateway, a place where you can disappear.’


Perception problems

‘My paintings are very much about light and shadows. I like to show that it’s a game, more or less, that it’s a kind of illusion – completely flat but if you use your imagination you can see not only the subject of the work but quite a lot else coming your way.’


Perspective problems

‘The installation in the upstairs gallery has the title Running Problems. I think life in general is very much about speed, and the show is about time and finding yourself by walking or running. The running track invites people to think about the paths they take. The yellow boxes are a new idea. I like the idea that you have a corridor in front of you, with a sense of perspective. It’s like that feeling when you are walking into the woods and someone has planted a long line of trees. It’s like somebody wants you to be there, that they’ve put you on this path. Perspective defines the journey.’


Light problems

‘This painting Twelve hours illustrates the cycle of the sun as it moves across the sky. That’s why the painting is divided in 12 bars, each with its own atmosphere. The work is very much about light because light has a huge influence on what we do, generally. For instance, if you feel a bit tired, it might because you are missing the sun. I also like to think about the same picture one hour later, about what it might look like in different light conditions. Would we have a different view?’


Time problems

‘With this exhibition, I’m thinking about how to focus on life, how to live a life, and observe time as it passes by. I am always trying to create my own agenda about how to exhibit, to talk and communi­cate about contemporary art, and I always consider different possibilities in order to set up an exhibition where visitors are important – more important than me, actu­ally. I want to give the contemporary moment a shape and focus on that moment. Since the whole installation is about time and perspective, I had it in mind that the speed of Stadium Bike should be significantly different than walking. In fact, it’s much slower than you can walk. My hope is that, when you sit down and look at the paintings, you might focus on different details. It’s a new way of looking at a painting.’


Drinking problems

‘I wanted the exhibition to end in a very joyful moment at the bar. In order to succeed and get a drink, though, you need to make an effort. If you are very tall, like me, you discover that you are discriminated against, so I thought I should build something for a tall man. I also like the idea that you have to exercise as a part of the installation, in order to get what you want. I guess we all are different people when it comes to alcohol, we have a second secret life. What happens when I drink is that I smile a bit more.’

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