Go West! Travelling the American Landscape With Art History in the Trunk.

By Jacob Lillemose

In the mid 1990s Nikolaj Recke tried to arrange a face-to-face meeting with artist Robert Morris, whose famous felt pieces had made such a strong impression on him that he felt he needed to discuss them with their maker. The search (which never completed) was documented in the seminal video piece Knowing Me, Knowing You (1997) shown at the “Louisiana Exhibition”.

Now, more than a decade later Recke has once again set sails in search of one of the Moby Dicks of post-war American Art, namely Land Art, which has been a continuous inspiration and reference in his work. The journey to the South Western part of the US, which contains the highest concentration of Land Art pieces, was undertaken in the summer of 2009 with just as much excitement and uncertainty as the previous one. However, this time around, Recke found what he was looking for, and it is the results of the encounters that he now exhibits in “Kicking Up Dust” at Rohde Contemporary.

The exhibition consists of three new pieces, two videos and a photo stat, presented in a total installation with red sand from the unique American landscape spread on the floor. Trinity Land Art Institute (2010) is a photo of a wooden shed that Recke built on the land facing up to the Trinity site in New Mexico, where the US tested the world’s first nuclear bomb in 1945, less than three weeks before bombing Japan. The shed includes the site in the mythology surrounding Land Art and suggests that the site might be considered as a work of Land Art in itself. Waking up to Roden Crater (2010) is a video of the sun rising behind Roden Crater in Arizona, a volcano crater that the artist James Turell has been working on since the mid 1970s. The work, which is unfinished, remains closed the public, but by filming the sun rising behind it Recke bring us just a little bit closer, as the experience of the sunrise, according to Turell, was what sparked his fascination with the volcano. Finally, Insecurity Zone (2009) shows Recke taking a blindfolded guided walk on probably the most iconographic Land Art piece, namely Spiral Jetty (1974) by Robert Smithson located in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The walk is a re-enactment of Vito Acconi’s Security Zone (1971), and besides paying homage to or rather being a declaration of love to both sources; the video depicts art history as a both mental and physical space, where it is hard for a contemporary artist to find footing. The ground is rocky and goes in spirals, making it increasingly difficult to know whether one is being led towards realization or disorientation.

The exhibition is another strong manifestation of what could be called Recke’s “emotional conceptualism” that has been a landmark of his work from the beginning. Where much conceptual art downplayed the personal dimension, Recke invests his subjectivity (as an artist and a person) in the encounters with the works. Not to return to narcissistic self-reflection but to open these works to levels of emotional experience that they has traditionally been dissociated from, and expand their intellectual and formal horizons even further with aesthetics involving self-irony, wit, politics consciousness and a romantic sense of beauty.

Recke is well aware that it is a monstrous project he has undertaken but like Captain Ahab, he is determined to continue against all odds. Yet, catching the whale is ultimately not the point. In fact, it never was. Instead, what Recke wants is to bring the works within human reach and create possibilities for a personal presence with art history. “Kicking Up Dust” is an invitation to the spectators to share these possibilities with him.