Words by Jóhann Páll Ástvaldsson
Photography by Golli
Fritz Hendrik Berndsen is an artist whose daily life mirrors his art. His diverse exhibitions explore concepts that are on his mind, many of which are preoccupations we all share: the Internet, global warming, dreams. I visited him at his home, built in the 1960s by another artist. We head down a spiral staircase into a low-arching cellar workshop, lit from above by natural light. As I enter, Fritz is 3D printing key chains and drying oil paintings for his upcoming exhibition Lost Passwords.
World of lost passwords
“The idea spawned from the fact that these days, I can never remember my passwords. You always have a million different versions of the same password. There’s always the option ‘Lost password?’ which you click to get an e-mail. I liked it as a title, but then I started to improvise around it. I started to think how big a database there must be of lost passwords in the 30-year history of the Internet. I was excited about the idea of materialising something invisible such as a lost password, so I 3-D printed these keys which are 80% bronze, one of the hardest materials found in nature. The key chains have really specific and weird security questions, so you can never recover the password. We’re playing with the intangible.”
In the exhibition space, Fritz has created a world of lost passwords. Oil paintings feature CAPTCHAs, tests used to determine whether a user is human. Before stepping into the exhibition room, visitors will walk over a piece created by Fritz’s colleague Matthías, a CAPTCHA test chiselled in stone: a real-life version of the online threshold which forces you to prove your humanity, much like the CAPTCHA makes you prove your humanity online. “I like duality in my shows. The work can stand on its own when you enter the space, but people can also dig deeper by reading the catalogue and information about the ideas behind the work. I hope folks can enjoy Lost Passwords without further explanation, that it evokes something in people. I’m trying to play with something unfathomable, invisible, and mysterious.”
An artist draws inspiration from different sources. The Internet and contemporary culture are on Fritz’s mind. He recently exhibited the show Unboxing, where he uses video, installations, and paintings to portray boxes, unboxing them in a seemingly endless loop. “My work is connected to the Internet, as I spend considerable time there. In the case of Unboxing, I found myself looking at reviews of electronics and unboxing videos on YouTube. At the same time, I was asking myself these critical questions which people keep coming back to today, connected to global warming. People are mass consumers but always have that niggling sense of guilt. It’s always in the back of your mind ‘Oh my God, my consumption levels are ridiculous and I’m ruining the environment.’ That’s why there’s this grey mood looming over the whole show.”
Fritz does not only focus on Internet culture in his work. In February, Fritz was nominated for the Icelandic Art Prize for Emerging Artist of the Year for his exhibition Routine Dream, hosted by Kling & Bang studio. “Months after the exhibition closes, you’re suddenly told that it really struck a nerve with people. It’s incredibly nice that new life is breathed into the show such a long time afterwards. Often you’ve spent a ridiculously long time on something which has no tenable purpose – so it’s very satisfying to get this kind of feedback.” Routine Dream incorporates data from sleep monitors which is then reflected in paintings. “The sleep data creates a graph, an image, and while you’re sleeping, your dreams are full of imagery. The paintings are essentially dream images, in conversation with each night’s sleep data. I felt it was interesting to find a way to visualise sleep.”
Fritz is a contemporary artist as well as a classical painter. Having studied fine art at the Iceland University of the Arts, he feels free to do his own thing, with painting as a gateway. “Studying art makes you see the world from a different point of view. You’re always analysing. It’s quite related to philosophy. You could say I’m relatively conservative as a lot of my work involves oil painting. But I don’t necessarily need to do that to call myself an artist. The art world has been developing for the last 100 years in a way that there’s no rules regarding media. You can do whatever you want through the artistic lens. It can be visual art, sculpture, or whatever you can think of. But it’s all presented in the context of the exhibition area.”
Is it difficult to juggle making artwork accessible while retaining a deeper meaning at the same time? “I feel painting plays a large role in accessibility. I want to retain a familiar format, so that Joe Blow can attend a show and enjoy it. But I also want an expert, who’s been immersing themselves in art for 50 years, to enjoy the show. Painting is a great tool for that, as it can be a bait of sorts for Joe Blow, to pull him in. He arrives at an art show and there’s a painting on the wall so it’s all good. But if he enters the art space and there’s a bowl of urine in the middle of the floor, he might get pissed off.”
Fritz’s exhibition Lost Passwords is on at Ásmundarsalur art gallery from April 6. Head to www.fritzhendrik.com to see more of Fritz’s work.
This article is an excerpt. Read the full article in the latest issue of Iceland Review Magazine. Subscribe here to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Iceland Review is the longest-running English-language magazine presenting Iceland’s community, culture, and nature – since 1963.