The color of Tue Greenfort's eyes is green. It's not that long ago that ecologically minded people were regarded as wide-eyed romanticists who understand little about progress and preferjobs and economic growth. When Tue Greenfort is occasionally called an "environmental artist," the term still carries the unjustified connotation of a naïve activist. Tue Greenfort, born in 1973 in the rural south of Denmark, is a realist firmly rooted in the here and now. It's just that he understood certain necessities early on-even before the awkward term "sustainability" became popular. There's nothing wide-eyed and unrealistic about that.
In his projects, which are often site-specific, he avoids any obvious moralizing. Instead of assuming the position of the first generation of environmentalists who tended to adhere to the polarization between nature being good and people being bad, he prefers to call attention to the complex relationships between things. Greenfort focuses on hidden dependencies and unexpected links that only become clear when you take a closer look. Part of this involves interviewing experts and liberating the mind from black and white thinking patterns concern ing seemingly unambiguous things like garbage, allegedly bad, or the endangered species, allegedly good.
But the first thing, says Tue Greenfort, is to understand that "nature" doesn't exist. Already as a child he had first-hand experience of what Karl Marx termed "second nature." While walking through the countryside and witnessing the various different patterns of behavior among farmers, foresters, and other land workers, he intuitively understood that nature is a setting for a wide variety of interests. And when the lake he swam in as a child became increasingly polluted, he understood what all this could have to do with him-and with every other human being. He decided that something had to happen. If it sounds like a tear-jerking expulsion from childhood innocence, for Grenfort it became a gratifying life task.
But why did he become an artist instead of a politician or an environmental activist? "First of all, because I make art," Greenfort answers without any irony and goes on to explain that he considers the finely coded, specialized historical language of visual art to be a highly suitable communication platform-a language capable of transmitting feedback to the viewer's behavior, as he definitely hopes.
Greenfort brought garbage back into art. Not in the way that it's sometimes balled up into lumpy sculptures in natural history museums with an undertone of indictment, i.e. "This is how the North Sea fish live." Instead, Tue Greenfort casts his net far wider, demonstrating how economic interests, global marketing, and local problem zones are intertwined. Of all places, he had an artist’s grant last year in the garbage capital of Naples—and if this doesn’t smell like site-specific action, nothing does! But Greenfort quickly tired of the big media hype over the garbage in the old city center. It wasn’t the three garbage bags lying in front of the picturesque facades that were the problem. The real source remained ignored—in the impoverished outer-lying city’s districts, where all of northern Italy’s industry dumps its garbage unpunished.
Like a reporter, he tracks down the facts on location and then he develops something he can exhibit from what he learns. He keeps his results formally precise, which creates a soothing relationship to what are often very complicated connections. One example of this is his edition for the printed Frieze edition of db artmag. The photograph of a burning inferno recalls Turner’s tumultuous skies and the natural forces as they are portrayed in Romantic landscape painting. But what looks like an archaic eruption of the force of nature is actually the inside of an oven in a northern German rubbish incineration facility. This is where some of southern Italy’s problematic garbage had been brought. "The edition not only documents the environmental problem of household garbage disposal, which is highly controversial in our time," explains the artist, "but also the global business with garbage."
Tue Greenfort successfully treads the fine line between formal elegance and thematic content. If Dan Flavin or James Turrell placed light at the core of their art, Greenfort seeks to clarify that even light is by no means self-evident, but can only be provided through an extremely complex and delicate interplay of technical, economic, and ecological factors. At the Sharjah Biennial near Dubai, in the museum he was showing in, he turned the thermostat of the air conditioner up two degrees— according to the global warming prognoses, the magical number destined to play an increasing role in the future. >From the money that was saved according to his calculations, he purchased a plot of rain forest in Ecuador.
Tue Greenfort studied with Thomas Bayrle at the Frankfurt Städel School under the directorship of Daniel Birnbaum. He didn’t start out making environmental art, but began by having a look around his immediate environment—in the industrial area in eastern Frankfurt where the Städel studios are, for instance. Tue formed a pact with the foxes that live there. He left out sausage as bait, connecting it to a camera's shutter release. Sausage in exchange for photographs: that was the deal. Even today, the resulting fox series is one of his most popular works. For a show in Istanbul, he simply detoured an ant highway into the exhibition space. And when a company near the academy erected a fence around the parking lot that students always used as a shortcut to the gas station, he built a staircase over the fence. To a certain extent, the bridge of the technical emergency service currently connecting the Braunschweig Kunstverein with the outdoor pool nearby is an extension of this work. The summer brought a lively exchange between swimmers and museum visitors. Tue Greenfort seeks to dismantle barriers and fears of contact.
The fact that his works of art sometimes can't be distinguished from natural historical visual material doesn't bother him in the least. Take, for instance, the Mediterranean jellyfish that are usually decried as a plague. Greenfort had Venetian glass blowers in Murano create copies of the delicate animal that reproduces each year at an alarming rate due to excessive fishing, over-fertilized seas, and rising temperatures, seriously jeopardizing tourism in the Adriatic. The plague becomes a breathtakingly beautiful object-not a product of the artist initially, but one of nature.
Greenfort's work extends to architecture, urban planning, and design. He is well aware that his accessibility and his transparency do not fit the image of the wild party artist or the enigmatic intellectual heavyweight the art scene loves so much. "I have nothing against it, but I think as an artist you have to be aware that you're obligated to work within a certain aesthetic history," says Tue Greenfort. "And this history demands that things are continuously carried forward. And it wouldn't be enough for me to service what is basically a very bourgeois image of an artist as an exemplary Bohemian." In this sense, an involvement with the environment necessarily becomes a new field of activity for art. Anything else would just be completely naïve.
Tue Greenfort - Linear Deflection
trough November 16, 2008