After a successful kick-off in Munich, we took the project to Copenhagen where artist Helle Mardahl installed her own urban living room in the Danish capital’s Nytorv (new market). Just like Steffen and Benjamin in Munich, Helle was free to experiment with the BoConcept smartville collection and the smart fortwo edition BoConcept. Read on to see what she has to say about her own – and decidedly unique – approach to this public/private project.
In your opinion: What defines a living room?
The living room is a place where you can show your own personality, where you can hang out with a feeling of pride and pleasure. It’s the central hub of your own space where guests, friends, and family gather.
What turns a room or space into a living room?
A sofa and a side table.
You have constructed a striking living room right in the center of Copenhagen. How did you approach this daunting project?
I had a smart car, a sofa, a table, and a chair to start with, the latter available for customization. Ultimately, I wanted to fill a large town square, but to achieve that you also need a lot of big things. So, I dug up a lot of my old props and reappropriated bits from old sculptures and installations. And the skeleton from my Ego Queen sculpture also joined the fun.
I wanted to create a space where everyone would fit in. An open living room, on an open square, and in a public space. A soft living room with lots of details that can tell many different stories. Then I moved on to the stage’s main character, the dog. He has been out and come back in, dragging his finds back to his owner, the doll: the car, the chair, the drag queen, the corpse, and the punk.
What made you choose balloons as one of the key elements?
In both adults and children, balloons trigger an automatic positive reaction. They are one of the best things to attract people’s attention, implying happiness and celebration; so why not!
What role does the car play in the installation?
The car is the main element, the central object of the setting, the collector trolley! I also placed the car in the middle to create some kind of indoor resting space within a large public outdoor space. A place where you can shut the door and reopen it once you feel ready; ready for the public and ready to face the city’s noise and people. It might be a safe place surrounded by chaos.
Was it easy to integrate?
It was good to have the car. It even made things easier by creating an indoor space within the large outdoor expanse – a starting place to work from.
Does this make the car a living room of sorts? Speaking from personal experience?
I don’t have a car myself. But I do think that it’s a place where I am happy to sit with my take-away coffee, alone or sharing the moment with a small selection of other people who also have somewhere to go … so, maybe it does conjure up a living room feel. It’s like going for a walk without moving your body, but with the same great conversations.
How private is a living room?
As private as you want it to be. At the same time, I think that it is the place you enter first and leave last, the place for the day’s first cup of coffee and the last glass of wine at night, so to speak.
For this project, you also drafted in your partner, the photographer Alastair Philip Wiper. Was this your first collaboration as a couple? How does it differ from working with other photographers?
It was our first “official” collaboration as a proper team. But we help each other out all the time, so we knew that it would work. Alastair also has one of the most open-minded ways of looking at the world and an artistic quality required by great photographers – he constantly surprises me and has a knack for making any scene or installation even more beautiful and interesting. I also really love his way of injecting a sense of “lonely romance,” of silence and graphical elements that pique the viewer’s interest, as well as his playful approach to unknown industrial features, the moment, and the best position. He loves his photography – and you can tell from his work!
One of your tasks was to work with the chair. You have completely transformed it. Would you still consider it an object of daily use or has it become a work of art?
I liked the shell of the chair; it was almost like a skeleton, allowing you to do whatever you like with it. I liked the chair’s shape and it gave me some good surfaces to work on. It made it fun. So I painted it, drew on it, and added some matching pillows from a previous art work. The funny thing is that I always thought it would be great to have a chair to accompany my pillows, almost like a useful piece of art or an applied art chair.
Why did you transform the chair in this particular way?
I thought that the shapes of the pillows – the faces and arms and legs – would really suit for the project.
What does a chair symbolize for you?
A break, relaxation, and usefulness.
Do you see similarities between creating art and designing objects of daily use – and what would they be?
Personally speaking, I need to involve some objects from everyday life in everything I do. I think people are more open-minded when there is an everyday object that seems familiar. You will also generate more attention this way.
Once you add a chair like the one I did for smart and BoConcept, it automatically attracts more attention than a sculpture. I find it important to trigger a narrative in people’s heads, a story that starts within themselves …
Somebody will win this chair. What do you imagine they will do with it? What would you like him or her to do?
Sit in it!
What other projects do you have in the pipeline? Where can we next see your art?
Right now, I am working on a series of paintings. I have never worked as freely as I am right now; I am in a development process, playing with different techniques … so, everything is really exiting. Let’s see what comes out of it!
Interview: Alexandra Schade
All photos, incl. the header image, by Alastair Philip Wiper