Supreme, On Till Megerle at Christian Andersen, Copenhagen
The title, both point of reference and ironic hint to technique and representation, is “Supreme.” The same iconic skateboard brand was featured in a mock-advertisement created by artist Bjarne Melgaard (together with Babak Radboy) last year. Though in Till Megerle’s recent exhibition at Christian Andersen in Copenhagen, Supreme did not speak to Melgaard’s irony-tinged language of contemporary product photography and art-student coding, that clash Chris Kraus × Vetements in the form of a skateboard. Rather, Megerle offered seven small and comparatively (even pointedly) unslick drawings hung on the wall in wooden frames, leaving the gallery space empty and the spectacle subdued. Made in ink pen on roughly A4-sized paper trimmed to various aspect ratios, the works feature dense aggregations of many delicate strokes and skillfully interwoven shading techniques, reminding one of the intaglio printing of centuries past. In fact, it’s as if, contrary to the instant-impact Supreme aesthetic, these works ask to be read with excessive time—time enough so that the complex compositions layered in Megerle’s pointed scenes can unfurl in the viewer’s mind’s eye revealing, for instance, intertwined groups of twentieth-century Boris Mikhailov drinkers and sixteenth-century Pieter Brueghel revelers. Meanwhile, the verkehrte Welt (twisted world) that the images collectively present provides no singular coherent overview. Instead, the scenery is collaged with parts taken from different spaces falling into each other, framing the figure or figures central to the composition. And much like Melgaard’s brand-reference work did, they show an interest in the specificity of social codes that are shared, appropriated, and passed through the drawn bodies.
In Megerle’s show, the social scenery is often violent, and the intertwined bodies create a floating abusive atmosphere, that even when it is sexual, is not exactly rapey. More accurately, one could call the style classically sex-negative. There is always someone tugging at someone else, legs are being pulled apart, people struggling, piling up on each other. Although reminiscent of the social cues and settings (as well as brutality) of sixteenth-century Dutch painting, Megerle’s figures are still somehow from another time—one that I recognize as the here and now, with the sneakers and baseball caps they wear and the suggestion of a current (sub)urban architecture. At the same time, these protagonists appear, overlapping each other, as strangely superimposed body images from different pasts interpolated into a present-tense public space. This space is particular too: it’s as if the codes that define it originate not in some fixed place on Earth (say, the church, for example). Rather, it is more of a non-space, or a non-site generated through common experiences documented via social platforms (YouTube’s innumerable “unboxing” videos, skate-trick reels, and the common language that develops in the coinciding comment sections.)
In this mix, Megerle gives us a status quo that is both livable and deforming; one that is not, or not only, defined by health apps and psychopharma-biopolitics that monitor or even enforce a certain contemporary idea of physical appearance and the normative order of well-being. Rather, the bodies in these works, being subject to violence, seem more seltsam than wholesome. Meanwhile the today they inhabit is rendered by Megerle as yesterday—as a time (still) molded by discipline, as a people that labor (and an art labored over), a state of being shoved and pressured into forms, that, consistently repeated, come to define the limits of what is possible to draw, to represent, and to do to each other. It would be easy to mistake the timelessness these works seem to possess as a kind of essentialism, a common experience of what a body can undergo, of what a delirium is, or what functions body openings have. But it is less the essential body as its constant treatment that Megerle is getting at here.
His figures reflect on selves that are formed by making things as much as by what they buy, wear, consume; each body appears to be an archive of decisions—
whether concerning profession choices, personal relations, or the use and abuse of substance that entail living a life “supreme.” The highly controlled drawings allow for a detailed and precious representation of the transgressive gestures they depict, placing his protagonists in a historical setting; yet history here is what lives on, in, and under current surfaces—including those of the current self, represented here as an accumulation of all conditions that formed it, up until the age of the skate video and, further, to Snapchat. In today’s twisted world, one that entails a use of the body, ranging from sex positivity promoted (only) in women’s magazines to rape-culture, these images speak of threats and fears that can no longer be addressed, but are still there; they seem to say that maybe we are just not as far as we think we are.