While traversing a crosswalk, most New Yorkers cast a disinterested glance at the red hand or white figure (or honking yellow cab) that indicate the appropriate and seemingly obvious modes of conduct when crossing a street. While these signs have become ubiquitous in everyday life and our comprehension of their meaning is taken for granted, a red hand hasn’t always meant “stop,” nor has a white walking figure always told us to “cross”. Such meanings were taught to us via social conventions as well as our own individual experiences. Much of Danish artist Kaser Sonne’s objective is to reveal that our understanding of these and other signs is not as tacit as we believe.
One of the artist’s most recent works, Untitled Sign No. 3, comprised of an installation at the SAPS Museum in Mexico City, made up of the brightly lit neon letters “UTOPIA,” though spelled with an inverse “P.” Confronted with such a piece, an onlooker might interpret an ironic statement about society, or perhaps even cast the same nonchalant glance given to street signs. But Sonne’s reversed letter accomplishes something much more subtle: his small manipulation of the word disrupts our understanding of its original meaning. In an attempt to perceive the meaning of the restructured word, we end up creating it anew based on our own experiences and associations. This reconfiguration, or disruption, of the text brings up another fundamental aspect of Sonne’s art: the recognition of the viewer’s own interpretation of the artwork. Sonne treats the viewer as a kind of participant by acknowledging his or her power over the interpretation of his work. He states that he always attempts to create a space between the object and its concept so that viewers can develop their understanding of the work based on their own references.
Visually, Sonne’s work is muted, unostentatious and largely monochromatic, and in this regard it bears a similarity to Minimalist art. His palate never strays far from black and white, and his sculptures are structurally simple (though deceptively so). His interest in Minimalism is illustrated as an aesthetic – and less so as a philosophy – that serves his exploration of juxtaposition and questioning. His 2009 seriesBorderline (new territory), for example, features monochrome canvases with burned holes in the center, revealing fire-curled edges and stretcher bars beneath the otherwise perfect, smooth surface. The organic nature of the burned holes contrasted with the rigid perfection of the rectangular plane presents a meditation on relationships such as chance versus construction, and perfection versus imperfection, though the viewer’s presence, or interpretation, is never ignored. There exists in each of his works a quietness that leaves space for our own thoughts and interpretations. — Text by Eugenie Dalland. Portrait by Asger Carlsen. More images and interview after the jump.