Martin Asbæk Gallery is proud to present Olympia by Jacob Stangerup. In the Danish artist's drawings and sculptures, a multitude of women appear alongside mechanical parts.
Author Anders Bille
Photography Morten Kamper Jacobsen

The works in the exhibition are inspired by and based on a figure in the author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story ‘Der Sandmann’ (1816). The character Olympia is an automaton, a robot that the protagonist falls in love with. As he inevitably learns the truth, he goes insane. It is a story that subsequently has inspired several others, from Sigmund Freud’s theories about “the uncanny” to Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner.

Stangerup is very conscious of art history, and a wide variety of works have served as source material for the female figures. They are unreal, yet the gaze reveals that they are attractive, tantalizing. The machines are sketches for perpetual motion machines; hypothetical and, by their very nature, futile attempts to construct infinity itself. In each their own way, they are expressions of an obsession. An insatiable hunger. It is a fusion that exudes desire; desire for achievement, innovative as well as carnal.

In the exceptionally precise works, which at times almost look more like black-and-white photographs than charcoal drawings, it is clear how meticulously Stangerup works. Following a diligent process of creating an accurate rendition, something is needed – a tension, a confrontation. The elaborate drawing must be disrupted by another. One figure inspires the next, and each work thus has a suggestive course of development. The wall-mounted steel reliefs are also cut according to Stangerup’s drawings, and here the anatomical and the mechanical exist in separate pieces, but affixed to one another they appear as a symbiosis. Drive and accomplishment merge. The intersection between sex and machine reflects and reinforces the fetishization – whether it is work and its related ambitions or in the sexual arena; the aspiration and the willpower needed to achieve satisfaction and prestige are comparable: always fleeting, always just out of reach.

Stangerup has found the perpetual motion machines among the sketches of the great masters. From Leonardo da Vinci to Jacob Leupold, the efforts have been in vain. It is an ironic archaeology to discover these ill-fated inventions that try to take command of eternity, try to materialize the ultimate transcendental. Mania is embedded in passion, and desperation in motivation. Like art, these ambitions and projects can be said to be what psychoanalysts call sublimation; the process in which the libido is transformed into more “socially useful” endeavors.

Through his hybrid aesthetic, Stangerup examines what the gesture of depicting means in general, in what innumerable ways a motif can emerge. Eclecticism makes him a stylistic chameleon, who nevertheless incorporates his subjectivity all the way. Both the depictions of women and the perpetual motion machines are two different manifestations of attempting to encapsulate something that can never be adequately reproduced: beauty, personality, a moment, time itself, infinity, and infinite possibilities. At the intersection of the two motifs, Olympia becomes an interweaving of concepts such as obsession, fetishism, and innovation in an anxious field between desire and machine.

Jacob Stangerup (b. 1971) lives and works in Copenhagen. Was in 1996-2000 in apprenticeship with the sculptor Jørgen Haugen Sørensen in Pietrasanta, Italy. Jacob Stangerup has previously exhibited at e.g., Nivaagaards Malerisamling, Kunstforeningen Gl. Strand and Magasin 3 Museum of Contemporary Art in Stockholm.

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