Untitled is a black and white poster featuring an image of graffiti that reads ‘ROY IS HOMO’. It is one of three posters in Tate Collection by Olesen that are similar in their conception, execution and messages they convey (see also Untitled T11953 and Untitled T11955). These are enlarged printouts of photographs of homophobic graffiti that the artist found on the internet and that are exhibited pinned or stuck with double sided tape to the wall. Of identical size, each poster is constructed from thirty-two computer printout sections joined together on the reverse with adhesive tape. The sections are joined together in a casual and low-tech manner that mirrors the low-resolution quality of the photographic imagery. Each is unique, printed only once. They are usually all shown together, in a vertical configuration, as recommended by the artist.
In his appropriation of the words ‘ROY IS HOMO’ Olesen implicitly comments on the categorization – and consequent marginalization – of a citizen with regards to his sexual orientation through public exposure and humiliation. The phrase, which seems to have originally been written in white chalk onto a brick wall, may refer to a school environment, thus perhaps pointing to common bullying practices, as well as social stereotyping in public institutions. It appears to have been isolated from other graffiti on the same wall, signs of which can be discerned in the lower part of the image. Olesen here problematizes the messages carried in the images he appropriates by enlarging them and accentuating them, thus rendering them more blunt and vulnerable to criticism. By taking the images out of the potentially unlimited public sphere of the internet, and transforming them into unique art objects, destined to exist in an entirely different public sphere, the artist invests them with greater symbolic value. Raising them to art status and preparing them for exhibition in the art institution is in itself a heavily politically charged gesture, which functions through both irony and awareness-raising.
Olesen’s work deals with various dimensions of repression in society. As he says about his art, it is an investigation of ‘the representation of minorities within achievement of history, and within law and social/political structures: how does legalisation/ criminalisation characterize certain social groups and what are the consequences of the heterosexual (regulated) structures?’ (Olesen in http://www.sparwasserhq.de/Index/HTMLmar4/CVhenrikolesen.htm
, accessed 9 March 2009). He particularly directs his interest towards sexual orientation and the socio-cultural prejudice that surrounds it, as well as all the consequent economic and political ramifications of this. His criticism is expressed through subversive conceptual strategies, such as placing material of various origins in a new context.
Olesen’s work takes many forms, including posters, collage, sculpture and installation. He has exhibited a range of work such as photographs accompanied by texts based on rights-related facts and information drawn from state archives of countries all over the world; carton boxes squeezed against walls; and young tree branches of differing shapes tied in a bundle. His spatial interventions, which reduce architectural elements’ size or block them altogether, symbolize the restrictions imposed by public laws and categorisations in contemporary culture, while his materials are intentionally fragile, questioning the stability of the cultural and legal constructions of society. Untitled is an example of this use of a fragile material – the digital print. Its pinning directly to the wall may furthermore be seen as referring to or paralleling the literal act of pressing someone against the wall, in this way alluding to the psychological pain caused by the criminalization of a particular sexual orientation.
Lars Bang Larsen, ‘Natural Justice’, frieze, issue 70, October 2002, http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/natural_justice/, accessed 9 March 2009.
Heike Munder (ed.), Henrik Olesen: Some Faggy Gestures, exhibition catalogue, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich 2008.
Henrik Olesen, What is Authority?, Copenhagen 2002.