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Department of Voids: Artist duo benandsebastian exhibit at Den Frie
Installation view of Department of Voids. Photo by David Stjernholm.

COPENHAGEN.- Intelligent, meticulous, and conceptually stringent are just some of the words that can be used to describe the exhibition Department of Voids - Den Frie which opened on Friday, June 22nd. Behind the exhibition is the artist duo benandsebastian – Ben Clement and Sebastian de la Cour.

Department of Voids - Den Frie is part of benandsebastian’s ongoing work, the para-institution Museum of Nothing. The project is dedicated to showing and reflecting on the presence of absence, creating the mental and physical space to question museal authority, institutional display, classification criteria, and the exhibition as medium.

Inspiration for the exhibition came in the form of two empty transport cases for artefacts that disappeared from a Copenhagen museum collection. The only thing left were the shells of the containers that once held them, carefully made to fit and worn by use. Any information on what they once contained had been lost: only the shape of the cases revealed anything of their contents. The thought processes behind guesswork, doubt, conjecture, and the attempt to recall forgotten concepts and names constitute one of the key conceptual layers in the exhibition: the way we wrack our brains to remember the forgotten, the way we flick through words to find the right one. It is precisely in such processes of association, of putting words to something we do not immediately recognise, that the potential for new understandings emerges.

Department of Voids - Den Frie consists of two identical sets of twelve transport cases or empty shells that contain copies of museum artefacts blown in transparent glass as a substitute for their unidentified contents. The containers with glass objects are placed on plinths, each set separated into two identical, laterally reversed rooms by a glass wall framing the installation both physically and conceptually. In one department the objects are accompanied by a register of possible contents. With titles like Evidence of Failure, Evidence of Bias, and Evidence of Alternative Facts they stand as concrete examples of absence – or as one of several speculative designations. In the next department another set of texts address the same objects. Experts from twelve museums in the Copenhagen area have written about the respective transport cases on the basis of their own experience of missing materials or stories from their own museum collection.

The area behind the glass wall can only be accessed during guided tours, which are being held in eight of the most spoken languages in Copenhagen today: Arabic, Bosnian, Danish, English, Faroese, German, Greenlandic, and Turkish. The use of different languages reflects the ambition to broaden the range of people that museum collections attract and represent.

With Department of Voids - Den Frie is presenting benandsebastian’s distinctive sculptural and conceptual approach to art, design and architecture to visitors at Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, and through the eyes of the artists investigating the medium of the exhibition, and turning concepts like representation and selection upside down.

The twelve museum experts who have written the texts for the exhibition are: Annette Johansen, Director of Thorvaldsen’s Museum, Ion Meyer, Heads of collections at Medical Museion, Christian Holmsted Olesen, Head of Collections at Designmuseum Denmark, Christian Gether, Director of ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Rane Willerslev, Director of the National Museum, Christine Buhl Andersen, Director of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Louise Cone, conservator at the National Gallery of Denmark, Marie Laurberg, Curator and Head of Research at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Kjeld von Folsach, Director of the David Collection, Catherine Lefebvre, Director of the Karen Blixen Museum, Søren Bak Jensen, Director of the Copenhagen Workers Museum, and Peter Kjærgaard, Director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

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