The wood for the trees, or a swing and a miss, is Jonas Dehnen’s first solo exhibition, presented at Social Harmony (Ghent, BE). The work bears witness to the view from the artist’s studio window, which shows a recently constructed public playground consisting of a group of wooden platforms, huts and swings, huddled together at the periphery of the local park. The structures have an intentionally vernacular appearance, as though they had endured a long struggle against the wind – a peculiar genus of ‘mock-ramshackle’ constructions.
Stakes are driven into the ground to demarcate the bounds of a small, sandy tract.
Dehnen has a preoccupation with the romantic conceit central to the aesthetic choices which define these structures. He attempts to forge a painterly connection between these aestheticised elements in his surroundings, and the alpine landscapes painted by the German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner whilst he lived in a Swiss mountain hut in the 1920’s. Pitched roofs, glowing mountain peaks, treetops, childhood dens, Kirchner’s kitchen stove: they all coexist as equal elements of the visual amalgam from which the works arose. Likewise, the paintings exist as equals on the horizon formed by the shelf installed in the exhibition space.
The setting sun paints the wooden slats and poles a deepening shade of ochre.
The work is framed in black locust, the same yellow-hued wood which was chosen to construct the aforementioned playground. Black locust is a hardwood that will readily grow at European latitudes, and is highly resilient to the elements. One can find black locust saplings suckering and sprouting along railway embankments, or colonising disturbed and open areas at the fringes of the urban fabric.
The constructions are slowly swallowed by a deep blue, now swimming, floating, then submerged.
The painted surfaces are self-contained, the initial image is already degraded before it reaches the canvas, melted and transmuted in repeated drawings, a number of which are presented bound together into a book. They are visual hermits, simple records of manipulated matter. They account for a desire to make a mental idiolect into a physical one, an ‘inner space’ turned out.
The fire crackles, the wood creaks, as the swing swings and it’s chain squeaks.
Areas on a canvas become locations on a map, showing a potential way past our reality, whilst necessarily remaining a part of it. They are the physical instantiation of a mental scaffolding offering an escape, an ecstatic ladder out, and up. A patchwork quilt containing a multitude of places is folded, distant points leap through the void, and touch. Many islands can be reconciled within the bounds of a picture.
A fading playground cacophony vibrates in the air.