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Shelter

oil, acrylic and spray on canvas

SHELTER • 2013

In Denmark we sing of the profound peacefulness of the forest*. We dream about it and sometimes even leave the city in search of it. Nature. The forest. But while that “profound peacefulness” rises from the forest floor, it makes us as overwhelmingly exhilarated and peaceful as the forest itself. What better place, in which to erect a roundabout-shaped tent? This is exactly what has happened in René Holm’s painting Who stood and watched. After all, who would not like to see such a tent in amongst the trees, with a glimmer of light shining in the darkness between the tree trunks?

Surely lots of us would think, ”I belong here”, if we saw two tents bordering the forest, side-by-side on the banks of a little river? And doesn’t it look festive, when garlands of brightly coloured lights sway between the branches of the trees and the tents glow with the light inside them? But then we begin to have doubts. Why exactly is this painting called Pull me out of this dream?

In fact we need to look very carefully, not only at the many details in the pictures, but also at the titles, which René Holm gives them. Because who is really standing and watching the round tent in the middle of a forest at night? Do we really belong here at all, out here in the wild? And why should we want to wake up from the dream? You can find hints of answers to these many questions, when you take a closer look at the tents, to which the title of the exhibition, Shelter, refers. Some are by themselves, some are in pairs, some seem to have merged with nature, while some are foreign bodies, which the forest is trying to eject. Some works are set in daylight. In others the night is so penetrating that everything is painted black on black.

But essentially a tent is a shelter, an extremely fragile type of home. This is apparent in Choose your own directions, in which the tent is not properly secured and looks like it is about to fly away. Even when the tent assumes the shape of a house, like the two glowing yellow tents in You’ll soon be off but you don’t know where to, fragility and transience are the basic conditions.

Holm has borrowed these lightweight, house-like tents, from California’s famous Yosemite National Park. The mere shape of them brings back memories for anyone, who may have been there. But these vast forests do not only attract temporary holidaymakers. Both here in Denmark and in the United States, where the forests are just bigger, many deranged human beings set up more permanent homes out in the wilds. For example, that is how the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, lived, while he conducted his personal struggle against modern technology.

Shelter

This shutting oneself off from the world might easily have formed the basis for the tent on the right-hand side in Born of a broken man. It is like a blinded eye, a morbid constriction of something, which ought to be open, but which rejects all contact with the outside world. The contrast between nature and culture, even when it develops into a conflict, crops up in many of René Holm’s works: for example, the depiction of a total neglect and abuse of nature in Freedom; or, more discreetly, in You’ll soon be off but you don’t know where to, in which the flower boxes are trying to impose some sort of order on the wilderness and to define a border between the world of mankind and the nature outside.

But it is not only in the wild that everything has a life of its own, growing organically and with no sense of order. Even in cities and towns there are areas, which are outside the law, in which vulnerable, outcast souls, who live right out on the edge of our society, both literally and metaphorically can settle and pitch their tents. This was something René Holm observed recently in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, where an old building site has become a mini parallel society.

Every day, all over the world, people have to abandon their homes, as they flee from war or poverty. More often than not they end up in a tent, either in a refugee camp or in a hideout in the forests of southern Europe. The dream of a better future is the only thing that keeps them going. It was the same dream that drove the settlers across America. Some things never change, says René Holm in the title of one painting, in which you see a horse-drawn wagon just like the ones the settlers used.

In other words, in his latest works, René Holm addresses a fundamental prerequisite for human life: shelter, however rickety and temporary that shelter may turn out to be. At the same time he emphasises the eternal uncertainty, which has crept into our orderly lives, when he gives these tents the name New Millenium Homes.

Trine Ross

*A reference to the old Danish song, ”I skovens dybe, stille ro” (lyrics by Fritz Andersen, 1864).