Henrik Olesen’s artworks question the sexually political effects of everyday conventions. Contemporary and historical materials serve as the starting points for this inquiry. These materials include visual and textual representations drawn from the fields of architecture, the history of industrialization, the imposition of legally sanctioned punishment, verdicts handed down by courts of law, the geographic and demographic distribution of capital, the natural sciences, and the history of art. Olesen uses the techniques of appropriation, manipulation or contextual shifting to explore the theme of the stigmatization, criminalization, and repression of homosexuality.
An essential role is played by the process of politicization and appropriation in the sense of what Guy Deobord describes as a “détournement” of history and its representations. Depending upon the particular system of reference, Olesen undertakes either minimalist interventions in the architecture of the exhibition and in public space, or else his artworks take the form of extensive research conducted on the Internet. Through collage techniques and sculptural processes, his artworks disclose hegemonic iconographies in which homosexual bodies are absent.
Henrik Olesen presents in the Secession a selection of artworks which articulate production as an aesthetic process that creates meaning, is capable of transformation, and exerts normative control over our actions. Olesen inscribes homosexual bodies into spaces and interiors from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thereby calling attention to the general repression of homosexuality and to the simultaneous evocation of heterosexual familial concepts as structures that maintain and preserve society.
The showcase in the entry of Grafisches Kabinett contains a series of photographs and illustrations depicting the Secession at the turn of the 20th century. Olesen has inserted images of people and groups of people into these photographs of interiors and exteriors. The manipulated images now show, for example, policemen putting people under arrest or nude male bodies standing in line in the Secession’s foyer as they await medical examinations. The showcases, which are themselves an allusion to postmodernism, serve to display homosexual erotic desire and symbols of a history of selection, ostracism, and censure. For this reason, a variety of allusions to §209 and/or its successor law §207 ÖStGB (Austrian penal code) appear in and around the historical illustrations.
The work entitled 1935 1922 (2003), which is on display in the Secession’s gallery, likewise employs the collage technique. Composed of several parts, this group of artworks includes a series of collages which refer to two pictorial novels by surrealist artist Max Ernst: La femme des 100 têtes (1929) and Une semaine de bonté (1934). The ensemble also includes a collection of material showing various phases in the development of the topic. Whereas the showcases highlight the selective nature of preserving and collecting (both of which are strongly influenced by chance and capital), the collages shift the narratives from an originally heterosexual fixation towards many-faceted homosexual scenarios.