When I was a teenager, my bedroom was different from any of my friends; there were no posters of rock stars or football players on the walls. The room was a dungeon, where there were dead insects, snakes, and mice (sometimes smelly) and ivy growing on the walls. I collected a lot of trash; the floor was covered with cotton balls and other stuff.  My bed was suspended in the air by some chains. I had also hung large broken pieces of colored glass from the ceiling; they made scintillating reflections on the walls, and were really wonderful to look through! It was a permanent decoration, since I had decided that every day of the year would be Christmas. I usually stayed in bed when friends came to visit; they simply sat on the bed next to me. I guess to visit my room was an ” event.” Some guests didn’t stay too long; they claimed it was unhealthy.

How great to linger in bed! Mine is always a mess; if I’m not careful, after a while, the entire surrounding space is submerged by things like newspapers, books, and brochures. That’s probably the reason I like viewers to “lounge” in art spaces! I always encourage people to take their time, to sit and look, not just zip through an exhibition . . . It would be lovely to depart from this life in “my private bed mess installation.”

I once ended up in jail, and even there I found a way to decorate my “room”. It was a matter of survival. A guard gave me few sticks of colored chalk. I don’t know why; I guess I was just lucky. The cell became full of signs and drawings from the ceiling to the floor. I got respect from my innkeepers. Strange.
I have also “decorated” a few other spaces in various ways. I vandalized a 300-square-meter apartment on Park Avenue, painting black and white stripes all over the walls.  The guy I had sublet the place from didn’t mind. I did it with a few friends as a performance party, all of us adorning our naked bodies with white base makeup and, over that, black stripes and signs. I have no memory of how it ended.
I once lived in a crappy apartment in the East Village where I painted all the walls and ceilings black. It was infested with rats; I gave them food, and found a way to spray them with fluorescent paint. It was fun to see them running around in the all-black environment on some rowdy nights. They never bothered me—after all, I fed them! Some of my lovers got scared, but not all; some found it charming.
When I lived in an apartment in the Bronx, I made a “garden” nearby (on an empty lot where a building had been torn down). I decided to “plant” only plastic flowers, vegetables, and exotic fruits. It looked lovely in winter with a bit of snow on the ground, especially the bananas and oranges. And they were very easy to water during the hot summers. Plastic is great!


I never went to a Walt Disney Park until I was too old for this kind of “childish” thing. When I finally visited Disneyland, I remember vividly a “travel” train featuring landscapes of different nations, accompanied by music of a recurrent sweet children’s chorus. The world at that moment was pure and beautiful, peaceful and naïve. I shed a few tears of emotion, and it was delicious. Such theme parks are like classic fairy tales,  translated into three dimensions. A fine Persian carpet that you walk on could represent the metaphor of an idyllic garden, and it could make you fly, too!
Talking about fairy tales! We want to believe in stories; and we all love a good story (even if it is a lie). We sometimes go to war for a lie. It takes a lot of attention and critical sense not to be brainwashed. The issue of illusion/manipulation can have serious consequences. Believing strongly in something that was ingrained in you, such as what the media or politicians are saying, can sometimes do you great harm. From an early age, one is manipulated to have certain ideas about spiritual behaviour, sexual orientation, taste, judgments about people and race, etc.—an intellectual abuse that is imposed during childhood.
One should consider making a law forbidding society and parents to force any religious beliefs on children until they are old enough to be free to make their own choices about such things.


It is nice to pray in a church, a mosque, or a synagogue, or just to sit in one. They are installations designed to manipulate souls through their architecture and décor. You become engrossed in the ambiance of these environments. A church’s Baroque ceilings and its elaborate “stage sets,” like a painted Paleolithic cave, have the capacity to transcend or elevate the space itself. An art installation should have a bit of this feeling. In the enclosed space of a theater, you feel totally divorced from the outside world, as if you were in a cocoon; still, everything is as realistic as it can be. An installation is a way to surround the audience with a full experience, like the way you would feel when visiting Anne Frank’s house or places where other famous people have lived, where things have been kept almost as they were. Or like the apartment of some unknown person, which you could enter and be allowed to look through at your leisure and discover things. A hotel room is a good example of an installation space: very impersonal, simple elements, such as a bed (for sure), a table, a chair. Hotel rooms have a lot of stories. They are stories of passage. They contain small clues about their former occupants: a stain on the carpet, a scratch on the wallpaper. Seeing them, we can imagine many scenarios that could have occurred in the hotel rooms we find ourselves in.


For a viewer who enters the space where an art installation is presented, the experience is as much physical as visual. An artist has to take Guy Debord’s “Société du Spectacle” literally—to play with the effects of “spectacle” by articulating the unity of the installation piece in order to make an immediate impact on the spectators that will get them involved (unlike the distancing effect of the images that one sees on tv, or photos in the news, for instance). I want the viewer to have an instant physical reaction after entering that space.  This idea of surprise, of being overwhelmed or entertained, is an effective one; it is key in film/theater. Looking at a painting or walking around a sculpture is an act of visual attention. The first few seconds of attention/impression are important, because one should be disoriented or entertained by the allure of the work in its expansiveness/generosity. It can be compared to an advertising strategy for getting attention,  where a viewer is surprised or attracted by a funny idea that is intended to help sell the product. This strategy works through association of ideas, creating a strong impression that stays in your brain as an impact memory a bit longer; and when you are in a supermarket you might unconsciously recall the product associated with the commercial you have seen, and might buy it. In a similar way, art should be carried into one’s life through the impact memory/shock that one has experienced.


Within the delimited spaces assigned for some of the installations, I have been trying to build an illusory environment or “space of doubt.” Visitors have to adjust to fictive surroundings; they are faced with a sort of virtual space at first glance. It is a remake of, a reconstruction of something.
For example in “Changing Room,” the public knew they were visiting an art gallery, but once they came in, looked at the towels and benches, the image of a “real” place surfaced in their minds.  For them, “Changing Room” might also have evoked a more dramatic situation. For example: some people, while looking at this installation, have experienced the embarrassing feeling that they had to undress and be nude in front of others; there was an underlying tone of sexual connotation. Others, strangely enough, mentioned feeling like being in a gas chamber! Some felt simply meditative.

In front of this alignment of towels, the “spectators” found themselves in another visual interactive experience when confronted with the banality of the towels. They ask themselves, “Where am I?” This sort of “switching” factor interests me. Still attentive to the art proposed and surrounding them, the public was traveling “between” two dimensions—the actual space of the installation, and the dimension of illusion/imagination. These installations have the same common point: trying to reconstruct a feeling of familiarity in the metaphorical “aesthetic” space. The idea involves the concept of “resemblance.”

I got inspired once by reading Gilles Deleuze’s book “Le Plis” (The folding), which gave me the idea of using the visual effect of folded towels. (To be honest, although I have read a lot of the writers I cite in these texts, I probably got only 5 percent of what they are talking about; perhaps just one page inspired me or gave me a link for understanding what I may have created intuitively.) The association of shadow and light that can be seen in antique drapery, or in master drawing studies, is a classical effect that has fascinated artists for many centuries. The towels that I have used in the “Changing Room” installation are well-known “objects”; the metaphor and symbolism of their suspended forms gave them a special presence, the soft material of the loosely hanging towels creating an impression of human skin dangling, or of bodies quietly falling. Still, they were just towels. In their simple alignment on the walls, they acted as a musical phrase in the way they were arranged. I tried to create a composition with the towels as I would if painting on canvas. I am not afraid in general of using colors because of their universal attraction and way of communicating; like flags representing countries or football player’s uniforms, they act as a direct signal for communication and seduction.
Looking at the arrangement of towels, viewers might have thought also of a Matisse cut-paper collage, but with simple pieces of fabric rather than paper, creating a musical phrase or scale out of the series of colors. The towels could perhaps evoke the kind of impression that stained glass conveys in a Gothic cathedral, with its sublime light and color producing a feeling of spiritual exaltation. There was also a somewhat surreal sense of the contrast between the very simple benches and the heightened drama of the colorful towels, which viewers didn’t expect to encounter hanging in a gallery.

Because of their location in an art gallery and the enormous dimensions of that space—more than 25 x 30 m (80 x  100 ft.)—the towels’ original utilitarian significance was transformed. They created a harmonious composition as an ensemble in that space, but an entirely unexpected one in such an environment—and that was the crucial point of the installation. It is at this level that they became ”what they were not.” The masses of towels seemed almost to be observing the spectators, as if these objects were a quasi-human presence. The effect on the viewer was a sort of transcendent experience that resulted from something so ordinary.

The “aggressive” aspect and ambivalence that  a viewer might sense in just looking at these common towels disappeared through their seductive aspect and also through the dramatic shift of place. The effect was like being in what Michel Foucault calls “un espace autre” (“a different space,” an indeterminate space that can be either real or imagined, like the mental space one inhabits while talking on the phone), a space that is out of context, as in the experience of déjà vu, or the chills you get when you experience a sense of the sublime. This ”changing room,” under the appearance of being an ordinary/absurd dressing room, was a place where nothing happens, in some way like visiting a cemetery. The only action proposed could come from the visitor, if they decided to sit or take their time. It was the spectator’s experience or apprehension in the visit that brought memory perception that could touch them, change them. They had to finish the story.

When I think about “seducing” viewers to try to capture their attention, I know I can do that by means of subversive acts, of course, but other ways are possible. The drama of forms can still be important. When I made a very large mural out of silk ribbons pinned onto a wall at the Norrköping Museum of Art, in Sweden, people who entered the gallery were overwhelmed by the scope of the work and seduced by the allure of what appeared to be a conventional, large Color Field painting. I wanted to use the large white space of the room in the Norrköping Museum in a literal way, mocking while at the same time enjoying the idea of a “large painting” presented in a classic White Box setting. When the public approached the work closely, they realized that what they were looking at was not a painting at all but an installation made of very simple stretched silk ribbons. Some visitors who might have been predisposed to hate such an installation were already seduced at first glance without having realized the “trick,” and before they could say they hated it.
I made several other silk-ribbon “paintings” for my “Andy’s Chocolates” project at the Asbæk Gallery, this time with ribbons stapled on stretchers. The installation was playing with the idea of an environment of “luxurious” golden objects together with photographs and paintings, as if it they were hanging in the house of a wealthy collector. There again, through the seduction of the first glance, pre-conceived ideas were challenged when the “silk-ribbon paintings” were examined closer. It implied a re-evaluation of what could be a painting. Ribbons and fabrics are associated with “weakness,” superficiality, decoration, and “feminine” sensibility. It was the irony of the silk-ribbon painting that interested me in relation to a gallery that mainly sells paintings.

In most of my “organized/arranged” and “fictive” installation spaces, I offer the public “conventional” or “beautiful” art to look at, including drawings, paintings, photos and objects/sculpture. Installation allows me to work with different mediums each time. It gives me the possibility of developing in several directions, in order not to be trapped in a rigid, recognizable signature “style” and product line. These different directions, like a continuously growing network of branching roots (I’m thinking of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatari’s concept of “rhizome” here), are a way to challenge, to provide adventure, and to move out of a sedentary mind space, a form of zigzag!—and perhaps a way of not being “caught”?

The idea of being a nomad—traveling, acclimatizing myself to different situations—is also one aspect of my approach in some of the work. For one ongoing project that I have presented a few times, I assemble a “wall” of used envelopes contributed by people who pass by the space where I have set up the installation. One version of it can travel packed in a suitcase, and I can appropriate and install it within a few days in any space, using the recycled envelopes as a kind of wallpaper. It can be presented also as a performance piece, where I work in situ. In “Ideal Atelier,” which I presented as an artist in residence at Traneudstilling in Gentofte, near Copenhagen, the full process was a month-long interaction with the public. Like a worker, I came to the space (a library) every day, and people brought me envelopes they would have thrown away; the piece grew so large that it encompassed two “wall” sections that hung down and spread out onto the floor. It was an interactive way to “feed” me, the artist-worker, with “material” to keep going on.
I have used the same approach with a suitcase full of trash objects that I have saved, enabling me to travel  with the installation and do a performance, installing/composing it in front of the public for several hours. Children are often fascinated when watching me perform; it is like being a magician, transforming things in front of their eyes. One time, I saw an adult who cried watching me installing my objects! I also remember a conservative old lady with a rather imperious manner who said “I have to acknowledge that my grandchildren couldn’t do the same.”

I’m scared of creating another object, which will imply less space available for the rest of my possessions, more burdens to carry, more things to throw away eventually, and more energy to spend.  Our accumulation of things  is terrifying. But don’t we feel a bit guilty every time we get rid of something? These “things” are witnesses of our civilization. The objects I collect are the equivalent of an archeological project, an archive. In time, say fifty years, they will become valuable as study material, if they survive.
Through the metamorphosis of the trash objects/things I collect—or rather, accumulate compulsively—I can create a closer connection with the “objects” created. This is due to the destabilizing factor of illusion that plays an essential part in their transformation, and in the viewer becoming involved in deciphering the associations triggered by the objects. A viewer has to deconstruct or read the “objects” that are presented and discover the prior utilitarian function of each component. Perhaps he or she might recognize one component as their favorite perfume flacon, or a 1950s bowl that resembles the one in their grandmother’s kitchen. I deliberately also make them look “beautiful” or “interesting” to captivate and be playful. I have also magnified these objects in photographs that I took, glamorizing them like products on the glossy pages of fashion magazine.
Another thing to consider when I make an installation is that each component can be moved or interchanged at random, as in a Lego game, since when I display them, I often don’t attach the different parts permanently. They are non-lasting, ephemeral, and can be assembled in multiple ways—a parallel, or corollary, to the related idea of the non-permanent installation. This re-generation, re-building, re-assignment of function interests me.

The non-lasting nature of these components also indicates my non-involvement in the initial part of the making of the objects or installations, relying instead on chance: I use items that I just find, buy, or was given, and later assemble together to create the piece I’m working on. I think like someone who designs window displays, using materials that I enhance by the way I juxtapose, arrange,  and light them, thereby getting the viewer’s attention. It reminds me of Andy Warhol’s or Robert Rauschenberg’s first jobs as window designers.
What I find fascinating about the idea of the readymade object is the obstacle that I have in working with the material: it’s already manufactured and I have to deal with that. With the objects I find/choose, I accept them as they are—they impose themselves. It is like a child who doesn’t have any toys and uses whatever is available to play with. In this era of instant gratification, everyone is conscripted into a system of consumerism, where there is always something better, so we are never satisfied with what we have, and are constantly acquiring goods and disregarding them as fast as they become obsolete. Therefore, it is gratifying to recycle things and give them another use, another “value.” The object created can be again put on the map and be available for something else, thanks to this metamorphosis.
Another challenge in the process of working on an installation is that in my studio, I cannot play with the space where the final work will be presented. I have to wait until it’s in that space before I can tell if the project will turn out right. This obstacle to creating a work of art  demands a high degree of flexibility.

In my ”Salon” installation, I wanted to deal with the architectural identity of the exhibition space in Charlottenborg Palace in Copenhagen. The ”presence”  of this seventeenth-century Baroque building, with its large rooms and high ceilings, was a determining factor in my plan for the installation. I played with the idea that visitors entering the space might imagine themselves being in an aristocratic palace. In that way, I wished to provide a sense of “historical” intimacy with the room, a form of nostalgia and reminiscence of something that was. I also had in my thoughts the  exhibition’s theme, ”Western,” which brought me to the idea of Baroque salons during the “Siècle des Lumières” (the Enlightenment). I wanted to explore the spatial relationship between the concrete space of Charlottenborg and its connection to the ”space” of the spectator’s mind, to create an installation that would make the spaciousness of the room a real experience. It would be a modern link into a dream/simulation that would “transport” the public, through my contemporary re-creation of Baroque décor, into  an old, grand Baroque setting. Ideally, this could get the public to play a role in the installation, by activating the imagination of viewers and in some ways turning them into performers as well. Through that involvement/participation, while looking at and moving within the installation, they would “read” each of the elements presented, establish a dialogue/situation, and create their own scenario.

 My first idea was to build a huge “crystal” chandelier, but it became  a bit complicated technically, so I found a way around the problem by making a “landscape” of glass objects instead (once again recycling lamps, decanters, kitschy bowls, etc.) The light of the room I had chosen is rather extraordinary, even on a gray Danish day. I wanted this light to go through the room and penetrate the transparency of the glass “towers.” The arrangement of glass objects evoked Manhattan’s skyscraper skyline, a subtle symbol of the collapse of the Twin Towers in the 9/11 attack. Like the glass objects, the inflatable armchairs were also transparent, and reflected the brilliant silver rays of sunlight from the large window; I also liked the symbolism of “sitting” on air. The enormous blue curtain next to the window, in its extravagance and because of its royal blue color, gave a tonality of coolness to the surroundings.

The drawings that I made and arranged all over the walls (the way art used to be presented in a Salon) were “easy to read”: they were realistic figurative and cartoonish, some sweet and funny, others somewhat disturbing and sexually charged. Many visitors took their time being in this “cozy” atmosphere to interpret or decipher the drawings, like looking through the pages of a magazine or discovering the details of a huge fresco. It was like window opening onto a bizarre world that could have been displayed in a “Cabinet de Curiosités” full of strange and diverse artifacts.

“Plastic Interior” worked on three different levels: the installation/setting by itself, the paintings on the walls, and the objects/sculptures presented on the table. The installation/setting was the “frame” connecting the objects/chairs/table and the paintings on the wall. Once again, viewers were invited to think about the idea of resemblance/simulation and the experience of facing a “fictional” environment. The installation could have depicted a gallery’s stand at an art fair (as at Art Basel, the Armory Show, etc.); it could also have represented an ongoing chess game, with the now-absent players seated in front of the objects on the table.

These objects were arranged in even rows on a black Plexiglas table like an army regiment or a command center, suggesting the ideas of power (and perhaps the abuse of power) and control.  Each object was an assemblage of several pre-existing manufactured items that I stacked one on top of the other to make a composite (an ”erection”). Stacked like this, they also implied instability, imbalance, and fragility. The paintings are composed of funny/strange organic forms that meet but never touch, that may have once been once joined but were separated/dislocated. Many of them are phallic; some look like they are going up and others going down; and some of them are collapsing images of ironic ”impotence” that are almost grotesque. 

An invisible dialogue developed between the recycled manufactured objects/sculptures and the paintings. One of my intentions was to create a relationship between the two mediums, which are so different from each other: the manipulation of paint  to produce a lasting imprint of brushstrokes on a canvas, and the temporary “assemblage” of pre-existing objects. In painting on a plane surface, the magical “simulation” in the rendering of volume, light, and shadow means that the painted forms could themselves be described as objects/sculptures. They were, in a sense, “placed” on the canvas the way I placed the objects on the table’s black surface. Also, the colors I chose for the painted forms were similar to those of the objects. In addition, since all the objects were made of plastic, the surface I chose to paint on was a waxed tablecloth, which has a similar texture to plastic; it is soft, glossy, milky. In the process of painting on that surface, the relationship of paint to the canvas was not the same as working on a conventional canvas of linen fabric; this was due to the waxed surface, which doesn’t absorb the paint but projects it. This effect is related to the rays of light reflected in the glass objects presented in the Salon installation and the clarity of the forms of the towels in Changing RoomIn all of these, I was trying to render the feeling of light and shadow enveloping you in a luminous, perfect, crystal-clear environment, as in a classical painting.

The exhibition space for my installation “La Boutique Dorée” used to be a small shop. I decided to make it look like a jewelry store. The original function of the store window was revived by the display of “jewels” and “luxurious trinkets” that I created out of cheap, pre-existing mass-produced items. I arranged these objects on a pale blue silky fabric in the store window, and gave them appropriate lighting. The goal was to get the attention of prospective “customers.” Attracted by a banner made of the same blue fabric and a “SALE” sign on the window, pedestrians would stop to look at the window installation. The potential shopper realized after examining the “goods” that something was wrong—that the “jewels” and other objects displayed were not what they seemed to be at first glance, a suspicion confirmed when they discovered that the price tags ranged between the extremes of 1 million and 20 Danish crowns!

Through the ages, our species has created and acquired things to “show off” and get attention, as they have done for centuries by decorating their bodies, often with the help of jewelry. The idea that people beautify themselves to attract others is an essential part of communication and seduction. How do you make one notice something or someone?  How do you present yourself? How do you transform your image? These parameters also apply to the window of a boutique, which try to capture the attention of passersby through the eye-catching presentation of items being offered for sale. This fake boutique that I created, with its fake products, could make the public feel irritated at having been deceived. But it also brought the realization of how easy it is to be seduced by appearances and how quickly one can become disillusioned by learning the “truth.” Indeed, looking at a “work of art” can often be a difficult experience that does not make sense for a non-“expert.”

In 1996 at Kulturfabrikken (now called Fabrikken for Kunst and Design), any artist could rent 1 square meter of space in this former factory building for only 20 Danish crowns a month (about $3.50). That year, the main hall was extremely busy with a lot of projects due to the Copenhagen European Capital of Culture art festival. I arranged to rent 2 square meters for a month, and had to sign a lease.
Every day, I did a performance after lunchtime, just before people went back to their jobs. Some people sat or stood to watch a few minutes of the “show”; others ignored me completely. On one square meter of the space, I made an installation that I changed every day, creating floor paintings, sculptures, assemblages; and in the other half of my space, I did a performance piece. There were visual links between performances and installations. For the viewers who saw it, it was like reading a cartoon strip in a newspaper, a marathon of new ideas delivered every day. It forced me to be a “marathon artist,” and imposed my presence there, becoming part of the “picture” in a conventional working environment.

I have memories of two small texts, one about a bowl of Japanese broth, the other about a sewing box, needle, and bobbin of colorful thread.
Walter Benjamin’s “la boîte à ouvrage” from “Une Enfance Berlinoise” (A Berlin Childhood), where he describes his mother’s sewing box, threads, bobbins, buttons, ribbons, needles, a thimble. Saying here something under the appearance of nothing. An action in time. A description, becoming a heavy sketch. There are colors and delicateness, gestures heavily sensual.
A tension develops about that moment of lightness in time. Nothing more than a “spine line,” a “je ne sais quoi” that directs to the essential hidden meaning.

From Barthes’s “l’Empire des Signes,” observation of a “world” in a bowl: a
Japanese broth, with floating white square cubes of tofu. Nothingness as a watery soup, a cup, some chives, a transparent brown color, a sea to reflect and immerse in. Also consuming and savoring it, not just the æsthetics of it. Memory of a subtle provocation, a “soup” (to taste a few pages of paper—a simple taste, it is now my memory, I transformed it, and don’t need to read it again.
Weightless feeling, carrying throughout life a heavy absorption of a writing in lightness. That under the aspect of lightness, through the fusion of intensity and shock should be kept a voluptuous experience.
The intensity of the idea, the “dynamism of the idea” (Gilles Deleuze). The idea in its lightness shall carry us to another imaginative space of freedom.
Thirsty right now, looking down in a glass of water, the frontier, the rim between the glass and the water, a circle line of transparence, it’s slightly thicker, it seems thicker anyway, what is happening within this thickness? Being fascinated by just this translucent curve.
Finding nudity. A nude idea, exploit it. A stone can be light of weight and float in a Japanese garden.

*In his discussion of heterotopias, Michel Foucault talks about “des espaces autres,” ideas that Aaron Betsky has summarized as follows:
Foucault writes about places that are familiar but have the properties to remove themselves from everyday life, while changing how we perceive the world. They are places where we can understand our society in a different way. . . . They represent points of crisis, when we must confront our bodies or our psyches in transition. They have a system of opening and closing that defines their realm. They have their own time. . . . They juxtapose a refined version of the world with the reality of use. Finally, they allow another, unreal world to appear: “On the one hand they perform the task of creating a space of illusion that reveals how all of real space is more illusory, all the locations within which life is fragmented. On the other, they have the function of forming another space, another real space, as perfect, meticulous and well arranged as ours is disordered, ill-conceived and in a sketchy state. This heterotopia is not one of illusion, but of compensation.”    
—from Aaron Betsky, Building Sex: Men, Women, Architecture, and the Construction of Sexuality (New York: William Morrow, 1995), p. ???.)