Alexander Tovborg


07. Jun 10. Aug 2014

The myths and archetypes of cultural history play a central role in the works of Alexander Tovborg, where the past and the present are interwoven in ornamental visual narratives of human existence. In this solo exhibition, he adds a new element to a body of work that has previously focused on religious imagery. In a total installation on the first floor of Overgaden, he directs attention to one of the most fabled beings of modern times – the dinosaur – in his continuing investigation of the nature and manifestation of myths.

Ever since the first dinosaur fossils were identified in the early 19th century, this prehistoric animal has captured the human imagination, and in the worlds of both science and popular culture has become a symbol of the grand dramas of origin and death in both nature and life. In his exploration of the mythological qualities of the extinct species, Alexander Tovborg draws on the first zoological representations of the dinosaur created by the sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in 1854. The sculptures were clearly influenced by Romanticism’s ideals of beauty, as expressed by the British Pre-Raphaelites, whose colourful, symbol-laden paintings were inspired by the classical, simple lines of the early Renaissance and united historical, literary and mythological themes with detailed studies of nature.

In Alexander Tovborg’s exhibition these overlapping tracks coalesce, and in keeping with the natural history museums’ idealised staging of the past, the installation creates a panoramic space hung with a series of monumental paintings that form one long mural. On the canvasses, Alexander Tovborg repeats the same motif again and again: a weeping dinosaur in a timeless landscape. Neither the figure and background nor earth and sky are sharply defined, but merge in a mythical image of days gone by when everything was still in balance. Tovborg consciously plays on the lyrical fantasies and quest for harmony of Romanticism in an age divided between sense and sensibility, thus creating a natural historical counterpart to the lost paradise of religion. Through his stylised imagery and the explicit personification of the dinosaur, Tovborg highlights how our stories about the past – and thereby also about the present – emerge and are retold in a complex interaction between historically specific contexts and the basic, existential need to generate meaning through myths.

At an overriding level, the exhibition can be seen as a portrait of the function and underlying mechanisms of myths. The use of a series repeating the same motif distils the form to its essence, denying the possibility of any definitive reading of the scenario depicted. Combined with each individual image’s small shifts in colour and form, mythology is projected as a simultaneously universal and flexible generator of meaning, capable of enduring incessant repetitions and adaptations. The wall of the installation is therefore not complete, but ends in an unpainted canvas that indicates that the creation of myths is a common condition of humankind, belonging not only to the past but also to the future.

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