by Sol Kjøk & Peter Max-Jakobsen
This project started some three years ago, when the Danish painter Peter Max-Jakobsen and NYC-based Norwegian artist Sol Kjøk discovered each other’s works. Completely independently of one another, the two artists have developed pictorial universes that are eerily similar, both in terms of imagery and meaning.
After the first sting of disappointment that neither one was as ‘original’ as they each thought themselves, Max-Jakobsen and Kjøk agreed that the fact that they are tapping the same creative well only reinforces the central message of both oeuvres. Hence, the artists decided to embark on a joint project: an international series of exhibits entitled IN THE AIR.
The exhibition title is borrowed from "IN THE AIR" by Malcolm Gladwell published in The New Yorker, May 12, 2008. This article discusses parallel inventions, i.e. the puzzling, but historically common phenomenon that artists, scientists and other inventors in different geographical locations independently come up with discoveries that are essentially the same.
Everything Is Interconnected
The intertwined, floating bodies depicted by both artists are visual expressions of intuitively-known concepts familiar to mystics, native cultures and Eastern religions throughout the ages. Western civilization is now at a pivotal point where cutting-edge science is starting to prove these age-old insights: all matter in the universe exists in a web of connection and constant influence.
Thought is simply another form of transmitted energy. We can no longer view ourselves and our minds as the private, self-contained workings of an individual brain. In short, we are oneness having the experience of separateness.
“The extensive explorations of the relationships between science and spirituality over the past four decades have made it evident that the sense of oneness, which is the key characteristic of spiritual experience, is fully confirmed by the understanding of reality in contemporary science. Hence, there are numerous similarities between the worldviews of mystics and spiritual teachers – both Eastern and Western – and the systemic conception of nature that is now being developed in several scientific disciplines.” (Fritjof Capra)
These words by Fritjof Capra capture the essence of both oeuvres. In another remarkable coincidence, Peter and I discovered that we had both admired Capra since our early teens. And so, we reached out to the legendary author, scientist, educator and activist to tell him about IN THE AIR: New York. Amazingly, Capra got on board with us as a scholar-in-residence at Mothership NYC in the summer of 2016.
“Awareness of fundamental interdependence, which we find at the center of Kjøk’s and Max‐Jakobsen’s art as well as at the center of the systems view of life, is spiritual awareness. When we look at the world around us, we find that we are not thrown into chaos and randomness but are part of a great order, a grand symphony of life. Every molecule in our body was once a part of previous bodies […] and will be a part of future bodies. In this sense, our body will not die but will live on, again and again, because life lives on. This may be the deepest meaning of the works shown in this stunning exhibition.” (Fritjof Capra, Systems Thinking in the Air)
Collaboration rather than Competition
The understanding of Darwin that permeates most modern societies is based on a dangerous misreading: in Descent of Man, the author mentions survival of the fittest exactly twice, while the word love appears no less than 95 times… The basis of human nature is cooperation and interdependence. So, rather than accusing one another of being copycats - which is the standard art-world response - we believe in joining forces: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Visceral versus Cerebral Art
To us, artistic ideas – like mystical insights – are intuitive rather than rational. So, contrary to most prevailing trends in the contemporary art world, our imagery springs from a wordless place rather than from a theoretical superstructure. We believe that intuitive artwork holds a universal message that speaks to all audiences, both expert and novice. A larger place for this kind of work would therefore make for a more generous and inclusive art world – why should art be relevant only to the small group of people with specialized knowledge? (In all other eras of human history, art’s purpose has been to communicate, not alienate.)
Interconnection and Unity of All Living Things
Our central message is consistent with recent science across multiple fields and highly relevant at this particular point in time because awareness of our interdependence with everything around us is crucial to the survival of our species.
“Kjok’s figures are not specifically religious, and don’t represent just one religious tradition; like many artists working since the ’60s, she’s searching for a larger spiritual presence, and her drawings, paired with those of Max-Jakobsen, are right midway between the perfected figure of the Renaissance and the more attenuated figures of Expressionism: she proposes a radical likeness between these two traditions of Western art, suggesting a holistic joining of two traditions , usually separated into the binary “harmony” and “distortion” in Western art and philosophy. […] This is very smart stuff, heady and transcendent. ” (Daniel Brown, 2016)
Thus far, there have been two IN THE AIR chapters: the initial joint exhibition at Gallery Oxholm in Copenhagen in 2014 and the second round at Denise Bibro Fine Art in New York in 2016. New iterations in other countries are in the works, including WHISPERS IN THE AIR,
an interdisciplinary performance by Katy Gunn and Autumn Kioti
On July 9, 2016, during Fritjof Capra’s residency at the international artists’ collective Mothership NYC in connection with IN THE AIR: New York, creative minds across several fields came together at Last Frontier NYC in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for a special evening of sharing and exchange of ideas around the topic that everything is interconnected.