Per Kirkeby, captive of painting : how geology becomes animated in painting and film




Kriseman, Jordan Erin

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The Danish artist Per Kirkeby was many things: geologist, painter, sculptor, writer, and filmmaker. Though he left his career as a geologist to pursue art, he never lost his interest in the discipline. Throughout the various media in which he worked, he incorporated geological phenomena and motifs into the artworks and explored themes such as uncertainty and entropy, among others. In recent decades, curators and critics have focused their attention on the geological influences in Kirkeby’s oil paintings and sculptures. However, there remains a deficiency in scholarly work on Kirkeby’s other projects, like site-specific murals and filmwork. This thesis seeks to address this gap in scholarly writing by looking at how Kirkeby animates geology through these other media. First, I establish Kirkeby’s foundation as a geologist and how he eventually became an artist. I also give attention to the various intellectuals whom he followed. With context as to who Kirkeby was reading and what theories he was engaging with, I turn to his site-specific murals. I focus most of the second chapter on his two-story mural at Natural History Museum in Copenhagen. Given the geological environment for which it was made, it provides an interesting analysis of how geology is animated in painted form. Two additional murals in non-scientific spaces — a library and a church — are also briefly examined to further my investigation. The third chapter considers his filmworks, beginning with an early film, Geologi — er det egentlig videnskab? This serves as an example of the documentary-style of films Kirkeby made early in his career along with the themes he was interested in throughout his life. It also contrasts to the later collaborations he made with the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier; two of the three films he worked on are analyzed here, Breaking the Waves (1996) and Dancer in the Dark (2000). Von Trier gave Kirkeby creative freedom to make the chapter headings and opening sequence for these two films. What results are painterly film images that differ in visual style but ultimately tackle the same query — how can film translate geology into painting and give it life? Kirkeby’s paintings move at a pace imperceptible to the human eye, similar to the way geology changes. For the murals, the viewer/visitor is key to animating the geology that Kirkeby paints; the specificities of architecture, scale, and particular site all influence how you interact with his compositions. Film, on the other hand, allows the progression of geology to be captured and viewed at human-scale through the very medium. This thesis demonstrates how Kirkeby animated geology within his painted work and presents new scholarship on the forgotten aspects of his œuvre.



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