Inside the museum lie the entrails of the unexpected

An ongoing exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark, Phantom Limbs, explores themes of duality and artifice, goes behind the scenes, using the artefacts of the museum to shape the content of the artwork. Its creators, the collaborative art duo Benandsebastian, say the exhibition is about mining the museum, and in some cases, “undermining”. The artists worked with the collections in three different Copenhagen museums: the Medical Museum, the National Museum, and Designmuseum Danmark, seeking out obscure pieces and materials to create their art, which is part curated exhibition and part sculptural installation.

The exhibition’s title, Phantom Limbs, refers to the peculiar condition of being able to feel a limb – an arm or leg – that is no longer there due to amputation. The limb feels present, but is really absent. Presence and absence is a duality that is significant to the work of benandsebastian. The artist pair often work with dualities in their elaborate constructions: mobile vs immobile, inside vs outside, fake vs authentic, and so on. In this exhibition, duality is present in the pairing of sculptural work by benandsebastian with specifically selected pieces from the museum collections.

Benandsebastian chose relics in reliquaries from the National Museum, selected prosthetics and placebos at the Medical Museum, and convinced the Design Museum to allow them free movement in the museum’s attic where they were thrilled to come upon some intricate and futuristic ivory towers made by Swiss artisan Lorenz Spengler in the 18th century. Each of these finds were then paired with an existing benandsebastian piece, or in some cases, a new piece was made inspired by the museum artefact. For example, Spengler’s ivory towers were paired with benandsebastian’s piece City of the (Re)Oriented (2007), a tangled city designed from wood and plaster that folds in on itself in a meaningless maze of mobility and immobility. The pair’s creative curatorial strategy produces an exhibition that confounds the viewer’s concept of what is real and not real, what is of the museum, and what the artists have made.

The artists use the expected to create unexpected experiences. If you have ever visited a museum, you have probably seen an historical object inside a glass case, also called a vitrine. The vitrine is the expected, a typical part of the museum environment, preserving precious objects from the elements. Phantom Limbs, the titular sculpture of the exhibition, takes the standard museum vitrine and embellishes it, with interlocking wooden frames repeating and intertwining, concluding by preserving a 19th century child’s prosthetic leg. Here benandsebastian combine the found with the fabricated, presenting an artefact out of context inside an exaggerated piece of museum architecture.

Ben Clement and Sebastian de la Cour have worked together on their special brand of conceptual art since 2006. The pair trained as architects at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. They maintain a continued fascination with architectural concepts, using the discipline as inspiration and structure in their work. As an artistic collaboration, benandsebastian have done relatively well, receiving the Danish Arts Council’s three-year artist work grant in 2009 and Planken Ud Prisen (Walk the Plank Award) for cutting creative work in 2011 for Phantom Limbs. They say of their collaboration: “Working together is sometimes a bit of a nightmare, but for the most part we see the companionship, sharing, and opportunity to fire ideas off each other as a great gift.”

Phantom Limbs
Designmuseum Danmark, Bredgade 68, Cph K;

Ongoing, ends April 15;

Open Tue-Sun 11:00-17:00; Wed 11:00-21:00;

Tickets: 75kr, under 18s free adm;