When We Dead Awaken

When We Dead Awaken appropriates its name from playwright Henrik Ibsen's final play, which debuted at London's Haymarket Theater 1899. The exhibition consciously explores melodramatic themes within the play, including adoration, petrification, and fascination, but also engages with the myth of the artist as 'tortured genius' and the idea that the creation of art is a relentless, inspired, personal, and physical struggle. The exhibition expands upon certain ideas that intersect throughout both the play and Ibsen's real-life: where art imitates life, and where the role of both creator and creation are questioned.

The title, When We Dead Awaken is taken from a line in the play in which the protagonist, the sculptor Rubek, is confronted in a snowy mountainscape by his estranged, ghostlike muse. The play consciously mirrors Ibsen's own life, commenting on Rubek's inability to lead a fulfilled life since the creation of his masterpiece, and paradoxically, his muse's inability for her own purpose in life after her soul 'entered' the divine artwork. As Ibsen's final play, the work suggests a blurred divide between concepts conceived in life yet articulated in art: the idea of the artist as genius, struggling toward mortality by way of his creation; the idea of the act of creation is a somehow transcendental and ultimately all-consuming act, and the idea that the artist exists as the bridge between the inanimate and the inspired.

The exhibited works self-consciously acknowledge the parallels between art, narrative, fact and fiction, retaining an element of critical self-awareness, always referring in some method to the very nature of their own construction. In the case of Ibsen's relationship to his writings, his real-life struggle as a playwright is mirrored throughout.

Simple acknowledgements by each of the four contributing artists simultaneously adopt the themes found within the play, but paradoxically (as is also evidenced by Ibsen's fictitious doppelganger, Rubek) refute these classifications in equal measure. Sculptors Vasilis Asimakopolous and John Nielsen play with this divide, as their sculptural works emphasize aspects of their own sheer materiality that purposefully keep the viewer at a distance. The works of photographer Anja Ronacher appropriate Classical themes that retain a reflexive awareness of the 'artifice of their creation', purposely void of subjct-matter, or alternatively, featuring subject matter that has been altogether displaced. With a further nod to Classicism and the sculptural form, the paintings of painter Aaron Holz depict half-cast, semi-mythological figures that appear to (quite literally) lay frozen within the surface of the painting, blending both in and out of one another as much as their painterly surroundings, with lurid yet subdued colour and a finite attention to detail.

While Asimakopolous' The Itch might be considered the most obvious nod to the play, not only because it draws strong parallels to the sculpture that Rubek describes as his masterpiece - a woman surging from the pits of death in ascent to heaven - it also sets the tone for the severity, intensity, and austere sense of passion that permeates Ibsen's (and, for that matter, Rubek's) final work. Yet the works on exhibit reject any simplified or one-dimensional explanation: each artist's handling counterbalances Ibsen's tendency for melodrama through a preference for self-reflexivity, practices and works that provide commentary on issues that penetrate deeper than fiction and include greater socio-political issues, contemporary relevance, and retain a prioritization for exploration throughout the creative process.


When We Dead Awaken appropriates its name from playwright Henrik Ibsen's final play, which debuted at London's Haymarket Theater 1899. The exhibition consciously explores melodramatic themes within the play, including adoration, petrification, and fascination, but also engages with the myth of the artist as 'tortured genius' and the idea that the creation of art is a relentless, inspired, personal, and physical struggle. The exhibition expands upon certain ideas that intersect throughout both the play and Ibsen's real-life: where art imitates life, and where the role of both creator and creation are questioned.

The title, When We Dead Awaken is taken from a line in the play in which the protagonist, the sculptor Rubek, is confronted in a snowy mountainscape by his estranged, ghostlike muse. The play consciously mirrors Ibsen's own life, commenting on Rubek's inability to lead a fulfilled life since the creation of his masterpiece, and paradoxically, his muse's inability for her own purpose in life after her soul 'entered' the divine artwork. As Ibsen's final play, the work suggests a blurred divide between concepts conceived in life yet articulated in art: the idea of the artist as genius, struggling toward mortality by way of his creation; the idea of the act of creation is a somehow transcendental and ultimately all-consuming act, and the idea that the artist exists as the bridge between the inanimate and the inspired.

The exhibited works self-consciously acknowledge the parallels between art, narrative, fact and fiction, retaining an element of critical self-awareness, always referring in some method to the very nature of their own construction. In the case of Ibsen's relationship to his writings, his real-life struggle as a playwright is mirrored throughout.

Simple acknowledgements by each of the four contributing artists simultaneously adopt the themes found within the play, but paradoxically (as is also evidenced by Ibsen's fictitious doppelganger, Rubek) refute these classifications in equal measure. Sculptors Vasilis Asimakopolous and John Nielsen play with this divide, as their sculptural works emphasize aspects of their own sheer materiality that purposefully keep the viewer at a distance. The works of photographer Anja Ronacher appropriate Classical themes that retain a reflexive awareness of the 'artifice of their creation', purposely void of subjct-matter, or alternatively, featuring subject matter that has been altogether displaced. With a further nod to Classicism and the sculptural form, the paintings of painter Aaron Holz depict half-cast, semi-mythological figures that appear to (quite literally) lay frozen within the surface of the painting, blending both in and out of one another as much as their painterly surroundings, with lurid yet subdued colour and a finite attention to detail.

While Asimakopolous' The Itch might be considered the most obvious nod to the play, not only because it draws strong parallels to the sculpture that Rubek describes as his masterpiece - a woman surging from the pits of death in ascent to heaven - it also sets the tone for the severity, intensity, and austere sense of passion that permeates Ibsen's (and, for that matter, Rubek's) final work. Yet the works on exhibit reject any simplified or one-dimensional explanation: each artist's handling counterbalances Ibsen's tendency for melodrama through a preference for self-reflexivity, practices and works that provide commentary on issues that penetrate deeper than fiction and include greater socio-political issues, contemporary relevance, and retain a prioritization for exploration throughout the creative process.


VASILIS ASIMAKOPOLOUS (b. 1980, Greece). Vasilis Asimakopoulos' (b. 1982, Greece) recent solo exhibitions include Dunes of Aspartame, Gallerie Bannwarth, Paris (2011); Sorbic Acid, Umbrella Gallery, Leeds, (2010); and an forthcoming solo exhibition with Beers.Lambert in 2012. Group exhibitions include RCA Show, Royal College of Art, London (2011); Mostyn Open, Llandudno, Wales (2011); Creekside Open, Deptford X, London, (2011); Gloom'less, Gallerie Bannwarth, Paris (2010); and Designers Of The Future, Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2010). He is recipient of the Mostyn Open Award 2010; and received a 2009 Fellow (bursary) from the Royal British Society of Sculptors in London. He is a 2011 sculpture graduate from London's Royal College of Art; he lives and works in London, England and Athens, Greece.

AARON HOLZ (b.1972, USA). Aaron Holz' solo exhibitions include A Heart's Hot Shell, RARE Gallery, New York, New York (2011); Of Heads & Hands, Focus Gallery, Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, USA (2010).Portraits, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Nebraska City, USA (2009); Takedown, Rourke Art Museum, Moorhead, Minnesota, USA (2009). Group exhibitions and Projects include After School Special, University Art Museum, Albany, New York (2011); What Would Dante Do?Rourke Art Museum, Moorhead, Minnesota, USA (2011); Single Fare, 224 Grand, Brooklyn, New York, (2010); and Face Forward, LeRoy Neiman Gallery, New York, New York, (2009), He is recipient of the Harold & Esther Edgerton Assistant Professor of Painting Award (2009); and the Nebraska Artists Council Distinguished Artist Award (2007). His work has been published in the New York Times, Lincoln Journal Star, and NY Arts Magazine. He holds a Master's degree from University at Albany, New York, and lives and works in the United States.

JOHN NIELSEN (b. 1984, UK). John Nielsen exhibitions includ Started, NTK Gallery, Pragure, (2011); Display, 27ad Gallery, Bergamo, Italy, (2011); Startpoint Award, GASK, Chech Republic, (2011); Show, Royal college of Art, London, (2010); Revolver, Penzance Art Gallery, (2009). His awards include The Kenith Armitage sculpture award, 2010; The Madame Tussards Sculpture Award, 2010; and the Dennis Mitchel Sculpture award, 2008. He was included in the prestigious Catlin Art Guide, (2010). He holds an MA in Fine Art from London's Royal College of Art, (2010). He lives and works in London.

ANJA RONACHER (b. 1979, Austria). Anja Ronacher’s recent exhibitions include JCE (Jeune Création Européenne) Platform for Young European Artists, Salzburg, Austria (2011); The Body Resembles a Sentence, (with Robert Gruber), Kunstraum Pro Arte Hallein, Austria, (2011); Körpercodes, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria (2010); Sweet Anticipation, curated by Övü Durmusoglu, Salzburger Kunstverein, Austria (2010). Previous exhibitions include On Various Impossible Bodies, with Robert Gruber, Austrian Cultural Forum, Warsaw, Poland (2010); Fullframe, Volksgartenpavillon, Graz, Austria (2009); Antirealism, Adele C Gallery, Rome, also ERBA, Besançon, France, and Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Guangzhou China (2008‐2009); LA Video Library, ART LA, Los Angeles, (2009); Det andet rum, NLH space, Copenhagen, Denmark (2008); and Show RCA at Royal College of Art, London (2008). She is recipient of a production grant from the Austrian Minstry of Culture, UK, and numerous grants from the Federal State Government of Salzburg (2008, 2009, 2010). Her work has been published in the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward (2007); and the Leica Photography Prize (2007). She holds an MA in photography from the Royal College of Art, London. She lives and works in Austria.