Disguised as Günther Wallraff (the journalist who took on different identities in order to report from inside different environments), active immigrant Colonel waylays strangers in the street to borrow their clothes in a bid to resemble them and, that way, take on their culture. Sequences are shot, photos taken and the question put: "Do I look like you now?"
The Frenchman Colonel, peregrinating around Denmark and making himself understood in very imperfect English, manifests a directness that dispenses with the social niceties. The brief encounters he mediates between individuals who just happen to be in the street result in very forthright vox pop exchanges. As in the case of the woman who says that the Vietnamese are the best-integrated nationality, "because you don't notice them," and of
the man who remarks that integration is no problem - "I don't mix with the Danes".
It is all very entertaining, and it is only after watching the footage on primetime nationwide television that you realise that these documented episodes reveal attitudes that might otherwise go unarticulated. Attitudes are expressed without prior deliberation and in terms that go close to the bone. The artist, then, does not just command narrow art circles but also the broad reach of the electronic and printed media. We need no introduction: the images and meanings in the 'snapshots' he contrives come
over crisp and clear without it.
What should the immigrant be bringing to the adoptive culture?
For the artist knows tricks of his own. He succeeds in getting people to swap things and ideas. A foreigner gives the Dane God, and gets a carton of milk in return. The needs of the moment take many forms. Others give a hug, a kiss on the cheek. But what does the person from a foreign culture need?
And what should the immigrant be bringing to the adoptive culture? With a camera at the ready the Colonel mediates cultural encounters that make abstract issues concrete. They become images to be registered by an attentive eye. Qua active producer he has a sharp eye himself, while remaining a passive opportunist, letting his co-performers have their say.
For he doesn't know the answers to the questions he puts - he's a witness himself.
Staging and dedication
Colonel seeks to explore the sense of otherness, but also to absorb Danish culture. He talks to people in order to get a fix on Danishness - and foreignness in relation to Danishness. But he is also a purchaser of keywords and now the owner of domains such as HYPERLINK "http://www.danskhygge.dk" www.danskluft.dk . The determination to take on
Danishness is rendered both concrete and absurd when, in a quasi-religious ceremony in a public setting, he desperately and comically attempts to renounce his French identity and become wholly Danish. As usual, chance passers-by are drawn into the conceit so that it ends up not as sheer fiction but as featuring elements of realism and unpredictability.
Measure the distance between cultures
Never mind the fact that Colonel, whose real name is Thierry Geoffroy, is married to a Dane and has three children: as an artist he continues, as he puts it, to "measure the distance between cultures". When he measures the distance between 'French' and 'Danish' it is a poetic undertaking that might well mimic science - as when he measures distance with a tape measure - but
it proceeds on art's premises. How far apart are you and I right now?
Distances are typically measured in centimetres, but here the exercise transmutes into the image of an entertaining sociologist who, in the person of the Colonel, demonstrates that cultural distance cannot be measured.
But active immigrant that he is, he carries on measuring, and with his dogged persistence Colonel seems capable of getting just about anyone to contribute to his investigations: those who happen to cross his path find themselves placed in situations where, with few words and actions, they communicate their attitudes on what are otherwise abstract issues of
cultural identity. The fictive sequences are authentic simply because they reflect what people actually think. This device is typical of Colonel's strategy, where the scene setting - with its input from real life - always rings true. We have, then, a personal artistic investment centred on construction - imaginatively entering into experience and acting it out -
while at the same time exploring conceptions of cultural identity and otherness in general.
Translated by Susan Dew
Line Rosenvinge, Master of Arts