The exhibition Ape Rules, O.K.! is dominated by a number of monumental monkeys’ heads that surround and stare down the visitors from central points in the exhibition space. Although the pieces are thematically related to Carstensen’s large exhibition projects over the last several years - Becoming Animal in Den Frie Exhibition Building and The Museum for Religious Art in Lemvig, as well as Dyregørelser at Galleri Tom Christensen - the exhibition at Steinprent is also curated with some new revelations in mind. A recent report on Faroese television concluded that a mere 21% of the Faroese population believes in the Theory of Evolution, which states the common ancestry of humans and apes. A shocking 52% of the population, on the other hand, proclaimed a belief in Creationism, i.e. the belief that humans are created by God or some sort of higher power.
The exhibition contains several references to the many years’ collaboration between Claus Carstensen and the Faroese lithographic workshop, Steinprent. This is apparent in some of the collages, which consist paintings onto which lithographic fragments have been applied - Fragments of lithographic works that have been created at the workshop. Furthermore, there are three pieces that, in a manner of speaking, return to their place of origin, in that they consist of elements of the lithographic process. Namely the green rubber mats from the lithographic presses, on which one can still make out three of Carstensen’s lithographic subjects.
The collaboration between Claus Carstensen and Steinprent, which has lasted for sixteen years so far, is weighty and significant. Also in relation to Faroese art and art history. So far, it has resulted in numerous shows and approximately one hundred lithographic works, as well as several book releases. For example: Dét, hvorom man hverken kan tale ellar tie and Lille Dæmonologi with essays by Søren Ulrik Thomsen and Carstensen’s heliographic prints.
In terms of his subject matter, which frequently orbits interhuman brutalisation, Carstensen can not be despribed as someone afraid of conflict. Whether it is the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, the nazis or so-called common human behavior. The primary subject matter has been animals the last couple of times that Carstensen has been working at Steinprent. In 2015, in collaboration with Jan Andersson, Carstensen created the monumental Lithographic piece, Hvalp (Puppy). A piece depicting an aggresive barking German Shepherd, with a snippet of text, phrased as a death threat, taken from a hate mail sent to the Danish poet Yahya Hassan. It reads (loosely translated from Danish): “Fucking dog, you slut. You are going to die, puppy. You filthy whore. I really want to kill you. Fucking cut you in to tiny little pieces, you bum. I hope I will see you some day and I promise you Hell.”
The term Becoming Animal is the starting point for Carstensen’s subject matter. It is a phrase that he describes as a two-sided anthropological plane, on which both sides are interconnected. It delineates graduations of notions, such as: culture, conscientious occurences, self-awareness and human characteristics. The idea that humans are mindful of the fact that we do not live on an open, endless terrain, but see ourselves losing territory. Whereas animals see an unenclosed, unlimited and timeless landscape, where there is no ‘before’ or ‘after’ and therefore neither any consciousness of death. From Carstensen’s perspective, there is an agressive/active and a passive model of ‘Becoming Animal’. The passive side ‘Becoming Animal’ relates to an enormous longing for eternity. The active side ‘Creating Animal’ is about turning ‘the others’ into animals, with an awareness of an hierarchical elevation in relation to those that one degrades.
The spectator is taken aback by the apes’ glances and their abiguous nature. The open jaws with the agressive presentation of teeth versus the monkeys’ sorrowful expression indicates a form of thoughtfulness. ‘The Eyes Are the Windows to the Soul’ reflects on the significant symbolism that we impart on the eyes - In many ways, the notion of the ‘human particular’ lies in the glance. The ape that the Faroese society is now faced with became embarrassingly obvious in Heini í Skorini’s TV-documentary Gud signi Føroyar (God Bless the Faroe Islands), wherein the religious persuasions of the Faroese people was mapped out. Here it became clear, that the Faroe Islands are statistically more similar to some fundamentalist regimes in the world, in comparison to some of the other usual commonalities with Northern Europe.