PUTPUT is the Swiss and Danish artist duo of Stefan Friedli and Ulrik Martin Larsen. Though they primarily work in photography, their medium seems secondary—it’s merely the most effective form for documenting their work. The duo re-imagines objects and captures eccentric still-life setups, photographs, and object re-imaginings that open up an entire world of potential visual and sculptural combinations.
The objects they create range from Fitting (2013), a series of chairs made from combined materials and objects (such as a chair with a house plant as a leg), to a series titled Objective Ambition (2012), which captures the shadowy ambitions and projections of unaltered ready-made objects. Their first book, self-published in an edition of 250, is titled Tribute to the Salami (2012).
The duo identifies its work as “operating at the intersection where conceptual photography, styling, art, and design meet.” These juxtapositions, or aptly described meetings, raise interesting queries that their work seems to purposefully evade yet seems on the verge of answering: what is more important, the object(s) or the depiction of those object(s), i.e., the language itself or the communication of that language? Additionally, are the two effectively separable? These questions exemplify the key tensions in PUTPUT’s body of work. Furthermore, the duo’s work confounds and complicates both the ideas and expectations of collectors and an art market poised to commodify any object or medium.
In thinking about PUTPUT’s work, a number of art historical references emerge, but none more so than a kinship with Claes Oldenburg. In 1961 the Swedish-born and American-raised Oldenburg began working at what he called The Store. Now famous for monumental public sculptures, Oldenburg first made and sold small objects made from resin, paint, and papier-mâché—inedible food, unwearable clothing, and other commonplace yet unusable commodities at The Store. PUTPUT seems to pick up, in part, where Oldenburg left off with The Store by creating what could be objects in—and photographic advertisements for—his operation. The works that exemplify this overlap most clearly are Oldenburg’s sculpture Soft Fur Good Humors (1963) and PUTPUT’s photographic series Popsicles (2012). Both works depict popsicles re-created with common objects and materials—leopard-print fabric for one and brightly colored sponges for the other. While both Oldenburg’s and PUTPUT’s work specifically deals with a kind of market commodity evasion and critique, it is PUTPUT’s penchant for humor coupled with critique that reminds one most of Oldenburg.
This Northern European duo seems to be constantly rethinking not only its approach but also its surroundings. Two series that particularly exemplify its interest in remaking its surroundings are Inflorescence (2012) and A New Necessity (2012). In Inflorescence (2012) indoor plants are collaged with functional household objects—for example, a lavender loofah and two rainbow dusters—that stand in for the plants’ flowers. A New Necessity (2012) alters the functionality, or non-functionality, of foods, appliances, and tools: a cucumber becomes a candle, and the water from a hand-held-shower wand is replaced with strings of robin’s-egg-blue yarn. But, in the end, it is the photographs of these transformations that become the artworks. This flattening underscores the importance of everything else in the photograph—the backdrops, the posture of the hands that hold those objects, the lights and shadows—adding a necessary texture to these works.
In Objective Ambition (2012), PUTPUT’s work takes on a markedly different and profoundly human quality. The work is a series of sculptures. Each sculpture is one object standing on a bright white sheet of paper casting—or more appropriately, projecting—a shadow that resembles yet deviates from the object’s actual shadow. For example, in Objective Ambition #1 a bulbous rounded cactus casts a shadow of the common vertical pitchfork-shaped cactus, as though it yearns for a shape unlike its own. The duo notes this of Objective Ambition: “In pure disregard of functionality or decorative aspects we often associate objects with certain feelings, memories, situations, occasions, or people. The Objective Ambition installation examines the symbolic projected feelings of objects; can objects have ambitions, dreams, and opinions?” Ostensibly, PUTPUT has created something of a Jungian shadow-side for inanimate objects, exploring the potentially shadowy depth of character in these things. It is this body of work that brings PUTPUT’s goals full circle, as the duo struggles time and again with the intricate and at times nefarious interplay of photography, sculpture, design, and anthropomorphism, and does so all with a decidedly and consistent Pop art aesthetic.
PUTPUT is an interdisciplinary Swiss/Danish artist duo established in 2011 that is currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Its projects are based in contemporary art photography, sculpture, and limited-edition publications. Its work has been shown in London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Milan, and Denmark. The group has also been featured in a series of printed and online magazines and blogs including AINT-BAD Magazine, Trendhunter, Beautiful/Decay, Present & Correction, and Viewpoint.