Cake in Face : For Common Use.
On the work of Magni Borgehed

Let’s say, you paint. For that moment you are not busy doing other things. So you don’t bake a cake, for example, or build a house, do you? Are you sure? Because when you paint, you are also preparing something for other people to enjoy, like when you bake or cook. And, when you paint, you construct spaces on the canvas to house ideas and give rise to experiences which are particular to the world you’re building. Where’s the difference then? One could object that the joys of painting are for the mind and hence only ever imagined, figurative ways of feeding or housing people. Paint on canvas doesn’t put food on the table or a roof over your head – true. But how stubborn a materialist do you have to be not to see that you like to have cake because it looks the way it does, with the sugar glazing on top, its particular shape and all the other things that make it more than just food on the table. And yes, although oil paint may make a canvas as waterproof as an oilskin jacket, you rarely have people use paintings for protection against the elements; a job that houses surely do better. But have you ever been out in the rain in downtown New York when people leave their offices and hold the daily paper over their head as a makeshift umbrella? And what better way is there to have fish and chips than with salt and vinegar and wrapped in yesterday’s papers? So it’s not like words on paper would only be good for reading. Then why should oil on canvas only serve to be looked at?

These are questions that the work of Magni Borgehed confronts you with. For he takes painting to a point where its look and its use begin to become one. Images turn into things as paintings are rolled, crumpled or stacked. Yet paintings they always somehow remain. But paintings that live their lives among objects in the world. So they meet your eye like you would meet someone in the city, on the street or in a bar. They say hello how do you do and put their designs and forms out there, in front of you, in an unapologetic array of carefully mixed and messed up colours. Picture someone throwing a cake in your face. And when you poke a finger in the soft sticky stuff and scoop some of it off your cheeks to taste it, you realize: this could very well become your favourite. Want more?

Because there is more. There is a world, a repertoire, a whole vocabulary: there are paintings on the wall, stacked on top of each other on the floor, like a house of cards; paintings rolled up like a carpet, standing upright, cut loose from their stretchers, or squashed like a used up Tetra Pak; paintings on stones or paintings treated as stones... this is more than just a system. This is an entire culture. Consider all the things you can do with a chickpea... or the many ways you can prepare a herring... or the different manners in which you can interpret the need to let some light into a house, from slits in the wall to panorama windows: each thing, way or manner gives you a different culture. Likewise, the different modalities Borgehed develops for offering painting up to you give you cultures: very serious, careful and considerate cultures; matter-of-fact, materially conscious cultures but also extremely exuberant, carefree, psychedelic folky, speculative cultures. These cultures come alive in what the paintings show and in how they are shown. They are an armoury of figures to relate to, shapes to assume and positions to take. And this armoury is a worldly space of common cultures which the works open up and share with you, when you encounter them.

It’s key to common cultures that they offer themselves up for participation: you attend, you talk, you take part in activities. And indeed, Borgehed’s works appeal to you to not just contemplate but tend to them. They require not solely your attention but also your attendance. The most adequate way to respond to these paintings would be by means of cultural techniques of attendance that match the way they are made: to dance a series of fast, energetic but measured steps, for instance, around a rock painting on a plinth, or lick some lemon and salt from the space between your thumb and index finger while you look at the liquefied colour bubble clouds in some of the pieces from the Smöramåla series. For this is how the common is enacted as the common: in choreographies of gestures that are inclusive in that anyone whose hands, feet or hips have memorized a sequence of moves can join in, and exclusive in that it traditionally takes time and some dramas of belief and identification to acquire this embodied knowledge.

Magni Borgehed, however, performs a crucial twist in this practical logic of
attending to the common. On the one hand, he indeed foregrounds all the physical and visceral properties that a painting shares with objects of common cultural usage: the patterns, textures and designs that make surfaces talk to the eye and appeal to the touch — and the manner in which the object is prepared for usage: by being stretched, rolled, crumpled, stacked... (each mode of preparation gives you a different thing: tramezzini are neither parmigiani nor calzoni, börek and baklava are based on different philosophies of wrapping and rolling, etc.). On the other hand, Borgehed also frees these objects of potential common usage up from all the recipes, protocols and conventions that would traditionally predetermine their preparation and usage. A defiance of the very idea that there could be a ‘proper’ way of painting most tangibly underpins his practice. Still, he offers his paintings not as esoteric manifestations of an exquisite mind, but as things that are put in your face for you to share and reckon with. Offered up as objects of potential common usage, the works therefore address you as a possible user, but neither initiate nor authoritatively refer you back to already established traditions of usage. This is why, in their singular manner, Borgehed’s paintings take you to the heart of what is common to the common: the offer of usage freed from the superstructures of norms, protocols and traditions that agglomerate around this offer, in order to impose regulations on it. As useful objects with no apparent use value or purpose — other than the one you are willing to imagine for them — these paintings are purely and profanely objects of potential common enjoyment.

Now, what do I desire from them? To be what they are. How do they show what they are and desire to be? Through the mode in which they are prepared and presented, but also through the way they look, that is, the manner in which they are painted. And they are painted in very many different ways. The repertoire of marks, designs, rhythms, colour tonalities and mixes that Magni Borgehed has developed over the years is stunning. When you look at the works you will find so many ways of doing the mesh, the zigzag, the smudge, the scribble, the wobble, the stroke, the push, the shove, the punch, the wash, the wish, the curve, the swoosh, the sprinkle, the pour, the drop, the drizzle, the crackle, the cackle, the line, the link, the doodle and the dot (if each of these were a dance move, how many different rhythm styles would you have to select to match these moves? The 4/4, the 3/4, the 12/8, the 5/4, the 3/4, the shuffle, the swing, the foxtrot, the merengue, the cha-cha-cha...). If the art of doing a new mix is all about what moves the wrist when the hand twirls the parts around and stirs them together in different particular ways, then Borgehed’s wrist is an ever expanding library. You take out one book, there will be more. But the point here is not that there is variety. No, what distinguishes Magni Borgehed’s practice is that the manner in which he builds his repertoire on the canvas is neither merely about showmanship, nor is it about the encyclopedic elaboration of possibilities for the sake of didactic demonstration. On the contrary, the proof of a painterly possibility being possible each and every time is strictly and only in the pudding, that is to say, in the individual work.

This is no crossword-art: no case of someone filling out blanks by spelling out the answers letter by letter. These are a series of singular paintings and each does what it does. No meta- or superstructures here, just the immanence of practice. Picture a witch making up spells and potions on the go, each producing as yet unknown effects. Who would know in advance what to do when they – zosh! – produce a goat with wings? But if you received one, wouldn’t you like it? Many people keep long lists of things they want which they hate to not have but usually don’t know what to do with once they get them. Magic on the go works differently: you receive what you didn’t know you wanted. But since it was you who made up the spell, there’s no denying that what you got is what you must have asked for. So you may as well enjoy it. The art of enjoying things in this manner involves a particular practical form of know-how: to know how to exit the economy of desires built around pre-organized wish lists and predictable disappointments. It is the art of cooking without recipes and ordering without a menu. Does accepting things in this manner imply a form of fatalism?

Perhaps. But there is a way of practicing amor fati which is neither passive nor indulgent. Nietzsche gestured towards it. And Magni Borgehed gives you a sense of what it looks like: it’s a rebellious embrace of the particular material realities generated by a practice without protocol: material realities in the form of paintings; in the form of patterns and colour tonalities, prepared and presented in ever singular modalities; never without criteria — because how could they be singular if the process of their making was not in fact driven by a dynamic of questioning and revising? — but still with no set of do’s and don’ts regarding the manner in which things are to be prepared, used and appreciated. True appreciation for that which is given to be shared, and hence given as potentially constitutive of the common, perhaps can only ever be felt when there is no protocol in place to tell you why and instruct you how to enjoy it, but where instead a boundless amor fati prevails through the embrace of the circumstance that: here we are. This is it. Painting. Rolled up, stretched, stacked, stuffed, sprinkled, dotted, structured, bedoodled, organized, catastrophized, rescued, ruined and rhythmized, in the many singular ways in which Magni Borgehed does his paintings.

Jan Verwoert