The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Filip Johansson presents … Morten Viskum’s Hands Project *

* (restored)


‘Born in 1965, Morton Viskum is considered one of the most provocative and controversial contemporary artists from Scandinavia. The artist’s unconventional choice of materials, themes and artistic expressions often seduces and invites the viewers to experience a range of unexpected emotions, causing shock, amazement and uncontrollable curiosity.

‘For his first London solo exhibition ‘The Hand with the Golden Ring’, the artist did a live performance during the evening of the private view; the thrill was caused by the fact a dead human hand was used live as a paintbrush, demonstrating how the new series of paintings were created. It was not the first time the artist made use of a severed human hand as a paintbrush to compose paintings; Viskum actually owns several hands, they are not merely tools; the idea of the hand being linked to an immortalized personality is absolute central to those occasions when Viskum paints with it.

‘Viskum gained notoriety in the art world when back in 1999 he showed at an exhibition in Copenhagen the very first series painted with a dead hand: ‘The Hand that Never Stopped Painting’. Carefully the hand used was placed in a metal box with a lid and the viewers decided for themselves if they wanted to see it or not. Over a decade later, the hand is still a strong and a significant part of his art projects; when painting with them each hand expresses a different style and the paintings embody a certain personality.

”The Hand with the Golden Ring’, unlike the others, evidences an aggregated object: the golden ring suggests vanity and affluence of the diseased; the golden ring acts as a counterfactual narrative; the object put contingency back into an obsequy, serving as a necessary antidote to traditional deterministic tendencies. The presence of the ring initiates an obituary and for the viewer it evidences a sense of the human futile materialism. Who the hands belonged to initially, is one of Viskum´s well kept secrets.

‘By this approach, the art appears performative, more as an action, and not as much as an object-related material presence. By using one hand from a dead human being as a paintbrush, Viskum draws attention towards the work process. One can easily recognize the patterns caused by the hand’s presence, formed by abrupt lines, applied vertically in many layers and in many colors, adding a vibrant feeling of rhythm to the surface of the scintillating painting. These paintings bring to mind American Action Painting, an art form where the painting finds no premeditated composition and the focus is set on the event that created the art rather than on the object itself.’ — Vegas Gallery



Morten Viskum’s ‘Immortal’



Morten Viksum Website
Morten Viskum @ Facebook
Morten Viskum @ Vegas Gallery, London
‘Morten Viskum / in retrospect’ @ Artpulse Magazine
Morten Viskum @ FAS, London
‘The Female Hand’ @ ME, Denmark
Book/video: ‘Morten Viskum (Antenne Books)




You are generally regarded as one of the most controversial contemporary artists in Norway. How do you describe what you do to people who don’t know you?
I usually start by describing my background as a veterinarian before I started at the Art Academy in Oslo. At the same time I tell people that a lot of the things said about me originates from the tabloid press. The projects written about here only make up a small portion of what I do as an artist. Many of my projects concern everyday phenomena within medicine and science, things that the public are not used to seeing and hearing about.

Is controversy an important and intentional part of your work?
No. To shock is not interesting in it self.

But the projects have lead up to a lot of interesting discussing that have made the projects worth seeing though. When the projects are exhibited for the first time, I sometimes get insecure if I have lost sight of the primary goals within the projects. And revealingly it seems that the projects get better over time. I take this as a good sign.

Can you tell us a bit about ‘The hand with the golden ring’?
The different Hand – projects develop, both concerning concept and technique, based on the background information I have.

The hand with the golden ring is hand number 6. All the paintings are new and made for this exhibition. First the canvas is painted with animal blood, using the severed hand as a brush. Then I place some gold glitter in the palm of the severed hand. Then I blow the glitter over the blood. At the end I paint over the glitter again with different colours, again using the hand as a brush.

How easy is it to source dead people’s body parts for the work?
That is a part of the project’s secret.

The nature of your work inevitably is going to divide audiences. What is the most common criticism that you hear? How do you deal or react to it?
Most of the time the people that criticize my work are the people who do not come to see my exhibitions and who do not make an effort to enter into the problems the projects discuss. Other people fear death too much and therefore do not want to touch the subject. Others again think using the severed hands is just a cheap trick. Luckily, a large group of people, growing after each exhibition, are fascinated by and interested in the work just because they are not made in a traditional sort of way.

The people who have been following my work over time also know, of course, that most of the time the projects are concerned with what you can not see, more than what is actually there.

Throughout art history artist have visited mortuaries and autopsies to paint and draw the human anatomy. I extend this tradition a bit further. I remove the body parts from the morgue and use the body parts directly as tools. The performative aspect is therefore the most important part of the work and what happens when the audience encounters the remains of the performance.


The instruments

The first hand

The black hand

The hand with the golden ring

The new hand

The female hand


The paintings




Two exhibitions

‘The hand that never stopped painting’ (in Norwegian)

‘The black hand’




p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Fellow Guy Maddin lover here. PGL has an American distributor, Altered Innocence. They’re going for a US theater release, but, the film being what it is, it’ll likely be a very limited release. A short run in NYC, hopefully in LA, and otherwise we’ll see, and probably screenings in some cities. Then there’ll be a streaming release and a DVD, so at least people will be able to see it that way. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm about the film. That’s thrilling. Zac has already left town. I’m pretty sure I’m going out of town later today, but, otherwise, I will go to Tosh’s event at Book Soup for sure. ** Keatonumbered, Loved your new blog thing, man. Nice that your mom comes with sweets. That’s rare enough. Wait, when is Valentines Day? Like imminently? I’m completely lost even though, I think, France has a watered and distorted down version, I think. Ha ha, make mine for yours a Chucky. ** Dominik, Hi, D! Indeed!!! Yeah, I’m squeezing in some art and friends, although I’m ending up a lot busier here and around here than I thought, and the time is ticking away so fast. But it’s a pleasure. Yeah, yeah, I think I know what you mean about that preemptive wild energy, and trust it’ll coalesce as a superpower-like force. Can you feel that happening yet? I hope the dentist gets in and out of your mouth quickly. My recent-ish visit was a surprising smoothie, and I hope that’s a sign? Take good care ’til soon, my friend. ** Jeff J, Hi there, Jeff! No, it’s the same old post, I think. Not in Europe that I know of, but in Japan, I mean, it must, right? Trip’s been really good. The screenings have been really excellent. Well, a definite highlight has been that Michael Silverblatt so loved PGL that he devoted a Bookworm show to it even though it’s not a book! That was pretty cool, and, of course, it was great and humbling to record that episode with him. There are a few big art fairs happening here, like Frieze and a couple of others, so I’m interested to check them out before I split. How are you, man? I’m hoping the amazing birth of ‘DAM’ has been a giant pleasure for you. You writing? Etc.? Great, great about the Roussel/Song Cave post! Thank you so much! ** Sypha, Do it, do it! ** Rewritedept, Hey, pal. I didn’t know you are a decent snowboarder, no. Never tried. Couldn’t ski, so I abandoned snow as a sports arena. Well, obviously, look to the light, man, whether it’s mountain light or light wherever. 12 hours? Uh, … yikes. Your upcoming trips sound like  nothing but crazy fun. Oh, I’ll be in Paris, or in Europe at least, in April. I’m outta here in just a couple of days. Okay, re: the ask. Next time? ** Bill, Me too, re: that game, but it’s toast, I think. Oh, wow, your gig is pronto! Damn, I’d love to see that. Everyone, If you’re in/around the Bay Area on Feb. 15th, meaning two days from now, you can see Bill Hsu and others performing live, which, need I even say, is manna. Do that and report back to me, please. Here’s the scoop. ** Shane Christmass, Hi, Shane! Great to see you! The Bookworm will be in late Feb., date to be announced. I saw you have a new novel! Can’t wait to read it! And to listen to the mixtape! Everyone, Shane Jesse Christmass, stellar writer, author of one of my fave novels of last year, etc., has a new novel out called ‘Xerox Over Manhattan’ that I can tell you before even reading it is a must. Info/purchase here. And he made a mixtape of tunes he was listening to when writing the novel that you can hear here. Sweet. I read a bunch if not all of Breece D’J Pancake’s stories years ago and thought they were really fantastic. Def. will give your hi to Zac. Thanks, man. ** Steve Erickson, Hi, Steve. Thanks. Ah, great, about the arm’s normalcy. Good question about Welles’s ‘Don Quixote’. You … would think? ** Right. Someone recently wrote to me and asked me to restore the post today that was made by a mysterious (to me) silent reader of this blog some years back. See you tomorrow.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    Sorry Zach has left town. I was hoping to see him again. I do hope you’ll be able to drop over and see me and Bill before you go.

    Please let me know when “Altered Innocence” is planning to open the film theatrically in the U.S. because I want t write e lengthy piece about it and want to pitch said piece to someone in advance.

  2. David Ehrenstein

    As for today’s Hand-I-work

  3. Bill

    Ah, I remember the hand!

    Good to hear the screenings have gone well. Hope the Bookworm recording was easy and fun. The text is such a central element of PGL, I think it will fit right in with a book-oriented program.

    Thanks for plugging my little gig! It’s supposed to rain through the weekend, so I don’t know if we’ll get much of an audience. It’ll be great to hang with the crew though. In case you don’t know Leyya Tawil’s work, she’s a super intense dancer, with some physically punishing pieces. The piece they’re doing will just be brutal in this cold; she’s thrashing on the floor for most of it.


  4. JM

    I would gladly give up my two hands to be used like this! Yesterday’s never-exist post was fantastic as well, I even sent a link to my anthropology professor… his response was “I’m not sure we would be ourselves without our bodies.”

    Glad the trip went well! Adam & his sister both spoke incredibly highly of PGL to me 🙂


  5. _Black_Acrylic

    @ DC, it sounds as though your trip is going fantastically well so congratulations all round!

    Here in Dundee I’m due to complete work on The Call zine prototype at the DCA print studio tomorrow, but all of that’s being kept on the down low while I wait on this funding app decision in late March. Exciting but frustrating in approximately equal measure. I could do with another project to fill in that gap in the meantime, and will try my best to think of something.

    I saw the new Korean film Burning at the weekend and was very impressed, it’s an absorbing mystery of a noir.

  6. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – I wasn’t familiar with this artist or his hands project. Fascinating work and some lovely paintings, too.

    I’m glad the trip has been going well and so happy that Michael loved PGL so much! Glad you guys reconnected and I can’t wait to hear the Bookworm episode about it. How fantastic!

    I had really been enjoying DAM’s birth until last week, when FSG felt compelled to share the startlingly bad sales numbers, which are so low they defy logic. It makes no sense, but they assure me this is true. I’m reeling a bit, to be honest.

    I’m still coming to Paris in April. A film-connected friend helped me set up viewings of some rare Garrel movies at the Cinemateque, but they’ve just been cancelled which is a huge drag. More on that offline. Love to pick your brain about film stuff when you have a chance — probably best once you’re back home?

    On the plus side, I’m working my way back into the new novel and Julian Calendar are in the middle of recording 21 new songs, which are all a huge leap forward from the first batch. Also creating a small installation of sculptural assemblages, partly inspired by B. Wurtz show I saw.

    I’ll have the Roussel stuff to send your way in a few days. It’s an impressive collection the Song Cave put together. They’ve also got a Chantal Akerman memoir coming, too. If that appeals for a guest post?

  7. Steve Erickson

    This is an interesting test. Would one feel the same way about his paintings without knowing how they were made?

    Here’s my review of the Colombian film BIRDS OF PASSAGE:

  8. Keatonphones

    Youre too kind, mr. I bow deeply. I’ve been carefully considering this post and one side of me says, “Ew, no reason!” while another side says, “Vikings are crazy!” as I put on the Mayhem. The last post was interesting to consider as well. Last night I had a long conversation with a friend about the gentrification of our city and we were talking about how they can only build up. The beach and palm trees influence a glass transparent look. It plays nicely off the old Florida drab styles and the deco. It is Valentines Day! Went out last night only to make my heart hurt. Heart-strings a pullin’. Some twinks tube has had a bad fucking night tonight! lol I love Valentines. I cried all day yesterday, Mom didn’t show, sent me money and told me to buy my own candy, drank a 12 pack and got a really bad phone call about how half of my family is going to prison. I counted how long its been since Ive been laid and realized I only know one hooker. Its all good though, Valentines playlist at the ready and Im working on some love poems. Haha, you know Brad Dourif is from my hometown. I always imagined he lived in this certain neighborhood not sure though. Oh, and I forgot PGL, I haven’t seen it enough, but Im certain its good. It looks Easter egg loaded.

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