We Need Gardeners and Friends, Not Emperors or Kings

We Need Gardeners and Friends, Not Emperors or Kings is a socially engaged art project and sound installation that explores feminist men’s movements and listening.
In a locker room in Skjold Boldklub, artist Morten Poulsen facilitated a series of workshops with a group of six cis-men from different countries to talk about masculinity norms, friendship and listening. Through conversation, caress, song and humming, they shared experiences and desires to move away from a masculinity based on dominance and disconnection, and instead cultivate understanding of interconnections, through collective self-reflection, listening and a shared space of vulnerability.
Taking ideas about physical intimacy to the auditory realm, each participant wore a personal microphone, which recorded the workshops from their individual perspective. These recordings then formed the material for a six-channel sound installation, where each participant is presented in a corresponding loudspeaker, allowing the listener to choose their own listening position. The special ASMR character of the sound invites the listener into the individual man’s intimate sphere, while still being able to hear all at once.
With inspiration from activist practice, stickers with the title of the project were produced and distributed, by workshop participants and audience, in and around Copenhagen.
The project is inspired by feminist consciousness-raising groups and is partly a portrait of cis-men who work to actively deconstruct hegemonic masculine ideals (R.W. Connel). They criticise the narrow and rigid definitional frameworks of their gender, and seek opportunities to expand or dissolve masculinity norms. They practice awareness of the role of traditional gender norms in unhealthy and harmful cultures, and thus also how they bear a responsibility for deconstructing how this Man is not good for anyone, not even themselves.
In a time where focus is often on making statements, positioning, “winning” debates, and on linear forms of argumentation, especially in online comment sections, the workshops and sound installation calls for a listening that is non- linear and fragmented, with space for silences, intimacies and sensuousness; a proposed emphasis on listening as a key element for dialogue, understanding and inspiration for social change.
The exhibition is supported by the Danish Arts Foundation and Østerbropuljen.
Exhibited at Skjold Contemporary, Copenhagen DK in 2023
Thanks to the men attending the workshops.
Thanks to Sound Art Lab, Skjold Boldklub and Karl Heding.
Photos by Morten Poulsen