NOCTURAMA

Dedee Shattuck Gallery, Westport, Massachusetts, 2013

Curated by Isabel Mattia

“Magic Lantern: Three Generations,” 2013

Ink jet print on watercolor paper

 

The series is based on a magic lantern slide from England from around 1900, a positive image featuring what must be a grandmother, a mother/daughter and a daughter/granddaughter.

 

I have become fascinated by the possibilities the slide presents in terms of incorporating it into other images. The three figures were photographed against an empty background, and by incorporating different scenarios and found images when I rephotograph the slide, I am able to explore a variety of metaphors, and create complex and ambiguous psychological situations.  

 

In this exhibition the images fall into roughly three categories. The first wall features “Philosophy/Literature,” the second “Circus,” and the third “Botany.” But some images are hybrid in subject mater, and some references politics. Others are “Ambient,” where my main concerns is to introduce colors, shapes, lines and space.

 

The images are meant to be interpreted, and I believe they can be interpreted on many levels. One thread remains more or less constant: Like any organism in Nature, the human body must give birth to a live body, and eventually it dies itself. Three generations appear to be the time span given in which to relate to our biological roots and to develop what could be seen as the flowering of psychological, intellectual and emotional realities. As humans, our being and consciousness is related to nature, family history, and cultural history. Nourished physically, emotionally and spiritually we might change our body chemistry, in the process possibly gaining access to new levels of awareness and being.

“Table for a Poet,” 2013

wood table, found section of a tree

I enjoy exploring what we feel is romantic, and why we often reject it. This statement by Joseph Brodsky could be for the exhibition as a whole: “By failing to read or listen to poets, society…forfeits its own evolutionary potential”

Furthest to the right:

“August Francke, ’Der Salmen Davids’ (published in Halle 10. Aug. 1729),” 2012

Commentaries on the Psalms of David, taxidermy pheasant

 

August Francke (1663-1727) was a German Lutheran clergyman, philanthropist, and Biblical scholar. He created what would later be known as the Frankesche Stiftungen in Halle, an institution caring for, and educating, more than 100 orphans, and where eventually more than 500 day students also attended. His primary goal was religious education, but he also taught the natural sciences and created an extensive museum, a cabinet of natural history objects, scientific objects, including models of the solar system, and objects from foreign cultures. The tableau is an homage to a man of vision and dedication. The book was published in the center’s book publishing shop and is a second edition, published two years after Francke died.

 

 

 

Second from the right"

 

“Winterthur Lion,” 2012

Found box, Winterthur Centenaire Sträuli soap, 1937

One of the pleasures of being in Leipzig on a residency was to roam in antique stores and flea markets. These two objects I found in a large store of furniture and objects, close to the studio. The store spanned four floors and carried everything from inexpensive flea market objects to scientific instruments and vintage furniture.

The art of roaming is for me extremely pleasurable. I like finding objects I have never seen before. Roaming means roaming in your mind while roaming among actual objects.

 

This tableau happened more or less by itself. Both objects fascinated me the same afternoon. The soap because of its heraldic lion, the box because of it being worn, and not letting you know what it was used for. It is more than anything a juxtaposition of textures, surfaces, and color. 

 

 

Third from the right:

 

“Die Heilige Schrift (In tantum videmus),” 2012

Bible and antique toy monkey

 

The tableau was also created while I was in Leipzig, Germany in December 2012. I was fascinated by the city in terms of it being a center for book production for centuries, and its intense religious and secular life. It is the city, for example, where Johan Sebastian Bach wrote most of his music . This 200 year old bible, like the monkey, shows sign of intense use. I wonder about the degree to which these objects brought comfort to the users. What in our imagination, what part of our desire, make us seek these “transitional” objects? 

“Connecticut Yucca Cabinet (for Susan Hamlet),” 2009

Dried Yucca plants, wood, mirror and glass cabinet

I collected these Yucca plant sections while helping a friend clean up her garden in Spring.  We admire, and enjoy a plant while it is alive, but the dead and discarded parts hold great beauty and seem to point us toward other realms of existence. Nature does not prefer any specific stage in its creations, only Man attributes value.

“Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad,” 2009

Used window panes, metal brackets

This wall installation consists of used windowpanes, and was first created in a smaller format for the De-Construct exhibition in Providence curated by Allison Pasche.

 

While removed from the window frames, the glass panes still retain traces of old paint and caulking. Installed on a wall, they no longer function. They were originally meant not to call attention to themselves, and now they do. We see their shape, their colors (mostly shades of green), and they continue to participate in the space they are in. During the day they reflect everything around them. The viewer moves around, and the space is continually unfolding. In gallery lighting at night, multiple shadows are reflected onto the wall.

 

I chose to name the installation Koenigsberg, which is the city that the German philosopher Kant lived in his whole life. He is one of our most influential philosophers, and his thoughts went everywhere, yet he never traveled.

 

I additionally named the installation "Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad” to call attention to how geography and culture never remain the same. The old German town of Koenigsberg has now been almost erased and supplanted with Soviet style housing, and was renamed Kaliningrad. Although most former Soviet cities that incorporate Stalin or Lenin’s name have been renamed, Kaliningrad remains an exception.

“Crisis  of Narrativity,” 2009

Giraffe shoulder bones, wood pedestals, metal stands

 

In this work, the methodology of Minimalism is joined with the methodology of 19th century museums of natural history displays. Both methodologies aim to activate the space and call attention to itself as a stage.

 

The intention in Minimalism is to bring the viewer into new awareness of being present, of sensing. The natural history museum dramatizes the hidden knowledge, or workings, of an unknown world, a world of wonders.

 

While tracking down giraffe bones for this work (through a dealer in Florida who acquires them directly from a South African government run giraffe reduction program), I read J.M. Ledgard’s extraordinary novel, "Giraffe," published in 2006, about the tragic loss of the world’s largest herd of giraffes in captivity in Czechoslovakia (all secretly killed in a Zoo by the government due to an outbreak of a contagious decease). I therefore also see this as a monument for the Giraffes of the city of Dvůr Králové nad Labem / Königinhof an der Elbe/the Court of the Queen on the Elbe.

“The Pessimism and Pensiveness of Late 19th Century Europe,” 1992-2009

Alligator Gars, metal stand

Can the display of two Alligator Gars work as a visualization of the mindset of a continent at a specific time? This is the way I like to play with artwork and titles. Titles always come later. So do they detract or add?

 

What was the impulse for the work? I encountered the two South American gars in a store in New York in the 1990s. They have followed me ever since. When I established a studio they obviously had to “activate” the space. They are truly amazing to me.

 

The title is serious and tongue-in-cheek at the same time. What I enjoy is how we interpret, how we can play with imagery and real objects, and tease out new meanings.

“A Truth Which We Can Neither Reject Nor Completely Accept,” 2009

Taxidermy goose

The title is from the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, quoting Pascal in the essay “The Metaphysical in Man.”

 

The taxidermist displayed the goose as flying and ready to land. Spray-painting it resulted in a new painterly or spiritual presence. The taxidermist aims for verity, the artist for metaphysical truth. Both look for drama.

“Light Under the Door,” (Ein Lichtspalt unter der Tür), Leipzig, 2012

(Tuchhalle on the Brühl, Leipzig, 1837-1943)

 Archeological bricks, wood pedestals

Leipzig was created where two trade routes in Roman times crossed. Today the two street are named Hainstrasse and Brühl. They are now fairly small streets in the old city center. The larger ring road circling the old city center is nearby.

 

The bricks come from the Tuchhalle (the Cloth Hall) which was built at the intersection in 1837. Much of Leipzig’s history centers around these streets. Brühl is famous for many reasons. Among others, Richard Wagner was born there.

 

The Brühl section was known as an international center for the fur trade in the 19th and early 20th century. Although few Jews actually lived in Leipzig, many of the Jewish families were involved in the cloth and fur trade. As the Nazi rose in power in the 1930s, the Jews were forced out of the area and the buildings were confiscated. One night in December 1943 the English Air Force bombed much of Leipzig’s city center, and the Tuchhalle was destroyed. After the war the area was covered over and became a park.

 

A new shopping mall is currently being built at the intersection of Hainstrasse and Brühl. Due to the rich history of the site, archeologists were allowed to undertake extensive excavations, and much of the time was spent excavating the foundation of the Tuchhalle.

 

The excavations were coming to their conclusion while I was in Leipzig, and I was allowed by the archeologists to sample a selection of brick before the area was handed over to the developers.

 

The bricks are not significant in such a way that they now would need to be on display in a history museum. The archeologists actually collected bricks for me that they themselves were fascinated by, bricks with marks that showed how they were made, and brick with fingerprints, and so on, but I needed bricks that did not stand out, bricks that were not especially significant in terms their making. They are ordinary bricks that held their part, played their role, in the building for a little more than 100 years.  

“Cabinet of ‘Lost Words’,” 1994-2013

Glass cabinet, objects made of natural materials and electronic components

In 1994, as I began to make art, I made series of small repeated works that I called “Lost Words.” Later, around 2005, I began to make larger, repeated, small sculptural pieces I would refer to as “Tools.”

 

Some were a merger of two worlds, the world of electronics and the world of nature. A leaf and a capacitor joined, for example, or a seed and a transistor. Two worlds of transmissions, two invisible worlds of energy.

 

For me they are enigmatic objects that roam your mind, and represent collections of concepts and ideas that both wait and act.

 

I occasionally make new series and some of those from October last year, have been added.

“New Bedford Cabinet (for Henri Michaux),” 2006

Glass cabinet, truck tire

Private Collection

 

Created for the exhibition, "Inviting Response," at the New Bedford Art Museum in 2006 -- an exhibition where artists responded to objects borrowed from the New Bedford Whaling Museum in a celebration of the the Art  Museum’s tenth anniversary. The original object, and the contemporary response piece, were exhibited next to each other. My work was in response to a late 19th century photograph of whalers cutting the blubber and skin of a whale on a whaleboat, hoisting it up in the air. But I was also inspired by the 1950s Mescaline ink drawings of the poet Henri Michaux. The blow-out truck tire has the same kind of “itchy” nervousness and magical reach. Beautiful and harsh at the same time.

“Envy,” 2011

glass, found dried leaves

 

Originally created for an exhibition focusing on the seven deadly sins at Colo Colo Gallery in New Bedford, curated by Don Wilkinson. It was not easy for me to create a work I felt would comment on, or elucidate, this important and devastating condition, that keeps so many people from being creative and objectively appreciative of themselves and others. In this work I tried to create a statement that defines how reality is the same whether inside or outside a container, and that although we might believe we can hide envy, it is easy for anyone to see.

“Not Quite Red,” 2013

Pages from a Czechoslovakian book of official Communist artists published in 1981.

 

This installation is political and about being an artist in a repressive and subversive cultural context, in this case Czechoslovakia in 1981.

 

In 1977, Charter 77, a public manifesto was created by the playwright (and later President) Vaclav Havel, the theater director Landovsky, the author Ludvik Vaculik, and others, and signed by many prominent and less prominent intellectuals. The document was motivated in part by the arrest of members of the psychedelic band “Plastic People of the Universe.” In the document the signatories described themselves as a "loose, informal, and open association of people . . . united by the will to strive individually and collectively for respect for human and civil rights in our country and throughout the world." It emphasized that Charter 77 is not an organization, has no statutes or permanent organs, and "does not form the basis for any oppositional political activity.”

 

The authorities reacted harshly to what they saw as a threat to their repressive power structure. Havel was imprisoned, and Landovsly severely beaten by the secret police and had to flee the country. Some who signed, especially the younger and less known participants, died while in police custody.

 

Most of the official artists featured in the "Not Quite Red" installation signed a counter manifesto pledging loyalty to the Communist regime and to Socialist Realism. Among the official group of Communist artists and writers that were mobilized into an "anti-charter" movement included Czechoslovakia's foremost singer Karel Gott as well as prominent comedic writer Jan Werich, who later claimed he had no idea of what he was actually signing when signing the anti-charter.

 

Many of the artists signing the “anti-charter” held prominent positions teaching at the Academy, or were especially favored by the government for public commissions. The book featured in this installation can be seen as a way by the Communist government of thanking the visual artists who stayed loyal to the Communist regime.

 

For me the piece is about the complexity of moral quandaries, about the longing for fame and recognition that all artists share, and the way society will force you into situations of repression and compromise under the guise of ideology, or the way you opportunistically, perhaps because you are a lesser artist, take advantage of a corrupt regime and ideology in order to glorify yourself.

 

Nobody, however, in any political and cultural context, can escape the confrontation with the triad of appreciation, compromise and public presence. As artists, as individuals, we listen, we follow, and we engage with the present, yet ethical implications lie behind all our actions

“Husserl on Red,” 2012-13

Paint and canvas, vinyl lettering, verbascum stems

 

The five paintings, “Husserl on Red,” is an homage to the teacher of Heidegger and the line of inquiry, Phenomenology, that leads from Husserl to Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Derrida.

 

In the attempt to reach definitions and clarify perceptions, we end up questioning language. The more we seek precision, the more language escapes, teases, subverts and challenges.

 

The paintings have dried plants attached, hanging upside down, with roots, but with few dried leaves. It is the plant that I saw many places as a child growing up in Denmark. I loved seeing it majestically present, it’s yellow stalk of flowers standing out against the green of the fields. It is called “The King’s Candle” in Danish, and is a variation of verbascum.

 

What is fascinating to me is that this plant -- once I decided to use it and began to research it -- became an example of immigration. The plant is not native to North America. It was brought over by the earliest immigrants for medicinal purposes. Now it grows wild, but selectively. It prefers nutrient poor soil, and largely to be by itself. It needs space. What intelligence, what communication, what language, defines it as a species?  

“Space of Emplacement (for Galileo Galilei),” 2004

Armadillos, wood balls, wood pedestals

I had this image of three armadillos in my mind for a long time. I always knew it would be rather hilarious, as if I had trained them for my own private circus. But I also felt they represented a shift in consciousness.

 

I greatly admire certain aspects of the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s writing, especially his unfinished essay on Heterotopias. In that essay, Foucault refers to Galileo Galilei’s  “space of emplacement.”  As human beings, as societies, we are at times faced with imagery so unsettling, so new, that we feel the ground on which we stand disappearing. I love the image (although only true for one kind) of the armadillo, if frightened, being able to roll up, becoming a universe unto itself, and roll down a steep slope to safety.

“Leipziger Suite,” 2012-13

Found German framed reproduction of coastal scenery, digital self portraits, ink jet on watercolor paper.

The artist residency in Leipzig, Germany, through the One-Sided Story program at the Spinnerei and Halle 14, made it possible for me to share studio space with a group of artists from Croatia, France and the US, where most of them were highly skilled painters. The exposure to their daily practice and search for new approaches to image making, was most likely what made me begin my own investigation of the figure, especially the figure in space.

 

Almost by accident I ended up with the “Leipziger Suite” series of photographs, a limited series of images based on the “archeological” investigation of a romantic coastal scene that I found in an antique store close to the studio. The series became a subtle self portrait with my shadow “framing” the imagery. In a sense the images happened, referencing Husserl’s “interweaving of the visible and invisible.”

“Nocturama,” 2013

wood table, verbascum roots

A Nocturama can be a building with a glass roof that by day filters sunlight into moonlight. The Nocturnal animals are awake during the day, seeing according to the structure of their eyes, according to the light that passes into their brains and bodies. This table turns the world upside down, calling on metaphors of growing roots into the heavens.