Danish Cultural Institute, Edinburgh.
1 August to 28 September 2014 and touring in 2015.
Amongst the madness and sensory overload of the Edinburgh Fringe I had the pleasure to be blissfully still in the Danish Cultural Institute’s gallery space for a wonderful exhibition of work by Lotte Glob, Lise Bech, Lillian Busch, Mette Fruergaard and Nickolai Globe. What struck me immediately was the sense of a living tradition of ancient Craft skills fused with Fine Art disciplines and striking Contemporary Design. What is so exciting about this show is the way that traditional Crafts such as Ceramics, Weaving, Gold and Silversmithing incorporate elements of the Scottish landscape to transform the viewer’s perception of place and genre. Each artist reveals the integrity of handmade objects as part of a tradition of seeing ourselves in relation to our chosen environment; tapping into a deep seam of knowledge and indigenous understanding of place and materials. This is an expansive show in terms of what Craft can be, blurring the lines between Applied and Fine Arts, reflecting the dynamically fluid relationship between the two in many artist’s studios.
Lotte Glob, Moon Pool,Rock Eyes
Displayed on one wall Lotte Glob’s superb sequence of sculptural plates are of a cosmic scale in the imagination. In form and feeling Moon Pool seems to encompass the entire world and its eternal cycles. Crater Pool with its iridescent ultramarine core is another magnificent example. The use of materials and handling of glazes create an imaginative space of deep time; molten stone dripping into the centre, colours and textures evocative of ice, fire and millennia of Geological change. Glob’s work is forged physically and spiritually from the landscape. It is made of that land, from rocks and sediments gathered from the mountainous Scottish Highlands, home to the artist since 1968. In the beautiful and mysterious free standing sculptures Rock Eyes and Boulder Eyes we can sense a human eye and mind perceiving the landscape; the land and collective memory staring back at us, a tangible connection to a long history of seeing and making. Glob’s work presents a symbiotic relationship between Art and Life. There is tremendous respect for natural, primordial forces communicated in her work that never fails to inspire. She is an artist living consciously in her chosen environment, with tenacity, joy and a lifetime’s experience in every work. In the Western canon Creativity is often defined in terms of masculine energy and egotism. Lotte Glob’s work is a more expansive exchange that redefines our relationship with the natural world and the role of creativity in our lives. Many of the artist’s works are returned to the landscape, placed in lochans and on mountain paths, a natural gallery. At her sculpture croft on the shores of Loch Eriboll she has created “a place for discovering…, contemplating and enjoying a point in the universe” consistent with her life’s work.
Boxes by Mette Fruergaard
Mette Fruergaard’s finely crafted boxes seamlessly combine materials such as wood, aluminium, copper, bone, resin and concrete in a union of form and function. Many of these are almost architectural in form, an unexpectedly beautiful fusion of organic and industrial design consistent with the Danish tradition but with the subtle accents of colour and light typical of the changing Scottish seasons. Fruergaard-Jensen’s “silent language of materials” is also revealed in selected pieces hung above the main display of boxes which invite the viewer to contemplate the tactile beauty of raw materials; the powdery midnight patina of a lump of charcoal or the playful suggestion of a lion in wood grain. Using found and recycled materials highly finished surfaces are contrasted with textures formed by time and weather.
Lise Bech- Venus and Mars Dancing (2), Venus and Mars Dancing (1).
Lise Bech’s basketry immediately invokes a world of Iron Age Crannogs; functional forms of creels, platters and cauldrons melded with expressive, asymmetrical, contemporary form. The scents of natural materials like willow are part of experiencing this work, creating powerful associations across time, transporting the viewer beyond the city gallery space and into the countryside. The rhythm of the weave feels as central to this Craft as the natural cycles of growth and harvest that provide raw materials for Bech’s Art. The wall piece Venus and Mars Dancing (Lath & Willow) evokes an eternal pattern of mythology and creative energies, masculine and feminine. Celtic Coil Cauldron (Salix p. Dicky Meadows) has its own distinctive energy, defying functionality as a poetic object woven from multiple traditions. Bech’s basketry aligns itself to a state of being in relation to the landscape; a return to Craft as a signifier of social and cultural cohesion, rooted in the earth. Its ancestry is simultaneously Viking, Celtic and in terms of why human beings need to create in the first place, universal in origin. What many contemporary Artists/ Makers bring to our attention is the rhythm of a living Art that connects us to the natural environment. Both in the making and experiencing of the work there is a meditative element in play, a powerful antidote to an age of mass attention deficit and unprecedented technological and social change.
Bangle by Lilian Busch
Lillian Busch’s jewellery also provides points of recognition and delight on an intimate scale; worn on the body, close to the skin. Bangle (46.Silver, 9 & 18 ct Gold, Diamonds) in its incredibly subtle use of gems could be likened to a pin prick of light seen through a dewdrop. The unexpected oxidised finish of this piece invites closer inspection in its sensitive rendering of materials. Unlike the usual use of sparkling diamonds and shiny metals to proclaim wealth and status, Busch’s work doesn’t reveal itself immediately but allows its richness and beauty to unfold. Inspired in early life by the Danish jeweller Ingeborg Mølsted, Busch’s designs incorporate ancient forms like the Torque from Viking and Bronze Age jewellery. Neckpiece (34. (9ct Gold, Jade, Silver, Rubber, Bayonet Clasp) feels almost ceremonial in function; an inventive combination of precious traditional and everyday industrial materials to create an intimate object of adornment and human connection.
Detail from the Mantle Series by Nickolai Globe
Nickolai Globe’s high fired ceramics of earthenware, porcelain, stoneware and minerals are arresting for their elemental, physical embodiment of natural forces. Ova for example with its volcanically ashen surface feels like an egg of creation and primitive shield, there at the beginning of all human life; protective and expansive, microscopic and cosmic in its associations. Vessel Core with its stalactite- like form and finger marked surface could be a geological sample or the record of an entire species and its core beliefs. There is a blurring of lines between the naturally formed and man-made structures in Globe’s work which is immersive and intriguing. Relic reads like a naturally occurring piece of fossilised earth marked by the tracks of an unknown species, it is impossible to know where the hand of nature and the hand of the artist begin and end. Similarly the boat-like vessel Kronos with its ridged formation like eroded sandstone is both immediately tactile and physical, but also an excavation of collective archeology. The artist’s series of sculptures Mantle; 3, 4, 5 & 6 present the raw physicality of a living crust of rock and earth being formed, twisting and turning, ancient forces suspended in time. Blackened by the fires of creative energy it is also the mythologies we cloak ourselves in. There is reverence for the natural world in this work together with reverence for the artist as maker in pieces such as Ferrous Manus. Globe’s Art reflects his work with COBRA Group ceramic artist Erik Nyholm in Denmark, rooted in the folkloric tradition and Thanakupi , renowned ceramic artist and Aboriginal Elder from the Cape York Pennisula, Queensland, Australia, in its exploration of ancestral narratives and indigenous understanding of the earth.
Exploring the relationship between natural and man-made forms is a major strength in the work of Artists, Designers and Architects from both the Danish and Scottish traditions in terms of continuity and innovation. Historically this visual literacy has been recognised in a European, rather than a National or UK context which is why exhibitions like this one are so important as part of a process of cultural reappraisal on an international stage. The work in this exhibition represents a state of being in relation to Craft; part of a living, breathing tradition rather than a revival or a memorial to ways of seeing long past. As an ex-pat Australian I am fascinated by the cultural migration of people and ideas, how visual language, mythologies and narratives evolve, fuelled by people, place and memory. What “Danish eyes” bring to our understanding of the land I also call home is dynamically charged, full of subtlety and complex associations. It is uniquely of its place and universally global in scope, bringing us closer to the vital spark of why human beings need to make Art in the first place- to make sense of the world and ourselves within it.
Danish Diaspora– Scotland Seen Through Danish Eyes
At the Danish Cultural Institute, Edinburgh until 28th September, then touring in 2015 to;
Peter Potter Gallery, 2 February – 28 March 2015
Rozelle Hopuse Gallery, 11 April – 17 May
Highland Regional Museums, 1 June – 28 August
Bonhoga Gallery, Shetland, 12 September – 25 October