writing
Kenosis
By Julie Horne Møller
November 2016
Cathrine Raben Davidsen works in a broad artistic practice that encompasses painting, drawing, ceramics, photography and printmaking, often with a consistent theme from the universe of figuration. She challenges the possibilities of the media, and has created her own distinctive language. With a repeated focus on historical figures and spiritual issues she has been absorbed throughout her career in questions of identity and how identity is tied to memory and history. The history of art and a range of textual references associated with Western and Eastern mythology and literature are constant sources of inspiration for her choice of both subjects and techniques. But the works also draw their underlying material from deep-seated memories and dramatic images taken from the contemporary mediascape, where Raben Davidsen works with a point of departure in issues of human identity and what is perhaps the very greatest mystery and question in life – death. In Cathrine Raben Davidsen’s work there arises a conscious contrast between the apparent lightness and the heavier meaning-bearing substance of the individual work. The beautiful faces are wrenched from their bodies and appear fragile and unresolved. This helps to give the works a character of imbalance on the edge between being and non-being, as in an intermediate stage between form and non-form, in an eternal quest to create. In this way she incarnates and explores our history, mythology, religion and tradition. In recent years Cathrine Raben Davidsen has also worked with ceramics, and she has created a number of ceramic lidded jars and lamps. The ceramic works have been created in among other ways with the Japanese raku technique. Some of the lidded jars have a kind of faces that are only hinted at in the same way as in her paintings and drawings. Her own memories from her childhood home often appear in the works on an equal footing with material from myth and literature. This is also the case in the ceramic lamps, where curtain material from her childhood home is used in a few lampshades. The lamps are at one and the same time beautiful utility objects and works of art. While their function is directly readable, it is a different matter with the lidded jars, which – with their sometimes urn-like form – have a disquieting and ominous effect compared with the comfortably domesticated aura of the lamps. The lidded jars evoke lost ancestral rites and mystical religious ceremo­nies, like relics whose meaning has been lost in time. With the exhibition Kenosis Cathrine Raben Davidsen invites the viewer into a universe which in its own quite unique way challenges our familiar world view. We find ourselves between polarities of reality and fantasy, in a place where it is difficult for us to assess where reality ends and fantasy begins. With Kenosis Cathrine Raben Davidsen presents a number of new works in which she explores the human figure as a metaphor of transformation. In the artistic process she has worked to loosen up the composition of the works by pouring pigments mixed with a binder out on the surface in an uncontrollable process, after which she has intuitively drawn and painted on the basis of the structures that have arisen. In the paintings Cathrine Raben Davidsen has worked to integrate the drawing in the painting by using the brush as if it is a piece of drawing charcoal. The paintings in the lilac, turquoise and light, bright shades have been created side by side with the almost entirely black paintings. In these new works, lightness and transparency balance alongside the seriousness inherent both in the artist’s personal memories and in the themes by which she is inspired. Kenosis (Greek = ‘renunciation’) means emptying or purging oneself as a human being. The classic instance is Christ renouncing his divinity to become human; a huge investment in a wish for change, a change that must be seen and felt, and be of significance to society. In the works Cathrine Raben Davidsen fundamentally explores the movement from spirit to matter, and she sees the kenosis concept as an image of the artistic process. Besides the concept of kenosis, Cathrine Raben Davidsen has among other things been preoccupied with the eight-stanza poem from the 16th century, The Dark Night of the Soul,1 by the Spanish Catholic mystic John of the Cross (1542-2592), which is about the journey from the body, home of the soul, to the ultimate union with God. The journey is called the dark night because the darkness represents the fact that God is still unknown. The poem is about the journey of the soul from its bodily home to union with God. Cathrine Raben Davidsen works in her artistic project with her own kind of dark night by constantly setting her sights on unknown territory which in her own distinctive way she encircles, analyses and defines by way of her very own imagistic terminology. In the large, monumental paintings The Dark Night (I-IV) from 20162 we experience a clear movement from the dark towards the light. In the exhibition we also see a number of works created with a background in con­tem­porary images of war. The works are light and transparent in their colour scheme, but the origins and messages of the images are anything but easy to relate to. Believer is a portrait of a young male suicide bomber. The young man sacrifices his life on earth in the belief that his action ensures him a place in Paradise. With the painting Cathrine Raben Davidsen touches on some of the losses that war and terror bring about, but suggests a kind of inverted kenosis, since the young man chooses faith in and hope for a place in Paradise over life on earth. In the same series as Believer we find the paintings Human Nature, The Alchemist, Completion, Ghost Mouth and The Disease,3 all of which have their origins in the same conflict. The works emerge as a kind of memento mori and the figures in the paintings testify to the complexity of our times. For Cathrine Raben Davidsen the process of becoming an artist has not been a straight­forward, logical one, but the path she has followed bears witness to a power­ful necessity and a fearlessness in using her own origins and her own identity in her artistic universe. We find this artistic necessity as early as 1996, in the painting Family4 from that year. In the large painting we see four human figures; three of them are standing, the last one is lying in the background. It is clear that the person lying down, the father, is seriously ill; he clutches at his heart. He lies on his sickbed, and behind him we see the silhouette of his coffin. The painting Family from 1996s is disquieting and ominous; the loosely sketched figures are formally distorted and far from aesthetically beautiful in the traditional sense. The painting is intensely dramatic and sends one’s thoughts in the direction of a family portrait (the processing of her father’s far too early death in 1985). In the painting there are clearly seeds of the motifs that come to fruition in her subsequent works. Here we see the mask, the costume, the reflection, the form-distorted people and the insistent eyes. The painting is redolent of sexuality; the covered female genitals and the exposed penis. The dominant colour scheme, an agitated turquoise, is in a colour that Cathrine Raben Davidsen has revived in paintings like The Dark Night (III) and The Alchemist, which are both shown in the current exhibition ‘Kenosis’. Cathrine Raben Davidsen’s work bears the marks of a clear artistic struggle in depicting beautiful, delicate contours in a classic formal idiom and mixing these with distorted forms in a confusion of colours, maskings, veiled eyes and abnormal bodies. This can be seen clearly in the series of pigment drawings Kenosis, in which several of the works move on the borderline between form and abstraction. At the end of the 1990s Cathrine Raben Davidsen visited South Africa and during a stay at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town she worked on a number of monotypes titled Target Practice,6 the inspiration for which came from a book about shooting practice.7 But at the same time Cathrine Raben Davidsen took a point of departure in the political situation in South Africa. She stayed there during the fall of the apartheid regime when the tribunal-like body the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been established to draw up a report that was to describe the infringements of human rights and other crimes that had been committed during apartheid. The monotypes Target Practice are disturbing, sombre and potent. The human figures are blurred and the faces are masked, and on some of the figures numbers taken from the target are placed. A woman appears to have had her mouth shot off, and several of the faces immediately evoke skulls. The works are typified by the same oppressive atmosphere as can be seen in the painting Family. With Target Practice Cathrine Raben Davidsen, already at an early stage in her practice, shows a great under­standing of form, and she underscores the depth in her works by working with some of the big questions – existence, life, memory and death. Throughout her practice one sees clear parallels between beauty and the aesthe­tic and ugliness and horror – parallels that are also clear in the exhibition Kenosis, where the beautiful contours are used to depict the face of the executioner and the pain of death. With Kenosis it is as if Cathrine Raben Davidsen has reverted in her formal idiom to a more direct tone – a tone that has grown from crucial personal experience. We all have a basic story to which we have to relate in some way, and with this exhibition Cathrine Raben Davidsen relates to hers by turning a sometimes-experienced loss of control into an exciting artistic process that takes her painting to new heights. With these works she confronts us with the world that surrounds us in such an insistent way that we are obliged to come to a halt and relate to what we see and feel.   scroll down for a Danish version   Cathrine Raben Davidsen arbejder med en bred kunstnerisk praksis, der omfatter maleri, tegning, keramik, fotografi og grafik ofte med et gennemgående figurativt tema. Hun udfordrer mediernes muligheder og har skabt sit eget særegne sprog. Med et tilbagevendende fokus på historiske figurer og åndelige spørgsmål har hun igennem hele sit virke været optaget af spørgsmål om identitet, og af hvordan identitet er knyttet til hukommelse og historie. Kunsthistorien, samt en række tekstuelle referencer forbundet med den vestlige og østlige mytologi og litteratur, er en konstant kilde til inspiration for hendes valg af både motiver og teknik. Men værkerne henter ligeledes deres underliggende materiale fra dybe erindringer og i dramatiske billeder hentet fra samtidens mediebillede, hvor hun arbejder med udgangspunkt i spørgsmål om menneskets identitet og livets måske allerstørste mysterium og spørgsmål - nemlig døden. I Cathrine Raben Davidsens arbejde opstår der en bevidst kontrast mellem den tilsyneladende lethed og den tungere betydningsbærende substans i det enkelte værk. De smukke ansigter er revet fra deres kroppe og fremstår skrøbelige og uforløste. Dette er med til at give værkerne en karakter af ubalance, på kanten mellem at være og ikke være, som i et mellemstadie mellem form og ikke form, i en evig søgen efter at skabe. På den måde kropsliggør og undersøger hun vores historie, mytologi, religion og tradition. I de senere år har Cathrine Raben Davidsen også beskæftiget sig med keramik, og hun har skabt en række keramiske lågkrukker og lamper. De keramiske værker er skabt med blandt andet den japanske raku-teknik. En del af lågkrukkerne bærer en form for ansigter, som kun er antydninger, på samme måde som det gør sig gældende i hendes maleri og tegning. Egne erindringer fra barndomshjemmet indgår ofte i værkerne på lige fod med mytestof og litteratur. Dette er også tilfældet i de keramiske lamper, hvor der i enkelte lampeskærme er anvendt gardinstof fra barndomshjemmet. Lamperne er på én gang smukke brugsgenstande og kunstværker. Mens deres funktion er umiddelbar aflæselig, forholder det sig anderledes med lågkrukkerne, der – med deres til tider urnelignende form - virker foruroligende og skæbnesvangre i forhold til lampernes domesticerede hygge. Lågkrukkerne genkalder forfædres svundne riter og mystiske religiøse ceremonier, som relikvier hvis betydning er gået tabt med tiden. Med udstillingen Kenosis inviterer Cathrine Raben Davidsen beskueren indenfor i et univers, der på sin egen helt unikke måde udfordrer vores vante verdenssyn. Vi befinder os i et spændingsfelt mellem virkelighed og fantasi, i et felt hvor det er svært for os at vurdere, hvor virkeligheden slutter og fantasien begynder. Cathrine Raben Davidsen præsenterer med Kenosis en række nye værker, hvor hun udforsker den menneskelige figur som en metafor for transformation. I den kunstneriske proces har hun arbejdet på at løsne op for kompositionen i værkerne ved at hælde pigmenter blandet med bindemiddel ud på fladen i en ukontrollérbar proces, hvorefter hun intuitivt har tegnet og malet med udgangspunkt i de strukturer, der er opstået. I malerierne har Cathrine Raben Davidsen arbejdet med at integrere tegningen i maleriet ved at arbejde med penslen, som var den et stykke tegnekul. Malerierne i de lilla, turkise, og lette lyse nuancer er skabt side om side med de næsten helt sorte malerier. Værkernes lethed og transparens balancerer i disse nye værker side om side med den alvor, der ligger i både kunstnerens personlige erindringer, såvel som i de temaer, hun inspireres af. Kenosis (på græsk afkald) betyder at tømme sig selv menneskeligt eller gøre tom. Det klassiske eksempel er Kristus, der giver afkald på sin guddommelighed for at blive menneske.En stor investering i et ønske om forandring, en forandring der skal ses og mærkes, og være af betydning for samfundet. I værkerne undersøger Cathrine Raben Davidsen grundlæggende bevægelsen fra ånd til materie, og hun ser kenosis-begrebet som et billede på den kunstneriske proces. Udover begrebet kenosis har Cathrine Raben Davidsen i forbindelse med udstillingen, blandt andet også været optaget af digtet Dark Night of the Soul1. Det otte strofer lange digt fra det 16. århundrede af den spanske, katolske mystiker og digter Johannes af Korset (1542-1592) belyser rejsen fra kroppen og sjælen hjem til den endelige forening med Gud. Rejsen kaldes: ”The Dark Night”, fordi mørket repræsenterer det faktum, at Gud endnu er ukendt. Digtet handler om sjælens rejse fra dens kropslige hjem til foreningen med Gud. Cathrine Raben Davidsen arbejder i sit kunstneriske projekt med sin egen form for ”Dark Night” ved hele tiden at vende sig mod ukendt land, som hun på særegen vis indkredser, analyserer og definerer gennem sin helt egen billedterminologi. I de store monumentale malerier The Dark Night (I-IV) fra 2016 oplever vi en tydelig bevægelse fra mørket mod lyset. På udstillingen ses desuden en række værker skabt med baggrund i samtidens krigsbilleder. Værkerne er lette og transparente i deres farveholdning, men værkernes forlæg og budskaber er alt andet end lette at forholde sig til. Maleriet Believer er et portræt af en ung mandlig selvmordsbomber. Den unge mand ofrer sit liv på jorden ud fra en tro på, at hans handling sikrer ham en plads i paradiset. Med maleriet berører Cathrine Raben Davidsen nogle af de tab, som krig og terror udløser, men antyder en form for omvendt kenosis, da den unge mand vælger troen på og håbet om en plads i paradiset frem for livet på jorden. I samme serie som Believer finder vi malerierne Human Nature, The Alchemist, Completion, Ghost Mouth og The Disease3, som alle har udgangspunkt i samme konflikt. Værkerne fremstår som en slags memento mori, og maleriernes skikkelser vidner om vores samtids kompleksitet. For Cathrine Raben Davidsen har vejen til at blive kunstner ikke været en lige og logisk vej, men den vej, som hun har fulgt, vidner om en stærk nødvendighed og en frygtløshed i forhold til at bruge sit eget ophav og sin egen identitet i sit kunstneriske univers. Vi møder den kunstneriske nødvendighed allerede i 1996 i maleriet Familie fra samme år. På det store maleri ses fire menneskeskikkelser, tre af dem står op, den sidste ligger ned i baggrunden.  Det er tydeligt, at den liggende person, faderen, er alvorlig syg, han holder sig til hjertet. Han ligger på sit sygeleje, og bag ham ses silhuetten af hans kiste. Maleriet Familie fra1996 er uroligt og faretruende, de løst opmalede skikkelser er formforvrængede og langt fra æstetisk skønne i den traditionelle forstand. Maleriet er voldsomt dramatisk, og tankerne bevæger sig i retning af et familieportræt - (en bearbejdelse af faderens alt for tidlige død i 1985). I maleriet ligger tydelige kim til de motiver, der folder sig ud i hendes efterfølgende værker. Her ses masken, kostumet, spejlingen, formforvrængende personer og de insisterende øjne. Maleriet emmer af seksualitet; det tildækkende kvindekøn og den blottede penis. Den dominerende farveholdning i hidsig turkisblå er en farve, som Cathrine Raben Davidsen har genoptaget i malerier som The Dark Night (III) og The Alchemist, som begge vises på den aktuelle udstilling Kenosis. Cathrine Raben Davidsens værk bærer præg af en tydelig kunstnerisk kamp ved at afbilde smukke og sarte konturer i et klassisk formsprog og sample disse med forvrængede former i et virvar af farver, maskeringer, slørede øjne og anormale kroppe. Dette ses tydeligt i serien af pigmenttegninger Kenosis, hvor flere af værkerne bevæger sig på kanten mellem form og abstraktion. I slutningen af 1990’erne besøgte Cathrine Raben Davidsen Sydafrika, og under et ophold på Michaelis School of Fine Art i Cape Town arbejdede hun på en række monotypier med titlen: Target Practice. Inspirationen til serien er dels hentet i en bog om skydeøvelser, men Cathrine Raben Davidsen tog samtidig udgangspunkt i Sydafrikas daværende aktuelle politiske situation. Opholdet fandt sted under apartheidstyrets fald, hvor den domstolslignende instans, sandheds- og forsoningskommissionen (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), var blevet nedsat til at udarbejde en rapport, som skulle beskrive de overtrædelser af menneskerettighederne og andre forbrydelser, som var blevet begået under apartheidstyret. Monotypierne Target Practice er foruroligende, dystre og potente. De menneskelige skikkelser er slørede, og ansigterne er maskerede, og på en del af skikkelserne er tal hentet fra skydeskiven placeret. En kvinde har nærmest fået skudt sin mund af, og flere af ansigterne leder straks tankerne hen mod kranier. Værkerne bærer præg af den samme trykkende stemning som ses i maleriet Familie. Med Target Practice viser Cathrine Raben Davidsen allerede tidligt en stor forståelse for form, og hun understreger dybden i sine værker ved at arbejde med nogle af livets største spørgsmål som eksistens, liv, erindring og død. Igennem hendes praksis ses tydelige paralleller mellem skønhed og æstetik, hæslighed og rædsel. En parallel som også er tydelig i udstillingen Kenosis, hvor de smukke konturer bruges til at afbilde bødlens ansigt og dødens smerte. Med Kenosis er det, som om Cathrine Raben Davidsen er vendt tilbage til en mere direkte tone i sit formsprog – en tone rundet af skelsættende, personlige erfaringer. Vi har alle en grundhistorie, som vi på en eller anden måde bliver nødt til at forholde os til, og med udstillingen forholder Cathrine Raben Davidsen sig til sin ved at vende et til tider oplevet kontroltab til en spændende kunstnerisk proces, der flytter hendes maleri til nye højder. Med værkerne konfronterer hun os med den verden, der omgiver os, på en så insisterende måde, at vi bliver nødt til at stoppe op og forholde os til, hvad vi ser og føler.  
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Swoon
By Charlie Fox
June 2017
The artist book SWOON - A Play for Cathrine Raben Davidsen is written by the English writer Charlie Fox and in the book, the drawings and paintings of Cathrine Raben Davidsen are juxtaposed with both lyrical and musical works, drawing in this way threads between different artistic expressions through the themes of life, death and identity. All created in Charlie Fox\'s own distinctive form. Charlie Fox is a writer who lives in London. He was born in 1991. His work has appeared in many publications including frieze, Cabinet, Sight & Sound, ArtReview, The Wire and The White Review.   Every artist is a vampire, feeding greedily on the past to create a revelation for the present. In Davidsen’s pictures, everything’s transforming— which is what’s afoot out there, now... Things are shape-shifting.     CAST LUCY VLAD, two ghosts in black cloaks with Expressionist white faces, shocks of black hair and blood red mouths. KASPAR, a boy equipped with gold wings.   Night. LUCY’s bedroom. Dim eerie light from a lamp. A projector throws pictures and footage onto the wall, currently showing a line from John Ashbery: ‘The present, made up like a cadaver.’ LUCY sits on her bed, KASPAR stands, listening, mute.   LUCY: When I was still alive, I had such terrible dreams. Boys with animal heads jumped out of the dark, carcasses lay under my bed like sleeping parents, bound together with blood red cloth. I’d yell to someone, ‘Come quick!’ But I was always alone, nobody came. Suddenly the room was full of smoke and all the faces were dissolving slowly. And I’d think, I’m not in a Twilight Zone rerun, soon I’ll wake up and it will be morning. But I don’t know if I really had those dreams at all now. Perhaps, once upon a time, they were pictures I saw. Davidsen’s painting of the two entwined figures from Kenosis appears projected on the wall, the purple sheet rolling over them like a cloud of smoke. KASPAR exits. VLAD enters and sits across from her, bringing books and catalogues.   VLAD: Sorry, I’m late, honey, I was appearing in Kansas: a mutt back from the dead.   LUCY: No biggie, transformation is in the air this evening.   VLAD: Another nocturnal reverie on Ms. Davidsen? I’ve got notes by the tonne.   LUCY: Can’t get her pictures out of my head.   VLAD: But what’s her attraction for a ghoul?   LUCY: Oh, all that mortal flesh, all that shape-shifting. She thinks about theology, history, myths. How haunted everything is. There’s plenty to get your teeth into, if you wish. But I think a little music might be needed for us to begin.   VLAD whistles and KASPAR appears with a boombox. He presses play and Jandek’s ‘Forgive Me’ from Six and Six (1981) commences. The undead blues scores the climactic scene of Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), which flickers on the wall. Shuddering, head shorn and in her hairshirt, ecstatic Joan (Maria Falconetti) is led to the stake. Swirling smoke, mourners, Antonin Artaud bringing the crucifix. Jandek sings his sinister fragments: ‘The tree gave up its fruit at once/Ah! My hand, it burns […]/Infection will mix with the blue corpse’. Birds calligraphic overhead as Joan looks to the heavens: ‘I take you’, he yowls, ‘to the skies…’ The song and film fade: Davidsen’s painting ‘Completion’ (2016) appears.   VLAD: Ghostly prologue… Another blue corpse?   LUCY: Yeah! Dead bodies are everywhere in Davidsen’s paintings but there’s more going down than that. Like Joan or Jandek, amid all the sorrow, she knows faith is scary. An unspeakable threshold is crossed to reach the light.   VLAD: Harrowed souls, anguish, loss…   LUCY: Uh-huh, but rapture, too: to be on the other side can be a joy. (Southern drawl) ‘Lord, I done evil in my time’. VLAD: ‘Purge me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’   LUCY: Here come the sinners.   ‘Exercise Number 9’ , a drawing from Davidsen’s sequence of works titled Target Practise (1998) appears on the screen. LUCY: Remember South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commission? The backdrop to these ferocious pictures is the public acknowledgement of black people being slaughtered and tortured by police during the apartheid era.   VLAD: Cannibal activity?   LUCY: Her brutes grin to show off their shark teeth so the promise of cannibalism is definitely in play.   VLAD: And they wear skeleton suits, as if they were punks up to mischief on Halloween.   LUCY: Brains alight with awful thoughts. This was no trick-or-treat situation: once there came that knock at the door…   VLAD: The house shivered all over…   LUCY: ‘Come with us now.’   VLAD (grins): Drag them out into the woods and suck their blood. Those masks make me think of the inmates at Abu Ghraib. Some pictures are burned onto your memory forever.   LUCY: The electric agitation of the chalk on slate evokes school, a child spelling out the rules—   VLAD: Crack the whip.   LUCY: —Of a tyrant’s regime. And remember how the law uses chalk, outlining corpses.   VLAD: But don’t forget to keep score. The body is divided up into juicy sections, just like meat hanging in the abattoir, ready for the fat man’s table. The heart is the magical part… (thinks) What’s happened to the faces? Scarred or masked, blown to smithereens?   LUCY: Memento mori, the skeleton dancing under the skin.   VLAD: Let’s bring Joan back from the crypt because she’s a ghostly political symbol, too: she suffers, she burns.   LUCY (croons Palace Brothers): ‘Will you miss me when I burn? /And will you eye me with a longing?’   VLAD (making notes): White chalk obviously signifies white flesh… LUCY: ‘And will you close the other’s eyes? (mumbling) There are wolves here abound…’   VLAD: I always wonder if that song’s supposed to lay you next to a sinner on his deathbed, whispering in your ear. And his audience on its knees, trembling.   LUCY: A creepy song… (Considers the picture, pensive) Scariest of all is that political context can be scorched, we could be anywhere: at an Alabama lynching or hanging out with English droogs. Maniacs, creeps and sadists run the game.   VLAD: Cave painting! I should’ve said cave painting sooner. Primeval savagery…   LUCY: With the emphasis on ‘evil’. Texas, June 1998: James Byrd Jr. is attacked by three white supremacists and dragged from the back of a speeding truck until his arm and head are torn off . His mutilated remains are left outside a church in a black neighbourhood.   VLAD (shivers): ‘I heard a Fly buzz— when I died—’     LUCY: Target Practise isn’t only a history lesson but a horrow show forecast of what’s happening to black bodies in America right now.   VLAD: Bloodthirsty animals on parade.   Davidsen’s painting ‘Kenosis’ (2015) projected on the wall. LUCY: Enough with the bodies: can you explain this tricksy theological concept of kenosis?   VLAD: Ah! (Cracks open Avital Ronell’s Stupidity, 2002, and reads aloud) ‘Kenosis, a theological term, refers to Christ’s act of emptying himself on becoming man, humbling himself even to the point of enduring death, and the process of becoming incarnate surrendering all or some of the divine attributes.’’   LUCY: Bang.   VLAD: Yup, there’s also a woozy association with ‘the waning of the moon.’   LUCY: Majorly uncanny because so many of Davidsen’s paintings make me think of the moon. That glow they have… And there’s her picture, The Waning where girls tumble through a shady veil, spirits in flight or on the brink of… waking?   VLAD: Parsing that definition, kenosis involves a fall from the celestial to the earthly; disorientation, loss, ravishment.   LUCY: Sick with desire, pining for experience of the numinous like a lost dog pines for home.   VLAD: Thus all Davidsen’s apparitions falling towards some other state. Um, both flesh and not.   LUCY: Revelation, honey?   VLAD: Yeah, which is not without its difficulties. (Takes out a copy of Holy Anorexia, 1981, by Rudolph Hall) This book’s about the deranged activity of early Catholic saints craving God’s touch. (Reading aloud) ‘In this quest their bodies became impediments, painful reminders of the earthly realities they sought to transcend…’ Sometimes they would be possessed by malevolent presences seeking to undo their holy works: ‘They fought their demons by ever-escalating physical tortures and, consciously at first, denied the stimuli of hunger and fatigue.’   LUCY: ‘Consciously at first?’   VLAD: Suggesting some phase of rapturous disconnection is accomplished where torment and fatigue cease to exist. As a divine light illuminates the soul, the body’s distress is inconsequential.   LUCY (sings Jandek): ‘I take you to the sky…’   VLAD: Fruits never to be tasted by the average dolt.   LUCY: Nope. Suffering is crucial to the programme. A fire-and-brimstone preacher in one of Flannery O’Connor’s stories says, ‘Listen, even the Almighty’s love burns!’   VLAD: But if you’ve known this immolating experience, what’s left afterwards? Maybe it’s not a body at all.   LUCY: Anyone who’s had a friend die remembers being visited by them in sleep, speaking feverishly and receiving no answer.   VLAD: The spirit moves!   LUCY: But nobody’s there… Her figures inhabit that wilderness, dreamed figures beckoning from the shadows.   VLAD: Ghosts?   LUCY: Well, everybody has strange stuff in their head. VLAD whistles. KASPAR appears, carrying Davidsen’s Head Jar (2015), a white raku urn with a spectral face carved into its surface.   KASPAR: Head Jar makes my heart thump in my chest like a bird trapped in an attic. Thump! In Kabuki theatre, a white face means there’s a ghost in the house. Thump! And in Shinto, the traditional Japanese religion, ghosts are as real as a thunderclap. Thump! Everything has a spirit that can be tamed or enraged: houses, night, fire. Thump! Is the Head Jar possessed? Thump! Will he bring me nightmares? (Emits a blood-curdling cry) Has the ghost seen Poltergeist? Will nothing scare him away? Did Cathrine Raben Davidsen bury and enchant him? She knows all about beheading: decapitation, she said, represents ‘a divide between body and spirit’. Was he a boy before he was a jar? Does he stare because knows all the bad things I’ve done? Thump! Evil infection all over him. Silver blemishes, see? Under the skin there’s no blood at all but a… cloak. If he’s an urn, there’s something dead inside him. Ashes. Nature comes after you quickly once you die. A spiderweb is growing from where his eyeball was. Would roses stop him haunting me? Thump! Roses wound together, pretty as a carousel. Thump! Is that what you call ‘respecting the dead’?   KASPAR vanishes.   VLAD (checking his notes): Some of the figures in these paintings come from horrific pictures: war reports, footage from the aftermath of terrorist attacks—   LUCY: —Bodies in extreme states, wounded, bloodied or stiff as mannequins, suffocated.   VLAD: And hiding in this dark cast, unnamed, is a suicide bomber.   LUCY: We never know what the terror was. Maybe they were dragged from the ruins of a smashed house or they were smothered, quick, in the dead of night. Savagery can be astonishing. Check the reports (she reads aloud from another book): ‘a young man was lashed to a fence at night, beaten until comatose and soaked in blood. Left to freeze the whole night through, he was discovered the next morning and mistaken for a scarecrow.’ (Turning the page) ‘Two boys, not yet adolescent, attacked a younger pair. The victims hid under a sheet which was promptly set alight.’   VLAD: Shroud.   ‘The Disease’ (2016) is projected on the wall.   VLAD: She comes out of the fog, her face eaten away by the poisons in the air.   LUCY: Her face is a Target Practise flashback. But the texture’s gorgeous, all those blues and greens swirling make me think of Odilon Redon as much as Madame Schjerfbeck.   VLAD: Redon, the symbolist painter? Imps, crows and his legendary Pegasus from 1900, battling the hydra.   LUCY: Thanks for the footnote, Professor. Yup, those gothic favorites. I don’t just mean Redon’s wizardly fascination with monsters, myths and ghouls but his skill at making scenes hazy, as if—   VLAD: ‘Magic lantern’d on the smoke of Hell.’   LUCY: Baroque. I was gonna keep it witchy and say, ‘Decanted hot from the cauldron of the mind.’   VLAD: Hot indeed. Dreamed spaces again, weird interiors.   LUCY: All of which are allegorical scenes, evocative of psychological turmoil or freakish desires, a world gone (she cackles hysterically) mad.   VLAD: A winged horse may be God, strutting, or the painter himself, wings aloft, eager to fight his rivals.   LUCY: But allegory is a mask.   VLAD: It permits time travel.   LUCY: Who’s the figure in ‘The Diseased’? She could’ve crawled from a new war zone or quarantine three hundred years ago or the snow-covered woods wandered through by children in a tale by the Brothers Grimm. She could be a leper, exhaling infection.   VLAD: Fluorescent as a radioactive swamp.   LUCY: The plague years roll on: like, I could’ve said Agent Orange, Chernobyl or AIDS, still in toxic bloom.   VLAD: The sun will be up soon.   LUCY: Biographical rehashes make me sick but there’s another story to be told about how the painter shuts herself away for months, trying to make her work, deciding not to see anyone at all. Say goodbye to the past. She becomes submerges herself in accounts of various atrocities, attacks, the random horror of living now. (Pause) But painting is an uncanny occupation, a walk through the cemetery.   VLAD: Craving applause from the dead.   LUCY: Every artist is a vampire, feeding greedily on the past to create a revelation for the present. In Davidsen’s pictures, everything’s transforming— which is what’s afoot out there, now... Things are shape-shifting (nobody in these pictures is totally female or male); maimed soldiers call on robotic prostheses, ghosts—   VLAD: Holler!   LUCY: — Everywhere. The old impervious belief that the body is just one thing or another— female or male, alive or dead, tender flesh or digital creature— has gone to the graveyard. Love is a transformation… so is grief. (She comes close to VLAD and whispers in his ear. They entwine like the figures from Kenosis.)   LUCY: And I feel like we’re buried together now.   VLAD whistles. KASPAR returns with Head Jar lit from within, making its face glow.   VLAD: Dawn’s coming. LUCY (whispering): Check how precarious the body is in her painting Human Nature (2016), half-erased, abandoned.   VLAD: Hurry now!   LUCY: The traumas of the past are always coming back… feel it in your bones.   VLAD: An epitaph!   LUCY (whispering): Look closely, all the figures are falling—   VLAD: Quickly!-   LUCY(whispering): —Falling into the dark.   They all vanish.   scroll down for a Danish version   Enhver kunstner er en vampyr, der nærer sig grådigt på fortiden for at skabe en åbenbaring om fremtiden. I Davidsens billeder forandrer alting sig. Det er, hvad der er på spil derude nu… alting skifter form.    SVIME: ET SKUESPIL TIL CATHRINE RABEN DAVIDSEN   ROLLER LUCY VLAD To spøgelser iført sorte kapper. Hvide ekspressionistiske ansigter, totter af sort hår og blodrøde munde. KASPAR, en dreng udrustet med vinger af guld.   Nat. LUCYs soveværelse. Dæmpet, mystisk lys fra en lampe. En projek­tor kaster billeder og optagelser op på væggen, der i øje­blikket viser en linje fra John Ashbery: ”Nutiden, sminket som et lig.” LUCY sidder på sin seng, KASPAR står, lyttende, stum.   LUCY: Da jeg levede, havde jeg sådan nogle frygtelige drømme. Drenge med dyrehoveder sprang frem fra mørket. Døde kroppe lå under min seng som sovende forældre bundet sammen med blodrøde klæder. Så råbte jeg til nogen: “Kom, hurtigt!” Men jeg var altid alene, der kom ingen. Pludselig var værelset fyldt med røg, og alle ansigterne gik langsomt i opløsning. Og så tænkte jeg: Jeg er ikke med i en genud­send­else af Twilight Zone, snart vågner jeg op og så er det morgen. Men nu er jeg i tvivl om, hvorvidt jeg overhovedet havde de drømme. Måske var det billeder, jeg så en gang for længe siden.   Davidsens maleri af de to sammenflettede figurer fra Keno­sis projiceres op på væggen, mens det lilla lagen ruller over dem som en røgsky. KASPAR går ud. VLAD kommer ind og sidder over for hende. Han har bøger og kataloger med.   VLAD: Undskyld, jeg kommer for sent, skat. Jeg optrådte i Kansas – jeg var en genoplivet køter.   LUCY: Det gør ikke noget, der er forandring i luften i aften.   VLAD: Endnu et natligt drømmeri over Fr. Davidsen? Jeg har tonsvis af noter.   LUCY: Jeg kan ikke få hendes billeder ud af hovedet.   VLAD: Men hvad er det, der får hende til at virke så tilta­lende på en blodsuger?   LUCY: Åh, alt det dødelige kød, det dér med hamskifte. Hun tænker på teologi, historie, myter. Hvor hjemsøgt alting er. Der er masser at sætte tænderne i, hvis det er det, man vil. Men jeg tror, at vi har brug for noget musik til at starte med.   VLAD fløjter, og KASPAR kommer ind med en boombox. Han trykker på Play og Jandek’s ”Forgive Me” fra Six and Six (1981) begynder. Den uhyggelige blues er brugt som underlægning i den scene, der udgør højde­punk­tet i Dreyers Jeanne d’Arcs Lidelse og Død (1928), som flimrer på væggen. Rystende, med sit hoved barberet, ledes den ekstatiske Jeanne (Maria Falconetti) til pælen. Mellem hvirvlende røg og grædekoner henter Anto­nin Artaud krucifikset. Jandek synger sine ildevarslende fragmenter: “Træet gav med ét sin frugt/ Ah! Min hånd, den brænder […] / Betændelse vil blande sig med det blå kadaver.” Kalligrafiske fugle flyver forbi, da Jeanne ser op mod himlen: “Jeg tager dig”, jamrer han, “til himlen …’ Sangen og filmen toner ud: Davidsens maleri ”Completion” (2016) viser sig. VLAD: Spøgelsesagtig prolog … Endnu et blåt kadaver? LUCY: Ja! Døde kroppe er overalt i Davidsens malerier, men der er mere på færde end det. Ligesom Jeanne eller Jandek, midt i al bedrøvelsen, ved hun, at troen er frygtindgydende. En ubeskrivelig grænse er overskredet for at nå lyset. VLAD: Sønderrevne sjæle, kvaler, tab… LUCY: Ah-ha, men også henrykkelse: At være på den anden side kan være lykken. (Prædikenagtigt) “Herre, jeg har syndet i min tid.”   VLAD: “Rens mig for Synd med Ysop, vask mig hvidere end Sne.”   LUCY: Her kommer synderne.   Exercise Number 9, en tegning fra Davidsens værk­suite med titlen Target Practice (1998), dukker frem på skærmen.   LUCY: Kan du huske Sydafrikas Kommission for Sandhed og Forsoning? Baggrunden for disse drabelige billeder er den offentlige anerkendelse af, at sorte mennesker blev nedslagtet og tortureret af politiet under apartheidstyret.   VLAD: Kannibalistisk aktivitet?   LUCY: Hendes mund blottes for at vise dens haj­tænder frem, så der er bestemt et løfte om kannibalisme i luften.   VLAD: Og de har skeletdragter på, som om de var unge punkere ude på ballade til Halloween.   LUCY: Hjerner optændt med modbydelige tanker. Dette var ingen slik-eller-ballade-situation: Når først der kom denne banken på døren…   VLAD: Huset skælvede over det hele…   LUCY: “Kom med os nu.”   VLAD: (smiler): Slæb dem med ind i skoven og sug deres blod. Deres masker får mig til at tænke på de indsatte i Abu Ghraib. Nogle billeder brænder sig ind i ens hukommelse for evigt.   LUCY: Den elektriske uro over kridtet på tavlen vækker associationer til skolen, et barn der står og fremsiger reglerne…   VLAD: Piskesmæld.   LUCY: — Fra en tyrans regime. Og husk på, hvordan ordens­magten bruger kridt til at trække en streg rundt om et lig.   VLAD: Men glem ikke at holde regnskab. Kroppen er delt op i saftige sektioner, ligesom kød, der hænger i et slagteri parat til den fede mands bord. Hjertet er den mest magiske del…(tænker). Hvad er der sket med ansigterne? Arrede eller maske­rede, sprængt i småstykker?   LUCY: Memento mori – skelettet, der spiller under huden.   VLAD: Lad os hente Jeanne tilbage fra krypten, for hun er også et spøgelsesagtigt politisk symbol: Hun lider, hun brænder.   LUCY (crooner Palace Brothers): ”Will you miss me when I burn? /And will you eye me with a longing?”   VLAD (tager noter): Hvidt kridt symboliserer tydeligvis hvidt kød…   LUCY: ”And will you close the other’s eyes? (mumler) “There are wolves here abound…”   VLAD: Jeg spekulerer altid på, om den sang skal forestille, at du ligger ved siden af en synder på hans dødsleje, mens han hvisker i dit øre. Mens hans publikum er nede på knæ, skælvende.   LUCY: En uhyggelig sang… (Overvejer billedet, tænksomt) Det mest skræmmende af det hele er, at politisk kontekst kan brændes væk, vi kunne være hvor som helst: Til en lynchning i Alabama eller i gang med at hænge ud med nogle engelske bøller. Galninge, kryb og sadister styrer spillet.   VLAD: Hulemaleri! Jeg skulle have sagt hulemaleri noget før. Urtidsbrutalitet…   LUCY: Brutalitet i den grad. Texas, juni 1998: James Byrd Jr. bliver angrebet af tre White Power-typer og slæbt efter en kørende lastbil indtil hans arm og hoved bliver flået af kroppen. Hans skamferede rester bliver efterladt uden for en kirke i et sort kvarter.   VLAD (ryster): ”I heard a Fly buzz— when I died.”   LUCY: Target Practice er ikke bare historieundervisning, men et skrækscenarie der beskriver noget, der sker med sorte menneskers kroppe i Amerika lige nu.   VLAD: Blodtørstige dyr på parade.   Davidsens tegning Kenosis (2015) projiceres op på væggen.   LUCY: Så er det godt med de kroppe: Kan du forklare dette drilagtige teologiske kenosisbegreb?   VLAD: Ah! (Åbner Avital Ronells Stupidity, 2002, og læser højt) “Kenosis, et teologisk udtryk, refererer til det, at Kristus tømte sig selv, idet han blev menneskelig, nedlod sig til at udholde selv døden og den proces, hvor han blev køde­lig­gjort og opgav alle eller nogle af sine guddommelige attributter.”   LUCY: Bang.   VLAD: Jep, det giver også en svag association til månens aftagen.   LUCY: Meget mystisk, eftersom så mange af Davidsens male­rier får mig til at tænke på månen. Det skær de har… Og der er hendes billede, The Waning, hvor nogle piger tumler igennem et skyggefuldt slør – ånder på flugt, eller på kanten til … at vågne op?   VLAD: Hvis man analyserer den definition, involverer keno­sis et fald fra det himmelske til det jordiske; desorientering, tab, fornedrelse.   LUCY: Syg af begær, længsel efter det numinøse, som en fortabt hund der længes hjem.   VLAD: Altså alle Davidsens genfærd henfalder til en anden tilstand. Hm, både kødelighed og ikke-kødelighed.   LUCY: En åbenbaring, min egen?   VLAD: Ja, hvilket ikke er uden problemer. (Henter et eksemplar af Holy Anorexia, 1981, af Rudolph Hall) Denne her bog handler om den sindsforvirrede aktivitet hos de tidlige katolske helgener, der længtes efter Guds berøring. (Læser højt) ”I denne søgen blev deres kroppe til forhind­ringer, smertefulde påmindelser om de jordiske realiteter, som de ønskede at overskride…” Nogle gange blev de besat af ondsindede ånder, som søgte at spolere deres hellige bedrifter: ”De bekæmpede deres dæmoner med tiltagende fysisk tortur og, i første omgang bevidst, benæg­tede sultens og træthedens stimuli.”   LUCY: ”I første omgang bevidst?”   VLAD: Det antyder, at en eller anden fase af henrykt frigø­relse opnås i det øjeblik, hvor lidelse og udmattelse ophører med at eksistere. Når et guddommeligt lys fylder sjælen, bliver kroppens lidelser betydningsløse.   LUCY (synger Jandek): ”I take you to the sky…”   VLAD: Frugter som en gemen dumrian aldrig vil smage.   LUCY: Nix. Lidelse er altafgørende for programmet. En dommedagsprædikant i en af Flannery O’Connors historier siger: ”Listen, even the Almighty’s love burns!”   VLAD: Men hvis man har oplevet denne form for opofrelse, hvad er der så tilbage? Måske er der ikke engang en krop.   LUCY: Enhver, som har haft en ven, der døde, husker, at de kom tilbage og besøgte en, mens man lå og sov og talte i vildelse uden at få noget svar.   VLAD: Ånden kommer over dig!   LUCY: Men der er ingen her... Hendes figurer bebor det der vildnis – drømte figurer, som vinker fra skyggerne.   VLAD: Spøgelser?   LUCY: Det spøger jo i alles hoveder.   VLAD fløjter. KASPAR kommer frem, bærende på Davidsens Head Jar (2015), en hvid raku-urne med et spøgelsesagtigt ansigt skåret i siden.   KASPAR: Head Jar får mit hjerte til at dunke i mit bryst som en fugl fanget i et loftsrum. (Dunk!) I kabuki-teater betyder et hvidt ansigt, at der er et spøgelse i huset. Og i Shinto, den traditionelle japanske religion, er spøgelser lige så virkelige som et tordenbrag. (Dunk!) Alt har en ånd, der kan tæmmes eller gøres rasende: huse, natten, røg. (Dunk!) Er Head Jar besat? (Dunk!) Vil han give mig mareridt? (Udstøder et skrig, der får blodet til at fryse til is) Har spøgelset set Poltergeist? Er der intet, der kan skræmme ham væk? Har Cathrine Raben Davidsen begravet og fortryllet ham? Hun ved alt om halshugning: dekapitering, siger hun, repræsenterer ”en adskillelse af krop og sjæl”. Var han en dreng, før han var en krukke? Stirrer han, fordi han ved alt om alle de slemme ting, jeg har gjort? (Dunk!) En slem betændelse overalt på ham. Urenheder af sølv, ser du? Under huden er der overhovedet intet blod, men en… kappe. Hvis han er en urne, er der noget dødt inden i ham. Aske. Naturen kommer hurtigt efter dig, når først du er død. Der vokser et edderkoppespind fra hans øjeæble. Ville roser få ham til at holde op med at hjemsøge mig? (Dunk!) Roser bundet sammen, en fryd for øjet. Er det det, man kalder ”at udvise respekt for de døde”?   KASPAR forsvinder.   VLAD (tjekker sine notater): Nogle af figurerne i disse malerier kommer fra gruopvækkende billeder: postapokalyptiske billeder.   LUCY: — Kroppe i ekstreme tilstande; sårede, blodige eller stive som mannequiner, kvalte.   VLAD: Og i denne mørke rolleliste, uden navn, gemmer der sig en selvmordsbomber.   LUCY: Vi ved aldrig, hvad slags terror det var. Måske er de blevet slæbt ud af ruinerne af et smadret hus, eller kvalt, hurtigt, i nattens mulm og mørke. Brutalitet kan være helt utrolig. Tjek rapporterne (hun læser højt fra en anden bog): ”En ung mand blev bundet til et hegn om natten, banket til han gik i koma og var gennemblødt af blod. Efter at være blevet efterladt frossen hele natten, blev han fundet den næste morgen, hvor han blev forvekslet med et fugle­skræm­sel”. (Skifter side) ”To drenge, endnu ikke teenagere, over­faldt et par yngre drenge. Ofrene gemte sig under et tæppe, som omgående blev lyst op.”   VLAD: Ligklæde.   The Disease (2016) projiceres op på væggen.   VLAD: Hun kommer ud af tågen, hendes ansigt er blevet ædt op af den gift, der er i luften.   LUCY: Hendes ansigt er en skydeskive. Flashback til Target Practice. Men med en pragtfuld tekstur – alle de blå og grønne nuancer, der hvirvler, får mig til at tænke på Odilon Redon såvel som Madame Schjerf­­beck.   VLAD: Redon, den symbolistiske maler? Gnomer, krager og hans legendariske Pegasus fra 1900, i kamp med Hydra.   LUCY: Tak for fodnoten, Professor Overpedant. Jep, de gotiske favoritter. Jeg mener ikke kun Redons begejstring for monstre, myter og onde ånder, men også hans talent for at gøre scener tågede, som om de er —   VLAD: ”Projiceret på Helvedes røg.”   LUCY: Barokt. Jeg ville have holdt mig til hekse og sagt, ”Hældt kogende fra gryden”.   VLAD: Sandelig varmt. Drømte om rum igen, mærkelige interiører.   LUCY: Hvilket alt sammen er allegoriske scener, som vækker minder om psykologisk tumult eller forskruede lyster. En verden, (hun gnækker hysterisk) der er gået fra forstanden.   VLAD: En bevinget hest kan være gud, som bryster sig, eller maleren selv, med vingerne i vejret, ivrig efter at bekæmpe sine rivaler.   LUCY: Men allegori er en maske.   VLAD: Den gør det muligt at rejse i tiden.   LUCY: Hvem er figuren i The Disease? Hun kunne være kommet kravlende ud af en ny krigszone eller holdt i karantæne i tre hundrede år, eller ud af de snedækkede skove gennem­van­drede af børn i et eventyr af brødrene Grimm. Hun kunne være en spedalsk med infektion i sit åndedræt.   VLAD: Selvlysende som en radioaktiv sump.   LUCY: Pestens år ruller videre. Jeg kunne have sagt Agent Orange, Tjernobyl eller AIDS, endnu i giftigt flor.   VLAD: Solen står snart op.   LUCY: Sammenkogte biografier trætter mig, men der er en anden historie, der skal fortælles, om hvordan maleren isolerer sig i månedsvis, mens hun prøver at skabe sit værk, fast besluttet på ikke at se nogen overhovedet. At vinke farvel til fortiden. Hun lader sig fordybe i beretninger om diver­se grusomheder, overfald, de tilfældige rædsler ved at leve i vor tid. (Pause) - Men malerkunsten er en uhyggelig beskæftigelse, en vandring gennem kirkegården.   VLAD: Tørster efter bifald fra de døde.   LUCY: Enhver kunstner er en vampyr, der nærer sig grådigt på fortiden for at skabe en åbenbaring om fremtiden. I Davidsens billeder forandrer alting sig. Det er, hvad der er på spil derude nu…alting skifter form. (ingen i disse billeder er fuldstændig kvinde­lig eller mandlig). Lemlæstede soldater råber på robotproteser, spøgelser.   VLAD: Hov!   LUCY: — Overalt. Den gamle, urokkelige tro på, hvad kroppen er. Kvinde eller mand, levende eller død, blødt kød eller digitalt væsen – er på kirkegården. Kærlighed er en forvandling, og det er sorg også. (Hun kommer tættere på VLAD og hvisker i hans øre. De er sammenflettede som figurerne fra Kenosis.   Pludseligt mørke i rummet.   LUCY: Og jeg har det, som om vi er begravet sammen nu.   VLAD fløjter. KASPAR vender tilbage med Head Jar oplyst indefra, så ansigtet lyser.   VLAD: Solen er ved at stå op.   LUCY: (hviskende): Se, hvor prekær kroppen er i hendes maleri Human Nature (2016),     VLAD: Skynd dig nu!   LUCY: Fortidstraumerne kommer altid tilbage — fortiden er et benhus.   VLAD: En gravskrift!   LUCY (hvisker): Se godt efter, alle figurerne falder.   VLAD: Hurtigt!   LUCY (hvisker): — Falder ind i mørket.   De forsvinder alle sammen.  
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Keramik – Ceramics
By Sara Hatla Krogsgaard
May 2015
Historical accounts, works of fiction and mythological material combined with personal memory often form the point of departure for the work of Danish artist Cathrine Raben Davidsen. Her activities are characterized by a strong fascination with the material and the urge constantly to experiment with and explore different artistic techniques. The traditional hierarchies among art, artist-craftsmanship and design are negated in an artistic oeuvre that ranges wide from painting, drawing and ceramics to costumes and stage design. Over the past few years ceramics has been given an increasingly prominent role in her work. The inspiration comes from among other sources Pre-Columbian terracotta works and ancient Japanese craft traditions, including special glazing techniques and raku firing. In the ceramics there is a particular emphasis on simple formal expression and the beauty of the imperfect. A particular sense for the material and the processual is characteristic of Raben Davidsen’s working method, in which the works are often built up of many layers in a variety of materials and techniques. But unlike the two-dimen­si­onal works the ceramics involve a higher degree of loss of control and unpredictability, as the firings and glazes vary and react differently from time to time. At the same time the curved surfaces of the ceramics pave the way for different kinds of narratives without a beginning or ending. Other important influences are Frida Kahlo’s “Casa Azul” in Mexico and the artist Vanessa Bell’s home, “Charleston”, in England. Kahlo and Bell, who were both associated with the Bloomsbury group, carefully chose artist-craftsmanship, furnishings, arts and crafts, colours and decorations and created a meticulously orchestrated and staged totality in the home. “Casa Azul” and “Charleston” nevertheless became rallying points for some of the most prominent artists and intellectuals of the time, cradles not only of new political thoughts and ideas, but also of alternative lifestyles and the play of identities. In Raben Davidsen’s investigation of identity as something associated with memory and history, the home in fact plays an important role as the place where our identity has its foundations. Her own memories of her childhood home often feature in the works on an equal footing with myth and litera­ture. This is also the case in the ceramic lamps, where curtain material from her childhood home is used in some of the shades. The lamps are at one and the same time beautiful utility objects and works of art. While their function is immediately evident, it is a different matter with the lidded jars, which seem unsettling and ominous compared with the domesticated aura of the lamps. The jars recall the lost rites and mysterious religious ceremonies of our ancestors – like relics whose meaning has been lost in time. In her well known essay A Room of One’s Own from 1929, Vanessa Bell’s sister, the writer Virginia Woolf, argues for a woman’s right to a room where she can express herself freely, beyond the influence of the usual norms. For Woolf the room is a concrete working room, but also a more metaphorical, spiritual space for the woman’s emancipation from conventional demands for femininity. Raben Davidsen’s mission is perhaps not decidedly feminist; nevertheless, through her now all-encompassing practice and personal idioms, she has been able to create an artistic place to stand – her own room, one could say – from which she can act freely. By alternating among different forms of artistic expression she breaks down the dogmas and hierarchies that still prevail between design / artist-craftsmanship and art.   scroll down for a Danish version     Historiske fortællinger, skønlitterære værker og mytestof kombineret med personligt erindringsmateriale er ofte udgangspunktet for Cathrine Raben Davidsens værker. Kendetegnende for hendes virke er en stærk fascination af materialet og trangen til bestandigt at eksperimentere med og udforske forskellige kunstneriske teknikker. De traditionelle hierarkier mellem kunst, kunsthåndværk og design ophæves i en kunstnerisk produktion, der spænder vidt fra maleri, grafik, tegning og keramik til kostumer og scenografi. Gennem de senere år har keramikken fået en stadig mere fremtrædende rolle. Inspirationen kommer blandt andet fra præ-columbianske terracotta arbejder og urgamle japanske håndværkstraditioner, herunder særlige glaseringsteknikker og rakubrænding. I keramikken er der lagt vægt på det enkle formmæssige udtryk og skønheden i det uperfekte. Den særlige sans for materialet og det processuelle er karakteristisk for Raben Davidsens arbejdsmetode, hvor værkerne ofte bygges op af mange lag, forskellige materialer og teknikker. Men i modsætning til de todimensionelle værker rummer keramikken et større element af kontroltab og uforudsigelighed, idet brændinger og glasurer varierer og reagerer forskelligt fra gang til gang. Samtidig baner keramikkens krumme overflade vejen for anderledes fortællinger uden begyndelse eller slutning. Af andre væsentlige påvirkninger kan nævnes Frida Kahlos Casa Azul i Mexico og kunstneren Vanessa Bells hjem Charleston i England. Både Kahlo og Bell, der var tilknyttet Bloomsbury gruppen, udvalgte nøje kunsthåndværk, møbler, farver og udsmykninger og skabte i hjemmet en minutiøst orkestreret og iscenesat helhed. Både Casa Azul og Charleston blev dog ikke desto mindre samlingspunkt for nogle af tidens mest fremtrædende kunstnere og intellektuelle, og arnesteder ikke kun for nye politiske tanker og idéer, men også for alternative levemåder og leg med identiteter. I Raben Davidsens undersøgelse af identitet som værende forbundet med erindringen og historien bliver netop hjemmet væsentligt, som det sted, hvor vores identitet grundlægges. Egne erindringer fra barndomshjemmet indgår ofte i værkerne på lige fod med mytestof og litteratur. Dette er også tilfældet i de keramiske lamper, hvor der i enkelte lampeskærme er anvendt gardinstof fra barndomshjemmet. Lamperne er på én gang smukke brugsgenstande og kunstværker. Mens deres funktion er umiddelbar aflæselig, forholder det sig anderledes med lågkrukkerne, der virker foruroligende og skæbnesvangre i forhold til lampernes domesticerede hygge. Krukkerne genkalder forfædres svundne riter og mystiske religiøse ceremonier - som relikvier hvis betydning er gået tabt med tiden. I et kunsthistorisk perspektiv er keramik på linje med eksempelvis håndarbejde traditionelt blevet udgrænset og negligeret som kunsthåndværk, forbundet med det kvindelige og dermed ikke-kunst. I sit navnkundige essay Eget værelse fra 1929 argumenterer Vanessa Bells søster, forfatteren Virginia Woolf, for kvindens ret til et værelse, hvor hun kan udfolde sig frit upåvirket af gængse normer. Værelset er hos Woolf både et konkret arbejdsrum, men også et mere metaforisk åndeligt rum for kvindens frisættelse fra konventionelle krav om femininitet. Raben Davidsens ærinde er måske ikke decideret feministisk, men ikke desto mindre har hun gennem sin efterhånden altfavnende praksis og personlige udtryk formået at skabe et kunstnerisk ståsted – eller eget værelse om man vil - hvorfra hun kan agere frit. Ved at skifte imellem forskellige kunstneriske udtryksformer bryder hun de dogmer og hierarkier, der fortsat hersker mellem henholdsvis design / kunsthåndværk og kunst.   By Sara Hatla Krogsgaard, curator at Gl. Holtegaard              
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Losing our Heads
By Marie Nipper
August 2015
At Cathrine Raben Davidsen’s exhibition Losing our Heads at Munkeruphus we are invited into a universe of mythology, tales and history. The title is borrowed from the American author Regina Janes, whose book Losing our Heads is a collection of historical, literary and art-historical accounts of decapitation, that is beheading, literally ‘losing one’s head’. In art history in particular ‘losing your head’ is a recurring motif, and from antiquity until today it has been used as a powerful image of the splitting of body from mind. As is often the case with Cathrine Raben Davidsen, a large body of research work underlies the exhibition. With a point of departure in ancient myths, historical narratives and more recent literature, Losing our Heads is a narrative of loss.  But it is not the physical loss of the head that interests Cathrine Raben Davidsen. Instead her title functions as a metaphor for the loss of control one can experience when the rational ego is suppressed and the emotions take over. It is a mental separation that offers the potential for development – both personal and artistic. She explains: “Our face is what makes us recognizable in the social world. And our brain tells us who we are. Our speaking mouth is the link between the two, and if we lose our heads, we lose everything. But at the same time there is a loss of control that can transform and develop our way of thinking at an internal level.” For the exhibition Losing our Heads Cathrine Raben Davidsen has created a series of new ceramic works. Inspired by both Japanese raku ceramics and Mexican terracotta work, she has concentrated on formal simplicity and materiality. In her drawings too Cathrine Raben Davidsen has chosen to work in a new way. She has loosened up her composition and satu­rated the picture surface by building the works up with several layers of ink, charcoal, oil, pastel, pigment and acrylic. This can be seen for example in The Red Ribbon, a series of drawings created with a starting point in the short story about the girl who loses her head after the ribbon she always wears around her neck is loosened. The intimate, atmospheric portraits also make reference to the so-called Bals des victimes, a succession of legendary festivities held in the years after the French Revolution, in which people in ingenious costumes with red ribbons around their necks partied in honour of the victims of the guillotine. In both stories the ribbon functions as a symbol of what keeps body and head together. For Cathrine Raben Davidsen too there exists a ‘ribbon’, a characteristic line that weaves the motifs together and runs as a common thread through her artistic production.   By Marie Nipper, Senior Curator at TATE Liverpool   scroll down for a Danish version   På Cathrine Raben Davidsens udstilling Losing our Heads på Munkeruphus inviteres vi indenfor i et univers af mytologi, fortælling og historie. Titlen er lånt fra den amerikanske forfatter Regina Jones, hvis bog Losing our Heads udgør en samling af historiske, literære og kunsthistoriske beretninger om dekapitation, dvs. dét at tabe eller miste hovedet. Særligt i kunsthistorien optræder ’hovedtabet’ som et tilbagevendende motiv, og er fra antikken til i dag blevet brugt som et kraftfuldt billede på splittelsen af krop og sind. Som det ofte er tilfældet hos Cathrine Raben Davidsen, ligger der et stort researcharbejde til grund for udstillingen. Med afsæt i antikke myter, historiske fortællinger og nyere litteratur, udgør Losing our Heads en fortælling om tab. Men det er ikke det fysiske hovedtab, der interesserer Cathrine Raben Davidsen. I stedet fungerer titlen som en metafor for det kontroltab, man kan opleve, når det rationelle ’jeg’ fortrænges og følelserne tager styringen. Det er en mental løsrivelse, der giver mulighed for en udvikling – både personligt og kunstnerisk. Selv forklarer hun, at ”vores ansigt er det, der gør os genkendelige i den sociale verden. Og vores hjerner er det, der fortæller os, hvem vi er. Vores talende mund er bindeleddet mellem de to og taber vi vores hoveder, mister vi alt. Men samtidig er der tale om et kontroltab, som kan forvandle og videreudvikle vores tankesæt på et indre plan”. Til udstillingen Losing our Heads har Cathrine Raben Davidsen skabt en serie nye, keramiske værker. Inspireret af både japansk raku-keramik og mexicansk terrakotta-arbejde, har hun koncentreret sig om formmæssig enkelthed og stoflighed i materialet. Også i sine tegninger har Cathrine Raben Davidsen valgt at arbejde på en ny måde. Hun har løsnet op for sin komposition og mættet billedfladen ved at bygge værkerne op af flere lag blæk, kul, olie, pastel, pigment og akryl. Det ses bl.a. i The Red Ribbon (1-15), en serie af tegninger skabt med udgangspunkt i novellen om pigen der mister hovedet, efter at det bånd hun altid bærer om sin hals, bliver løsnet. De intime og stemningsfyldte portrætter bærer også reference til de såkaldte Bals des victimes, en række myteomspundne fester afholdt i årene efter den Franske Revolution, hvor man i kunstfærdige kostumer og med røde bånd om halsen, festede til ære for guillotinens ofre. I begge fortællinger optræder båndet som et symbol på dét, der holder krop og hoved sammen. Også hos Cathrine Raben Davidsen eksisterer der et bånd, en karakteristisk streg, der væver motiverne sammen og løber som en rød tråd gennem hendes værkproduktion.            
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The Artist as Harlequin
By Barry Schwabsky
March 2014
It works like this, as it often does: I saw some works—paintings and drawings—by Cathrine Raben Davidsen and something about them made their mark on me. I wanted to know more—to see more. And the best way to do it turned out to be by visiting her in her studio. I saw more, and I learned much more: this artist has a fascinating mind. Later, after she asked me to write some words for her publication, we met again, and again—even more than the first time—I found myself captivated not only by the works themselves, but by the rich inner life that they reflect so beautifully but, of course, indirectly. In particular, as a writer, I was interested in exploring some of her literary and historical stimuli. I found myself delving into Ovid’s Heroides and the poetry of Karin Boye, of which I had not heard before, and unsuccessfully attempting to search out a text by Selma Lagerlöf that seems to have been out of print in English for ninety years. I found my reading, as well, about Gerda and Einar Wegener, a pair of Danish artist/illustrators who had a fascinating but ultimately tragic story: Einar, a transvestite, became the main model for the female characters in Gerda’s erotic images. Eventually Einar underwent a series of sexual-reassignment operations, taking the name Lili Elbe, and the marriage dissolved. Lili stopped painting—that was only Einar’s thing, apparently—and complications from one of her then-entirely experimental operations led to her death. A strange and disturbing allegory of sex, death, art, and identity. From all this reading I found myself appreciating more and more the range of Raben Davidsen’s curiosity about what is after the essence of our love of art, namely a desire to understand the nature of human feeling, and getting a deeper sense of her intuition about the role of gender, and of the politics of gender, in the structure of feeling. At the same time I began to feel that I was nonetheless getting further away from her art, which is not an illustrative or didactic art but one rich in sensations, constructed of layers and textures rather than propositions and clear outlines—an art in which, as Boye wrote in her poem “The Trees,” “our word ‘understand’ / becomes empty smoke and wind.”[1] I came to realize the need for a less discursive mode of empathy in order to enter into the spirit of this art. Raben Davidsen’s earlier works, the ones that had first caught my eye, were portrait-like in form. And yet these did not seem to be representations of people one might have met on the street, at a party, or in an office—they were not inhabitants of daily life as I know it. And yet one felt they called for an intimate rapport. How to initiate this relation, however, was a difficult question. These figures seemed to come from so far away—their pictures, to be portraits of ghosts. Typically, the backgrounds and figures in these works, with their sparse and pale colors, were left open, undefined, as if incomplete; only the faces were given a greater sense of volume and detail. It was as if they were figures from nineteenth century portraits, who had become stranded in our present, and the intense melancholy that seemed to emanate from them carried the taste of this strandedness. But when I came back to Raben Davidsen’s studio a few years later, everything seemed to have changed. Yes, there was still an aroma of historicism about the work, but the reference period had changed, had come closer to the present. Suddenly we were in the full flush of modernism, reinterpreted with the flare of a historical novelist. Consider a painting like Lili, 2013, the three-quarter-length portrait of a slim, charming young woman. This must be that Lili Elbe of whom the artist had told me. As with the figures in her earlier works, there is something ghostly, almost immaterial about this Lili—immaterial but not disembodied. The translucent washes of color, mostly shades of blue, show me an elegant figure whose eyes look off to the side, evading contact. The outfit is pure 1920s: a sailor jacket gives a hint of androgyny, but the hint is a misleading one without the knowledge of Lili’s background; this is not just another girl taking on an insinuation of boyishness to further set off her femininity. It’s more complicated than that. The evasive eyes tell us that Lili wants to be seen but not known. In contrast to those in Raben Davidsen’s earlier portraits, Lili’s face does not strike us as more “real” than anything else in the picture; everything is evanescent—everything, that is, except color itself, which for all its gauzy translucency is sharp, biting. It has a body of its own that is distinct from the body it depicts. It is seductive, too, in a more over way than the rather coy figure of Lili herself would seem to want to risk. Another recent painting of Raben Davidsen’s presents a very different kind of portrait. It’s called Deco Mannequin, 2013, but while there are hints of Art Deco in the painting (in its quasi-decorative patterns of curving lines) the most evident stylistic reference point is Art Deco’s more austere and obdurate formal precursor, Cubism. As with so many works of, particularly, Analytical Cubism, the painting verges on abstraction; and indeed without the word “mannequin” in the title, one might have been hard put to be quite sure that the figurative reference in the work was intended. But “mannequin” is an ambiguous word in itself, most commonly referring to the dummies used for displaying clothes, for instance in shop windows, but also sometimes to the live models employed to show off clothes. Which kind do we see here? The outline of the head is itself little more than the hooked form of a question mark. Just as from the painting of her we cannot tell whether Lili is a woman or the simulacrum of a woman—we know it only if we know the back story—in this painting we cannot tell whether what we are seeing is the depiction of a real person or a plaster dummy. Ambiguity is at the heart of both paintings, yet each one expresses it in a very different way—the diaphanous layerings that convey the equivocal image of Lili versus the bolder construction of the abstracted figure of the deco mannequin. If nothing else, this shows the impressive stylistic range at Raben Davidsen’s command, but it seems important here to point out that she is not merely indulging in pastiche—at least not, or not exactly, in the sense in which that term is often used when describing certain kinds of postmodernist art and architecture: “the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language,” as Fredric Jameson once famously called its literary equivalent, “devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists.”[2] That kind of postmodernism amounted to an encomium of the false, whereas Raben Davidsen is, on a deeper level, questioning our construction of the dichotomy between true and false. And isn’t that what the story of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe asks us to do—to question our sense of true and false? Was this person’s true identity the one she had to all appearances been given at birth, or was it rather the one she eventually assumed in the course of living her life as she could? She never found complete satisfaction; the project of embodying the Lili she felt herself to be was not one she was able to fulfill and the effort to concretize this identity led to death rather than to its accomplishment. In this sense we can only conclude that the very passion with which she pursued this intuition that (to borrow and as it were détourne Arthur Rimbaud’s famous phrase) “je est un autre,” I is someone else—that this very passion is a token of the imperfection, perhaps of the imperfectability of the project of assuming and embodying one’s true identity. And yet Lili is not merely—to use Jameson’s word—a mask worn by Einar. Neither are the twentieth century historical styles assumed by Raben Davidsen in her recent works so many masks put on to dissemble some true, “normal,” and proper artistic identity of her own (let alone the absence of such). Although identity (including, but not limited to, gender identity) may never be self-consistent (since it is always under construction) it is not necessarily for that reason simply artificial or false. Likewise, in her recent works, Raben Davidsen seems to be attempting to reclaim art-historical styles as more than simply an exercise in aesthetic masquerade or even as convenient atmospheric reference points for the evocation of characters and events from the early twentieth century (though they can certainly function in this way as well). I would say instead that the artist is not taking these styles as essentially “finished,” as what Jameson calls “dead languages,” but rather trying to enter into their spirit as projects—as structures of desire. Another painting in the form of a portrait, Hellequin, 2013, synthesizes the distinct pictorial modes we saw in Lili and in Deco Mannequin. Here there really is a mask—it is one of the standard attributes of this commedia dell’arte character. In this case it lends the painting a distinctly uncanny feeling, but this is entirely appropriate to this agile trickster who crosses boundaries with impunity. Pablo Picasso famously identified with Harlequin and painted him many times, so we cannot be sure whether Raben Davidsen’s efforts to delve into Cubism, and to understand it within a broader context of early twentieth century form languages, is a by-product of her fascination with Harlequin, or vice versa, for as Theodore Reff once put it, “More than the other costumed figures in his art, those of the circus and fair, and especially the ubiquitous Harlequins, are intimately related to Picasso‘s most important formal invention, Cubism.”[3] He quotes the British art historian Phoebe Pool, who noted that “the clothes of the Harlequin, like the color blue, tend to remove him from the world of reality . . . [and to] link him with a more mysterious and generalized order of being having its own mystique and ritual.”[4] This connection with the color blue is of evident important for Raben Davidsen’s interpretation of Harlequin as well. For her, as she told me, Harlequin is associated with the god Mercury, with alchemy and the underworld; he can, not only take on many forms but can even become invisible.[5] It’s one thing for a male artist like Picasso to identify himself with Harlequin. What does it mean for a female artist to do so? Harlequin may be a transformationist who can take on almost any guise, breach every boundary, but rarely is he seen to cross the borders of gender. Yet when I reflect on Raben Davidsen’s Harlequin, I have to admit that I cannot assign a sex to this masked figure. If Raben Davidsen identifies with her Harlequin, if she sees this mysterious character as the model of the artist, who exerts a kind of alchemical transformation on the very substance of existence, it is not that in so doing she identifies with the traditionally male genius with his Protean ability to elude definition through constant change—as Picasso certainly did—but that she sees this male identity as one more limitation to be discarded. If she’s fascinated by Ovid’s Heroides, it is surely in part because of the male poet’s ability to speak with the voice of a woman—but it’s not that she wants to make that kind of crossing in the opposite direction. For Raben Davidsen, Harlequin is essentially an androgyne—an interpretation not often found elsewhere, and certainly not in Picasso. She succeeds in conjuring for us this “mysterious and generalized order of being” in which the soul participates in every inflection of gender without excluding any. Would Lili Elbe have been happier in this realm? I think so. And the rest of us too.   By Barry Schwabsky, an art critic for The Nation and co-editor of international reviews for Artforum. Schwabsky\'s essays have appeared in many other publications, including Flash Art, Contemporary, Artforum, London Review of Books and Art in America.   [1] Translated by David McDuff, http://www.halldor.demon.co.uk/sins.htm. [2] Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), p. 17. [3] Theodore Reff, “Harlequins, Saltimbanques, Clowns, and Fools,” Artforum, October 1971, p. 31. [4] Reff, p. 36. [5] Cathrine Raben Davidsen, email, August 21, 2013.
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Masks
By Sanne Kofod Olsen
February 2014
The exterior of the form of art is its interior. August Macke, 1912 Prologue In 1913 Picasso painted a Cubist picture of Harlequin – totally disintegrated but with an ear and a small beard, like an attempt to maintain some reality amidst the dissolution. Picasso saw Harlequin as an alter ego and painted him innumerable times; perhaps as an untamed messenger from the underworld or the person who tells the truth satirically. Harlequin is Pantalone’s servant in the Commedia dell’Arte theatre. He assumes the role of both servant and jester. The court jester is another figure, but resembles Harle­quin in dress and style. He is the one who can speak truth to power without dramatic consequences. Irrational behaviour follows with the jester as it does with Harlequin, who turns somersaults whenever he feels like it. Harlequin is a poor fellow from the countryside who is a servant of Pantalone, a mer­chant in Venice who is rich, greedy and naive. Harlequin’s costume is poor man’s clothing. It is sewn together from rhomboid patches in a decorative pattern. The fragmented and composite is an interpretative theme for Cathrine Raben Davidsen, as an image of the composite life of the individual.   On themes and motifs In recent years Raben Davidsen has worked with motifs like the mask, the puppet, Harlequin and the dancer; images that repeat motifs and themes from the history of art in the early 1900s. The puppet, the dancer and the mask were frequently used motifs in Cubism, Expressionism, Dadaism and Surrealism as well as in the theatre. For many years Raben Davidsen has also worked with the portrait; not necessarily portraits of particular people, but repetitions of portraits from the history of art. From paraphrased portraits of Italian noblewomen to more ordinary portraits of people one might know. Most recently several portraits have emerged of authors, designers and others who have a personal significance for the artist: from the Swedish woman author Karin Maria Boye (1900-1941), and the present chief designer for Yves Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane, to women, men and children who could be family. The portraits have been painted after photographs, some perhaps from the imagination. The essential thing is that they are not portraits where the artist, with a starting point in observation, tries to depict a certain person’s character or personality. On the contrary, the portraits are renderings of others’ depictions and stagings or self-stagings of such people. Thematically, the theatrical and the staged play a special role for Raben Davidsen. This can be seen in the portrait series, but it is especially emphasized in two specific series, one sculptural and one photographic. One is a series of sewn masks which together bear the title “Ariadne’s Thread” and one is a photographic series she has done in collabo­ration with the fashion magazine Dansk. The staging is omnipresent and is reinforced by the mask, the puppet and the dancer as motifs. Interest in the theatre with its intended, self-aware staging and thus also the performative, as well as the conscious play with the mask, seems to be a fundamental element which for Raben Davidsen is both a general reflection over mankind’s psycho­logical existence and being, but can also be seen as an analysis of the fashion world’s deliberate play with the mask and the puppet. A play that is a basic condition of the construction of a visual identity. And which perhaps – only perhaps – is also reflected in the portrait. The portrait as mask or the mask as portrait.   The mask and the portrait At the beginning of the twentieth century the mask was fashionable in European art. Artists were preoccupied with the African mask as a symbol of the wild and untamed, but also – and perhaps especially – with the formal idiom of the African mask with its geo­metrical forms, its simplicity and its expressiveness. Ethnographic collections of African tribal sculpture were exhibited in the capitals of Europe and the motif was repeated again and again and in many forms; from the formal interest of Braque and Picasso, Blaue Reiter and others (which was also a collector’s interest) to the more specific psychological interest of the Surrealists. The theatre too was preoccupied with the mask in this more expressionistic and psycho­logical way. The English stage director, actor and theorist Edward Gordon Craig (1872-1966) published the theatre periodical The Mask (1908-1926). The mask, Craig thought, could be used to turn away from external reality and thus concentrate on inner reality. The relationship between the theatre and the mask was of course by no means new. The mask follows the theatre throughout history and through cultures where it was used literally, but also in the metaphorical sense of ‘assuming a mask’. In ancient Greece masks were used in the theatre. They were used to express clearly the character of the person portrayed, so that the audience need be in no doubt. In the Dio­ny­sian culture the mask was the liberator of desire. With the mask one could uninhi­bi­tedly live out one’s (erotic) imaginings. The potential of the mask as a sexual emanci­pator is also part of the carnival tradition; a tradition of hedonism, among other things, where the mask disguises one’s official identity and establishes a temporary opportunity for liberation – not only sexual liberation, but liberation from the self, from the norm and from morality. When masks were worn during the Carnival in Venice, it was among other reasons in order to circumvent the rules of society, but also to relate to one another equally in a strongly hierarchical society. In its later European use in the theatre around 1900 the mask, according to Craig, was a means of capturing ‘pure’ emotion for the actors; the mask as a threshold to the world of the imagination, where reality fades into the background. This distinction between the self on the one hand and the mask on the other recurs in Jungian psychoanalysis, which has a quite specific interpretation of the mask in relation to the self. The Latin word for mask is ‘persona’, and the word itself originates in the use in the Greek theatre of the highly expressive masks. The ‘persona’ is also one of Jung’s archetypes. It is the iden­tity we assume to adapt to social life or reality. The ‘persona’ is “what one in reality is not, but what oneself and others think one is”. Jung speaks of an outer and an inner self where the outer one is a kind of ‘false self’ one has constructed. It is the way we present ourselves to the world, but it is a cover for the inner self – what the ego is in reality and what the ego should preferably be aware that it is. Raben Davidsen’s portraits seem to reflect this Jungian strain. They are masks, people, presences that are nevertheless not felt as present. A sense of absence arises, often as if they exist behind a membrane of colour or fade into a grey colour; or even more speci­fically, plant-like objects grow up in front of the faces. Their emotions seem to have been removed from the relatively expressionless faces, and yet now and then these are recognizable, named people from the past and present. They pose, as anyone does for the photographer. The self-staging is evident: the construction of an identity that is about how we ourselves would like to present ourselves to the world. How the individual wishes to appear to the world can also be seen in the artist’s preoccupation with the pain­ters Gerda and Einar Wegener. The couple were married, but were both homo­sexual. In 1930 Einar Wegener became the first man in the world to have a sex-change operation, and afterwards officially became ‘Lili Elbe’. Lili Elbe was often portrayed by Gerda Wegener, whose slightly mannered lines have also been stylistically important to Raben Davidsen. The sex change operation, according to the statements of many trans­sexuals, is about turning what you feel inside into what you are on the outside, but at the same time it is an extreme identity construction because you transcend your biological sexual identity. You not only assume a temporary mask or role, you become your own mask. Or else you unmask yourself.   Ariadne’s Thread When Raben Davidsen exhibited her first group of masks at the Gl. Strand exhibition House of The Ax, it was under the title “Ariadne’s Thread”.  Raben Davidsen’s masks are in textiles, leather and fur, and with their rigid expression are both frightening and fascinating. The masks are everything from usable ones with holes for eyes and mouth to unusable ones where there are not even markings of ordinary human features. The combination of the masks and Ariadne’s Thread is not only about the yarn, which is crucial to the making of the masks, it is also about the tale of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur. The story of Ariadne comes from Greek mythology. Ariadne was the daugh­ter of King Minos of Crete and Queen Pasiphaë. One day the hero Theseus, a youth from Athens, was to be sacrificed according to tradition to the Minotaur. The Minotaur was a monster that was half-human and half-bull, the son of a white bull and Queen Pasiphaë (and thus Ariadne’s half-brother). He lived in the middle of a winding laby­rinth that was hard to find one’s way through. The victims of the sacrifice were to move into the darkness of the labyrinth where they would sooner of later encounter the Minotaur, who killed them. If they were not found and killed by the Minotaur, they would die of hunger and thirst in the endless labyrinth. But Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and gave him a magic sword and a ball of yarn. When Theseus met the Minotaur in the Labyrinth he killed him with the sword, and found his way out of the labyrinth again with the aid of the yarn. And so the love story could have ended happily, had Theseus not fallen in love with Ariadne’s sister and left Ariadne on the island of Naxos. But that is another story. Once more Jungian psychoanalysis can be used to shed light on the work, to find a connection between the mask and the story of Ariadne. The labyrinth itself is a power­ful symbol that is used in many contexts. For Jung the labyrinth is an archetypal symbol of the psyche and the unconscious, but also of our life as such. Moving around in the laby­rinth is a part of life and ‘finding oneself’ is part of this process. The Minotaur represents ‘the fear of the unconscious’. You can easily get lost in the labyrinth, but you can also find your way out again. And this is where Ariadne’s yarn becomes important, because according to Jung, finding the yarn and thus getting out of the labyrinth symbo­lizes finding oneself. Overcoming the Minotaur in the labyrinth means confronting one’s problems and achieving awareness. When we find Ariadne’s yarn it can take us, enriched, further in life. The juxtaposition of the sewn mask and the title Ariadne’s Thread should not perhaps be interpreted so directly, but the exhibition House of The Ax took its point of departure in the artist’s father, who was a designer and who died when she was a child; so this was a highly personal matter. The idea of the outer self and the inner self is thus inter­woven in “Ariadne’s Thread”. The inner journey is expressed through an outer sym­bolism in the form of the work, which clearly indicates a difference between the outside and the inside that is inscribed in the duality of the mask. Minotaure was also the name of a Surrealist-based periodical edited by André Breton which appeared from 1933 until 1939.   The puppet It isn’t always about self-presentation in Raben Davidsen’s works; it’s also about being represented by others. The marionette/automaton is a puppet with human features, which as such is controlled by others and lets others decide who he/she is. The outer self – perhaps not even a self – is only a mask and a figure that others have created for you. The marionette is closely related to the fashion industry and the model as figure. The model is the person who has a superficial identity dictated and who acts according to the directions of others. The model of course has his or her own identity, his or her own self, but in the modeling work the person must step out of his or her own identity and become an outer self who permits herself to be formed by others. The model is both the puppet and the mask, because the person you see clearly has nothing to do with the real self behind the ‘mask’ carefully constructed by others. This is not even a ‘persona’. The mask is not used to contact your inner self, but to construct an exterior that cannot even be said to be a self, but is in fact only an image. In Raben Davidsen’s stagings, which were photographed for the fashion magazine Dansk, the constructed identity was shown as grotesque and became a more or less dystopian, monstrous narrative about a disfi­gured exterior (perhaps the Minotaur), disguising an interior we cannot see and which is not important either. In Raben Davidsen’s latest collages, too, which have been worked up from pictures from a male catwalk during the International Fashion Week in collabo­ration with the photographer Nick Knight and Showstudio, Raben Davidsen points to the construction of an external identity by giving the models a kind of mask that completely hide their identities, which are simply not present. But at the same time the mask indicates that this puppet does in fact have an interior, or that the meaning of the mask is to be assumed in this context too.   Epilogue Cathrine Raben Davidsen works with complex psychological issues in her works, which are about constructed identity, the self and the (self-) awareness that is a part of life. By reflecting forms of cultural expression such as theatre, dance, fashion in her works, she points to the performative in our being and how we present ourselves to others. By showing the external self in portraits, masks, dancers, etc., she also points to the inner self that exists beneath the surface of the portrait and not least behind the mask. With a powerful personal incentive she reflects over universal states of our being and existence and the character and meaning of the performative identity. The portrait, the mask and the puppet are fundamental elements in this analysis of the self and life.   By Sanne Kofod Olsen, Rector at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts  
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The Mask as Metamorphosis
By Sara Hatla Krogsgaard
May 2012
“For me the theme of transformation is something that affects everyone. In one way or another, human beings are constantly in a process of transformation. Events that impact on our lives, the transition from child to adult, the relationship with our parents and children and with the world, all colour us and change us and make us into the people we are”. (Cathrine Raben Davidsen in an interview with Director at Brandts, Mads Damsbo). Cathrine Raben Davidsen is concerned with human destinies, with transfor­mations and transitions, and with the journey from one place to another or from one state to another. Her works show objects and people caught in a snapshot-like image or in the midst of a transformation process: balls suspended in the air and faces that appear partly obliterated. In the drawings the fine contour lines intersect with the outlines of other figures, while the thinly applied paint reveals older layers and over­painted motifs. Her figures and people are composite in more than one sense: the usual parameters of identity such as gender and age are not immediately evident; rather, we often seem to see androgynous or animal-like beings outside time and space. The faces have an enigmatic, even mask-like character that gives the impres­sion of concealing a different face or perhaps even more masks or layers that can be peeled off ad infinitum. The nature of the mask seems to be precisely that it questions identity, or to put it differently, wearing a mask means no longer being oneself. (Papet, Éduard, “Et blik på masken” in Masken fra Carpeaux til Picasso, ed. Papet, Éduard, p. 10, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and Musée d’Orsay, 1994)   The triumph of the mask Originally the mask was a ritual object used specifically to mark transformations or transitions in the seasons and in life. But with the breakthrough of modernism and the avantgarde, the mask became more a sign of a grotesque and distorted reality. At the same time it became an image of the modern, complex individual whose identity be­comes increasingly difficult to define. The new interest in ‘primi­tive cultures’ and in the mask as representation that arose in the post-war years is explained by the art theorist Walter Sorell as follows: “The mask returned, reflecting and revealing the savage instinct of man let loose again, the old demonic spirits in new clothing, the spirits man feared and tried to escape while falling prey to them. The mask triumphed in leading man back to its cruel sources, and projecting its influence with a sophisticated gesture, often hiding as a mask behind non-mask-like masks”.(Sorell, Walter, 1973, The Other Face, Indianapolis, quoted in Tams, Klaus, “Maskens genfødsel i det moderne teater”, Masken som repræsentation, p. 67, l. 7, Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 1994). Raben Davidsen’s works use the mask as a marker of an existence in eternal transformation, but also as the sign of a self that can never be captured or defined.   The mask and the myth In House of the Ax the mask motif is quite specific in the work Ariadne’s Thread; a group of finely worked, hand-embroidered masks in dyed mink fur and cowhide, theatrically lit and exhibited in open display cases. The title comes from the myth of the labyrinth of King Minos at Knossos, whose passages were the haunt of the chimeric Minotaur. Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, gives the Greek hero-king Theseus a sword and a ball of yarn so he can conquer the beast and use the thread to find his way out of the labyrinth again. After killing the Minotaur, Theseus takes Ariadne away with him, but later abandons her on the island of Naxos. Ariadne is beside herself with grief and anger when she sees Theseus’ ship sail away from the island and thus discovers that she has been deserted. Like the duality of the Minotaur, who is at once bull and human being, there is a fascinating duality in the fur masks, which appear animal-like by virtue of the chosen material, but at the same time mime the human face. Raben Davidsen has used mythological material throughout her artistic practice, and the mask motif seems to be a natural extension of the mythical, since the mask, like the myth, expresses universal human emotions, instincts, longings and even repressions. It shows us our ancestors and gives form to ‘the beyond’, and for millennia it has found a use as an object with which we tie past and present together and create a sense of historical continuity. In the same way past and present are linked in House of the Ax, where memory fragments and old photographs feature on an equal footing with mythical material and fables. Raben Davidsen alternately conceals and reveals, and not only with the aid of the mask: sometimes the silhouettes are so unidentifiable and the dissolution so total that you get a sense of seeing the subject in strong backlight or of standing before something that has faded and been eaten up by time. There is an almost archaeological interest in what was, in layering – quite concretely in the painting as process, but also in human identity and the multiplicity of stories with which we narrate and explain ourselves. Like the mask, thread is a recurring motif for Raben Davidsen. Thread is used in works and titles as a metaphor of narrative and of women’s right to express themselves, but also as an image of feminine resourcefulness and persistence. This is the case in the myth of Ariadne, but also in Ovid’s tale of Philomela – an earlier subject for Raben Davidsen – who gets her voice back when she weaves into a tapestry the tale of a terrible crime committed against her by her brother-in-law King Tereus. In House of the Ax the thread, or the act of sewing, is used as an element in the audio part of the exhi­bi­tion, which consists of among other things of the mechanical whirring of her father’s sewing machine. The sound recalls the artist’s childhood and her father’s work as a fashion designer and is mixed with echoing, cave-like sounds and a confusion of street noises. Again different temporal dimensions meet, the past is interwoven with modern life and the gaze looks both inward and backwards towards childhood but is at the same time turned outward to the chaotic flicker of the world and human history.   Intertextuality and paraphrase The use of intertextuality is a general device in Raben Davidsen’s work, which to a great extent draws on associations with mythology, literature and the history of art. Her works have the character of samplings pieced together from oral narrative tradition, folk­lore, tragedy, mythology, art-historical quotations and personal recollection. At the same time the works move between the poles of the unconscious and the conscious, between dream and reality. By drawing on a wide frame of reference Raben Davidsen breaks with the idea of the grand narrative or truth and instead presents a number of interpretations and readings of human existence, which can in principle be endlessly retold and re-interpreted. However, certain elements taken from among other sources myth and tragedy involve universal, fundamentally human emotions like passion, doubt, powerlessness, the sense of loss, desire, instinct, jealousy and love. In this Raben Davidsen constantly balances the great universal narrative of mankind against the small narrative of the individual lived life. Raben Davidsen produces wondrous images of people and identities in eternal motion. In her works she gives us a modern, diverse world where the great truths are absent and where identity or reality cannot possibly be pinned down. This modern exis­ten­tial issue is expressed in the questions “Who am I?” and “Who are you?”, and is clearly manifested by the use of the mask as an image of the ultimate game of identities. By Sara Hatla Krogsgaard, curator at Gl Holtegaard, Denmark
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The Historic Aura of Ink
By Christoffer Emil Bruun
November 2010
Cathrine Raben Davidsen’s exhibition Blækhuset (The Inkwell) at Trapholt Museum for Contemporary Art and Design uses the historic aura of ink to conjure up a world in black and white. Certainly, there are colours in the exhibition too. But the use of ink in both title and material tells us something about the direction in which Raben Davidsen wants us to turn our gaze. The Inkwell as the work Memory Palace suggests, is a place of memory; a world where narratives are confronted with fragments, where personal sources alternate with historical sources, and where the visual imagery is related to a hidden written language. But the work Memory Palace is no ordinary palace of memory. On the contrary it is a glimpse – a momentary look, a source of memory. The moment is the ephemeral dwelling. And whoever dares to take this momentary look is answered with the same demanding courage. Memory is expressed as relations among a number of the various conditions with which humanity is presented. In the same way, the relations reveal their presence to the visitor. This represents a relationship. The Inkwell is in other words a presentation.   To Dwell Human beings live or dwell somewhere, but the actual dwelling is conditioned by the poetic, by the narrative. It obliges us to stick to the storyline. Facing the inside of the inkwell, blindfolded by ink, we try to look out into the world and wipe the windowpanes clean until the contours of the new world become visible. But the interrelationships of the ink and the house are far from the only thing that points to the embedding of language in the dwelling. As the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) writes, a place only becomes a true dwelling through the addition of a poetic element. Hölderlin writes for example: “Poetically man dwells.” In lieblicher Bläue (In Lovely Blueness, Hölderlin, 1823) The Danish word bo (live, dwell) is cognate with the Old High German (and Old English) word buan, which originally meant to dwell or to settle somewhere. The word is related to the German bin, as in Ich bin (I am) and the English word be. In other words, ‘be’ is related to ‘live’. The Danish word blæk (ink) comes from Old English and originally meant ‘black’. Ink became the material of the written language, and black was the colour of writing. The colour on the wall. Through an ingenious chemical process it became possible to use the world’s most solid material, iron, to commit thoughts to paper. Thought was thus perpetuated in a material. This is the historic aura of ink. We live in the landscape of antiquity, surrounded by meadows with grasses. Here, amidst the mist, stands a tree. Its growth is a freak growth. The fruits of the tree hang heavy. The people become souls and emerge slowly. Now a bird settles and occupies a branch. Its mask is black.   Without you I am Blind Do you know that the gaze is staring at you and no one else? What do you think the others will say when they find out? Why am I the only one who can see it?   A Flowering Tree In Raben Davidsen’s inkwell several of the subjects are associated with written fables, stories and myths. The fable A Flowering Tree is a folk tale which at some point was written down and fixed. The point in time when a ferrous ink embodies the fable by laying the preserving hands of the written language over it is crucial. This is where the consistency of the fable changes while it preserves its substance. Today we view the fable with new eyes. We are indebted to the written transmission that has ensured the presence of the fable, and we redeem the debt by trying to understand. How do we experience the fable in our present? How do we view the fortunes and misfortunes of the tale? First and foremost, the defiance of death inherent in the ink is answered by death itself. Hanging from the tree that has through the ages been the mother of all primal myths. Here we are hung out to dry as victims of ourselves with the rope around our neck in a life-giving growth that seems to have lost its spirit. Its flowers have been torn off and its sex has been mutilated. Parrots have found a perch on unsus­pecting branches, ready to abandon them again. They preen their traditional costumes with their beaks and let humanity dangle from its own branch. We call people fabulists. Being a fabulist is shooting off your mouth, letting a non-presence occupy your language. The language of presence is ordered, and relates to its surroundings. The language of non-presence is independent. The fable is independent of time because it has transcended its surroundings and become eternal. Like climbing up a ladder and then kicking it away behind you, the fable has the effect of irrevocable wisdom. The fable does not manifest itself as presence, but as existence, and is thus placeless. “A Flowering Tree” is a tale originally told in the ancient language Kannada, which was spoken in southern India. We ask: In what language should we understand the work A Flowering Tree? We answer: Only after we have shoved the ladder away under us will the tree begin to flower. In Norse mythology the mother-tree is called Yggdrasil. From the Bible we know it as the Tree of Knowledge. The wisdom of the tree is as silent as the painting. But when the fruit of the tree is mankind itself, it begins to speak. The most natural guest of the tree is the bird. This carefree wanderer shaking the water off so lightheartedly. Here it sits in Raben Davidsen’s grey plumage. Parakeet, parrot, Papageno, young cuckoo. Never united, always apart. The bird that is always ready to fly and the tree bound by its roots.   Tiny Death In the series of monoprints Tiny Death, death is present as a latent figure. Like the faces of the figures, death is insistent and absent at one and the same time. A keen-sighted spirit that persists in emerging from the underworld and spreading its melancholy. A silence behind the sound that fills the world with images and colours. A Punctum. From the back branch of the tree mankind dangles. In all its powerlessness, the proof of the supremacy of nature and the limitations of culture. The body is on show in a tale, while its ancestors reappear as fragments. The ghost is the form the past prefers to occupy. The narrative of the moment is possible when the past walks abroad. The grief and the pain are passed on in contours that change form. The forms given in Raben Davidsen’s representations of death become our exclusive encounter with mankind’s fundamental condition.   Zebra We conclude by sitting in a chair in the work Zebra. This comfortable construction with beautiful people fused into its form. Immersed in the universe. The look the close-cropped fellow sends her. The striped title he bears. The endless contrasts presented by the moment of the relationship. Raben Davidsen has fixed them forever in the way their eyes meet. Nothing is more eternal than now. Yet a fabulous animal peeps out just behind the couple who are reaching for each other’s hand behind the agitation. This is how we meet our destiny in stolen moments that are captured for always. In ink.   By Christoffer Emil Bruun, a columnist and editorial writer at the Danish newspaper Politiken.   
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The Secret Language of Art
By Camilla Jalving
September 2009
“When you create art, there doesn’t have to be a clear logic. Anything can be done, and that’s what’s liberating about it,” says  Cathrine Raben Davidsen (b. 1972), when we meet on an early June day in the printing shop Hostrup-Pedersen & Johansen in Valby. We sit among lithographic stones and the still half-finished prints that are set up along the wall. These are what we are here to talk about – the lithographic series of a total of five sheets that are to be finished here in the course of the next few days. It becomes a conversation that ranges wide – from Greek mythology and the English writer Virginia Woolf’s novels to contemporary British art and then of course Cathrine Raben Davidsen’s own praxis, which weaves in and out of it all as the cohesive glue between then and now. The remark that anything can be done in art comes at a point when the conversation has moved on to the film work in which Raben Davidsen has been involved recently. As she says, making a film can be a frustrating experience, because it takes place in the real world. That is, where the practicalities rule and not everything can be done – as opposed to in the drawing, the etching, the lithography, the serigraphy, the painting, or – as something quite new – in ceramics, which are some of the media Raben Davidsen has worked with. In these it is only the artist’s own imaginative and representational abilities that mark out the limits for the images that can be created and the narrative that can unfold. In that way the language of art differs from the language of the everyday world. Its space is a different space with other rules and logics.   Fragmented identities The new series of lithographs bears the title The Secret Language. In the light of the above remark, it is an apt title, for the secret language is in fact the language of art. It is a language that deepest down is non-verbal, and which therefore unfolds in the line, in the colour, in the emergence and disappearance of the motif. It speaks, but without sound. “What interests me in my works is homing in on what is difficult to say in words,” as Raben Davidsen tells me while we look at the row of still-unfinished prints. The secret language is also the language that the writer Virginia Woolf invented to communicate with her little niece Angelica. The connection with Woolf is not coincidental, for it is precisely Woolf as writer, person and icon who is the pivotal figure in the lithographic series that is coming into being. On the prints in front of us a number of faces have been drawn, marked out with simple, precise strokes. Most of them are recognizable as clear female faces, several of them with Woolf’s striking features – the large nose, the melancholy gaze. But there are also more masculine faces among them and faces which with their indeterminate gender appear androgynous. Several of the faces overlap, others are drawn into one another, so it is hard to define the precise contour of each individual. In that sense the faces, these women, men and androgynous beings, appear as composite identities: creatures that are in the process of either becoming or dissolution, or in between these two stages – in transformation. It all depends on the eye that sees.   The artist as interpreter The eye that sees will perhaps also begin to look for an Orlando, or a Mrs. Dalloway, among the many faces. And perhaps they are there, perhaps they are not. Again it depends on the eye that sees. But the fact is that the relationship between the literary model and Raben Davidsen’s lithographs seems more associative than illustrative. More interpretative than referential. The title of the series may well refer to Virginia Woolf’s universe, but the individual prints do not illustrate actual novels. What is depicted is Woolf as a narrative principle. It is the idea of the many layers of meaning and many voices known from her novels, where the narrative approach is often fragmented, divided among several personae, as if the author were all of them and none of them at once. Thus the many faces whose doublings stress the processual emergence of the individual, and the fact that it is never only ourselves who speak, that there are many voices that speak through us. And thus the overlapping contours that insist on the individual’s connectedness with other people and other times, appearing simultaneously, side by side in this ‘now’.   The artist as narrator The artist as interpreter is in this case also the artist as narrator. For this if anything is what preoccupies Raben Davidsen. Narration. In images of course, rather than words. Many others among her artistic contemporaries have the same concerns. The difference is that whereas many of them take their starting point in their personal histories, in popular culture, in romances of their own invention, or in political reality, Raben Davidsen, as we have seen here, takes hers in literary history. Or, as in her major picture series White Ink (exhibited at Horsens Kunstmuseum in the spring of 2008), in Greek mythology, inasmuch as Raben Davidsen gives us glimpses of Ovid’s ancient Greek myth of the sisters Philomela and Procne in atmospheric individual images that quietly express the bloody drama in the sisters’ faces, bodily postures and interrelations. That the story – or the word – plays a crucial role in Raben Davidsen’s artistic process, is also evident from the detailed ‘mind maps’ she plans before she goes to work drawing or painting. These map out the main figures, their internal relationships, the plot of the story, and the associations that working with them generates. In reality these mind maps are indicative of Raben Davidsen’s praxis in general. Precisely because they are based on a cyclical, associatively leaping narrative structure rather than a linear one that begins at the beginning and ends at the end.   Discreet sampling Perhaps this concern with the mythological and literary is due to Raben Davidsen’s educational background, which began with a year studying theology, followed by art studies in Florence, where she learned traditional virtues like life drawing. Of course that was quite unfashionable when she was admitted in 1996 to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and had to relate there to quite different conceptual and far less craftsmanlike strategies in the field of art. So there was no shortage of criticism when the professors had to evaluate her narrative and figurative style, which was so infinitely far from the artistic tenor of the times. But that was then. Today the tune has changed. This is partly because the narrative style gained a wide foothold in contemporary art precisely around 2003, when Raben Davidsen graduated. Suddenly it became fashionable to tell stories – literary, mythological, imaginative. But it is also because Raben Davidsen approaches the literary and mythological models with a decidedly contemporary sensibility that makes her works anything but old-fashioned. For although her formal idiom is figurative in the classic sense, and although she takes her cast of characters from nineteenth-century portraiture and artists like Singer Sargent and Ingres, there is something unambiguously contemporary about the expression. This is due to the mixture of precision and searching in the line. It is due to the sometimes quite unexpected use of colour, where a bright yellow suddenly lights up a neck or appears as an independent, abstract area of colour. And finally it is due to Raben Davidsen’s discreet sampling of literary and art-historical references mixed with contemporary postures and aesthetics, as we know them for example from today’s fashion photography and clothing design. This makes it at once both very old-fashioned and very modern. And that is no contradiction, for in art, yes, anything can be done. Cathrine Raben Davidsen does it. Delicately and quite phenomenally.   By Camilla Jalving, a curator at ARKEN, Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark  
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Beyond the Figure
By Mads Damsbo
August 2009
Reflectively, the faces emerge. At once floating and fixed in the fluid space of the pictures, they calmly take form, absorbed as they are in their surroundings and their own inner spirit. As with any other classic portrait there is a recognition and an exchange between the subject portrayed and the viewer. The personality is manifested in and with the face, but the story does not end there. Like icons from a bygone day, the faces are somewhere between presence and absence, between frank realism and obscure imaginings. And while their gazes lose themselves in the pathless depths of self-reflection, the narrative takes form in the atmospheric colour of the background and the light contour of the body. Cathrine Raben Davidsen creates images of another world. With her point of departure in the inciting presence of the faces, she strikes up a tale that slowly unfolds in the fine drawing of the figure and the scattered patterns of the colour. Woman as metaphor of the human is the artist’s recurring motif, and the changes, shifts and final metamorphosis in the female figure make up the action and the true drama of the pictures; a drama which, with the artist’s eye for the tight-fitting masks of the cosmetic industry, bears the marks of the present, but whose memories of the female images of the past go back centuries: through the Victorian ladies of the nineteenth century, the sensual princesses of the Renaissance, and all the way back to the fatal demi-goddesses of antiquity, whose sensual shrugs of the shoulders could drive their admirers over the edge of desire and impossible love. Such an impossible love story is the specific model for this collection and exhibition of Raben Davidsen’s paintings, photos and prints. It is the ancient Greek myth, familiar from Ovid, of the sisters Philomela and Procne, and their ill-starred love triangle with the easily aroused Tereus that has been subjected here to a highly personal contemporary interpretation by the artist. And while the tragic details of the myth are retold in fragments scattered around the pictures, with the metamorphosis of the three main figures into birds as the visual climax, Raben Davidsen’s true purpose is the depiction of the gradual awakening to consciousness of woman followed by the loss and rediscovery of her own voice.   Philomela and Procne The myth of Philomela and Procne offers all the elements of the classical Greek tragedy: passion, betrayal, murder and final transformation. The myth speaks of the beautiful princesses from Athens, Philomela and Procne, the latter of whom is married off to King Tereus of Thrace. After a few years of separation Procne can no longer bear the loss of her sister and asks Tereus to escort Philomela to her for a visit. However, during the journey Tereus become so attracted to the beautiful Philomela that he cannot restrain himself and rapes her in a cabin in the forest. Philomela, who must at first bear both her sister’s and her own violation, threatens Tereus that she will tell Procne about the outrage, and Tereus sees no other solution than to cut out Philomela’s tongue and lock her up in the cabin so that she cannot tell her tale. And from then on the story only continues at an even bloodier pace. In the cabin, Philomela, now mute, is able to weave a tapestry that reveals Tereus’ crime, and manages to smuggle it out to her sister. As expected, Procne goes mad with rage, and after releasing Philomela she kills her son by Tereus, Itys, dismembers him and serves him for dinner to her husband, who discovers too late whom he has feasted on. Frantic with rage, Tereus starts a hunt for the two sisters, who flee from the palace for their lives. Only at the last moment do the gods intervene in the story, and transform both the sisters and Tereus into different birds to save the two women: Procne becomes the plaintively singing nightingale, Philomela the mute swallow, and Tereus is transformed for all eternity into the harsh-voiced hoopoe. Like all Greek myths and legends the story of Philomela and Procne involves a complex of existential messages and meditations over the various stages of human development. In the story we recognize the image of castration in the cut-out tongue, of blood vengeance in the murder of the son, and the actual metamorphosis motif in the transformation of the three main figures into birds, which in the Greek world symbolized the important passage from child to adult; the relationship between sisters as a metaphor for the individual’s mirroring of and observation of the self, and finally the image of the woman’s voice in Philomela’s tapestry, a feature peculiar to Ovid. Among these many figures and motifs, each of which involves a number of archetypes, Cathrine Raben Davidsen is particularly interested in the relationship between the two sisters and in Philomela’s woven tapestry as an image of the female voice. In the ancient world woman appears, if not as directly incapable of action, at least rarely in a speaking role. Despite the magnificent array of powerful goddesses, the heroines of antiquity are often to be found in the domestic sphere, awaiting their male counterparts and thus reduced to the role of passive partner in the story. And Philomela and Procne are different in this respect. With her tapestry Philomela not only answers the man back, she does so in woman’s own special language – the woven cloth. It is this cloth and this female language to which Raben Davidsen’s title White Ink refers; in itself a reference to recent feminist theory, the title relates to a present-day reflection on the status of woman in the modern world, but also conceives of Philomela’s tapestry as a specific image of the woman’s voice.   The figure and the text Text and figure represent one of the strongest of complementary relationships, whose origin is lost in remote antiquity long before the Greeks. Before language proper arose, the earliest humans communicated in figures as symbolic images of life around them. And among the Greeks too, the figure was crucial to narrative. The robust heroes and shapely heroines of the myths possessed both intellectual acuity and physical beauty, and this particular ideal came to expression in the innumerable sculptures and literary images of the period. In ancient Greece the naked body, living or as represented in the depicted figure, had divine significance, and precisely this living mixture of spirit and bodily sensuality were characteristic of the Greek view of the figure: the spirit was expressed in the figure, or the body – and the figure was an expression of the spirit. This balance shifted with Christianity, which condemned the body and glorified the spirit. When Søren Kierkegaard, in his discussion of Don Giovanni, singles out Mozart’s opera as a tribute to sensuality, this is because in Kierkegaard’s eyes sensuality was still repressed in the bourgeois world of the 1840s in favour of language and the rational intellect. For Kierkegaard, Mozart used music to heal the rupture that Christianity had caused in the vital world of the Greeks, where sensuality and spirituality were one. And that was quite a claim in the Copenhagen of the bourgeoisie, where the aristocratic Rococo had not only gone radically out of fashion, but was further associated with amorality and wild abandon in the face of a bourgeois, republican order whose male values were based on the rational meaning of language as against the seductive form of the female figure. No wonder the bourgeois realism of Danish Golden Age art was also very closely associated with literary models and literal meanings.   Towards metamorphosis Cathrine Raben Davidsen both has the figure weaving in and out of the narrative and the narrative penetrating below and beyond the figure. On the one hand she has given a myth thousands of years old contemporary expression, and delivered a highly personal and original interpretation of the story. On the other she has created an independent gallery of drawn, painted and photographed female figures that leave the imagination free to make up its own self-invented stories. It is very much an introspective universe, manifested in the visible, that lies before our eyes in Raben Davidsen’ work. The often macabre and eerie figures that balance on the edge of metamorphosis, on their way to becoming birds, or towards a fusion with their own reflection, are dream images rather than real external forms. Unlike Kafka’s modern nightmare, where the protagonist wakes up one day and has turned into a giant insect evoked by the outside world’s view of him, the many strange forms of Raben Davidsen’s two heroines are solely expressions of their internal emotions. In the drawn series of pictures Voice of the Shuttle, which became a book with the same title in 2007, the artist makes an in-depth study of many facets of the myth of Philomela and Procne that are absent from the narrative surface of the tale. Here we find the severed head of the son Itys, the cabin in the forest as a metaphor of the birdcage, and the imprisoned female life as well as the dual face as images of the two women’s shared destiny and latent reflection of each other. Everywhere birds look out from the drawings as disturbing reminders of the tragic and yet redemptive outcome of the story. For in the final analysis it is this continued progress towards metamorphosis that is at the core of the works, and carries the artistic message of Cathrine Raben Davidsen: metamorphosis as a promise and a fated consequence of the action of the narrative, and transformation as a constant event and state, as a poetic expression of the process of being human – and being a woman. With her original, profoundly personal figures, Raben Davidsen has created an artistic language that refuses to re-enact the female figure as a submissive object of the male gaze, but rather, in the emphasis on transformation and process, brings out the independent and obstinate character of the figure. At the same time the artist insists, with her living line and depth of colour, on the sensuality and intuitive awareness of the female figure, which even in its most fragmentary and suggestive form gives her a degree of seductive, alluring mystique that makes her wonderfully unique to the gaze.   By Mads Damsbo, Director of Brandts Artmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark
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