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