writing
Cosmic Mind
By Collaborations
July 2022
Mythological material, historical accounts and fictional narratives comprise the foundation for the works of Danish artist Cathrine Raben Davidsen. These thematics are once again explored as we proudly present the solo exhibition Cosmic Mind in Kunsthal 1 at CCA Andratx, Mallorca. Magnificent landscape paintings, charcoal drawings of jellyfish on monochrome black backgrounds, leap out on a cobalt blue wall, while paintings of a white swan show up unexpected places throughout the exhibition, symbolizing the second phase of the alchemical transformation that has long inspired Raben Davidsen. The works, all titled, As above, so below, have unfolded continuously in the artist\'s studio, with one landscape leading to the next. The sublime landscapes appear to balance between the unreal and the concrete - whether they are utopian landscapes or concrete places from the artist\'s own memories is irrelevant in this case. As viewers, we read our own experiences and our own consciousness into the perceived works, allowing ourselves to be drawn into and absorbed by the journey the artist leads us on. To understand this journey, we need to delve into the writing of the mythical Greek character Hermes Trismegistus’ text the Emerald Tablet and the passage; That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above - often abbreviated to, As above so below. In both philosophy and science, the phrase is read as a reference to the supposed effects of the heavens on earthly events. These include the sun\'s influence on the changing of the seasons, the moon\'s effect on the tides, but also wider astrological effects. In short, the phrase is associated with both the hermetic and the occult, as well as the sacred geometry, all of which are directions that Raben Davidsen\'s artistic practice is concerned with. If we start to look closer at the Hermetic philosophical idea, it is based on the idea that man can reconnect with wisdom by balancing thoughts and emotions. This is an idea that stems from a Platonic idea, which implies that the physical world is the external, material and visible expression of the invisible principles of an internal immaterial world. The occult discipline, on the other hand, is based on a search for a recognition of the hidden spiritual or divine forces in the microcosm, referring to man, and in the macrocosm, referring to the universe. These forces are not accessible by the physical senses but must be sought and cultivated through the spiritual senses, by which the hidden world is perceived. The third reference in the phrase is sacred geometry, which refers to a graphic representation of the principles and laws that govern the environment. Based on scientific studies, it appears that the systems of this science are the basis of all life including earthly, celestial and even extraterrestrial. The summary of the compressed phrase, As above so below, is used and expressed in the exhibition through Raben Davidsen\'s brushstrokes, describing why and how the world works. The idea infers that visible stars in the sky are related to earthly life, and that the microcosm is connected to the macrocosm. Humanity is related to the superior universe. If we look at the magically created landscapes, they all appear without human traces, thus leaving room for us as viewers to enter the universe that opens to our gaze and, through our consciousness, to be engulfed by the landscape that unfolds before our eyes. Without consciousness, nothing is experienced, neither in here nor out there. Opening on 8 July 2022, 6-9pm at CCA Andratx, Mallorca. We look forward to seeing you! Please note that every Tuesday and Saturday at noon during the exhibition period, there will be guided tours of the COLLABORATIONS on vacations exhibitions, followed by lunch in the restaurant of CCA Andratx. Follow the summer programme on instagram @_collaborations and @ccaandratx ________________________________________________________________________________ Cathrine Raben Davidsen (b.1972, DK) lives and works in Copenhagen, DK. She received her MFA from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Prior to this she studied at Instituto Lorenzo de ́ Medici, Florence and at Vrije Akademie, The Hague. Her work is represented in numerous prominent museum collections and institutions, including The National Gallery of Denmark, Horsens Art Museum, Trapholt Museum for Modern Art and Design, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, The Danish Art Foundation and The New Carlsberg Foundation. Cathrine Raben Davidsen has exhibited widely in Denmark and abroad, worked on extensive commissions and has made set- and costume design for The Royal Danish Ballet. She has been awarded many prestigious prizes and grants such as the Anne Marie Telmányi born Carl Nielsen Honorary Grant, the HH Bruun Honorary Grant, the Niels Wessel Bagge Art Foundation and the Danish Arts Foundation. In 2015 she was appointed Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog by Her Majesty The Queen of Denmark. Cathrine Raben Davidsen is represented by Nilufar Gallery, Milan and The Future Perfect, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Cosmic Mind is her first solo exhibition in Spain.  
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Hun kan folde en hel verden ud ved at sætte en streg
By Troels Laursen, Nordjyske
June 2022
  Hvis man kan kalde en moderne kunstner for klassisk, så er det vel det, Cathrine Raben Davidsen er. På denne retrospektive udstilling med henved 250 værker vises for første gang et udvalg af hendes imponerende store grafiske produktion. Og det moderne klassiske udtryk deler sig i, at motiverne er hentet fra kunst- og kulturhistorien, men de er med stregerne trukket helt op i vor egen tid. Og vi er et sted mellem det, der var før, og det der er nu. Det gør, at værkerne er nærværende med en stor rækkevidde bagud.  Man burde måske se udstillingen bagfra. Så man begynder i den store sal for enden af udstillingen, for der ligger et kæmpe bord, hvor et mind map forestiller et slags huskekort over, hvorfra kunstneren henter sin praksis op fra, som var det Mimers Brønd. Og ser vi udklip af værker af de gamle mestre og Gauguin og Munch, små tekststykker, hvor det ikke er så meget selve mening i ordene, men mere stregerne, ja, næsten rytmen i stregen, der skal føres videre og derved stadig levende. Og med disse mind maps in mente, så ser man værkerne åbne sig og ser man først disse tanke og sindskort til sidst, så vil tilbageturen blot åbenbare mere, end man så på vejen ind. Og derfor kan det også anbefales, at man køber bogen til udstillingen med hjem og sit helt eget mind map, hvor et udvalg af Davidsens samlede grafiske produktion på mere end 400 værker er registreret. Igennem samtalen mellem kunstneren og kunsthistoriker Marie Laurberg får man der en indblik i og en forståelse for de tanker, der ligger bag kunstnerens arbejdsprocesser og inspirationskilder. Og det er det det handler om at se mere end det stregerne fremviser, at en gople med sine lange tentakler også er en Medusa, hvis hår brænder og forstener. Både naturen, myterne og Edv. Munch’s grafiske værker af kvinden, der suser kraften ud af manden spiller med og sammen. Men det har sin egen personlige streg og uanset, hvilket medie Davidsen arbejder med fra maleri, grafik eller keramik har det denne sitrende energi og store nerve, der også indeholder en åndelighed. Og vi oplever i tid og rum, imellem myte og historie, lys og mørke, virkelighed og fantasi, fra oldtiden til nutiden. Det er tegn. Og streger, der sætter sig spor. Og selve ophængningen er med at til lede os på sporet af tegnene. De farvede vægge, mellem de lange hvide vægge med de næsten 30 års produktion er forbilledligt, så man trods de mange værker bevarer et overblik og får et koncentreret indblik i temaerne og de forskellige grafiske teknikker, som kunstneren benytter i sine udtryk. Som når de blå lystryk, cyanotypierne er er sat op mod den orangerøde væg, og man får en næsten skulpturelt udtryk. Eller når den store sal med sine høje hvide vægge - i en salonagtig ophængning - er fyldt med forskellige farver og formater, så det hele bliver til en installation af streger og former, udtryk og kvindeansigter, der kigger på en, som var de fra en fremmed tid som renæssancen. Det er en stor oplevelse. Udstillingen hedder slet og ret: Grafik. Og ordet grafik kommer af græsk for at skrive, eller at sætte sit tegn. Med denne store udstilling i Hjørring sætter Cathrine Raben Davidsen sit helt eget store mærke og tegn og viser en kunstner, der med sikker hånd, kan folde en hel verden ud ved at sætte en streg. Besøg udstillingen her
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In Light and Darkness
By Marie Laurberg
February 2022
  Cathrine Raben Davidsen in conversation with Marie Laurberg On an October day, I meet Cathrine Raben Davidsen in her studio. Under a colonnade in central Copenhagen, I walk from the street straight into a space showcasing ceramics and art objects among flat files of prints. Along the walls and shelves hang and lean paintings in all stages of completion. Piles of art books, clippings from classical and medieval texts, notebooks and big sheets of white paper with organized research notes testify to an artist who works from a variety of sources. While finding inspiration in classical times and Renaissance art, Raben Davidsen is equally engaged with modern painting and the contemporary artists who share her affinities. We sit down amid it all over coffee served in her own ceramic cups – on each a delicate, little modeled face gazes at the person drinking – to discuss her printmaking. I have followed her art for decades and have always been fascinated by this artist who seems to have found her own way into the visual realm. An artist who stood out in her generation early on and never stood down. Her work is consistent, speaking with a rare and distinctive voice, even as it has changed dramatically over the years. Across the many media she employs, Raben Davidsen’s work is marked by visual abundance and a captivating play with materials. She is a technical virtuoso, a deft, classically trained craftsperson steeped in materials and techniques. Her work inhabits the borderland between figuration and abstraction with a lightness and depth that only exists where all means, essentially, are at the artist’s disposal. Because she has the skills. She can draw – that’s obvious – and she knows how to harness accident and unleash the rare magic of chemically clashing materials. Printmaking plays a critical role in Raben Davidsen’s work. Her prints hold the keys to unlocking many of her themes and motifs. Printmaking is an intimate art. Small-scale, fast, closely linked to drawing and writing, it allows easy testing of ideas. Accordingly, it’s a good place to get to know an artist, including Raben Davidsen. Unpacking her prints, we start at the very beginning. ML: Many people who know you as an artist associate you with painting. But your work in printmaking is no less extensive and goes back a long time. When did you start working with printmaking techniques? CRD: I first became acquainted with printmaking in 1992 when I started studying at an art academy in Florence under my teachers Rose Shakinovsky and Claire Gavronsky, with whom I have stayed in touch over the last 30 years. We had a studio in a vineyard with an old, simple printing press. That’s why the first prints I made were monotypes. This is a technique where you apply greasy ink or oil paint to a metal plate from which you can pull a single print, then the color must be refreshed. So, every print is unique. I’ve since done a lot of printmaking, but monotypes captured me first, because it’s such a fast process. I became obsessed. When I started doing printmaking, it was quite primitive. But I also studied works by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Francisco Goya (1746-1828), Odilon Redon (1840-1916) and, later, Edvard Munch (1863-1949), who were all fabulous printmakers. In fact, the first engravings I worked on were classical, based on the old masters. What can printmaking do that painting can’t? Printmaking has an element of transience. You work blind a little bit, and creating the works involves some loss of control. In lithography, you paint one color on one stone, and for each new color you add a new stone. You work without knowing exactly how the result is going to be. It took me years to wrap my head around that. Some artists work with as many as 17 stones. Generally, I work with no more than three or four. Then again, I work with all the values, from very light to very black, on a single stone. And I play around with textures, fine strokes, hard strokes. I use the whole toolbox, all the possibilities inherent in the material. Printmaking is a great medium because it can stand on its own. It’s that simple. Looking at your printmaking as a whole, I see an aesthetic drama playing out between controlled figure drawing, or line, and abstract areas where the materials are given freer rein. In fact, I think that\'s a dynamic that comes out most clearly in your prints. Your lithographs have line drawings of figures surrounded by cascades of color that run and sink into the stone – a chemical-geological aesthetic of materials clashing and creating lovely abstract effects, flowing, frothing and bubbling in a very organic way. A similar contrast exists in your paintings, as if you were consciously dancing on the line between control and loss of control. That’s the essence of who I am as an artist. Before I start a series of works, I often sit for hours studying and making mind maps, detailed note systems charting the ideas behind the work. But when I paint, I’m extremely messy. I spill things and step in them and use what’s at hand – cola, coffee, whatever – to mix in my ink, if I don’t feel like going out and getting some water. That produces good results, actually. But I must work from very detailed notes. Printmaking, for me, is a medium that’s full of surprises. It appeals to me that you have to work fast. And work with a reversed image. A lot of unpredictable things happen in the printmaking process, and there’s enormous freedom for me in that loss of control. When I make prints, I can focus on the interplay of invisible and visible, that is at the core of my work. For me, making art is about playing. It’s not always easy play. My process is like a laboratory study, where I get to experiment. It’s important for me to keep evolving by reading and researching, but also by physically experimenting with materials. As an artist, I’m an eternal student. I acquire a body of knowledge, then lay it aside and let go. To work with accident in an advanced way, I must know exactly what I’m doing from the beginning. I start with precision. I was classically trained at an art school in Florence and have spent untold hours painting the figure from life. I’ve drawn an insane amount of still lifes and other classical subjects, studied anatomy, light and perspective. If I wanted to, I could paint realistically. Which enables me to let go completely. I could be in complete control, but that’s not what interests me. I’m interested in what lies between the lines. I would like to talk about your classical training in Florence. In my eyes, your close relationship to the classical tradition sets you apart from many other artists of your generation. Clearly, your work is involved with a tradition that goes back further than the expansion of the concept of the artwork in the 1960s, the cultivation of performativity, Concrete art, social realism and so on. Your pictures are related to modern artists who never let go of the classical tradition but reinterpreted its great myths and existential dramas in a modern form. Artists who insisted on a depth beyond the present. Is Florence a city you keep returning to? Absolutely. Florence is the cradle of Renaissance art. The Renaissance, which I’ve delved into extensively, was driven by the rediscovery and reinvention of the culture of antiquity, Greek mythology, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the whole cast of characters I’ve been working with from the beginning. The first time I lived in Florence, when I was 19 and 20, I was mainly into making friends. At the time, I didn’t think about the incredible frame that is Florence. The city is sheer magic. For one, it has stood still since the fifteenth century. You can go into churches that look the way they did 600 years ago. The city is devoid of many signs of modernity, it’s kitschy and there are so many tourists. But it stands as a monument of a time we can still take so much from. I studied theology for a year before I started art school. I also lived in London for a while, studying philosophy. Then I got into the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, but during my time there I practically didn’t paint. My approach seemed way too old-fashioned. I felt no one got my work, which made me very insecure. So, I decided to transfer to the Academy’s School of Walls and Space [now the School of Conceptual and Contextual Practices –ed.], which focused on installation art, followed by graduate studies in Art Theory and Communication. After graduation, I returned to Florence with funding from the Danish Arts Foundation. It was a bit of a lark. I really just wanted to get back there. I wrote in my application that I wanted to study Sandro Botticelli’s (ca. 1445–1510) masterwork La Primavera from the late 1470s. When I got there, a world opened up. Botticelli was an outsider in his day. Compared to an artist like Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who was his contemporary, Botticelli painted his figures out of proportion, with limbs that were too long, and he also painted women of the theater. So he wasn’t universally loved in his day. Botticelli’s interest in the ancient poet Ovid (b. 43 BCE) led me to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has meant so much to me. There’s a strong connection between your recent work and the subjects that have interested and attracted you from an early age: theology, philosophy, renaissance art and classical mythology. You’ve mentioned your fascination with religious texts like the Bible and the Quran before. You’re looking for basic narratives and emotions. What attracts you to the heavy cultural heritage there? Somehow, it’s all about addressing the big questions of life. What does it mean to be a human being in the world? Certain basic questions have been asked through the ages. I seek to create contemporary art that addresses certain basic human themes while building on a long cultural heritage. The renaissance was an age marked by great cultural advances, but a lot of the inspiration was taken from a distant past, from antiquity. That idea is exciting to me. We live in an age of disruption and faith in progress, but perhaps we shouldn’t look to the future for every answer. Perhaps we can find answers in the past. I’m preoccupied with medieval and renaissance spiritual and esoteric theories. Theories from a completely different time about finding the basic element of life. What even is life? What makes something living? Is there a unique energy of life? Your work testifies to an awareness of history, but also to a desire to provide some depth – historical and existential depth – to contemporary conversations. In that sense, I see your work as very modern. You don’t depict today’s world – social issues, screen life, globalization, the climate crisis. You keep your distance from realism, as if you were trying to add images to our culture that you think are missing. Some may believe that my work is romantic, but it really is not. I know what’s happening in contemporary art. But I seek deeper layers and I’m interested in building on a very rich visual language. The Daphne series is an example of your inspiration from ancient mythology. Daphne is inspired by one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the story, Apollo is chasing Daphne, but her father comes to her aid and turns her into a tree. All the metamorphoses I’ve been working with over the last 20 years are about transformation. Daphne features a recurring composition in your work: a face surrounded by more or less abstract forms. Usually, the face is relatively detailed, dissolving into soft lines and shadowless contours. What are faces for in your work? Many of my figures are in mid-transformation. The face is an entry into the work, an easily relatable point because faces can be read. At the same time, the face sets a mood or vibe that resonates through the work. Oracle (p.23) shows Daphne turning into a jumble of branches and, to one side, Apollo who’s almost throwing up. They’re in a landscape. The work has a companion piece, Oracle (Ghost) (p.50-51). I like to make ghost prints. I reuse the stone or printing plate but add white ink instead of black. When you print it on black paper, a ghost image appears. I think both prints are very powerful. When you begin a print like Elegy, how exactly do you go about it? My approach to the lithography stone varies. Sometimes I start by pouring ink directly on the stone. I usually don’t have it all planned out when I start a new series of prints. Typically, I work on several stones at once. I work very fast and see what happens. Without quite knowing, I have to trust that I know what it takes. How much do you discard? Almost nothing. Very rarely. With Elegy (p.38-39), I started by pouring big puddles of ink on the stone. You can see them along the edges. Those are washes. It’s an effect I struggle with. I really want to do washes. In my big lithograph The Dwelling(p. 243)I did an extremely successful one. What is it about washes that interests you? Why do you want to work with them? Perhaps because I can’t master them. It’s stubbornness. The beauty of washes – and printmaking in general – is working with materials that don’t get along. You apply a greasy base on the stone and the result depends on the temperature in the room, the thickness of the ink layer and whether the stone collapses or opens. Hours can pass while you wait for a wash to dry. Sometimes when I do a big stone, I have to wait until the next day, because it only comes together when it’s dry. Sometimes I put salt on the stone. You can see that in the Materseries, where I used salt and coffee to create a kind of womb. If you look at the details of the wash (p. 16), you see amazing patterns that look like internal organs or something from outer space. After the wash, what’s the next thing you do? I let it dry and return to the stone on and off. I’m actually pretty rough with the stone. I scratch into it, I pound it and when I want to make holes, I attack it with an awl. The stone has to be ground thoroughly when I’m done with it. The fine wavy lines that look like tape from an old cassette fluttering in the wind – what tool did you use to make them? That’s my line. Here, I used a combination of a litho crayon and a brush. I play around with thick lines, thin lines, quivering lines, straight lines. I work by bringing out and pushing back, making some things very defined and leaving other things completely open. In your lithograph A Tree Crown Takes Her Face (p.40) I can clearly see your inspiration from Redon: the little face growing like a plant. The picture feels like a secret you discover all by yourself. In Redon’s works I see a similar feeling: they’re very secretive, as if granting access to something hidden that only the person looking at the image is allowed to see. There’s enormous intimacy in his work. I love this quote from one of Redon’s diaries, where he says that, at the heart of his work, lies “a little door opening onto a mystery. … All my originality, then, consists in giving human life to unlikely creatures according to the laws of probability, while, as much as possible, putting the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible.”   I’m particularly fond of his 1889 lithograph Germination, where he depicts hybrid creatures as little atoms in the universe, and the little planets have eyes. His engagement with nature and the human connection to it is something I recognize in my own work. I’m sure he read Ovid, as well, and was into classical art and the human place in the cosmos. He says somewhere that he paints “shadow people”. Color plays an important role in your prints. Tracking your evolution over time shows that you initially held back on color. A colored line appears sometime in 2007. It would seem that, at the time, you needed to tame color and know exactly how it would behave in your pictures. Color is assigned a very specific role. In your most recent works, yellow comes in all guns blazing. There’s color everywhere. As I see it, you deal with color much more freely now. When I started painting, I was into Hindu theories of chakras, and I still am to some extent. Colors affect us both physically and mentally. Turquoise is a color I’ve used a lot. As a chakra color, it is located in the neck area and represents expression or speech. I lost my father very suddenly, within a couple of weeks, when I was 13, and consequently I also lost the ability to “talk” about difficult things. In a way, turquoise gave me a language in painting. The Algae etchings are very delicate little things, where you concentrate on a single object. The Daphne series involves the great drama of landscapes and figures. In your lithographs, you cultivate spontaneity. But your etchings look extremely controlled to me and very slow, as well. What’s it like for you to work in etching? Etching is an extension of my writing, which relies on precision and concentration. Alternating between the intimacy of etching and the free play of lithography appeals to me. I made the etchings in Skagen with seaweed I gathered on the beach. I added little alchemy jars. In recent years I’ve been into alchemy, which was not just about turning lead into gold but also aspired to turn people into better versions of ourselves. The plates for these prints measure just 10 by 8 centimeters. In this case, I must have a clear plan before I begin. Etching has no room for wildness. One of the things that touches me most about your prints is their darkness. There’s a major theme of darkness and light in your prints. You told me that you use sandpaper to create areas of light shining through dark color. I’m very interested in the idea of the picture’s own light. This is a very important concept in religious art, the idea that a picture can shine on you, bathe you in light. The background of medieval religious paintings was covered in gold leaf because the image itself was considered sacred. The gold leaf reflected the light, and when you looked at the picture, you felt its divine light shining on you. The renaissance saw the gradual development of the realistic tradition where everything is illuminated by a light source within the picture. It has to be lifelike. Some of your works play with a new idea of the picture’s own light. They evoke a feeling of the picture opening in places and letting light stream out at us. These are thoughts I have become extremely aware of in recent years. For a picture to work, it has to have light and darkness, as well as mid-tones. You can’t make a work without darkness and light. In terms of composition, it’s about working with the entire spectrum. If there’s just one value, the picture is like someone who only operates on a single frequency. Just as people need the capacity to be angry and happy, it’s important to have different levels to create a complete work. It’s about bringing out light in darkness, letting it shine through. Another important thing about printmaking is that it invariably gives me my next theme. I’m currently painting a lot of landscapes, and the subject of the landscape isn’t foreign to me. When I lived in the mountains in Italy, I would often get up at five in the morning and paint landscapes, especially when there was morning fog. That is one of the best times of the day to paint landscapes, because a mysterious glow is gifted to you. Foggy and indefinite. A dissolved landscape. I see similar interests in several contemporary artists. The American artist Kiki Smith (b. 1954) has also worked with Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the British artist Chris Ofili (b. 1968) recently made a number of new works based on the Metamorphoses. I starting working with Ovid 30 years ago. The artists I feel a kinship with are Peter Doig (b. 1959) and Kiki Smith – as well as Tacita Dean (b. 1965), who is currently working with Dante’s Inferno (14th cent.) All these artists look back, too, and dare to be students. I want to keep learning. Look at crypto art, digital assets based on cryptocurrencies. What does that art look like? I think it’s an interesting idea, but boy is it ugly. I don’t make art for myself. I want my works to be able to stand on their own and be approachable on many different levels. Why do some artworks keep speaking to us? What does color mean? Or brushwork? What do shapes mean? And why are we still fascinated by, say, the work of Rembrandt? Maybe because he had a special sensibility and honesty. His self-portraits were so revealing. They show the vulnerability that great artists have. You say you don’t make art for yourself. That makes me think about an interview – to shift the frame of reference – with the musician Bruce Springsteen. The interview was about the role of the artist, and Springsteen said that to be a great artist, you have to have a huge ego to begin with. Deep down you must believe that what you have to contribute is so important that the whole world should know about it. But at some point, he says, it is no longer about ego. Then you make yourself a source through which something else can flow. You serve the world with your art. That’s beautifully put. Bruce Springsteen actually owns one of my works. Amazing! Really? Yes, one of the Ovid drawings. It would be an ego trip if I gazed at my navel and made it all about me. What’s a self-portrait good for, you might ask. What does it have to say about anything? But it could say something about us. Looking at one of Rembrandt’s most important self-portraits, we clearly see that he’s old. He’s vulnerable. Death is coming for him. We can mirror ourselves in his work. We should be able to feel it. I feel with my figures. They come alive in my works because I make them real. An artist’s role is to translate ideas and thought into physical form. You keep your rules on your worktable. I’m going to read a few of them: “Practice silence. Do not judge. Practice meditation. Law of full potentiality. Law of giving and receiving.” That’s my mantra, in a way. One of the biggest dangers for me when making art is if I start comparing myself to others. When I work, it’s a kind of meditation. I must not judge my work but just go with the flow, bear in mind that there’s a greater meaning to what I do. I’ve gotten better at leaning back and trusting in that. I also think it’s my engine and strength that I don’t hang onto anything. I’m not afraid to change, move in new directions. I have my core. I know that I have my own history as the person I am. I don’t run away from that person. And that gives me the freedom to go in new directions.
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I Lyset og Mørket
By Marie Laurberg
Februar 2022
Marie Laurberg i samtale med Cathrine Raben Davidsen Jeg møder Cathrine Raben Davidsen i hendes atelier en oktoberdag. Under en kolonnade i det indre København træder man fra gaden og direkte ind i et atelier, hvor keramik og kunsthåndværk er placeret mellem arkivmøbler, som indeholder kunstnerens grafiske værker. Rundt langs vægge og reoler står og hænger malerier – både færdige værker og lærreder, der for nyligt er påbegyndt. Stabler af bøger om kunst, udklip fra antik- og middelalderskrifter, notesbøger og store hvide ark med systematiske optegnelser over research vidner om en kunstner, der baserer sit værk på en mængde forskellige kilder. Hun henter inspiration i tunge klassiske skrifter og i renæssancekunsten, men er ligeså optaget af det moderne maleri og af de kunstnere i nutiden, med hvem hun har et valgslægtskab. Vi sætter os ned midt i det hele over en kop kaffe serveret i hendes egen keramik – fra hver kop ser et lille, sart modelleret ansigt på dén, der drikker – for at tale om Cathrine Raben Davidsens grafiske værk. Jeg har fulgt hendes kunst gennem årtier og har fra begyndelsen været fascineret af en kunstner, der tilsyneladende havde fundet sin helt egen vej ind i det visuelle. En kunstner, der tidligt stak ud som ener i sin generation – men som aldrig stak af. Værket er konsistent, det taler med sjælden og distinkt røst, selvom udviklingen over år er markant. Raben Davidsens værker er – på tværs af de mange medier, hun udfolder sig i – præget af et stort visuelt overskud og en fængslende leg med materialer. Hun er teknisk ekvilibrist, en dygtig håndværker, der er klassisk skolet, og hun sætter sig grundigt ind i materialer og teknikker. Hendes værker bebor grænselandet mellem figuration og abstraktion med en lethed og dybde, der kun kan findes der, hvor alle virkemidler i princippet er til rådighed. Fordi hun kan. Hun kan tegne, det ser man straks, og hun kan lade tilfældet råde, så hun opnår den sjældne magi, der opstår, når materialernes egne kemiske sammenstød får frit spil. Grafikken spiller en afgørende rolle i Raben Davidsens virke, og i de grafiske værker finder man nøgler, der åbner for en række af de temaer og motiver, der er gennemgående i hendes værk. Grafikken er en intim størrelse, den er lille og hurtig, den er tæt knyttet til tegningen og skriften, og den er et sted, hvor ideer let kan prøves af. Grafikken er derfor et godt sted at lære en kunstner at kende. Også Cathrine Raben Davidsen, og når vi folder hendes grafiske værk ud, starter samtalen helt i begyndelsen. ML: Jeg tror, at rigtig mange, der kender dig som kunstner, forbinder dig med maleriet. Men din grafiske produktion er lige så omfangsrig, og den går langt tilbage. Hvornår begyndte du at arbejde med grafiske teknikker? CRD: Første gang, jeg stiftede bekendtskab med grafikken, var i 1992, hvor jeg begyndte at studere på et kunstakademi i Firenze under mine lærere Rose Shakinovsky og Claire Gavronsky, som jeg har holdt forbindelsen med de seneste 30 år. Vi havde værksted på en vingård, og der stod en gammel, simpel trykpresse. Derfor var de allerførste tryk, jeg lavede, monotypier. Det er en teknik, hvor fedtet blæk eller oliefarve påføres en metalplade, hvorfra man kan lave ét tryk. Derefter skal farven genopfriskes, så hvert tryk er unikt. Jeg har sidenhen lavet utrolig meget grafik, men monotypien fangede mig som det første, fordi det er sådan en hurtig proces. Jeg blev besat. Da jeg startede med at lave grafik, var det ret primitivt. Men jeg studerede også værker af Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Francisco Goya (1746-1828), Odilon Redon (1840-1916) og senere Edvard Munch (1863-1949), som alle var fabelagtige grafikere. De første kobberstik, jeg faktisk begyndte at arbejde med, var klassiske og funderet i de gamle mestre. Hvad er det grafikken kan, som maleriet ikke kan? Grafikken har et element af flygtighed. Man arbejder lidt i blinde, og der er et element af kontroltab i skabelsen af værkerne. I litografiet maler man én farve på én sten, og for hver ny sten kommer en ny farve på. Man arbejder uden at vide, præcis hvordan resultatet bliver. Det tog mig rigtig mange år at forstå. Der er nogle, der arbejder med helt op til 17 sten. Oftest arbejder jeg med maksimalt 3-4 sten. Til gengæld arbejder jeg med alle toner, lige fra en helt lys til en helt sort nuance i samme sten. Og jeg leger med forskellige teksturer, fine strøg, hårde strøg. Jeg bruger hele værktøjskassen: alle de forskellige muligheder, materialet rummer. Grafikken er et storslået medie, fordi den kan stå alene. Ret simpelt. Når jeg ser på dit grafiske værk som helhed, ser jeg et æstetisk drama udspille sig mellem den kontrollerede figurtegning eller linjeføring og så nogle abstrakte områder, hvor materialerne får lov at arbejde mere frit. Jeg synes faktisk, at det er i din grafik, man ser den dynamik allertydeligst. I dine stentryk finder man om figurtegningen kaskader af farve, der bare løber ud og forsvinder ned i stenen, en kemisk-geologisk æstetik, hvor materialernes indbyrdes sammenstød skaber smukke abstrakte virkninger. Det flyder og syrer og bobler på en meget organisk måde. En lignende kontrast finder man i dit maleri. Som om du bevidst danser på en line mellem styring og kontroltab. Det er essensen af, hvem jeg er som kunstner. Før jeg påbegynder en værkserie, har jeg ofte siddet i timevis og studeret og lavet mine mindmaps, som er detaljerede notesystemer, der kortlægger ideerne bag værket. Men når jeg maler, er jeg ekstremt rodet. Jeg spilder ting og kommer til at træde i ting og bruger hvad der er i nærheden, cola eller kaffe, til at blande i mit blæk, hvis jeg ikke lige orker at gå ud og hente vand. Og der kommer faktisk gode resultater ud af det. Men det er meget detaljerede optegnelser, jeg er nødt til at have noget at arbejde ud fra. Grafikken er for mig et medie fyldt med overraskelser. Det tiltrækker mig, at man er nødt til at arbejde hurtigt. Og at man arbejder spejlvendt. I den grafiske proces sker der rigtig mange ting, man ikke helt kan forudse, og kontroltabet rummer for mig en enorm frihed. I grafikken kan jeg fokusere på spillet mellem det usynlige og det synlige, som er grundkernen i mit værk. At skabe kunst handler for mig om at lege. Det er ikke altid en nem leg. Min proces minder om en undersøgelse i et laboratorium, hvor jeg kan eksperimentere. Det er vigtigt for mig at blive ved med at videreudvikle mig gennem læsestof og research, men også gennem fysiske eksperimenter med materialerne. Jeg er som kunstner en evig student. Jeg tilegner mig et stof for så at forkaste det og give slip. For at kunne arbejde avanceret med tilfældet, skal jeg som udgangspunkt altid vide, præcis hvad jeg gør. Jeg starter med nøjagtighed. Jeg er jo klassisk uddannet fra en kunstskole i Firenze og har stået adskillige timer og malet efter levende mennesker. Jeg har tegnet sindssygt mange stillebener og andre klassiske motiver, studeret kroppens anatomi, lysindfald, og perspektiv. Hvis jeg havde lyst, kunne jeg male realistisk. Og det gør, at jeg kan slippe tøjlerne fuldstændig. Jeg kunne godt være i fuld kontrol, men det er ikke det, der interesserer mig. Jeg er interesseret i det, der ligger mellem linjerne. Jeg kunne godt tænke mig at tale mere om din klassiske skoling fra Firenze, for i mine øjne er dit nære forhold til den klassiske tradition et særtræk, der adskiller dig fra mange andre kunstnere i din generation. Det er helt tydeligt, at dine værker har et mellemværende med en tradition, der rækker længere tilbage end 1960’ernes udvidelse af værkbegrebet, dyrkelsen af det performative, den konkrete kunst, socialrealismen mv. Dine billeder forbinder sig med de moderne kunstnere, der aldrig gav slip på den klassiske tradition. Men som genfortolkede dens store myter og eksistentielle dramaer i moderne form. Kunstnere, som insisterede på en dybde, der rækker ud over nutiden. Er Firenze en by, du bliver ved med at besøge? Så absolut. Firenze er arnested for renæssancekunsten. Renæssancen, som jeg har arbejdet indgående med, var drevet af en genopdagelse og genfortolkning af antikkens kultur; af græske myter, af Ovids Metamorfoserog hele det figurgalleri, som jeg har arbejdet med fra begyndelsen. Da jeg boede i Firenze første gang som 19-20-årig, var jeg mest optaget af at danne venskaber. På det tidspunkt tænkte jeg ikke rigtig over den utrolige ramme, Firenze er. Men byen er jo fuldstændig magisk. Den har på den ene side stået stille siden 1400-tallet. Man kan gå ind i kirker, der ser ud som for 600 år siden. Byen er renset for mange tegn på modernitet, den er kitschet, og der er samtidig så ufattelig mange turister. Men den står som et monument over en tid, vi stadig kan hente meget i. Jeg havde læst teologi et år, før jeg kom ind på kunstakademiet. Jeg boede også en periode i London, hvor jeg studerede filosofi. Jeg kom så ind på Kunstakademiet i København, men gennem akademitiden malede jeg faktisk stort set ikke. Min tilgang virkede alt for gammeldags. Jeg følte ikke, at der var nogen, der forstod mit værk, så derfor blev jeg selv meget usikker. Jeg valgte i stedet for at gå på Skolen for Mur og Rum, som havde fokus på installationskunst, efterfulgt af overbygningen Teori og Formidling. Efter akademiet vendte jeg tilbage til Firenze med støtte fra Statens Kunstfond. Det var sådan lidt for sjov, jeg ville egentlig bare gerne tilbage til byen. I min ansøgning skrev jeg, at jeg ville studere Sandro Botticellis (ca. 1445-1510) hovedværk La Primavera fra slutningen af 1470’erne. Da jeg kom derned, åbnede der sig en verden. Botticelli var, i sin egen tid, en outsider. I forhold til en kunstner som Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), som var hans samtidige, malede Botticelli sine figurer ude af proportion med alt for lange lemmer, og han malede også kvinder fra teatret. Så han var ikke udelt populær, imens han levede. Det var Botticellis interesse for oldtidsdigteren Ovid (f. 43 f.kr.), der bragte mig til Ovids Metamorfoser, som har betydet så meget for mig. Der er en meget stærk kobling mellem dine nyeste værker og de emner, som du har interesseret dig for og søgt hen imod fra en ganske ung alder. Teologi, filosofi, renæssancekunst og de klassiske myter. Du har tidligere nævnt din fascination af religiøse skrifter som Biblen og Koranen. Du søger efter grundfortællinger og grundfølelser. Hvad er det, der drager dig mod den tunge kulturelle arv, som findes der? På en eller anden måde handler det alt sammen om at adressere livets store spørgsmål. Hvad vil det sige at være et menneske, der er til i verden? Der findes nogle grundlæggende spørgsmål, som har været stillet til alle tider. Jeg søger at skabe samtidskunst, som adresserer nogle grundlæggende menneskelige temaer, og som bygger videre på en lang kulturel arv. Renæssancen var en tid præget af store kulturelle fremskridt, men man hentede en stor del af inspirationen i en fjern fortid. I antikken. Den tankegang er for mig spændende. Vi lever i en tid præget af nybrud og fremskridtstænkning, men måske skal alle svar ikke søges i fremtiden. Måske kan vi finde dem i fortiden. Jeg er meget optaget af middelalderens og renæssancens spirituelle og esoteriske teorier. Teorier, der med udgangspunkt i en helt anden tid drejer sig om at finde livets grundstof. Hvad er liv overhovedet? Hvad gør noget levende? Findes der en særlig livsenergi? Dine værker vidner om en historiebevidsthed, men de vidner også om et begær efter at trække noget dybde, historisk dybde og eksistentiel dybde, ind i nutidens samtaler. På den måde ser jeg egentlig dit værk som meget moderne. Du skildrer ikke samtiden, alle dens samfundsmæssige udfordringer, skærmlivet og globaliseringen, klimakrisen. Du holder dig på afstand af realismen, som om du i stedet søger at tilføre billeder til vores kultur, som du synes, vi mangler. Nogle tænker måske, at mit værk er romantisk, men det er det egentlig ikke. Jeg ved, hvad der sker i samtidskunsten. Men jeg søger mod nogle dybere lag, og jeg er interesseret i bygge videre på et visuelt sprog, som er meget rigt. Serien Daphne er et eksempel på din inspiration fra antikkens myter. Daphne er inspireret af én af Ovids Metamorfoser. I historien bliver Daphne jagtet af Apollon, men hendes far kommer hende til undsætning og forvandler hende til et træ. Fælles for metamorfoserne, som jeg har arbejdet med i de sidste tyve år, er, at de handler om transformation. I Daphne finder man en komposition, der går igen i dit værk: Et ansigt omgivet af mere eller mindre abstrakte former. Typisk er ansigtet relativt detaljeret gengivet. Og så opløser det sig i bløde linjer og skyggeløse konturstreger. Hvad bruges ansigterne til i dit værk? Fælles for mange af mine figurer er, at de er midt i forvandlingen. Ansigtet er en indgang til værket, et punkt, der er let at forbinde sig med, fordi man kan læse et ansigt. Samtidig anslår ansigtet en stemning eller følelse, som forplanter sig til hele værket. I værket Orakel (s.23) ser vi Daphne, som er forvandlet til et virvar af grene, og ude i siden ses Apollon, som nærmest kaster op. De befinder sig i et landskab. Værket har en pendant, Orakel (Ghost (s.50-51). Jeg kan godt lide at lave et ghost print, et spøgelsestryk. Jeg genbruger stenen eller trykpladen, men jeg kommer hvid sværte på i stedet for sort. Når man trykker det på mørkt papir, dukker spøgelset op. Jeg synes, at begge tryk har stor kraft. Når du påbegynder et tryk som Elegy, hvordan starter du så, helt konkret? Det er forskelligt, hvordan jeg griber en litografisk sten an. Nogle gange begynder jeg med at hælde blæk direkte på stenen. Oftest har jeg ikke en færdig plan, når jeg går i gang med en ny grafisk serie. Jeg arbejder typisk på flere sten ad gangen. Jeg arbejder meget hurtigt, og så ser jeg, hvad der sker. Uden helt at vide det, må jeg stole på, at jeg ved, hvad der skal til. Og hvor meget forkaster du? Stort set ingenting. Det er meget sjældent. Med Elegy (s.38-39) startede jeg med at hælde store søer af blæk på stenen. Du kan se dem i siderne på værket. Det er det, der hedder laveringer. Det er en virkning, som jeg kæmper med. For jeg vil virkelig gerne lave laveringer. I det store litografi The Dwelling (s.243) har jeg lavet en ekstremt vellykket lavering. Hvad er det, der er interessant ved laveringen? Hvorfor vil du gerne arbejde lige netop med det? Det er måske, fordi jeg ikke kan mestre den. Det er stædighed. Men det smukke ved laveringer – og grafikken generelt – er, at man arbejder med materialer, der i virkeligheden ikke kan lide hinanden. Man kommer en olieret base på stenen, og så afhænger resultatet af, hvordan temperaturen i rummet er, hvor tykt et lag jeg har kommet på, om stenen kollapser eller åbner sig. Man kan gå i flere timer, mens laveringen tørrer. Og nogle gange, når jeg laver en stor sten, er jeg nødt til at vente til næste dag, fordi den skal tørre for at kunne samle sig. Jeg arbejder også nogle gange med at komme salt på stenen. Det kan man blandt andet se i Mater-serien, hvor jeg brugte salt og kaffe for at kunne skabe en form for livmoder. Hvis man kigger på én af detaljerne i laveringen (s. 16), vil man kunne se fantastiske spor, det ligner både indre organer og noget fra det ydre rum. Og når du har skabt laveringen, hvad er så det næste, du gør? Så lader jeg den tørre op, og så går jeg til og fra stenen. I mit arbejde med grafikken er jeg faktisk ret hård mod stenen. Jeg ridser i den, og jeg banker i den, og når jeg skal lave huller, så angriber jeg den med en syl. Stenen skal slibes ret grundigt, når jeg har været i gang. Og de meget fine bølgede linjer, der næsten ligner båndet fra et gammelt kassettebånd, som flagrer i vinden? Hvilket redskab har du skabt dem med? Det er jo min streg. Jeg har brugt en blanding af fedtkridt og pensel. Jeg leger med tykke streger, tynde streger, vibrerende streger, lige streger. Jeg arbejder ved at træde tilbage og træde frem, eller ved at lade noget være tydeligt og andet stå helt åbent. I litografiet A Tree Crown Takes Her Face ser jeg tydeligt din inspiration fra Odilon Redon. Det lille ansigt, der gror som en plante. Billedet føles som en hemmelighed, man har opdaget helt alene. Jeg ser i Odilon Redons værker en lignende stemning: De er meget hemmelighedsfulde, som om man i dem får adgang til noget skjult, som kun dén der lige står og ser på dette specifikke billede, kan få at vide. Der er en enorm intimitet i hans værker. Jeg elsker det her citat fra en af Redons dagbøger, hvor han beskriver, hvad hans kunst handler om: ”at åbne en lille dør mod mysteriet og på menneskelig vis at bringe liv i usandsynlige skabninger og gøre dem levende i overensstemmelse med sandsynlighedens love, ved – så vidt muligt – at stille det synlige til rådighed for det usynlige”. Jeg holder særligt af litografiet Germination fra 1889, hvor Redon skildrer hybride væsener som små atomer i universet, og hvor de små planeter har øjne. Hans optagethed af naturen og menneskets forbundenhed til den, er noget, jeg genkender i min egen kunst. Jeg er sikker på, han også har læst Ovid og har været optaget af antikkens kunst og menneskets plads i kosmos. Han siger også et sted, at han tegner skyggemennesker. Farven spiller også en vigtig rolle i din grafik. Når man følger din udvikling over tid, ser man, at du i begyndelsen holder dig tilbage koloristisk. Der kommer en farvet linje ind et sted tilbage i 2007. Det er, som om du på det tidspunkt har brug for at tæmme farven og vide, præcis hvordan den vil opføre sig i dit billede. Den er tildelt en helt bestemt rolle. I dine nyeste værker kommer den gule farve ind for fuld musik. Farven er over det hele. Du har fået et meget mere frit forhold til farver i mine øjne. Da jeg begyndte at male, var jeg optaget af hinduismens teorier om chakraer, og det er jeg til dels stadig. Farver påvirker os både fysisk og psykisk. Turkis er en farve, jeg har brugt meget. Som chakrafarve ligger den i halsområdet, og den står for udtryk eller tale. Jeg mistede min far meget pludseligt i løbet af et par uger, da jeg var 13 år, og med det mistede jeg også evnen til at ”tale” om det svære. På en måde gav den turkise farve mig sproget i maleriet. Algae-kobberstikkene er nogle meget fine små ting, hvor du fokuserer på et objekt. I Daphne-serien har vi rundet det store drama med landskabet og figurerne. I stentrykkene dyrker du spontaniteten. Men i kobberstikkene er vi ved noget, der er ekstremt kontrolleret i mine øjne, og meget langsommeligt ser det også ud til at være. Hvordan er det for dig at arbejde med kobberstik? Kobberstikket er en forlængelse af min skrift, som er båret af præcision og koncentration. Vekselvirkningen mellem at arbejde med det intime, som kobberstikket rummer, og den frie leg i litografiet tiltaler mig. Kobberstikkene med alger lavede jeg i Skagen ud fra alger, som jeg samlede på stranden. Jeg har tilført små alkymiske beholdere. I de senere år har jeg været optaget af alkymi, som ikke kun handlede om at omdanne bly til guld, men som i lige så høj grad søgte at gøre mennesker til bedre versioner af os selv. Pladen til disse tryk er ikke større end ti gange otte centimeter. Her er jeg nødt til at have en klar plan, før jeg går i gang. I kobberstikket er der ikke plads til vildskab. Noget af det, som berører mig mest i din grafik, er mørket. Der er et stort tema omkring mørke og lys i din grafik. Du har fortalt mig, at du bruger sandpapir for at skabe områder, hvor lyset skinner igennem den mørke farve. Jeg er meget interesseret i ideen om et billedes eget lys. Det er jo noget, der betyder rigtig meget i den religiøse kunst. Ideen om, at et billede kan lyse på dig. Bade dig i lys. I middelalderens religiøse malerier var baggrunden dækket af bladguld, fordi billedet i sig selv var betragtet som helligt. Man mente, det havde en direkte forbindelse til noget åndeligt. Bladguldet reflekterede lyset, så når man så på billedet, oplevede man et guddommeligt lys skinne imod sig. Gradvist op gennem renæssancen udvikles den realistiske tradition, hvor alting er belyst af en lyskilde inde i billedet. Det skal være naturtro. Nogle af dine værker leger med en ny ide om billedets eget lys. De vækker en følelse af, at billedet åbner sig nogle steder, så lyset kan strømme ud imod os. Det er overvejelser, som jeg er blevet ekstremt bevidst omkring i de senere år. For at skabe et værk, som kan fungere, er det nødt til at have lys og mørke, men også mellemtoner. Du kan ikke lave et værk uden mørke og lys. Så kompositorisk handler det om at arbejde med hele spektret. Hvis det hele bare er én tone, virker billedet som et menneske, der kun fungerer på én frekvens. Ligesom vi mennesker er nødt til at kunne være vrede eller glade, er det vigtigt at have forskellige lag for at skabe et fuldendt værk. Det handler om at lade lyset komme til i mørket. At lade det skinne igennem. Vigtigt ved grafikken er også, at den altid uvilkårligt giver mig mit næste tema. Lige nu maler jeg mange landskaber, og landskabsmotivet er ikke fremmed for mig. Da jeg boede i bjergene i Italien, stod jeg ofte op klokken fem om morgenen og malede landskaber, især når der var morgentåge. Det er ét af de bedste tidspunkter at male landskaber på, fordi du får et mystisk skær forærende. Det tågede og det udefinerbare. Det er et opløst landskab. Jeg finder beslægtede interesser hos flere nutidige kunstnere. Den amerikanske kunstner Kiki Smith (f. 1954) har også arbejdet med Ovids Metamorfoser, og britiske Chris Ofili (f. 1968) har netop skabt en række nye værker med en af metamorfoserne som omdrejningspunkt. Jeg begyndte at arbejde med Ovid for 30 år siden. De kunstnere, som jeg nærer et slægtskab med, er fx Peter Doig (f. 1959) og Kiki Smith, og også Tacita Dean (f. 1965), som lige nu arbejder med Dantes Inferno (14. årh.). Fælles for dem er, at de også kigger tilbage og tør være studerende. Jeg vil gerne blive ved at lære. Se på kryptokunst, digitale aktiver baseret på kryptovaluta. Hvordan ser den kunst ud? Jeg synes, at det er en spændende tanke, men åh, hvor er det grimt. Jeg laver ikke kunst for mig selv. Jeg vil gerne have, at værkerne skal kunne stå alene, og man skal kunne gå til dem på mange forskellige planer. Hvordan kan det være, at nogle værker bliver ved med at tale til os? Hvad betyder farverne? Hvad betyder strøgene? Hvad betyder formerne, og hvorfor kan vi fx stadig være fascinerede af Rembrandts værker? Det var måske, fordi han havde en særlig indføling og ærlighed. Hans selvportrætter var jo fuldstændig hudløse. De viser den sårbarhed, som store kunstnere har. Du siger, at du ikke skaber kunst for dig selv. Det får mig til at tænke på et interview – og her springer referencerammen et helt andet sted hen – med musikeren Bruce Springsteen. Interviewet handlede om kunstnerens rolle, og Springsteen sagde, at for at blive en stor kunstner skal man i udgangspunktet have et enormt ego. Man er nødt til, dybt inde i sig selv, at tro på, at det, man har at bidrage med, er så vigtigt, at hele verden bør kende til det. Men på et tidspunkt, siger han, handler det ikke længere om ego. Så gør man sig selv til en kilde, hvorigennem noget andet kan strømme. Man tjener verden med sin kunst. Det er smukt sagt. Bruce Springsteen ejer faktisk ét af mine værker. Forbløffende! Gør han virkelig? Ja, en af Ovid-tegningerne. Egotrippet ville ligge i, hvis jeg pillede navle, og hvis det handlede om mig. Man kunne jo sige: Et selvportræt, hvad skal vi med det? Hvad kan det sige noget om? Men det kan jo sige noget om os selv. Når vi ser på et af Rembrandts vigtigste selvportrætter, kan vi tydeligt se, at han er gammel. Han er sårbar. Han er på vej til at dø. Vi kan spejle os i hans værker, og det skal et godt værk kunne. Det skal kunne mærkes. Jeg føler med mine figurer, de bliver levendegjort i mine værker, fordi jeg gør dem virkelige. En kunstners rolle er at oversætte ideer og tanker i fysisk form. Du har dine regler liggende her på dit arbejdsbord. Nu læser jeg nogle af dem op: ”Practice silence. Do not judge. Practice meditation. Law of full potentiality. Law of giving and receiving.” På en måde er det mit mantra. Noget af det farligste for mig, når jeg skaber kunst, er, hvis jeg begynder at sammenligne mig selv med andre. Når jeg arbejder, er det jo en form for meditation. Jeg er nødt til ikke at dømme mine værker og bare følge med strømmen. Tænke på, at der er en større mening med det, jeg er i gang med. Jeg er blevet bedre til at læne mig tilbage og tro på det. Jeg tror også, det er min drivkraft og styrke, at jeg ikke hænger mig fast i noget. Jeg tør udvikle mig, gå i helt nye retninger. For jeg har min kerne. Jeg ved, at jeg har min egen historie, som er den, jeg er. Den person løber jeg ikke fra. Og det giver mig friheden til at bevæge mig i nye retninger.
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Interview
By Birgitte Ellemann Höegh, Berlingske Tidende
November 2021
Som en af de få har billedkunstner Cathrine Raben Davidsen besluttet sig for at stå helt uden gallerist. Det kræver en særlig stamina og en vedholdende tro på sig selv – blandt andet når krisen kradser. Selvom hun tvivler hver eneste dag, har hun en stærk fornemmelse af, at hun står et meget stærkt sted netop nu – med sit maleri. ”Jeg føler, at det først er nu, mit værk virkelig er ved at samle sig. Jeg kan mærke det med mine nye landskabsmalerier. Det har krævet mange års arbejde at blive moden. Mine malerier taler et stort sprog, jeg har noget på hjerte, og jeg ved, at jeg kan male røven ud af bukserne på de fleste. Jeg tror på skæbnen, og at det ikke nødvendigvis behøver at blive i Danmark, at jeg får et galleri i fremtiden, hvis overhovedet. Men jeg binder ikke min lykke op på det, for jeg ved også, hvor meget det kræver at gå ind i det game,” siger Cathrine Raben Davidsen. Jeg sidder i Cathrine Raben Davidsens værksted i indre København. Vi har et bord med to kopper imellem os, som hun selv har formet i sit keramikværksted, der ligger et par gader derfra. Hun er sådan én, der kigger sin samtalepartner direkte i øjnene, men med spor af en overbygning, der giver indtryk af, at hun ved, jeg er ved at gå på strandhugst i hendes liv og virke. Så hun passer på sig selv. Har integritet. Hun er ellers meget generøs, viser sit værksted frem midt i sin proces, dykker ned i skuffer og hiver værker frem, som hun beholder for sig selv, og har sagt ja til at tale om, hvorfor hun har valgt at stå alene og uden galleri i de sidste syv år. Jeg har besøgt hende samme sted, lige før hun tog sin beslutning om at forlade sin gallerist, Martin Asbæk, som hun havde været tilknyttet, siden hun dimitterede fra kunstakademi i 2003. Der er sket en del. Det er som om, hun er solidt favnet af sine værker. Her er kommet flere arkivskabe ind, ja så mange, at hun har godt over 400 forskellige litografier arkiveret, lavet over de sidste 20 år, som hun skal vise et udsnit af på soloudstillingen ”Grafik”, der åbner på Kastrupgårdsamlingen til februar. På gulvet står meterhøje keramiklampefødder i Yves Klein-blå, som bliver solgt i high end design-gallerier i USA og Italien. Det myldrer med unika keramik, og så er hun i gang med nogle malerier, som sætter en fed streg under det faktum, at hun kan male røven ud af bukserne på de fleste, og at noget nyt er under opsejling. Hendes hidtidige værker, der næsten altid har indeholdt uudgrundelige væsen-lignende skikkelser, er for en stund forsvundet. På et gigantisk maleri er et landskab, hvis forlæg er et af hendes egne fotos fra en kyst tæt ved Hallandsåsen, hvor hendes sommerhus er. Jeg tænker straks på Mamma Andersson, og det har Raben Davidsen også gjort – samt Edvard Munch og Peter Doig. Gennem hele sit virke har hun lænet sig op ad kunsthistorien. ”Maleriet er et sprog med en kæmpe bagage. Der er ikke ret mange, der mestrer maleriet, ofte fordi de glemmer, hvad der ligger før dem. Det synes jeg, man skal være bevist om og kunne tale til. På det seneste har jeg nærstuderet Munch, som har lavet nogle fantastiske landskaber. Der er en anden frihed i landskabet.” Hendes landskaber er så suggestive, at jeg har lyst til at bade i dem – eller spise dem. Det bliver interessant at følge, hvor hun bringer de nye værker hen. Navnlig fordi, hun helt selv tager sine beslutninger om, hvad der skal placeres hvor.  Men hvad med de perioder, hvor tvivlen raser, eller man går helt i stå? Er det ikke der, det er vigtigt at have en gallerist, der kan komme forbi og banke på døren? ”Jeg går aldrig i stå. ” Tvivler du heller aldrig? ”Jo, hele tiden. Det er min drivkraft. Jeg er ekstrem dårlig til at sammenligne mig med alle mulige, men jeg kommer hurtigt over det igen. Og så har jeg alt muligt andet, jeg kan kaste mig over. Jeg har slet ikke tid til at gå i stå. Noget, der virkelig kan få mig ud af kurs, er, hvis malerierne ikke går så godt, men jeg har lært at være god mod mine værker og god mod mig selv. I ”Kunstnerkolonien” (DR”-program fra 2020, red.), blev det virkelig spejlet, hvordan jeg tvivler i processen, men det er også fordi, jeg hele tiden prøver at komme nye steder hen.” Hvem læner du dig så op ad undervejs? ”Mange har en romantisk forestilling om, at galleristen sidder og nusser én på ryggen, men en gallerist har jo 30-35 kunstnere. Min fornemmelse er, at der er mange kunstnere, der står alene med deres værker, selvom de har en gallerist. Op til min beslutning om at stå selv, snakkede jeg med mine venner i forretningsverdenen, der sagde, at man aldrig skal gå fra et job, hvis man ikke har et andet, men jeg kunne ikke lide at gå bag om ryggen på Martin. Vi var ikke uvenner. Jeg har aldrig været drevet af pengene, men har bare en frihedstrang.” Hvad med rådgivningsdelen? ”Jeg har fire ansatte, der hjælper mig med at svare på mails, fremviser og registrerer, og som jeg også har en sparring med. Når jeg så udstiller, som jeg senest gjorde med Collaborations, har jeg et tæt samarbejde med dem. Og så bruger jeg stadig Claus Hagedorn-Olsen, som er én af de museumsdirektører, der har samlet på mine værker siden min begyndelse og inviteret mig til at udstille flere gange. Jeg har i det hele taget været heldig og har haft museumsudstillinger mindst hvert andet år siden min begyndelse. Og så har jeg Niels Bastrup, den tidligere kreativ direktør for Royal Copenhagen, som jeg har arbejdet sammen med i mange år, mine venner og min mand, Jens, der godt nok er øjenlæge, men han er meget involveret i det strategiske.” Der er så mange ting, jeg ikke er I dag er der kø til hendes værker, inden de er opstået, og hun indgår i samlinger som Statens Museums for Kunst, Clay, Ny Carlsbergfondet og Horsens Kunstmuseum. Hun er god til at markedsføre sig og har blandt andet et netværk i mode- og magasinbranchen, fordi hun i kort tid arbejdede som stylist. Men helt grundlæggende mener hun, at held og timing er afgørende. ”Der er sindssygt mange talentfulde kunstnere, der slet ikke kommer frem. Jeg vil tro, at omkring fem procent af de kunstnere, jeg gik med på akademiet, lever af deres kunst i dag.” Værdien i at læne sig op ad et anerkendt galleri, hvor kunstnere tager farve af respekten for galleristen og de kunstnere, der ellers er i stald, var normen i begyndelsen i 00’erne og også afgørende for Raben Davidsen. Navnlig fordi hendes værker blev udsolgt ved hendes første udstilling hos Martin Asbæk i 2006, og derfra tog det fart. I dag mener hun, at det kan lykkes på helt andre platforme som Instagram. ”Der er rigtig mange kunstnerdrevne steder, og kunstnere er blevet dygtige til at formidle deres kunst. Den dér gammeldags idé om, at en kunstner står sky i et værksted og overhovedet ikke kan tale om sine værker, gælder ikke kun. Der er mange måder at være kunstner på i dag.” Selv har hun aldrig været blandt dem, der har hængt højtråbende ud i miljøet, for at skabe de rigtige kontakter. ”Hvis jeg virkelig vil ind i et udenlandsk galleri, så skal jeg flytte til Berlin, Paris eller New York. Jeg skal være et udadvendt menneske, der skal gå til ferniseringer konstant, og det er jeg bare ikke. Der er så mange ting, jeg ikke er. Jeg vil gerne have mange frugtbare samarbejder og være mig selv, som jeg altid har været. På akademiet var jeg en total enspænder og fik børn undervejs. Jeg har aldrig været god til at gå med på barer til klokken fire om natten og komme med på alle mulige gruppeudstillinger, fordi jeg var venner med dén og dén.” I stedet kan hun godt lide struktur, og der hersker en sær grad af orden i hendes atelier med en snorlige linje mellem hendes kontor, hvor der ikke er én malerklat at spore på dørgreb eller det blanksorte terrazzo-gulv, mens der inde på den anden side er træplader på gulvet og et anderledes frirum til at sjaske med maling. ”Jeg er ikke nem at bide skeer med, for jeg ved godt, hvad jeg er værd. For mig handler det om at finde nogle mennesker, jeg godt kan lide, og hvor der er gensidig respekt og de forstår mit værk. Jeg føler, jeg måske har været lidt umoden tidligere. Det er først nu, mit værk virkelig er ved at samle sig.” En måde at holde det i skak er ved at fordybe sig i maleriet tre faste dage om ugen, hvor hun ikke foretager sig andet. Tirsdag til torsdag. ”Hvis jeg har bare én aftale på de dage, bliver jeg hylet ud af den. Det er jo et arbejde, der kræver mit nærvær, jeg er nødt til at føre penslen ordentligt. Men jeg elsker at være her alene, så hører jeg podcast og musik og føler mig heldig at have sådan et job. Og så kan jeg godt lide at holde møder og blive forstyrret og lave andre ting de andre dage. Hvis jeg skulle stå og male hver dag, ville jeg sgu nok blive skør.” Til februar har Cathrine Raben Davidsen en soloudstilling på Kastrupgårdsamlingen og skal medvirke på en gruppeudstilling på Museet for religiøs kunst i Lemvig, og arbejder løbende på værker til en soloudstilling, som hun skal have samme sted i 2022. Dette interview blev bragt i Berlingske den 21 November 2021. Link til interviewet her    
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Clay Keramikmuseum
By Pia Wirnfeldt, Museumsdirektør, CLAY Keramikmuseum
Februar 2020
I en tid, hvor menneskets spiritualitet ligger i dvale, tager billedkunstneren Cathrine Raben Davidsen livets åndelige dimension alvorligt. Med dyr, planter og mennesker som motiv beskæftiger hun sig med de mytiske, kosmiske og rituelle lag i sin kunst. Det handler om livets store temaer – fødsel, kærlighed og død, om selve udviklingen fra ét livsstadie til et andet der i Cathrine Raben Davidsens keramik udtrykkes med brændingens uforudsigelige glasurløb som en velkommen medspiller. Under titlen TOTEM udstiller Cathrine Raben Davidsen keramik, maleri, tegning, grafik og en animationsfilm. De forskellige medier indarbejdes i en sammenhængende scenografi, der åbner op for en sanselig totaloplevelse. Tyngden i udstillingen er en række unikaværker i stentøj og porcelæn, som hun fra 2017 til 2019 har skabt i samarbejde med den faglige ekspertise på Royal Copenhagen. Et frugtbart møde, der relaterer sig til museets historiske samling fra Den kgl. Porcelainsfabrik, Bing & Grøndahl og Aluminia, hvor samarbejdet med skiftende gæstekunstnere har været en essentiel drivkraft for den tekniske såvel som den kunstneriske udvikling. På udstillingen TOTEM tager Cathrine Raben Davidsen favntag med kunstens spirituelle kraft. I sine smukke keramiske fade, krukker og kar anvender hun forhistoriske formtyper fra forskellige kulturer og genopliver hermed keramikkens åndelige dimension og dens store kulturhistoriske fortælling. På den måde minder hun os om, hvordan mennesket og keramikken, til alle tider og verden over, har formidlet forholdet mellem stof og ånd gennem myter og ritualer. Glæden på CLAY Keramikmuseum er således stor over nu at kunne præsentere Cathrine Raben Davidsens kunst. En hjertelig tak til Cathrine Raben Davidsen for det tætte samarbejde omkring tilrettelæggelsen af udstillingen. Tak ligeledes til Aukje Lepoutre Ravn for den spændende tekst til dette katalog og til Kristine Møller for praktisk assistance. Tak også til Cathrine Raben Davidsen og Royal Copenhagen for udlån af værker til udstillingen og tak ikke mindst til de fonde, som med udstrakt tillid har støttet dette projekt.   Af Pia Wirnfeldt, Museumsdirektør, CLAY Keramikmuseum Danmark
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TOTEM
By Pernille Thorup, Kunsten Nu
Februar 2020
Udstillingen TOTEM, der lige nu kan opleves på keramikmuseet CLAY, peger tematisk tilbage til religiøse traditioner, men er også relevant i dag. Kunsten.nu har talt med Cathrine Raben Davidsen om ansigtsurner, samarbejdet med Royal Copenhagen og forbundethed mellem menneske og natur. Det smukke røde keramikmuseum CLAY ligger badet i vintersolen denne onsdag formiddag. Jeg er taget til Middelfart for at se Cathrine Raben Davidsens udstilling TOTEM. Ved første øjekast virker værkerne i det aflange udstillingslokale usammenhængende. Det første, der møder mig, er nogle store sort/hvide malerier af gopler. Derefter får jeg øje på keramiske krukker, urner og flasker. Derefter møder mit øje nogle kobberstikværker, med noget der ligner rødder. Og så en sort/hvid 3 minutters animeret video....Men idet jeg kommer tættere på værkerne, fremtræder der en sammenhæng. Dyr og mennesker er gennemgående motiver i Raben Davidsens værker. Og det opdager man, når man går tættere på de keramiske flasker, fade, urner og krukker: Utallige små ansigter, indgraveret i de glaserede keramiske værker, følger min færden gennem udstillingen. I de farverige malerier fremtræder menneskeskikkelser, og jeg opdager, at rødderne i kobberstikkene har ansigter. Forhistorisk forbundethed “Udstillingens titel Totem refererer til kulturhistoriske og religiøse traditioner såsom animisme og totemisme”, fortæller Cathrine Raben Davidsen. “Jeg er meget optaget af tanker omkring fællesskaber og om at høre til. Men udstillingen handler også om naturen, forgængelighed, transformation og det spirituelle. I de ældste religioner var alt levende, ikke overnaturligt, men naturligt levende og man troede på, at alt havde en sjæl – selv dyr og planter“. I tiden før civilisationen, og inden de store verdensreligioner fik en fremtrædende status, var trossystemer som animisme og totemisme, noget der kunne styrke en gruppes identitet og samhørighed. Og ideen om at der er en forbundethed og et fællesskab, der er større end mennesket og som involverer alt levende, bruger Raben Davidsen i sin kunstneriske undersøgelse af forholdet mellem menneske, natur og den åndelige verden. I arbejdet med de keramiske værker har Cathrine Raben Davidsen hentet inspiration fra forskellige tidsperioder såsom forhistorisk stentøj fra Nord- og Centraleuropa, okkulte hekseflasker og dansk bronzealders ansigtsurner, der blev brugt i begravelsesritualer. Samarbejdet med Royal Copenhagen De keramiske beholdere har Raben Davidsen udarbejdet sammen med Royal Copenhagen. Hun blev i 2009 del af Royal Copenhagens lange tradition for kunstnersamarbejder, der daterer helt tilbage til 1821. TOTEM er et resultat af deres samarbejde, der er forløbet mellem 2017-2019. For Raben Davidsen, der er uddannet billedkunstner, har samarbejdet givet hende muligheden for at skabe 150 unika værker og at eksperimentere med sin kunstneriske praksis i keramisk form: “At arbejde med en stor kommerciel maskine som Royal Copenhagen, har været et frugtbart samarbejde, som har bidraget med noget nyt for begge parter. Der er så få penge i kunstverdenen, så for mig at se er det kun en god ting, at en virksomhed som Royal Copenhagen tilbyder sin ekspertise og skaber nogle rammer, som kan være med til at udvikle kunsten”. Tidløs totalinstallation Selvom udstillingen vises på keramikmuseet rækker Raben Davidsens værker som sagt også ud over det keramiske, og det har været vigtigt for hende, at integrere sine forskelligartede kunstneriske udtryk i udstillingen: “Vi har med TOTEM arbejdet på at lave en total installation, som viser hele mit virke, og udover keramik udstiller jeg maleri, tegning og grafik men også en animationsfilm. Rent teknisk arbejder jeg med at male mine glasurer på emnerne, og på denne måde er der en klar sammenhæng i forhold til, hvordan jeg arbejder med maleri og tegning”. Samlingen af de forskellige kunstneriske udtryk giver mening, fordi de alle er præget af en tidløshed. I de forskellige værker fornemmer man ikke rum og tid, men mere en flydende tilstand, som når man kigger på maleriet af dådyrungen, der bare synes at svæve i en sort intethed. Eller fadene, hvor de indgraverede ansigter, dukker op som for at trække vejret over de glaserede overflader. Samtidens digitale animisme Men hvad skal vi med disse forhistoriske, religiøse traditioner i dag udover at undres over vores forfædres overtro? Ifølge Raben Davidsen lever animismen stadig, dog i en ny form: “Vores opfattelse af verden præges stadig af animistiske konnotationer. Helt konkret beskriver animisme et religiøst verdenssyn, hvor alle elementer i naturen omkring os, herunder dyr, planter og til tider genstande eller fænomener, rummer en sjæl. I dag har vi næsten overført personlighedskvaliteter til vores computere og smartphones. Man taler i denne henseende om neo-animisme, som netop vil have os til at gentænke forholdet mellem menneske og maskine, levende og ikke-levende”. Raben Davidsens udstilling sætter i hvert fald tanker i gang om samtidens forbundethed eller mangel på samme og refleksioner om fremtiden: “Lige nu er forbundetheden mellem natur og menneske samt vores ansvar overfor at opretholde den naturlige balance, noget vi alle sammen taler om, og ikke kun i samtidskunsten. Jeg tror, vi kan lære meget af, hvordan ældre trossystemer så på dette forhold. Men på et nyt plan. Kunsten kan være et sted for refleksion, som kan være med til at få os til at tænke over, hvem vi er, hvor vi kommer fra, og hvor vi er på vej hen. Og så tror jeg stadig på, at et maleri eller en krukke kan rumme noget magisk. Det her med at det er så ufattelig gammeldags at arbejde med de her langsomme medier, det kan noget særligt”, slutter Cathrine Raben Davidsen.   Af Pernille Thorup, Kunsten Nu
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ROYAL COPENHAGEN’S CERAMIC LEGACY
By Lone Rahbek, mag.art
February 2019
Starlit Sky, Butterfly Wing, Clair de Lune, Agouti Gold, Oxblood, Sung and Fang – what a sparkling array of poetic names! It may come as a surprise that they are all names of stoneware glazes created over the past century by Royal Copenhagen. As a historic company it has a huge legacy of knowledge about the production of porcelain, faience and stoneware that makes it a world leader in the field. It has developed over a quarter-millennium during which ten generations of chemists, technicians, craftsmen and artists, often through lifelong activity at Royal Copenhagen, have contributed their outstanding scientific, professional or artistic skills – all with the aim of aspiring to new heights. Royal Copenhagen has always made use of the way innovation can arise from encounters among a variety of human skills, with artists contributing to the process either as permanent staff or as guests. Many of them have stimulated the company’s scientific and professional staff to produce new, fantastic results. Over the past few years Cathrine Raben Davidsen has been invited to work at the company and to use its legacy to create fine unique ceramic works. However, the establishment of Royal Copenhagen in 1775 was based on the self-acquired knowledge of a single person. Prior to this the founder, the mineralogist Frantz Heinrich Müller, had conducted scientific experiments to rediscover the recipe for porcelain production. From his fantastic descriptions we know how he struggled with kaolin, feldspar, quartz and cobalt, which came untreated directly from nature to the factory. When Royal Copenhagen began to work in earnest at the beginning of the 20th century with the production of stoneware, it was also a single person who created not only a firing technique but a whole range of glazes. This time it was an artist, the ceramicist Patrick Nordström. He made his own decisions on forms, experimented for himself with glazes made of chemical substances which he received in unweighed form from the factory’s laboratory, glazed his own pieces, and kept a close eye on the process during firing. Patrick Nordström took most of his ideals for stoneware glazes from the French ceramicists’ interpretations of Japanese glazes, and made his own unique stoneware objects of great beauty. When he retired from the factory he left not only a fine intuition for beautiful stoneware as part of the Royal Copenhagen legacy, but also the desire to experiment. Not least he left the glazes themselves, written down in a recipe book that was kept for many years in the factory director’s safe, because it was considered essential to the company’s history and its survival. Among his glazes is Oxblood from 1914. Cathrine Raben Davidsen has worked with Oxblood; not Nordström’s original, but a new one – to which we will return. After Patrick Nordström the factory’s chemists took over the development of new glazes for a period. They went to work scientifically, used pure chemicals and wanted formulas for the glazes. First they tried to recreate ancient Chinese glaze types, and succeeded for example with Celadon and Claire de Lune. After that they wanted to create brand new glazes, and in the course of the 1930s Solfatara, Agouti Gold and Olivin were created; some of these became famous because they were used by artists associated with the factory such as Axel Salto. Celadon is one of the glazes Raben Davidsen has worked with. This is not the original version either, but a new one. Among the many people who have later contributed to the creation of the Royal Copenhagen stoneware glazes, the ceramicist Nils Thorsson should be singled out. He went back to experimenting with the chemicals as they occur in nature, not as pure substances, and created among other glazes Butterfly Wing in 1952. Unlike Patrick Nordström, Thorsson experimented in collaboration with the company’s laboratory, especially the chemist Leif Lautrup-Larsen, who himself created the Bear Glaze in 1960. From this, much later, the company’s laboratory director, the chemist Peter Poulsen, developed a new glaze that was given the name Starlit Sky; this too has been used by Cathrine Raben Davidsen. Many factors make important contributions to the final appearance of the chemical compounds as finished glazes; not only the reactions of the various compounds to one another, but also the grain sizes of the minerals, the thickness of the glaze layer and the firing temperature, the type of kiln, its source of energy and the position of the individual piece among the other things in the kiln. Because the chemicals react so sensitively, the modernization of the manufacturing process has consequences for the glazes. The most important change has been the transition from smaller, coal-burning, specialized kilns to large, gas-burning kilns. This began in 1987, when Royal Copenhagen’s stoneware department had to close because of a declining demand for stoneware. In order to maintain a certain amount of stoneware production the factory chose to make it more efficient in future by firing stoneware in the large, gas-burning production kiln used for the factory’s porcelain production; however, up to 2000 a single small coal-burning kiln was used by the ceramicist Ivan Weiss. But this involved the great problem that all the factory’s glazes had been created for firing in coal-burning kilns and could not be fired in the gas-burning production kiln. The company’s chemist Peter Poulsen succeeded in creating new glazes that are quite different chemically from the old ones, and which have their own identity, but still appear so close to the originals that in everyday speech they are given the same names: Oxblood, Celadon etc. Peter Poulsen has also created a wide range of glazes with brand new appearances for gas-burning kilns, many of which have been used by artists associated with the factory, while hundreds have not yet been used. Stoneware artists at Royal Copenhagen have had various aims with the appearance they want their ceramics to have. It is said that Patrick Nordström aimed at perfection, while artists from the 1950s on worked to achieve a rustic, informal look. Cathrine Raben Davidsen wanted an exploratory approach. Royal Copenhagen’s host for collaboration with artists has therefore given her the opportunity to work with all the elements in the process, from the choice of body mass through the form to the chemistry that creates the overall expression of the glaze. The works have been thrown by Bjarne Puggaard, who has contributed to the development of many new forms at Royal Copenhagen. Raben Davidsen has experimented with several of Peter Poulsen’s glazes, such as Oxblood, Celadon and Starlit Sky, as well as a transparent glaze and some that only have recipe numbers. She has also used a range of the oxides which give them colours – and even 24-carat gold – which the factory’s experienced glazer has looked out in the laboratory. As an artist Raben Davidsen has been interested in possible transformations, and found a challenge in the fact that the outcome of the working process was unknown to her; she has therefore not been content to give a piece a single glaze with a subsequent firing which, depending on the proportions in the process, has affected the result. She has experimented with mixing the glaze and oxides wet-on-wet and then having the piece fired, and with applying one layer of glaze or oxide at a time, and then after firing applying yet another layer of the factory’s glaze chemicals, after which the piece has been fired again and has come out of the kiln with a new look. One could almost say that Raben Davidsen has used her forms as three-dimensional canvases and painted on them with glazes and oxides, and fired them – as many as four times – to get appearances with which she was satisfied. The result is not just fascinating, beautiful and mysterious works; they are also interesting because, thanks to the experimental approach, they bring new expression to the factory’s great heritage of ceramic production.   ROYAL COPENHAGENS KERAMISKE ARV af Lone Rahbek, mag.art Stjernehimmel, Sommerfuglevinge, Clair de Lune, Guldharepels, Okseblod, Sung og Fang - hvilken perlerække af poetiske ord! Det vil nok overraske mange, at de alle er navne på stentøjsglasurer, som gennem de sidste hundrede år er skabt af Royal Copenhagen. Som en gammel virksomhed rummer den en gigantisk arv af viden om fremstilling af porcelæn, fajance og stentøj, som anses for førende i verden. Den er udviklet hen over det kvarte årtusinde, hvor 10 generationer af kemikere, teknikere, håndværkere og kunstner gennem deres ofte livslange virke i Royal Copenhagen har bidraget med deres ypperste videnskabelige, faglige eller kunstneriske færdigheder - alle med det formål at kunne nå nye højder. At nyskabelse ofte sker i mødet mellem forskellige menneskelige færdigheder, og at kunstnere kan bidrage til processen, har Royal Copenhagen altid benyttet sig af ved at knytte anerkendte kunstnere til sig enten fast eller som gæster. Mange af dem har stimuleret virksomhedens videnskabelige og faglige medarbejdere til at frembringe nye fantastiske resultater. Cathrine Raben Davidsen er gennem de senere år inviteret til at arbejde i virksomheden og bruge af dens arv til at skabe fornemme keramiske værker. Royal Copenhagens etablering i 1775 hvilede dog udelukkende på én persons selverhvervede viden, for forud havde grundlæggeren, mineralog Frantz Heinrich Müller, gennem videnskabelige eksperimenter fundet opskriften på porcelænsfremstilling. Fra hans fantastiske beskrivelser ved vi, hvordan han bøvlede med kaolin, feldspat, kvarts og kobolt, som kom helt ubehandlet direkte fra naturen til fabrikken. Da Royal Copenhagen i begyndelsen af det 20. århundrede for alvor begyndte at arbejde med stentøjsfremstilling, var det også en enkelt person, der skabte ikke bare en brændingsteknik, men også et stort register af glasurer. Denne gang var der tale om en kunstner, nemlig keramikeren Patrick Nordström. Han bestemte selv sine former, eksperimenterede selv med sine glasurer af kemiske stoffer, som han fik uafvejet fra fabrikkens laboratorium, glaserede selv sine ting og holdt selv et godt øje med processen under brændingen. Patrick Nordström havde sine idealer for stentøjsglasur fra franske keramikeres fortolkninger af især japansk stentøjsglasurer, og han fik selv skabt unika stentøj af stor skønhed. Da han holdt op på fabrikken, efterlod han ikke bare en god intuition for smukt stentøj i Royal Copenhagens arvemasse, men også lysten til at eksperimentere og ikke mindst sine glasurer nedfældet i en receptbog, som i mange år blev opbevaret i fabriksdirektørens pengeskab, fordi de ansås for væsentlige for virksomhedens historie og overlevelse. Blandt hans glasurer er Okseblod fra 1914. Cathrine Raben Davidsen har arbejdet med Okseblod; der er dog ikke tale Nordströms, men om en ny, hvilket vi vender tilbage til. Efter Patrick Nordström overtog fabrikkens kemikere i en periode udviklingen af nye glasurer. De gik videnskabeligt til værks, anvendte rene kemiske stoffer og ville have glasurerne på formel. Først stræbte de efter at genskabe Kinas gamle glasurtyper og lykkedes bl.a. med Celadon samt Claire de Lune. Derefter ville de skabe helt nye glasurer, og i løbet af 1930’erne fødtes Solfatara, Guldharepels og Olivin – hvoraf nogle blev kendte, fordi de anvendtes af fabrikkens kunstnere som f. eks. Axel Salto. Celadon er en af de glasurer, Raben Davidsen har arbejdet med; også den er ikke den oprindelige, men en ny. Blandt de mange, der siden har været med til at skabe Royal Copenhagens stentøjsglasurer, bør keramikeren Nils Thorsson fremhæves. Han gik tilbage til at eksperimentere med kemikalierne, som de er i naturen og ikke som rene stoffer, og skabte bl.a. Sommerfuglevinge i 1952. I modsætning til Patrick Nordström eksperimenterede Thorsson i samarbejde med virksomhedens laboratorium, især kemikeren Leif Lautrup-Larsen, der i øvrigt selv skabte Bjørneglasur i 1960. Udaf den udvikler fabrikkens laboratoriechef kemiker Peter Poulsen langt senere en ny glasur, som får navnet Stjernehimmel; også den har Cathrine Raben Davidsen anvendt. Mange faktorer har betydning for, hvordan de kemiske stoffer til slut fremstår som færdig glasur. Det gælder ikke alene de forskellige stoffers reaktioner på hinanden, men også mineralernes kornstørrelse, tykkelsen på glasurlaget og temperaturen ved brændingen, ligesom typen af ovn, dens energikilde og det enkelte emnes placering blandt de andre ting i ovnen. Fordi de kemiske stoffer reagerer så fintfølende, får modernisering af fremstillingsprocessen konsekvenser for glasurerne. Den væsentligste forandring har været overgangen fra kulfyrede og mindre specialovne til store, gasfyrede ovne. Den begynder i 1987, hvor Royal Copenhagens stentøjsafdeling må lukke på grund af dalende efterspørgsel på stentøj. For at kunne opretholde en vis stentøjsfremstilling vælger fabrikken at effektivisere ved fremover at brænde stentøj i den store, gasfyrede produktionsovn anvendt til fabrikkens porcelænsfremstilling; dog holder man frem til år 2000 gang i en enkelt, lille kulfyret ovn brugt af keramiker Ivan Weiss. Det indebar imidlertid det kæmpe problem, at alle fabrikkens glasurer var skabt til brænding i kulovn og ikke kunne brændes i den gasfyrede produktionsovn. Det lykkedes fabrikkens kemiker Peter Poulsen at skabe nye glasurer, som kemisk er helt anderledes end de gamle, og som har deres egen identitet, men alligevel fremstår så tæt på de originale, at de i daglige tale hedder det samme: Okseblod, Celadon osv. Peter Poulsen har også skabt et stort sortiment af glasurer til gasovn med helt nye udtryk; mange af dem har været anvendt af kunstnere tilknyttet fabrikken, mens hundredvis endnu ikke er taget i brug. Stentøjskunstnere på Royal Copenhagen har haft forskellige mål med det udtryk, deres keramik skulle have. Det siges, at Patrick Nordström tilstræbte perfektion, mens kunstnere fra 1950’erne og frem arbejdede mod at opnå et rustikt og uhøjtideligt udtryk. Cathrine Raben Davidsen har ønsket en undersøgende tilgang. Royal Copenhagens vært for kunstnersamarbejde har derfor givet hende mulighed for at arbejde med alle elementer i processen fra valg af masse, over form til den kemi, der danner det samlede glasurudtryk. Værkerne er drejet af Bjarne Puggaard, der har medvirket i udvikling af mange nye former hos Royal Copenhagen. Raben Davidsen har eksperimenteret med flere af Peter Poulsens glasurer som f.eks. Okseblod, Celadon, Stjernehimmel, klar glasur og også med nogle, der blot har receptnumre; desuden har hun anvendt en række oxider – som bibringer farve - og guld. Det er alt sammen blevet fundet frem fra laboratoriet af fabrikkens erfarne glaserer. Raben Davidsen har som kunstner udforsket de glasurer og oxider, hun har brugt; hun har været optaget af den mulige transformation og fundet udfordring i det, at arbejdsprocessens facit var ukendt. Hun har ikke ladet sig nøje med at påføre et emne én glasur med efterfølende brænding, men har eksperimenteret både med at blande glasur og oxider vådt i vådt og derefter fået emnet brændt og med at lægge ét lag glasur eller oxyd ad gangen for så efter brændingen at lægge endnu et lag af de samme eller andre af fabrikkens glasurkemikalier ovenpå, hvorefter emnet atter er blevet brændt og kommet ud af ovnen med et nyt udtryk. Man kan næsten tale om, at Raben Davidsen har anvendt sine former som tredimensionelle lærreder og malet på dem med glasurer og oxyder og dernæst brændt dem – helt op til fire gange - for at nå udtryk, hun var tilfreds med. Resultatet er ikke bare fascinerende, smukke og mystiske værker. De er også interessante, fordi de qua den eksperimenterende tilgang bringer nye udtryk ind i fabrikkens store arvemasse om keramisk fremstilling.
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TOTEM – Animism, Spirituality and Rhizomatic Connections
By Aukje Lepoutre Ravn
February 2019
“Art is (...) the most powerful means of putting into practice some aspect of the chaosmosis, to plunge beneath the subject/object division and to reload the real with new possibilities” – Jean Claude Polack Dating back to the 1820s the Royal Danish porcelain company Royal Copenhagen has a long-standing tradition of working closely together with artists. Continuing the ambition to explore the creative partnership potential of sharing ideas and knowledge about ceramic production, that tradition lives on today. Contemporary artists are regularly invited to imagine, experiment with and co-develop new ways of making ceramics, using and learning from the technical know-how of the in-house specialists. In 2017 the Danish visual artist Cathrine Raben Davidsen was invited by Royal Copenhagen to be the artist in residence at the company’s workshop and factory in Glostrup. Over the course of two years Raben Davidsen worked in close collaboration with the ceramic specialists and designers where she experimented with various forming techniques, glazes, and firing methods. The collaboration has resulted in more than 150 unique artworks comprising vases, jugs, lidded jars and plates. Together with a series of new paintings, drawings and prints, a selection of these works is presented in Cathrine Raben Davidsen’s solo exhibition Totem, which will be on view at Royal Copenhagen Flagship store in Copenhagen from February 7 until March 29, 2019. In search of spirituality Throughout her artistic career, the work and practice of Cathrine Raben Davidsen (b. 1972) has gravitated towards the larger existential questions of human life and death. Understanding life as an imminent process of continuous transformation, Raben Davidsen explores the essential traits of being human, asking not only how we as humans are connected to each other, but also how these connections extend towards other living organisms and earthly entities. With an elementary curiosity that connects the knowledge of the past with present-day thinking, Raben Davidsen proposes to us, through her art, to broaden and diversify our sense of historical continuity. Caring little about the traditional hierarchies among fine art, craftsmanship, design and other creative disciplines, Raben Davidsen is concerned in her artistic oeuvre with multiplicity and intertextuality. Drawing on a wide variety of visual and philosophical references - implementing both modern and renaissance art history, ancient mythology, non-western religion, science, 20th century feminist literature along with personal experience - Raben Davidsen juxtaposes loosely connected elements from diverse cultural realms. Her works most often take form as paintings, drawings, prints or ceramics, but she also engages in collaborative formats such as costume-making, stage and lamp design, and artist books. In recent years, Raben Davidsen has focused her interest on how we perceive and understand mankind’s relationship with nature. She reflects on the modern loss of spirituality and contemplates how we can better pass on the worldly wisdom of ancient epistemologies that are not influenced by the dominant paradigm of Western capitalism. Animism and totemism In the pursuit of giving form and visuality to a new notion of a “spiritual beyond” Raben Davidsen draws inspiration from religious and spiritual traditions of indigenous cultures, in particular the belief systems animism and totemism. The word animism stems from Latin “animus”, which means “soul” or “life”. The concept is related to the early anthropological research of the 19th century, when the English anthropologist Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917) proposed a theory of animism. He described animism as the religious worldview that natural, physical entities, including animals, plants and often even inanimate objects or phenomena, all possess a spiritual essence. The concept of animism is most often used in anthropology to describe the religions of indigenous tribes, especially before the development of civilization and its organized religion. Ingrained in many animistic cultures is the tradition and practice of totemism. The totem is a symbol of worship that is thought to possess supernatural powers and aims to gather and strengthen a group’s identity and cohesion. The totem may be a tree or an animal or some other natural phenomenon such as a river or a mountain. Each group of people in an animist society may have its own totem and associated ceremonies. Although the animist communities have often been associated with so-called ‘primitive’ cultures, philosophers and sociologists of today attribute far greater importance to the practices of animism and totemism. Abandoning the colonial pre definitions and seeing animism more generally as a useful and inspirational source of knowledge, it is largely considered a pertinent reference in rethinking the planet’s contemporary ecological challenges. The magic within ceramics For the collaboration with Royal Copenhagen, Raben Davidsen has been inspired by prehistoric ceramics from central Europe, Mexico, Japan and a type of stoneware from the late Bronze Age in Scandinavia commonly referred to as ‘face-mask urns’. However, it is the German stoneware from the 16th and 17th centuries that has inspired Raben Davidsen the most. Originally ceramic objects in these German styles were known as ‘Bartmann jugs’, ‘Bellarmines’, or ‘Greybeards’. They were typically made of brown or grey stoneware glazed with salt and were characteristically embossed with a bearded face. In some regions these containers were also referred to as “medicine bottles” or “witch bottles”, as they were used to practice witchcraft. The medicine bottles were said to contain potent liquids that could consist of abject bodily substances such as saliva, blood, urine, and even of hair. These bottles were assigned magic powers and used in occult ceremonies to expel evil spirits. The myths around these vessels have fed directly into Raben Davidsen’s processing of her own ceramics – both formally and in their embedded mythological subject matter. In the exhibition Totem, the ceramics are presented in series of large and small jars, vases and vessels – some with lids, some without. They are displayed in categorized groups almost resembling types of people or families. Most of the jars are glazed in earth colours such as red, green, white, and black, all considered as having symbolic or spiritual meanings. Red refers to blood, birth and life; black is associated with power, change and rebirth; and white symbolizes purity and death. Some of the darker jars are decorated with 24 carat gold, making them look as if they have been touched by a gleam of divine light when seen from afar. By playfully adapting the stylistic expression of the Bartman ceramics, Raben Davidsen creates a direct link with the magical ‘world’ inside the jars and pays homage to the ghostly, esoteric and mystical qualities embedded in the historic ceramic tradition and its cultural use. Submerged faces and elevated bodies As an overall project, Totem includes a larger body of work besides the ceramics. Raben Davidsen has also made a series of new paintings, drawings, prints and animation film, all of which together expand her abstract visual language and reach beyond previous motif worlds. The prevailing subject matter in these works is the synthesis of human, animal and cosmos. We encounter shadowy images of ambiguous floating bodies, owls with pierced-out eyes, a young deer hovering in the air with its hooves growing like tree branches, lightweight birds, ethereal jellyfish and whales moving around in liquid, formless spaces. All of the paintings are soaked in earth colours such as deep oranges, blood reds, turquoise blues and maroon browns from a palette similar to the chakra colours Raben Davidsen has used before. Out of the saturated colour fields, these delicate, almost invisible faces appear. The usual parameters of identity such as gender, race or age seem erased; rather, we see these androgynous creatures outside time and space, ostensibly in a state of flux towards a new dimension. With these enigmatic, mask-like features, the faces look like transitioning souls or spirits inhabiting another dimension in another world. All this gives the paintings a dreamlike quality and a strong sense of spiritual mystique. In A thousand names for Gaia (2018) we glimpse an angelic face totally submerged in the turquoise colour plane so only the lips and one eye appear clear, and in Sophia (2018) a brown, reddish and ochre palette makes up the abstract landscape. On top of these are watery white dots, looking like a petri dish of bacteria starting to grow over the surface, evoking an impression of organic life in process. Vehicle (2019) and In and of the Earth (2019) depict two silhouette bodies pushing out of the horizontal space and ascending into the sky. The motifs of the paintings show similarities to the work of the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, which likewise revolved around the body, nature, and the spiritual connections between them. Her series Silueta (begun in 1973) used a typology of abstracted feminine forms, through which she sought to access an “omnipresent female force”. Mendieta carved and shaped her figures in the earth, with arms overhead to represent the merging of earth and sky; floating in water to symbolize the minimal space between land and sea; or with arms raised and legs together to signify a wandering soul. Delving deeper into an underworld ambience, the painting Nightshade (2018) depicts a rather aquatic milieu. In the foreground, with white tentacles extended, a floating organism resembling a dissolved jellyfish appears. In the background, from behind a horizontal purple line, the silhouette of a resting androgynous face is rising (or setting) like a sun. The painting seems to suggest the merging of elements as the common source of all living creation, and makes the point that we are all descended from the same biological entity. Raben Davidsen’s newly produced animation film Tentacular stands out in the exhibition as the only moving image. In the 4-minute black-and-white looping film, we see series of subtly drawn milky-white jellyfish, spreading out their umbrella-shaped bells as they appear and disappear like magical ghostly creatures. Adding more layers we see figures, birds, spiders and plants performing the same organic movements, from physical dissolution to cosmic integration. The animation is accompanied by an underworld-like soundtrack and takes the form of a meditation on transformation. Rhizomatic connections “To reclaim animism is to recover from the very separation, to regenerate what the separation itself has poisoned, to learn what is necessary in order to inhabit once again what was destroyed, to restore life on what it had been infected, to strive and heal”. – Isabelle Stengers In Totem many of Cathrine Raben Davidsen’s themes coalesce into an ethereal spirituality; an elegy on the forces of nature and the cosmos. There is a persistent anthropomorphizing quality at play where the attributes of the human, animal and cosmic elements morph into combined subjectivities. The totality of the works evokes an electric atmosphere. By creating a visual language that goes beyond the rationally tangible and comprehensible borderline of subject/object, it calls attention to the magic within the very process of transformation. This mode of thinking has parallels with the ideas of the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who in the late 1970s developed a concept they called the “rhizome”. The rhizome connects practices, concerns, and heterogenous modes of making sense, without privileging any of these modes. The idea of rhizomatic connections to other practices and entities that likewise explore a metamorphic (rather than a representational) relation to the world is very much a part of animism. Combining this knowledge of and these references to ritual practices, ancient belief systems and modern philosophy, Totem tells us a story of the fruitful powers of the “worlds beyond” and their rhizomatic and holistic connections. These worlds and worldviews have helped shape human beings’ understanding of their own subjectivity and their relations to their natural surroundings in the past, and should continue to do so with renewed strength in the future! Literature Ana Mendieta: Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective, exh. cat. (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988) Angela Melitopoulos and Maurizio Lazzarato: “Machinic Animism”, 2009. Anselm Franke (ed.): Animism (Volume I), Sternberg Press, 2010. Edward B. Tylor: Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom, 1871. Félix Guattari: The Three Ecologies, translated by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton, The Athlone Press, 2000 from the original version Les trois écologies, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. and Editions Galileé, 1989. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987 Isabelle Stengers: “Reclaiming Animism”, in E-flux journal #36, July 2012, https://www.e- flux.com/journal/36/61245/reclaiming-animism/ J. H. Macmichael: “The Bellarmine or Greybeard”, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, First Series. Volume 49, 1893 – Issue 4
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Mellem det sagte og det usagte
By Lisbeth Bonde
December 2017
Maleren Cathrine Raben Davidsen dimitterede i 2003 fra Det kgl. Danske Kunstakademi. Hun har haft et meget aktivt udstillingsprogram, primært i Danmark. Senest viste hun nye værker i Aarhusgalleriet Jacob Bjørn med titlen SWOON i 2017, og i 2016 viste hun soloudstillingen Kenosis på Horsens Kunstmuseum. Cathrine Raben Davidsen er en traditionsbevidst billedkunstner, som ofte finder sine motiver i litteraturen, i den antikke kunst eller i kunsthistorien i bred forstand – hvis ikke i modebladenes idealiserede kvindefremstillinger. Hun sampler frit og meget originalt disse mange visuelle spor og indtryk i sine mangelagede værker, der balancerer mellem distance og dragende mystik, og som kan forekomme som en rebus, man gerne vil finde løsningen på. Ofte ”abonnerer” motiverne også på oplevelser fra hendes eget liv men mest fremtrædende er imidlertid indflydelsen fra renæssancemaleriet, som hun tidligt fik ind i sin kunstneriske praksis. Det skyldes bl.a., at hun lige efter gymnasiet tog til Firenze og gik på et lille, privatdrevet akademi, hvor hun blev undervist af et sydafrikansk par, Rose og Claire, der lærte hende alle de klassiske discipliner inden for maleri, og som den dag i dag er hendes mentorer. Hele Cathrine Raben Davidsens œuvre er gennemsyret af interessen for den kanoniserede kunst, som udgør et strømførende lag under hendes værker. På den anden side er hun oplagt også en moderne maler, hvis kunst hviler på erfaringerne fra de mange visuelle eksperimenter i det 20. århundredes maleri. I pagt hermed opererer hun med maleriet i det udvidede felt, da hun også tegner og laver keramiske skulpturer, arbejder med tekstil, skaber scenografi og i det hele taget eksperimenterer med alskens materialer, som mødes på fladen, så de danner nye æstetiske formverdener. Materialer, der normalt ikke optræder sammen, indgår i en kemisk, på mange måder uforudsigelig proces i hendes værker på såvel papir som på lærred: Blæk, tusch, akryl, blegemidler, akvarel etc. skaber en visuel ”erosion” på fladen.  Hendes på én gang figurative, stoflige og ekspressive maleri vidner om mange forskellige praksisformer og materialer, og gennemgående er der tale om et meget varieret farvevalg, hvor især den turkise farve – en chakra-farve, der ifølge gammel, indisk lægevidenskab ligger i strubeområdet - spiller en vigtig rolle. Chakraer opfattes her som bestemte energicentre i kroppen, forbundet med nervebaner, der udgår fra rygraden. Sådan har hun selv udlagt det i en samtale med bogens forfatter. Når man betragter Raben Davidsens værker, kan man få associationer til den verdenskendte, sydafrikanske billedkunstner Marlene Dumas (f.1953), hvis på én gang intense og psykologisk ladede portrætter er beslægtet med Cathrine Raben Davidsens sårbare kvindeportrætter. Men der er også tydelige referencer til renæssances store malere, især Rafael, Tizian og Botticelli, når hendes kvinder dukker frem af tågerne som skumfødte Venus’er. Men navnlig én ting går igen i hendes portrætter, der er frie og associative og ikke nødvendigvis har nogen direkte referencer, nemlig hendes eminente sans for at skildre det menneskelige blik. Noget af det mest komplekse ved menneskets fysiognomi er øjnene. Gennem vore blikke sender vi signaler til vore medmennesker om vores følelsesmæssige tilstand, og vi kan straks se, om et smil er ægte eller ej. Øjnene er sjælens spejl, som man siger, og igennem blikket afkoder vi, om mennesker er kede af det, angste eller glade.  Men Cathrine Raben Davidsens personer kigger hyppigst indad – i en kontemplativ dvælen – men man oplever tydeligt deres ”state of mind” og genkender os selv og vores egen sårbarhed i deres blikke. Cathrine Raben Davidsen har i flere interview (bl.a. på Louisiana Channel, 2016) fortalt, at hun blev kunstner, fordi hun tidligt mistede sin far. Det skete allerede, da hun var 13 år gammel. Da hun dengang ikke kunne tale om sit tab, begyndte hun at udtrykke sin sorg visuelt. Gennem kunsten kunne hun udtrykke alle de vanskelige ting, som hun som teenager ikke havde ord for. Da hun kom i gymnasiet, begyndte hun at tegne ud fra især mode- og designmagasiner for dermed at komme nærmere sin far, der havde været designer. Værkerne forekommer som metamorfoser i bedste Ovid-forstand. De befinder sig i krydsfeltet mellem abstraktion/ekspression og figuration og mellem maleri og tegning. Hun tegner med kul, men hun opløser samtidig motivet og mætter det med mange lag pastel, pigmenter, akryl, blæk og pastel. Derfor er der denne taktile rigdom, som får billederne til at leve, og som giver publikums øjne noget at græsse af. Motiverne henter næring i en indre feminin og drømmende verden og oscillerer mellem fantasi og virkelighed. På udstilling efter udstilling har Raben Davidsen kredset om eksistentielle temaer. Ud over de ovenfor nævnte udstillinger gjaldt det også House of the Axe i 2012 i Kunstforeningen GL STRAND. Titlen hentyder til Kong Minos’ labyrint i Knossos på Kreta. Metamorfoser i 2006 på Sorø Kunstmuseum med en klar reference til Ovids metamorfoser og Penelope’s Web i Galleri Martin Asbæk. Sidstnævnte udstilling, der også fandt sted i 2006, henviste til det evighedsarbejde Penelope udførte, når hun om natten optrævlede den kjole, som hun havde vævet på om dagen. Derved vandt hun tid og kunne undgå at blive gift med en af de mange bejlere, der havde anmodet om hendes hånd under Odysseus’ lange fravær. Et mytologisk tema gennemsyrede også omtalte store soloudstilling Kenosis på Horsens Kunstmuseum i 2016-17. Her kunne man opleve nye værker sammen med enkelte værker af ældre dato. Det græske ord Kenosis betyder ”at blive tømt”. Det henviser direkte til Jesus, der idet han tog menneskelig skikkelse, afførte sin guddommelighed og tog alle de menneskelige egenskaber til sig, samtidig med at han underkastede sig Guds vilje fuldstændigt. Men ordet henviser hos Raben Davidsen til metamorfosen i bred almindelighed. Hendes værker stiller nemlig – med afsæt i den tidlige erfaring fra faderens død – spørgsmål til fx den formforvandling, som døden er, og mellem krop og sjæl og form og ikke form. På den måde balancerer hendes værker mellem det forestillede og det sete eller reelle med andre ord dualiteten i tilværelsen, der pendler mellem lys og mørke, liv og død, væren og intet. Cathrine Raben Davidsen arbejder intuitivt. Uden nogen forudgående skitser eller planer lader hun processen styre forløbet. Det betyder, at mange værker må kasseres hen ad vejen, men det offer bringer hun gerne for at bruge det, der bliver hende givet undervejs. Dette ikke forudsigelige og overraskende, pludseligt opståede, som hun med årene har lært at håndtere. Tilfældets nådegave, kunne man kalde denne lydhøre proces, der ligesom jazzens improvisationer lade indfald opstå undervejs. I sine seneste værker tager hun afsæt i fotografier fra medierne. Her forholder hun sig ikke kun til sin egen smerte ved tab – et tab, der i dag ligger langt tilbage i hendes liv – men til de mange tab, som mennesker overalt i verdens mange konfliktzoner lider, i disse år særligt i Syrien som følge af borgerkrigen. Det er stærke sager, som i Raben Davidsens håndtering bliver intime og vækker empati på en måde, som de massemedierede billeder ikke på tilsvarende måde evner at vække. Som det er fremgået, balancerer Raben Davidsen mellem det antydede og det klart sagte, mellem det udviskede og klart malede. Der er tale om en skrøbelig og æterisk verden, der mere bæres af drømmen end om realitetsprincippet. Som en rød tråd løber en optagethed af forandringer eller formforvandlinger.  Det er hos Cathrine Raben Davidsen som hos Platon, der med sin Timaios-figur fortæller om verdens tilblivelse. Han grundantagelse går ud på, at der er to verdener: den evige og den fysiske. Sidstnævnte er omskiftelig. Den forvandler sig uophørligt og går ofte under. Raben Davidsen synes at lade mennesker og miljøer dukke frem af sine amorfe skyer for øjeblikket efter at trække dem tilbage som et fantomsyn.   Denne tekst er hentet fra bogen: DANSK KUNST I 10\'ERNE 40 kunstnerportrætter Den danske kunstscene byder i disse år på en rig vifte af kunstoplevelser. Aktivitetsniveauet og kvaliteten har aldrig været højere. I takt hermed er antallet af kunstinstitutioner, der danner ramme om kunsten, blevet mangedoblet. Lisbeth Bondes nye bog er en opfølger til Manual til dansk samtidskunst, som hun og Mette Sandbye udgav i 2006. Den nye bog er en vejviser til det store publikum, som interesserer sig for den nye kunst. Bogen omhandler 40 kunstnere, der for alvor er trådt frem på kunstscenen fra omkring 2005 og frem til nu. Mange af dem er i dag internationalt kendt. Bogen er udgivet af Gyldendals Forlag.
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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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