As the gusts of wind in Copenhagen whip through the streets and push pedestrians into each other at this time of the year, Gothersgade 167, where SixtyEight Art Institute is located, offers a space for temporary respite. There is a particular kind of stillness in the institute – a sharp contrast with the weather outside. The walls are painted in deep navy blue, emanating a sense of peace and quiet. Along the walls runs a long, low shelf, where a series of grey cast objects - some of which look like ropes; others like nothing but odd shapes made of plaster – are carefully lined up.
In the centre of the room stand two high wooden tables, on which two identical books lie quietly side by side. The book cover shares the same blue colour as the walls, with a most strange and perplexing title - under and so; even if afterwards - continually. The book content consists of no words, but residues of ink and rust on paper that once air dried, were carefully cut out sheet by sheet and sewn together, folded and then layered on top of each other. The echoes between the image of the residues and the shapes of the objects seem to suggest a connection between the objects and the artist book on display, creating an enigmatic ambience that invites the viewer to explore the book layer by layer, sediment by sediment.
This intriguing exhibition is titled Concise Voids and Sediments, and the work is by the Danish abstract sculptor Marianne Skaarup Jakobsen. The exhibition emerges out of Jakobsen’s artistic research process that has been driven by the completion of this artist book, which has been made possible through a special collaboration between SixtyEight Art Institute and the emerging publisher, Tacet Press.
Marianne Skaarup Jakobsen is trained at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Malmö Art Academy, Sweden. Since 2012, the artist has been in residence and exhibiting in various galleries and museums in Sweden, Portugal and Denmark. At the moment, she is based in a studio on Refshaleøen – a former industrial site in the harbour of Copenhagen.
Influenced by abstract artists such as Robert Smithson, Agnes Martin, Eva Hesse, Richard Serra, Mark Manders, and Steve Paxton, the artist follows an artistic research agenda that inquires into the relationship between humans and ecology. Conducting her research through the medium of sculpture, Skaarup Jakobsen’s investigation is a groundedly material one.
Despite the (almost) wordlessness of the room, the current exhibition at SixtyEight is, paradoxically, about language. In particular, it is about using the form of book to capture a material language that is spoken by nature, and translating this very material language into a language that the viewer can engage with. However contradictory this may sound, the artist has actively offered a solution to reconcile these contradictions through three poetic processes of capturing, printing and translating.
To capture the language of nature, the artist uses clay to record a ‘concise void’. This is a borderline moment that occurs when the artist builds the clay to a point at which it is just about to collapse due to the force of gravity. In this way, nature, in interaction with the artist, manifests itself and is preserved through the resulting shape of the clay. And the shape itself also becomes a material recording of the language that is spoken by nature.
To print the captured material language, the artist approaches the book as a sculpture by connecting different materials. Using the sedimentation of ink to develop abstract and residual images on paper, the artist uses cast objects as weights to keep the paper under the water during the sedimentation process. With this process, the objects transfer their particles onto the paper, and the sediments become part of the imprinted ‘words’ of the material language evident in the sculpture.
To translate the material language into one that is perceptible by the human viewers, Skaarup Jakobsen in an inventive manner uses grammatical notions to let the content of the book - a multi-level material construction, flow directly into the book’s title - a multi-level grammatical construction. A sentence that only makes sense in terms of its construction, rather than representation. As the artist describes it herself,
"When I started to think about the title, I found that the only way to make a title for this book that made sense to me, was to really build the title - using language to construct a sentence rather than to carry a meaning. So, I made this formula that is mainly constructed of conjunctions, because they [conjunctions] are the cohesive elements that connect materials in verbal language. In this sense, the book’s title, under and so; even if afterwards – continually can be seen as a construction as such, a placement in space, a placement in time, a gap filler, and the last word is a reinforcement and an adverb."
In this sense, through the production of an artist book, Skaarup Jakobsen has created a space at SixtyEight that is deprived of the verbal representation that embeds us in reality, and without which we can no longer fully comprehend our rationale.
By disrupting/breaking with the ways we habitually construct reality in our minds, the artist has created a sphere that the viewer has to relate to through intuition and emotion rather than intellect. This disruption/break is what Skaarup Jakobsen would like to achieve through art. For her,
“art is a visual, material and spacious thinking (a system of formal relationships that does not necessarily end in any sense.) A particular sensitivity to impressions that can only be manifested materially because the sum is a crystallization of an extensive amount of (emotional) information.”
To further explore the connection between the verbal and the material language, or even more ambitiously how humans can (re)learn how to engage with nature as part of their lifeworld through these artistic efforts, Skaarup Jakobsen is still testing new ground in sculpture. As she continues to explore the relationships between materials by integrating paper with cast elements like plaster or metal, and focuses on geological processes such as sedimentation and quick clay landslide, she is also interested in implementing strictly restorative techniques that come from the restoration of archaeological, paleontological and geological objects.
However ingenious one may find Skaarup Jakobsen’s artistic approach is, one can still ask why the existence of a material language as such is worth translating, and necessary for us to become acquainted with. While the interpretation is open, an obvious answer is to think of the exhibition as a silent yet powerful critique of the way in which our selfhood is embedded in today’s world - one that is increasingly mediated through digital technologies. Today, our selves, especially for the younger generation who grew up with smartphones and social media, are by default dependent on a constant life-support system of technology-enabled symbolic stimulations. As these stimulations take place at high speed without leaving much room for individuals to reflect, they have become the very substitute cultural structure for us and our upcoming generations.
To fit into a technologically advanced world as such, we are increasingly subject to a largely symbolic world, while disconnecting with the ecological world. While we live among virtual beings of our own design, our embodiment is largely suppressed. And the arid cultural landscape the stimulations are offering is predisposing us to a range of psychological problems and social issues (Kidner, 2012).
Skaarup Jakobsen’s exhibition, in this sense, can be seen as a reminder of the forgotten embodiment, by materializing a language that we may not know how to verbalize in our minds, but are able to associate with through our body and emotions. Meanwhile, it can also be seen as a temporary and initial solution to the problems that plague us in an era as such, by offering a sphere in which to contemplate and re-embed ourselves in nature.
One might ask, why not immerse oneself in the wind and the storm, if connecting with the language of our nature is the ultimate goal. Perhaps. But perhaps the way of re-learning this language is one that is too rough and may take too long as we are so deeply embedded in the virtual realities we have created ourselves. We have to start from somewhere else.
And perhaps, the very space at SixtyEight that Skaarup Jakobsen has created is neither a shelter from the storm nor from the symbolic avalanche, but a liminal space that provokes and challenges normalcy (Turner, 1995), with our 'old' world left behind, but a 'new' existence yet to be revealed. A space where the visitors can take their own time to reason as much as they want, yet still remain in a state of not knowing, a space where the visitors can just be, and not be about. And perhaps this is what the exhibition is trying to offer, the "point zero" on the map of an unknown reality.
Kidner, D., 2012. Nature and experience in the culture of delusion: How industrial society lost touch with reality. Springer.
Turner, V. 1995. Ritual process:
Structure and antistructure. Walter de Gruyter.
This essay is part of an initiative to foster Danish and English Language critical writings from a range of new talents across the visual arts; and as a partnership between I DO ART and SixtyEight Art Institute.
Cancan Wang holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Fudan University, China, and a master’s degree in applied cultural analysis from University of Copenhagen, Denmark, through which she cultivated a broad range of intellectual interest in topics such as love, gender, technology and art. Pursuing her interest in art criticism comes from her work in information technologies and their impacts on social relationships, which she organized into a Phd in the field of information systems from Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. Cancan Wang works as an Assistant Professor at the IT University of Copenhagen and is based in Copenhagen.
Cancan has contributed to idoart.dk since 2019.