FIGURE OF SEDUCTION
Mai Misfeldt, M.A. in art history and reviewer for the daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende. An article published in Spring, Journal for Modern Literature, no. 14, Spring 1999.
The sculpture is called Without Take-off, the frontispiece shows a section of it. The bearing element of the sculpture is a four-meter long yellow torpedo shape done in polyester. A stuffed reptile lies on top of this tight form. The shape of the crocodile is similar to that of the torpedo, an elongated form which sharpens towards a point at both ends, two closed bodily shapes in parallel positions, or a little shape which reflects a larger. The title Without Take-off indicates several meanings. You use a take-off to jump from. From the take-off you accumulate the energy which ultimately is released in the jump. The torpedo detonates when reaching its target. Without deviating it follows its track towards its goal, where it is released. And what about the little stuffed crocodile on top? What is such an exotic souvenir from wildlife doing on top of this extended artificiality?
It lies waiting. A crocodile needs no take-off before it rips into its victim. A crocodile lies completely still – as a stone – or perhaps a sculpture – before it unexpectedly attacks its prey. Various forms of concentrated energy are at play, containment, perhaps self-containment in particular. When we as observers stand in front of Tina Maria Nielsen’s sculpture we are the prey who innocently look at these harmless things without realising their immanent attack. This is a sculpture where everything is externalised. No take-off is needed to experience it, deciphering it is easy, it jumps into view. You see what is there, a yellow torpedo and a stuffed crocodile. But in spite of what one almost could call a rich, outward-going and hospitable nature, this recognition does not empty the sculpture of meaning. It is still an enigma. It keeps itself to itself, closed. The outside is readable, but what is it doing there, why are these two disparate things put together, what does it want from us – these questions keep gnawing the observer like a little crocodile with sharp teeth.
A sculpture is a three-dimensional object in a room. Unlike a picture a sculpture exists in the same physical dimension as us. There is a body and it is positioned in relationship to the physical existence of the observer. Is it soft, hard, big, little, dangerous, or disgusting? Does one want to touch it, is one afraid of being destroyed by it, will one fall over it, is one touched by its diminutive size or afraid of its dominance? At the same time as being body, the sculpture is also picture. It resembles something. A sculpture can be a picture so much that the surface takes over from the form and the material. Tina Maria Nielsen constantly works with the boundary between material and picture. Figurative imagery is a take-off point to catch attention, a sublimely seductive element. Figurative imagery breeds chains of association and meanings. The materials and the conflict between their differing nature create a language which always leaves writing behind to take an interpretative role. The perception of the sculpture, the apprehension goes through what Kant called apperception. As Tina Maria Nielsen herself puts it, the idea is “to break through the figurative to reach a point where thought and perception meet”.
Without Take-off was shown at the exhibition Proms III at Kunsthallen, Brandts Klædefabrik, in Odense 1996 together with the sculpture Attempt to Finish a Work from 1970. This sculpture is a net, created out of ropes of various widths dipped in latex, partly this gives it a certain hold, partly it indicates a more elastic and also organic character. In the net there are also some beige-brown wax castings of conch shells. The work refers to the last work of the American artist Eva Hesse, left unfinished when she died in 1970. Tina Maria Nielsen’s net is an attempt to copy Eva Hesse’s work as faithfully as possible, and then to finish it by placing these wax conch shells in it. In contrast to the incisive, clear-cut and masculine form of Without Take-off the net is open, labyrinthine, tangled and chaotic in structure. Eva Hesse was part of the circle of minimalist sculptors including Sol Lewit and Robert Morris. Her use of soft and psychologically suggestive materials such as rope and cloth gave her a leading role in so-called post-minimalist sculpture. The net is a receptive and expansive form, which paradoxically has no shape in itself. Where the torpedo expands and pushes into space with its four meter long diagonal across the room, here space must extend the net to give it any other shape than a filtered chaotic mess, which takes up some room, but not very much materially. The conches, which metaphorically are linked to the net as a kind of catch, are a fragile image, with a strong female connotation. The two sculptures express two different form registers, and with their different sensibilities they also question the discourse of gender with which we read the world.
Cover up was the title of Tina Maria Nielsen’s first separate exhibition after the academy. At the exhibition she exhibited six new sculptures, where two are reproduced here. Dweller on the Threshold – some will recognise the title, a song by Van Morrison, about the moment before entering a process of change. To leave the known and set out into the darkness. For those unfamiliar with the song, the title creates a mythological layer which supplements the reception, but the reference is not necessary. The sculpture consists of two elements. The largest element is a well, built out of black bricks cast in wax. At the bottom of the well there are two glass panes, the lower pane is painted black, the upper is one tier of bricks higher up. With its close light-absorbent nature the wax stones materialise blackness as a figure, presented with an intense, forceful, presence. To look down into the well, smooth as a mirror, is to look into a seemingly bottomless depth. Logically one knows this is impossible, but the split second before one reaches this conclusion, a sinking feeling goes through the body. The eye is deluded, and this leads to a dizzy feeling in the body, like one knows from baroque trompe l’oeil. The logical expectations created by one’s vision collide with the senses and fracture the sequence of understanding.There is a black suitcase beside the well, also made out of wax. A well-known shape and metaphor. Taking one’s suitcase along when crossing the border seems a good idea. But on closer examination there seems to be something wrong with the suitcase. Its handle curves inward, and where a normal suitcase would bulge, filled with the necessities of travel, this suitcase is sucked in. The suitcase has a positive form, but leaves a negative impression. All the sides of the suitcase have been cast in wax, and have then been put together. The space of the wax suitcase is the invisible room around the real suitcase. An unwieldy figure, a paradoxical clash between inside and outside, between positive and negative. The suitcase is like a black hole, sucking all meaningful contrasts into its strange void. A dark inverse, withdrawn condition, like the suspense held the moment before an important decision is carried out.
There is the same dialectical movement between Dweller on the Threshold and Cover as between Without Take-off and Attempt to Finish a Work. The closed shape versus the open. A cover is both protection and picture. This is also true of the record cover, which both protects the record and at the same time advertises it, as well as for the clothes we wear both for protection and for show, at once both concealing and revealing. Tina Maria Nielsen’s sculpture Cover is manufactured out of thin milky white nylon stays, ribbons, thread and steel. 200 cm in diameter and 175 cm high, it refers directly to the human body. The figurative image is one of a crinoline, a designation in the history of culture for a covering for the female body, a rigid system of fishbone, bamboo or metal behind which the soft and dangerous female body was kept completely hidden right up into the present century. The crinoline had to be strong and flexible. Tina Maria Nielsen’s sculpture is not strong, but is kept together with thin sewing thread. It looks like a skeleton, onto which something could be built, but the skeleton itself is fragile. Tina Maria Nielsen’s crinoline is suspended like a ringing bell in the room. It has almost no mass, but still fills out the room, just as it creates a room of its own. Presence and absence, strength and weakness are held in the grasp of the paradox.
Tina Maria Nielsen is a sculptor who links traditional craft, the slow physical process with a reflexive view of sculpture. We greet the sculpture with our body, our senses, our vision and our reflections. To engage in Tina Maria Nielsen’s sculptures is to allow oneself to be enticed, to be led in order to walk on one’s own – over the threshold.