Creative Global Network for the Visual Arts

In the early 1980’s I went on a search through the Danish landscape. Here I found new art, old art and art that was still part of the original context it had been intended for. I saw buildings, museums, monuments and many churches.
The murals of the churches were different from what I was used to: They were fun, coarse and often overwhelmingly beautiful. This was total art where context, time and timelessness played together. This art was created over hundreds of years. On these trips I found a lot of material to which there was no access in any of the Danish art museums, and that realization provoked me.
In art museums you could see early Italian and German renaissance art and art from the late middle ages. But similar Danish artists, like the masters of Keldby, Sulsted and Vinderslev remained unrepresented. It looked as though the museums were ashamed of them.
Roman granite and its stone sculptures could not be seen at the museums either. This might be due to the fact that the best pieces were still part of the stone walls of these churches. Some of them would still be used as baptismal fonts. Because this material was not accessible in Copenhagen it was simply written out of Danish art history.
I also fell in love with various late gothic slates and wooden sculptures that crossed my way. This overwhelming material excited my curiosity. My curiosity was partially awakened by Rudolph Broby-Johansen and later nourished by him. His all-encompassing conception of art became very important to me later on.
Asger Jorn had also discussed ancient and medieval art in relation to contemporary art discussions. At this point in time that material was no longer accessible. Francheschi’s photograph had been locked away in a cellar in Silkeborg, and what could be tracked down were a few books, articles and random fragments. The photographer Poul Pedersen generously helped me find a series of photographs. Not until a decade ago did museums begin to exhibit chalk and granite art online.
For this reason the road trips around Denmark took on the role of an expedition for me. I drew and collected material that I did not know exactly what to do with at the time.
Then in the winter of 1984-85 I attempted to work with this material in clay. To me clay was an elementary medium for art history. This material has been accessible in all the time that there have been peasants in Northern Europe. The art form is thousands of years older than painting on canvas, a method that was not developed until 500 years ago in Florence.
I got access to an amount of dried waste clay from one of the schools of the art academy. Then I broke the dried lumps into smaller pieces, soaked them in water, and worked the clay into ten vessels.
This was altogether against the time-spirit of the art world. In hindsight those were the years when the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts rearticulated itself, from having been a school of crafts, into a modern learning facility where the main focus was on the ability of the mind.
In those discussions I had to finish something before I could go along with this development. I very much enjoyed the simplicity and tangibility of working with clay. In my own vessels I reinterpreted the fonts from Vester Egede and Hov as well as the portal in Rom (Struer Municipality), the cane with emblems from Drejø and various human figures drawn in clay. Drawing humans was a discipline that was under severe pressure from the academy in those years.
I then exhibited ten vessels in the council basement on Charlottenborg Palace in the spring of 1985. In the summer of 1985 I continued working with this material and built a sculpture of 5.5 meters.
Over the boards of a canopy bed in lime tree, I installed a canvas roof. In the vault I painted images on linen, primed with casein-based nature paint. I painted images with a colour pigment stirred in chalk water on the wet nature paint.

On the boards and wooden skeleton of the canvas I installed clay reliefs. Heads, animals, reinterpretations and paraphrases of images I had seen in rural Denmark that I was inspired by. On top of the gable I made a figurehead out of red clay.
Under the vault I modelled a phallic figure. It was a paraphrase o the stone head at Bramminge Hovedgaard. It stood on a pillar made from red clay, hereby thematically interacting with pre-Christian fertility cults.
In the winter of 1985-1986 the large sculpture was put up in the vestibule of Nørrebrohallen on Nørrebro in Copenhagen, standing next to one of the old city trams. Here the six largest vessels were also exhibited, as well as a wall with images that were carved into tiles. Nørrebrohallen is a centre that has many uses, one of which is sports. A lot of people come and go there, and this is why the four smallest vessels and the head on the pillar were not in the exhibition. There was no room for them, but this turned out to be the end for these exhibitions. Retrospectively I can see that I tried to discuss the nature of identity during this period.
In the culture that I grew from the living room painting came to represent a step in the development of the culture and self-perception of the upper middle class. In my life this was a new-born culture where you took over the mind-set of the former bourgeoisie. A painting on canvas was one of the icons of that self-image. I felt critical towards this, and for that reason I sought something deeper and more original.
Towards the end of that art process I read an article by Ole Hyltoft, who at that time was a member of the Danish social democratic party. He brought my attention to the Nazi absorption in rural culture. This did not fit in with the image I had created of this kind of art, and I initially abhorred the comparison.
Today I am partially regretful that I never took these investigations of art to the final stage. One of the works with which I would have finished the exhibitions, might have been a row of stakes, as an enactment of the Danish word: ‘bopæl’ The word means ‘address’ or ‘home,’ and is conjoined by the two words: ‘Bo’ (Danish: live) and ‘pæl’ (Danish: stake). Historically the ‘bopæl’ was a stake that was planted in the ground at the place where you wanted to build your house.
My stake would tell a story of mobility and travellers settling and building homes, like the jutes that came to Copenhagen, the German immigrants of the 18th century, the Dutch on Amager, Swedes on Bornholm, Poles on Lolland and finally the immigrants of our own time. This would have expressed the dynamics immigrants can bring to a country. In the project I wanted to express the productivity and benefits of a mixed culture.

Gorm Spaabæk
November 25th 2009
Dronninglund, Denmark
(Translated March 2013)

Exhibition Charlottenborg Spring 1985

Exhibition Nørrebrohallen Winter 1985-86

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