Critique in Billedkunst No. 3, 2020.
Participation at the National Autumn Exhibition.
PERSEPHONE AND DEMETER
Sculptor and visual artist, mother and daughter. Barbro (b. 1955) and Mirjam Raen Thomassen (b. 1982) both show projects at the National Autumn Exhibition; the shape of an enormous seed capsule in marble and site specific stagings of sunlight.
The sculpture S for Seeds and Survival (II) (2014) recreates the seed capsule of a poppy from Barbro Raen Thomassen´s vegetable garden which she tends as well as cultivating her art in Birkenes in Agder. The vegetable garden is a source for thought and practice linked to ecology and self-sufficiency, or as she says herself: “My insight to the world starts there”.
For Barbro local truths go hand in hand with postmodern philosophy, where universalities lie behind us long ago. Still some over-riding themes concern her, themes that resonate with many across age and borders. Environmental activists and ecologists like Thomassen herself gather with a whole world to demonstrate against continued deterioration of nature and future life. The murder of George Floyd this summer in Minnesota shows up a global reality that is still characterized by racial oppression, and which has sparked protest against police violence, discrimination and racism in many countries. Local varieties of our common challenges, be it the struggle against fossil energy development or structural racism, bring perspectives from various corners of the world together.
This environmental struggle may not be obvious in the shape of the work, even though it lies smouldering in the background and is a breeding ground for many a broken expectation. Instinctively I saw the work as a jellyfish, which instead of floating almost weightless in the sea, is now immobile in stone. S for Seeds and Survival (II) is surprisingly carved in Carrara marble, but without the characteristic splendour and luxury we associate with this marble. The effect seems to be intended by the artist herself, who says that “to carve a seed capsule in stone implies a paradox: The little and light becomes massive, the organic turns inorganic, the ephemeral and vulnerable solid.” Few things evoke as many associations as a seed to massive growth from something extremely small.
If the current development in the market economy continues, Barbro may be forced to pay in order to grow her self-contained seeds. Several agricultural enterprises, Monsanto (Bayer since 2018) probably the most notorious, are known for patenting certain types of modified seeds and plants as well as accompanying growth- and weed killers, something that has caused witch-hunts and lawsuits against small scale farmers. To patent seeds or drinking water – natural resources that we all need and most of us regard as a common good – is a smart business idea. (Comparable to profiting from basic medicines and foods in times of crisis.) Everything that is important, everything we need, can be used to make money for someone. However, all these cases draw up a scenario where greed for ownership has erased ethical and moral responsibility for the sake of profit.
Compositions in white (2019) is a series of photographs on thin canvases covered with retroreflective glass beads. The work was made as a site specific installation for Risør Kunstpark in the autumn of 2019, by Mirjam Raen Thomassen. It registered the site´s distinctive light conditions: how the sunbeams gently sloped into the room, the signification of the weather, as well as how the shape of the windows influenced the light coming in. The canvases further reflect the light cycle on a superior level: They are split in two by a long mid-line, as an abstraction of the horizon we connect with sunsets.
Seven works from the series are shown at The Autumn Exhibition. Avenues of sliding shades from violet to pink tones, with the kind of beads used in paint for road marking in order to create reflection in the dark – here they glitter slightly from the surface of the work. The canvases make me think of electromagnetic radiation, with harmless radio waves to the left of the range and damaging gamma waves to the very right. Only a small part of the radiation which daily surrounds us, is visible for us as colours and light. Furthermore the title points to white, which in the electromagnetic spectrum is both absence of light and colour, and the potential for all conceivable colours. “Photography is like writing with light”, says Thomassen.
With these three layers in the work – canvas, photography and glass beads – she wants to evoke the effect of sunlight cutting through a window, and the gentle colours give associations to the play of colours that the sun can create through glass. Glittering, glass-shimmering.
When Thomassen allows the sun to operate as a part of her works, she risks that they become changed by it, but she welcomes this process rather than opposes it. “I like ephemeral things and wish for the work to alter as time passes by”, she says.
When the goddess Persephone annually was abducted to the Underworld by Hades, her mother Demeter was in such deep grief that she let all plants wither and the temperature sink. This is how the ancient Greeks explained the Seasons. It was not until Persephone came back that the vegetation could flourish into a new Spring. In the Autumn Exhibition this year, Barbro Raen Thomassen stands for the plants´ potential, the seed, while Mirjam Raen Thomassen gives us the plants´ nourishment, the sunlight.
Grace Tabea Tenga