Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, Troll, 2013. Hand modelled glazed ceramics; Dimension (Troll face): 37 x 35 x 6 cm. Photo: Sylvain Deleu.
Susie Pentelow discovers a dark and playful world of fantasty and fairytales in Malene Hartmann Rasmussen's ceramic sculpture and installation.
What first drew you to ceramics?
Before working in ceramics I made drawings, something I have been doing since I could hold a crayon. The drawings were of weird land and city-scapes inhabited by people, hybrid animals, and robots, a quite uncanny and unsettling visual world. In my twenties I started taking ceramics classes with a friend, I really liked the material, though most of my early work exploded in the firings. My friend studied textile design and did screen printed patterns, we always used to sit and draw, so it felt natural to experiment with transferring our drawings onto the ceramic surface. So the first thing that really drew me to ceramics was the ability to take something, like a drawing, and transform it into another material. The ceramics added the earthy qualities of the clay and the vivid luscious colors of the glazes to the simple pen drawing, it was really an exciting thing for me at the time.
The process of transformation from one material to another still interest me. Last year I made a digitally printed wallpaper based on photos of ceramic hand-modeled worms. I experience that the viewers have difficulty deciphering it, people think it is CGI, which really amuses me.
Much of your work seems to channel the eerie and somewhat menacing mood found within folk legends and fairytales. What is it about this surreal subject matter that fascinates you?
Extremes always fascinate me. In fairytales you have the blonde, pale and rosy-cheeked innocent virgin set up against the brutal, beastly, dark and hairy villain. In a way it is really pure and honest, what you see is what you get. When growing up in Denmark one of my favorite books was called “In the Troll Woods”. It was a book of illustrations by the Swedish artist John Bauer accompanied by short stories about trolls, changelings, princes and princesses, elves and other creature. I used to love playing in the woods, imagining huge trolls hiding behind the trees and rocks.
I have been working with the forest as an ongoing theme for some years now. What interests me about the forest is its dual connotations; as a symbol of hidden bestiality as in folk legends and paganism and romanticised nostalgia as in fairytales. The way directors like Lars von Trier with the film “Antichrist” and David Lynch with the TV series “Twin Peaks”, use the forest as a symbol of suppressed anger and darkened minds inspire me. In general, film is one of my biggest sources of inspiration.
Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, Skifting (Eng: Changeling) detail. British Ceramics Biennial. 2013. Hand modeled glazed ceramics, bespoke wooden shelf; Dimension (Owl): 42 x 50 x 15 cm. Photo: Sylvain Deleu.
You often use your sculptures as components in larger installations. Where do you consider the dividing line between sculpture and installation to lie?
When I first started making sculpture, the pieces were smaller plinth based work. Like today, they consisted of compositions of individual objects, just on a smaller scale. I would call the early work sculpture and the new work installation, it is only the difference in size that makes the difference. That said, I do think of my work as a sculpture the viewer can walk around in visually. I plan the installations thoroughly by making small-scale models before I start working. It is important to me that the installation works visually as a whole. Detail is essential to my work too. There is an attention to detail, all parts of an installation have to be perfect to achieve the immaculate hyper-real appearance of beauty I strive for. If you took an object out of the installation, it would still work on its own as a freestanding sculpture.
For your recent work ‘Vermis’ you used your ceramic sculptures to create a digitally printed wallpaper. Did this move into two-dimensionality mark a new direction for you?
As I talked about earlier, the transformation from three dimensional to two dimensional is one of the cornerstones of my work. Initially, I wanted the wallpaper to be made from actual ceramic worms mounted directly on the wall. I did a small wall piece like that for the new house of a good friend and fellow artist Carolein Smit and it did work well.
I ended up designing the wallpaper out from multiple photos. Having a printed wallpaper to play around with in installations, ads on an extra layer of interpretation. When using the wallpaper as the backdrop for three-dimensional work, the printed surface works like a portal to another dimension. You could almost imagine the worms crawling out of their two-dimensional world and into ours. As a practical tool, print makes it possible for me to do large-scale installations without spending a year on each, and it gives a lighter overall look to the installations. An all-ceramic installation can look awfully heavy.
You have recently shown your work at the British Ceramics Biennial and the Biennalen for Kunsthandvaerk. What is coming up next?
At the moment I am part of the show “Wonderland” at Milton Keynes Arts Centre, the show is curated by Edith Garcia and runs until 24th of December 2013.
Coming up in the new year is a group show with Nordic ceramic artists in Brighton and a Solo show in September in a new gallery in Knightsbridge, look at my website for updates.
In February 2014 my largest exhibition in Denmark to date opens in Officinet in Copenhagen, the gallery is run by Danske Kunsthandvaerkere. The artist Jette Löwén Dall and I will make new work inspired by a common theme, and I am sure there will be lots of trolls and creatures from the forest in that show!
For more information on Malene Hartmann Rasmussen’s work, visit http://www.malenehartmannrasmussen.com.