Home

Værker Works

CV

Tekster texts

Mellem imitation og abstraktion af Peder Rasmussen

Between imitation and abstraction by Peder Rasmussen

The Logic of Sentiment by Justin Novak

Mellem imitation og abstraktion

Der er keramikere, hvis primære anledning til at beskæftige sig med vaser, krukker og fade er en begejstring for selve materialet og for de mange stoflige muligheder. Så er der dem, hvis anledning er formen, dem der til hver en tid vil underordne farver og glasurer deres formmæssige forestillinger. Der er dem, der bare vil have noget at dekorere på – og endelig dem, der vil servicere deres omverden med fornuftige brugsting.
Og så er der en helt femte slags – en sjælden slags – dem der ikke vil noget som helst… udover at beskæftige sig med keramikkens fænomener. En slags fænomenologer, der for forståelsens skyld simpelthen giver deres overvejelser udtryk i keramik.
Til den sidste kategori hører Marianne Nielsen – og de sædvanlige keramikbeskrivelser rækker derfor ikke langt i hendes selskab. Jamen, er hendes værker da ikke smukke? Jo, men det er bare ikke hendes primære hensigt, snarere er skønheden et biprodukt. Er de da ikke harmoniske, i formen …? Jo, absolut, men det er bare ikke pointen - de er nok snarere interessante at betragte. Heldigvis er hun selv meget skrivende: Som keramiker beskæftiger jeg mig grundlæggende med den kulturelt underliggende betydning i keramikken. Jeg ønsker at fremvise den traditionelle formgivning, der ligger til grund for vores forståelse af genstandenes identitet. At fremhæve de mest trivielle genstandes ikoniske styrke.
Hun betragter sine værker som for eksempel: fremstillinger af skønhed. Enten konkret - men især indirekte, ved repræsentation af skønheden i form af en indforstået symbolbrug.

Marianne Nielsen gik på Designskolen i Kolding fra 1994 til 1999, og ret hurtigt herefter fik hun beskæftigelse på Den Kongelige Porcelænsfabrik med projektet ”Fremtidens spisestel”. Det var altså noget så ligetil som et stel, det handlede om - men for Marianne Nielsen var det ikke så enkelt endda. Det krævede indgående studier af selve ”spisesituationen”. Der blev forsket i spisestels ikonografi og relationer til samfundsmæssige og sociale forhold. De formundersøgelser der lå til grund for udviklingen af stellet, var helt basale og formelle: Hvordan kunne en flade, altså spisefladen, tallerkenens ”scene”, løftes op fra underlaget? Hvordan kunne der skabes rum ved hjælp af foldninger, og hvordan kunne kurver variere fladens vandrette udstrækning? Ved at lade formen anvise funktionen i lige så høj grad som konventionen, får delene mere end én enkelt bestemmelse. Og stilmæssigt er sushi ikke mere fremmed på tallerkenen end frikadeller. Tallerkenens skrå flade fjerner den på en enkel måde fra den traditionelle vandrette tallerken, og giver formen en stille dynamik. Denne forhøjning midt på spisefladen har til hensigt er at løfte maden op, at række anretningen mod den spisende. Tingenes form har alle en blødhed som jeg synes passer til madens og kroppens blødhed. Formgivningen skal tilgodese den sårbarhed og intimitet der er i at indtage mad og drikke. Det er en forsker, der taler her. Spisestellet bestod af en kande, to kopper, to tallerkner og en spiseskål… og blev naturligvis ikke sat i produktion. Royal Copenhagen havde ikke den fornødne tillid til kundesegmenternes behov for fornyelse.

Designer blev Marianne Nielsen altså ikke i denne omgang – men hendes grundforskning fortsatte. I 2003 viste hun på en udstilling i Galleri Nørby en stribe bemærkelsesværdige vaser, om hvilke hun sagde, at de mere var: vaser der også kan ses som former, der forestiller vaser. Det var en stribe principielle studier, der faktisk også lignede vaser til forveksling. Men hvori består så forskellen – altså forskellen mellem en rigtig vase og så en vase, der bare forestiller en vase? Ja, det er selvfølgelig et spørgsmål om at provokere den forestilling, vi bærer rundt på i vore hoveder, når vi betragter denne verdens objekter i det hele taget. En vase er så kendt og indgroet et fænomen, at den nærmest kan få karakter af en art kulturel natur. Den er cirkulær, den har krop og hals… og et harmonisk swung. Vi kender alle ”en vase” og kan tegne den med bind for øjnene i en nærmest sindbilledlig form. Sådan er det med kultur. Men derfor er det også vigtigt, at der bliver gjort opmærksom på, at det altså er noget, vi har fremstillet – det er noget, vi selv har fundet på… fra drejeskive og lerfremstilling til form – det er og bliver et kulturprodukt: en verden der er skabt, og ikke opstået af sig selv. Det er muligheden for denne dobbelthed, keramikken som medie rummer. Både at være, og som et billede at pege på sin kategori. Målet er en keramik, der peger på sin egen tilblivelse, som lader sit afsæt være synligt - eller ønsker at påvise, at der er tale om en foregivelse.

Dekorationerne havde samme karakter – en art kunstighed, der alligevel ikke virkede fremmed. De enkelte ornamentale figurer virkede nærmest som destillater af traditionel ornamentik kogt ned til helt essentielle grundstrukturer – i en meget moderne gryde!
Samme år fremstillede hun også en række bladlignende fade. Eller i hvert fald former der tydeligvis havde deres udgangspunkt i de utallige profiler, hvori naturen udgiver sine blade. Fra et smalt endestykke skvulper formen ud og ind i symmetriske kurver for at ende samlet i fadets modsatte ende. Om der er tale om bestemte blade er nok tvivlsomt – snarere er det naturens metode, vækstprincippet som sådan, der har haft Marianne Nielsens interesse. De minder lidt om nogle tidligere små fade, som denne forfatter troede imiterede kristtorn-blade, men som var inspireret af en form, hun havde ”tegnet” i papir, ved at bruge en hullemaskine som blyant – så meget for natur!

Dekorationerne er naturlige på samme måde – det vil sige, ikke det mindste – men med absolutte associationsmuligheder imod det ”naturlige”, som man her netop får lyst til at sætte i gåseøjne, så det læses som det skal: lige som om der faktisk var tale om natur – hvad der på ingen måde er: I mit arbejde med dekoration beskæftiger jeg mig med den kulturelle brug af naturen som det traditionelt vedtagne "skønhedsemne" og ornamentforbillede. Modsætningen mellem motivverdenen og fremstillingsformen optager mig - naturens kaos underordnet menneskets ordenskabende fortolkning. En formel undersøgelse af, hvordan naturens tilsyneladende vilkårlige strukturer kan organiseres i et forenklet system og dermed reduceres til rent symbolbrug.
Marianne Nielsen ser sine dekorationer som et nyt led i: "fødekæden", som går fra imitationen af naturen, der danner en form- og symbolbrug, hvor mit trin er en fortolkning igen af denne naturfortolkende stil. Dekorationsmotiverne befinder sig på forskellige niveauer af genkendelighed: i krydsfeltet mellem den fælles - og dermed velkendte - formarv og det individuelle, nye og ukendte - min personlige formverden.

2004 var året, hvor Marianne Nielsen gik meget direkte til værks i sin udforskning af de profiler, som keramikhistorien er så fyldt med. Omdrejningslegemers vej fra bund til top. Ikke som vaser eller skåle – men alene den dynamik, det udtrykspotentiale, som mere eller mindre komplicerede profiler tilsat tre dimensioner kan rumme. Der er mindelser om de profilvaser Svend Hammershøi fremstillede for Kähler omkring 1916 - eller Renato Bertellis samtidige profilportrætter. Hun er altså langt fra den første, der interesserer sig for disse fænomener, men nok den første keramiker, der bruger dem helt uden at interessere sig for de funktionelle aspekter. Det er rene omdrejningslegemer – skulpturer simpelthen. Alligevel er hun så meget keramiker, og så traditions– og funktionsbevidst, at hun føler sig foranlediget til at anføre, at: alle dog afviser en mulig funktion, ved enten, som "vaserne": at være helt lukkede, eller for "opsatsernes" vedkommende: at være åbne i begge ender.

De nu nævnte strategier har været afstikkende for Marianne Nielsens metode også i de senere arbejder. Det gælder for eksempel resultatet af hendes ophold i Damaskus i 2006: En lang serie relieffade dekoreret med transfers. Formgivningen lægger sig egentlig ret tæt op ad, hvad vi forventer af et ovalt, klassisk fad – fadet brugt nærmest som ikon. Fanerne er dekoreret med enkle figurer i lavt relief, og spejlets centralt placerede dekoration mimer disse i meget principielle versioner – samme billede i to udgaver på samme genstand. Det er en interessant undersøgelse af, hvorledes man ved at ”lege” med størrelsen af den centrale dekoration kan opnå en slags friktion mellem de to billedformer. Man må vælge enten at betragte det ene eller det andet – begge kan næsten ikke opfattes samtidigt. Og på en mærkelig måde bliver fanen også ramme om det, vi af traditionelle, perceptionsmæssige årsager betragter som det egentlige og vigtige: det centrale motiv.
En helt ny serie fade – eller platter - tager udgangspunkt i en folkelig æstetik, i en næsten naivistisk ornament- og formgivningstradition. Som Marianne Nielsen siger: En slags popkultur der er fastlagt gennem traditionens lange brug. Det kan være fletninger, garnnøgler, eller måden, hvorpå hanken sidder på en kop. Genstande der enten er definerede af deres enkle brugsformål eller af deres fremstilling – det kan være den konkrete fremstillingsteknik eller skildringen af skønhedssymboler, som muslingeskaller og blomster. Disse er trådt ud af deres naturalistiske form, og er blevet ornamentbegreber.

En anden interessant nyere suite af værker er serien ”Hår”, en række relieffer - forskellige variationer over frisurer eller pels. Hendes modellering referer direkte til, hvad vi kender fra klassiske statuer og buster, og hun spiller muntert på vor indforståethed med disse elementer fra skulpturens formalfabet. Hår og pels kan jo ikke modelleres ”sandt” – der skal fortolkning til, symbolsk form så at sige. Her er mindelser om hendes fængslende og smukke bidrag til udstillingen ”Konversationsstykker” i 2004, hvor hun arbejdede med bjerge og tinder som motiv. Det var en række principielle studier af de geologiske strukturer, vi finder både i de gigantiske og de helt små mineralogiske formater. Men dog primært dekorativt og i en for Marianne Nielsen usædvanlig bred palet af pastelfarvede glasurer.

Funktionsafvisningen i omdrejningslegemerne fra 2004 blev revideret i 2009-10 da Marianne Nielsen fremstillede lysestageserien Avvento for Kähler Design. Erfaringerne med proces og rytme fra dengang gjorde det indlysende at arbejde videre med træmotivet. Som hun selv siger det: Træerne tager deres udgangspunkt i modellen af et træ, som vi kender det fra modeljernbaner og arkitekturmodeller. Modellen interesserer mig fordi den så direkte siger at den er en imitation, at den repræsenterer noget andet. Og på denne måde bliver den paradoksalt nok sig selv.
Der er en konventionel form for stilbrug ved fremstilling af modeller. En formgivning der synes lige så fastlagt som vasens, der på grund af sin dybe forankring i den keramiske tradition er blevet et begreb, og dermed et ikon. Ved at vende træerne på hovedet ser man at vasen også findes i dem.

I de senere år har vi været vidner til en række formelle eksperimenter med form, formsammenstillinger og formfamilier, som for eksempel i hendes Vægobjekter i modelleret og glaseret porcelæn, der blev udstillet hos Ann Linnemann Studie Galleri, i 2011. Her optrådte for første gang så godt som direkte naturalistiske gengivelser af botaniske elementer. Det blev indledningen til den intensive omgang med blade og blomster og grønsager, vi har været vidner til lige siden. På talrige udstillinger – senest i Utzons kirke i Bagsværd og på kunsthåndværkerbiennalen Liquid Life har Marianne Nielsen brugt blomster som sit hovedmotiv – og man tør godt sige: Mesterligt modellerede og farvesatte blomster! Som sædvanlig opstår værkerne efter grundig refleksion: Min interessere er naturens rolle i vores kultur. Som en slags souvenir henviser blomsterne til noget udenfor os, som er vedvarende, universelt, som ved deres ægthed rummer en grundlæggende skønhed. Alligevel handler naturgengivelserne om os, fordi det er vores blik der giver emnerne mening.
Blomster indtager en beskeden position i kunsten, som noget banalt, blødt, ofte tildelt dekorationens birolle. Samtidig er blomstermotivet fyldt af betydninger, og dermed styrke. Jeg har ladet blomsten stå alene for derved at udgøre hele værket.
Værkerne handler også om det der ikke er direkte til stede – referencerne der knytter sig til blomster, både som skønhedsrepræsentanter og natursouvenirer. Men også den brug der har slidt blomstermotivet ned til en kliché.

Marianne Nielsen forklarer videre: Synet på værkerne skifter mellem at se dem som keramikobjekter og som naturmotiver. Mellem et formelt og et fortolkende blik. Hvad er referende eller konkret tilstede. Jeg ser mange af mine værker som imitationer. Imitationen giver genstande en dobbeltrolle: et værk kan være et stykke glaseret keramik som forestiller en viol, der kan være en individuel viol, men også et billede på alle violer. Imitationen kan bruges til at belyse hvad tingene er. Jeg har fremstillet banalt velkendte ting som næsten kun ses som symboler fordi de indeholder så mange underforståede betydninger: strik, hår, fjer, bjerge, og senest, blomster og planter.
Imitationen af planter indeholder kontrasten mellem natur og kultur; det skildrede og det skildrende. Værkerne handler mere om kulturgenstande end om naturen; naturmotivet bruges til at henlede opmærksomheden på materialet og traditionen indenfor keramikken. Mine værker er i lige så høj grad en imitation af kulturen som af naturemnet der er afbilledet.

Måske er der ikke så meget tale om en egentlig, gennemgående stil i Marianne Nielsens keramiske arbejder. Og alligevel er man aldrig i tvivl om ophavsmanden. Det karakteristiske er nemlig hendes indfaldsvinkel og metode, den måde, hvorpå hun angriber det valgte problemkompleks. Alt bliver underordnet hensynet til emnet. Glasurer og farver får for eksempel aldrig lov til at agere som særlige værdier i sig selv. Håndværket er fremragende, men ellers bliver de klassiske keramiske dyder underspillet – og derfor kræver hun ofte mere af sin tilskuer end det er sædvanligt for keramikere.
Ved hjælp af, hvad hun engang har kaldt sin interesse for identitetskoder, henviser Marianne Nielsen således gang på gang – og med stort talent - til de mange måder, hvorpå omskabelsen af naturens naturlighed – og kulturens ditto - spiller hovedrollen i vores møde med verden: Håret der via frisuren civiliseres, leret der via teknikken gestaltes – formen der via kunstneren stiliseres… og tilskueren, der via sanserne forvisses…og bliver bevidst.

Peder Rasmussen
2008 og 2017

Between imitation and abstraction

There are ceramists whose primary reason for working with vases, jars and dishes is an excitement with the material itself and the many textural possibilities. And then there are ceramists whose reason is form, always subordinating colours and glazes to their ideas of form. There are those who just want something to decorate – and there are those who want to provide their surroundings with sensible objects for everyday use.
And then there is a fifth kind of ceramist – a rare kind – who wants nothing at all … apart from working with the phenomena of ceramics. Phenomenologists, of a sort, who for the sake of comprehension simply choose to express their observations and considerations through ceramics. Marianne Nielsen belongs to this latter category – and hence the conventional ceramics descriptions fall short in her company. But are her works not beautiful? Yes, that just is not her primary concern; rather, beauty is a by-product. Is their shape not harmonious…? Yes, absolutely, but that is not the point – the point is rather that they are interesting to behold.
Fortunately, she is an avid writer:
As a ceramist I essentially address the underlying cultural meaning of ceramics. I wish to present the traditional creative process that forms the basis for our understanding of the objects’ identity. Highlighting the iconic power of the most trivial objects.
She views her works, for example, as presentations of beauty. Either in a concrete sense – or, in particular, by representing beauty in the form of an implicit use of symbols.

Marianne Nielsen studied at the design college Designskolen i Kolding from 1994 to 1999, and soon came to work for Royal Copenhagen with the project “Fremtidens spisestel” (Dinnerware of the Future). Thus, the topic was something as straightforward as dinnerware – but to Marianne Nielsen, things were not all that straightforward. The project required in-depth studies of the essential “dining situation”. She studied the iconography of dinnerware and the way it relates to social and societal conditions. The form studies that formed the basis for the development process were fundamental and formal in nature: How might a surface, i.e. the eating surface, the “scene” represented by the plate, be raised from the table? How might folds be used to create spaces, and how might curves be used to vary the horizontal expanse of the surface?
When function is determined by form as much as by convention, the individual elements may take on more than one single purpose. And stylistically, sushi is no more alien to the plate than a meatball. In a simple way, the sloping surfaces of the plate remove it from the traditional horizontal plate and lend the form a subtle dynamic. The raised centre of the eating surface aims to lift the food up, to offer the food to the diner. The shape of the elements all have a characteristic softness that I think matches the softness of the food and the body. The design should accommodate the vulnerability and intimacy of taking in food and drink.
These are the words of a researcher. Her dinnerware included a pitcher, two cups, two plates and a dinner bowl … and, obviously, it was not put into production. Royal Copenhagen did not have sufficient faith in the need for renewal in their customer segments.

And thus, Marianne Nielsen did not become a designer this time around – but she did continue her basic research. In 2003, in an exhibition at Galleri Nørby she presented a series of remarkable vases, which she described as being more like vases that may also be seen as shapes depicting vases. They represented a series of principle studies that actually looked exactly like vases. But wherein, then, lies the difference – the difference between an actual vase and a vase that merely depicts a vase? Well, of course, it is a matter of challenging the notion we carry in our minds as we observe the objects of this world in general. A vase is such a familiar and well-established phenomenon that it almost becomes a sort of cultural nature. It is circular, it has a body and a neck … and harmonious lines. We all know “a vase”, and we could draw one blindfolded in an almost quintessential form. That is the way of culture. But that is why it is important to be reminded that it is in fact something that we have produced – it is something we invented … from the potter’s wheel and clay production to form – it is, essentially, a cultural product: A world that was created, which did not emerge on its own. It is this potential for duality that is inherent in the medium of ceramics. Simultaneously being and pointing, as an image, to one’s own category. The goal is a form of ceramics that points to its own creation, thus revealing its origins – or which seeks to point out that it is in fact pretence.

The decorations had a similar character – an artificial character that nevertheless did not seem alien. The individual ornamental figures appeared almost as distillates of traditional ornaments reduced to essential structures – in a very modern still!
In 2003, she also did a series of leaf-like dishes. Or at least shapes that clearly sprang from the countless profiles in which Nature casts her leaves. From a narrow end-piece, the form sloshes in and out in symmetric curves, eventually coming together in the opposite end of the dish. Whether she had specific leaves in mind seems doubtful – it is probably rather Nature’s method, the growth principle as such that was of interest to Marianne Nielsen. They bear some resemblance to an earlier series of small dishes that this writer thought were imitations of holly leaves, but which were in fact inspired by a shape she had “drawn up” in paper using a hole-puncher as a pencil – so much for Nature!

The decorations are similarly natural – that is, not in the least – and certainly hold possible associations to the “natural”, a term that seems to invite quotation marks in this context, reading, as it should: as if they were representations of nature – which by no means they are:
In my work with decoration, I address the cultural use of Nature as the traditionally agreed-upon “topic of beauty” and model ornament. I am interested in the contrast between the world of motifs and the approach to production – Nature’s chaos subordinated to man’s interpretation and the order it imposes. A formal study of the way in which Nature’s seemingly random structures can be organised in a simplified system and thus reduced to pure symbolism.
Marianne Nielsen views her decorations as a new link in the “food chain” that begins with the imitation of Nature, and which leads to conventions of form and symbols, where my step is yet another interpretation of this style of interpreting nature. The decorative motifs exist on various levels of recognisability: in the cross-field between the common – and thus familiar – legacy of form and the individual, new and unfamiliar – my personal form universe.

In 2004, Marianne Nielsen took a very direct approach in her exploration of the profiles that ceramics history abounds with: rotary bodies and their journey from base to top. Not as vases or bowls – but exclusively with a focus on the dynamic, the expressive potential that may lie in more or less complicated profiles exposed to three dimensions. There are reminders of the profile vases that Svend Hammershøi made for Kähler around 1916 – or Renato Bertelli’s contemporary profile portraits. Thus, she is by no means the first person to study these phenomena, but she may well be the first ceramist to use them completely without any interest in their functional aspects. These are pure rotary bodies – sculptures, simply. Still, she is enough of a ceramist and sufficiently aware of traditions and functions that she feels compelled to point out that they all reject their potential function, in the case of the “vases” by being completely sealed off, and in the case of the “pedestals” by having an open top and bottom.

The strategies mentioned so far have been characteristic of Marianne Nielsen’s approach, also in relation to her later works. This is true, for example, of the outcome of her stay in Damascus in 2006: a long series of relief dishes decorated with med transfers. The design is actually fairly close to what we would expect from a classic, oval dish – the dish is used in an almost iconic fashion. The rims are decorated with simple figures in a low relief, and the decoration in the centre of the dish mimes these figures in highly principled versions – the same image in two versions on the same object. This is an interesting study, demonstrating how a sort of friction between the two image forms can be achieved by “playing” with the size of the central decoration. One must choose to look at one or the other – it is virtually impossible to grasp them both at the same time. And in a strange way, the rim also becomes the venue for what we, for traditional, perceptual reasons, view as the actual and essential element: the central motif.
An entirely new series of dishes – or large plates – is based in popular aesthetics, an almost naivistic tradition of ornamentation and design. In Marianne Nielsen’s own words: A sort of pop culture that has been established through long-standing tradition. This may involve braids, balls of yarn, or the placement of a handle on a cup. Objects that are either defined by simple practical purposes or by their mode of production – whether it be the specific production technique or the portrayal of symbols of beauty, such as sea shells or flowers. They have stepped out of their naturalist form and become ornamental concepts.

Another interesting recent suite of works is the series “Hair”, a series of reliefs – variations on hairdos or fur. Her modelling refers directly to familiar elements from classic statues and busts, and in a playful way she engages our implicit understanding of these elements from the form idiom of sculptures. Hair and fur, of course, cannot be modelled in a “true” manner – it takes interpretation, symbolic form so to speak. These works reach back to her captivating and beautiful contribution to the exhibition “Konversationsstykker” (Conversation Pieces) in 2004, where she explored mountains and peaks as motifs. Her contribution was a series of principle studies of the geological structures that we find in giant as well as miniscule mineralogical formats. Her approach was, however, primarily decorative and applied pastel glazes in a range that was uncharacteristically wide for Marianne Nielsen.

Perhaps, Marianne Nielsen’s ceramic works do not display any one characteristic style. And yet, there is never any doubt as to who the artist is. The characteristic feature is her basic approach and method, the way in which she approaches her chosen issue. Everything becomes subordinate to the topic. Glazes and colours, for example, are never allowed to stand out as values in their own right. The craftsmanship is outstanding, but otherwise the classic ceramic virtues are downplayed – and in that sense she often demands more from her audience than most ceramists do.
Thus, through what she once referred to as her interest in identity codes, Marianne Nielsen repeatedly – and with great talent – refers to the many ways in which the conversion of the natural character of Nature – and of culture – dominates our encounter with the world: as hair is civilised into a hairdo, clay is shaped through a technique – form is stylised by the artist … and the beholders are assured through their senses … and become aware.

Peder Rasmussen
2008
Translation Dorte Herholdt Silver

The Logic of Sentiment

In “The Mediation of Ornament,” Oleg Grabar suggests that we consider the motifs and patterns of the decorative arts to be “intermediaries.” They may seem to serve merely as embellishment, but he likens them to “catalytic agents, or code carriers in genetics or biology.” If this is true, then Marianne Nielsen is engaged in some genre of cryptology. Her work invariably displays a savvy manipulation of coded vocabularies of form, and a talent for magnifying the slippage between a symbol and its traditional meaning.

Over the years, traditional ornamentation has in various ways been appropriated, distilled, deconstructed and subverted by contemporary artists. Yet none of these strategies aptly describe Nielsen’s methodology. She deftly identifies constituent details and tactics of decorative arts traditions and methodically isolates them in order to study their semiological DNA, so to speak. The aesthetic conventions are scrutinized, but the evidence is nonetheless inconclusive. Nielsen’s creations are purposefully enigmatic, and therein lay their strength.

The miniaturization of nature has long been a prevalent strategy in the decorative arts, and Nielsen pushes it to an extreme with her “Mountains.” This series consists of objects that could fit comfortably within the confines of a kitchen windowsill, and it brings to mind Susan Stewart’s observation that the miniature “presents a diminutive and thereby manipulatable version of experience, a version which is domesticated and protected from contamination.” Nielsen’s mountains do not appear as a continuous landscape, but rather as separate modules. Each form in the series is distinct, but the variations amongst them hover uncannily between visual memory and Jungian archetype. Geological formations blur into stylistic conventions, which in turn blur into nostalgic associations. The idiomatic variations and the dramatic shift in scale coalesce into a pleasurably disorienting artifice, which is only accentuated by the Fiestaware palette of colors.

If there is something telling about the tradition of stylization of organic forms into dutiful alignment and unwavering uniformity, then there is added significance in their translation into ceramic materials. We take for granted the time-honored custom of coating representations of flora, fauna and human tissue in a vitreous glaze, which is primarily hygienic in function. But surely there is an intriguing psychology at work in this impulse to replace the porous nature of human tissue with an impenetrable veneer.

In “Hair,” a recent series of wall pieces, Nielsen confronts the viewer with a relief of the back of someone’s head where one might have expected to find their face, and the resulting effect is not unlike that of Renee Magritte’s “La Reproduction Interdit.” The reduction of a figure to the mere suggestion of hair adds to the disconcerting impact of the piece, but its poetic resonance hinges on the impossible suspension of sensory logic that underlies the translation of tenuous strands of hair into solid mass. This is of course a convention that is commonplace in the realm of figurative sculpture, but Nielsen has stripped away all narrative context, thus freeing us to assess the tradition without status judgments. One might imagine the hair to have been sampled from a Renaissance altarpiece by Andrea Della Robbia, but it could just as easily evoke a Lladro figurine from a contemporary bridal shop.

Any inclination toward a purely intellectual digestion of the work is inevitably pulled off course by its aesthetic allure. Artists are often inclined to mock or exploit the quaintness of Nielsen’s chosen subject matter. It is the realm of country homes and second hand shops, and it is a language that we think we know all too well. But Nielsen tugs at the interwoven threads that make up this mundane artifice, and she unravels them. She exposes their operative nuances, and then she dares us to decipher them. What we discover in the process is that the vernacular of sentimental objects has always been infinitely more complex than credited.

Justin Novak
2008