Opening Speech by Herbert Pundik, 2007
I would like to thank you for the invitation to say a few words in connection with this exhibition.
I said thank you a few months ago with no idea what I was going for. A little worried.
But as I walked around the house for a couple of hours yesterday, my concern slowly faded as Eli's forms and Kirsten entered into a kind of common expression and spoke to me in the same language.
Kirsten's pictures are only apparently human, because we know that the earth is populated that, despite their apparent absence, humans are there, they live in the mountains, they drink of the water that falls on the wall of any of the pictures, they hide from the storm and the dark clouds hanging heavily over other images.
Kirsten's images seem, I think, stronger because they are empty of people than if they were populated. Because they challenge immediately to the ghost. Where is man, and leads the thought to man and his situation. Absence can seem stronger than presence. Nothing can seem more present than a missing person.
Kirsten's photographs aroused a great sense of anticipation in my mind.
From these landscapes, the prophets entered the scene. Moses from the desert of Sinai, Jesus from the barren mountains of Galilee and Muhammad from his desert.
Today I am not acting as an art interpreter, merely as an observer trying to maintain an open mind. I might like to say about the composition of Kirsten's photographs, about the tension between the vertical and the horizontal lines, about the struggle between light and shadow, but that was less of a concern to me when I was watching her photographs.
What was fascinating, the most moving was the association from nature to man.
Kirsten has, so to speak, established the universal viewing place that Eli populates with her works. They are timeless as Kirsten's natural images. Thus, as I read her themes and forms, they are comments on the human situation. They can be read as an illustration to the newspapers' current report on the war in Iraq, the despotic generals in Burma, whose bullets trapped a Buddhist monk who believed that spirit is also power.
But Elis's work is not just her comments on the outrage of the day, but on our human situation from the moment the human monkeys got up on their hind legs and led the monkey shouting forward, to all those who did not look like us. War cries that have gone through the history of humanity.
Part of Elis's minor work, I perceive as a kind of quarrel that leads us to her final statement: The man who is his own double-minded man, the man as a victim in one situation and as an executioner in the next.
These heavy, slanted figures with their masks hiding their identity and with their chattering hands hidden in the motorcycle gloves.
The question that concerns me when I see these ever-present representatives of power is that power can be exercised without violence. Do we ever learn to manage power, to combine the use of power with regard to man.
Of course, I am not thinking of the tyrannical state, but of the welfare state, of ourselves, of the workplace, of the family, over the counter in public offices.
Eli's smaller, painted and unpainted figures tell us a little about her thoughts on the nature of power.
It is little fetishes, sacrificial figures, juju figures, objects that illustrate our submission to mystical rituals, our fear of the supernatural, and ultimately our fear of the rulers and the inclination to do their will.
In one of the rooms stands an instrument or fetish. Evil lights out of it. You want to break it. To withstand its radiance by the aid of its reason.
It reminded me of an episode almost 50 years ago in black Africa in Nigeria.
I had bought a similar fetish at a market. It stood on my table in the hotel room.
I couldn't fall asleep, got up and locked it inside my suitcase. But evil knows no boundary and I experienced a sleepless night.
The next morning I went to the market and delivered the fetish back to the seller.
Reason is the only weapon we have against superstition, fear of the stranger, fear of power. It is insufficient, but it is the only one we have to stick to. We must fight the executioners. The problem is that we are their double goers.
But before we get rid of the hangman in ourselves, we cannot fight the others.
Peter Poulsen, 2007
The Eternal Now
"The motif extends beyond the immediately visible because of our knowledge of its interior." Klee
Some of Eli Benveniste's works seem to have been found. They are parts of nature. If you can imagine intact torsos, torsos that lack nothing, you approach a description.
“Michelangelo must have said that a good sculpture can withstand rolling down a hillside. All details and limbs can be avoided because the information about the missing parts is read in the movement and rhythm left in the core of the sculpture. The same is clearly seen when I share a clay sculpture to hollow it out before burning - each cut part must be a sculpture in itself. This is what archaeologists use when putting together a broken vase; each cut tells its part of the story of the original shape, ”she writes in 2003.
The sculptures are in a state where they have not assumed a specific identity but where the doubt still offers opportunities. Doubt is openness, conclusions are closing, could be their mantra. Whether they come from a microcosm or a macrocosm can be difficult to determine. Are they meteors or cells? Cosmic or Earthly? Anything else in between? Our limited perception of time is eliminated, we are in a perpetual universe, beyond dating. Even the drill moss man has left his Iron Age. The universe of sculptures is the space they are in, not anything else. "A good sculpture is spatial and therefore will relate to any space," she notes.
The fact that the sculptures relate to space means that they also relate to time and thus movement. There is almost always movement in Benveniste's works, even when they seem static. They are studies in motion. The movement is detached from its context and retained so that one can delve into it. The sculptures are a kind of three-dimensional photographs. They work, as she says, with the exaggerated perspective, where, for example, one leg may be significantly larger than the other, or where one hand will be smaller inward.
The procedure is in line with the grotesque perspective of comics and wide-angle cameras. “At the same time, I read about the theory of relativity,” she says, “and transferred it to the relationship between vision, size and movement, which when you see a train approaching; at first it seems like a small dot on the horizon, then it gets bigger and bigger - then when it has passed one becomes small again in the distance. It is neither the train nor me that has changed, but the relationship between the sight and the object. ” These observations hold the key to a deeper understanding of Benveniste's world.
The perfectly smooth objects, often mirrored in glossy surfaces, are apparently movable; they are modeled diagonally so that each point lies exactly on a diagonal line. If you look at the profile and go around the sculpture, it moves. If you stop, the movement stops. Others, smooth as well as furrowed, are set on matt pedestals or foundations; it is as if they are newly hatched and sensing the world for the very first time, feeling ahead in the universe, listening to spherical music or singing silent songs.
One category in itself is the glass workers who have the light as an active player and consequently are constantly changing. I remember her separate cabinet at the Colorists' Exhibition a few years ago, where glass and light performed a visual concert; it was like a sonata of shattered ice crystals. “Cold glass,” she writes, “is, in fact, a very fatty liquid that has solidified. When I place a glass plate over a sculpture in the oven, I can follow the movement: the effect of gravity becomes clear, first in one corner, then in the next. Then the glass folds… The process extends over several hours, waiting for the seconds when the choice is to be made. It reminds me of the concentration needed in Zen Buddhism, working with a moment's profile or an extract of eternity. "
In the Maritime and Commercial Court, which she decorated in 2005, the philosophical dimension of the work is reinforced. The glass decoration, called Fragile Moments, has crime and punishment as the theme and Justice as the focal point. If I ever get dragged into court, let it be the Maritime and Commercial Court.
Something has happened. Three burnt-out Justice heads now meet the viewer as a morbid carousel in an abandoned lunchtime park, and new philosophical considerations have come about - represented by big androgynous figures wearing gas masks and some sort of space suit. There is something robotic about them. Are they astronauts? Executioners? Agents with the right to kill? Do they belong to a military elite corps? Are they trained to chase terrorists? There is no doubt that they have added a threatening dimension to Benveniste's universe. You feel challenged. There is an ethical responsibility on one's shoulders, a new narrative is unfolding, a grim parody of homo sapiens is taking shape. Basic questions call for answers.
Man has problems; the species is fatal, a disaster. The most pitiful we can become are executioners. We cannot sink deeper.
Clearly, so far. But make no mistake. The executioner and victim belong together and when two individuals synchronously kill each other, they are both victims and both executioners. This realization, and not least the brutal rendition Benveniste has given it, is staggering.
She is a very embracing artist who expresses herself in multiple formats and materials, figuratively and abstractly, poetically and epically, and then there is - as an undercurrent - a touch of humor and an innate sense of the absurdity and monotony of life as in it grotesque representation of the three-legged time running around and around like spokes in an invisible wheel.
Klee felt that the subject matter was beyond the visible because of a knowledge we possess. He wanted the essentials to come to light, "also," as he wrote, "the essentials that the optical perspective otherwise conceals." Getting the essentials out requires a metamorphosis and a restoration of nature.
Benveniste's characters I see as such re-creations, and like Klee, I believe that it is not just the visible world that is decisive, but the insight and depth of something else, something original, that determines the design of the new objects. They are both culture and nature at the same time that they are forms in interaction with each other and the spaces in which they hover or stand.
Peter Poulsen, 2010
If something had invented eroticism
it must have been loneliness.
The universe was feeling lonely
a sexy planet.
I’m sitting here at the station square
having a quiet beer –
nothing in this world is as quiet as beer –
how it used to be
millions of years ago,
if time is nothing but an illusion
as justice are.
Can you be both just and lonely?
Can the total loneliness be horny
as they are saying
in other parts of the world?
Eroticism is the butcher playing piano
for the steaks tenderizing on the hooks,
the paint dealer painting
a guernica on himself,
the news agent masturbating
in the morning paper.
Eroticism is the root of music,
ballroom dances before anyone
has taken a step,
eroticism is the ruptured virginity
long before the existence of virgins,
eroticism is the mother of rivers,
eroticism looks like a pig
that never started lessons in music.
Specks of dust are meeting in the air
floating easily among each other,
half a dozen landing gently on my hand.
Deep down in the water the tiny sea cucumbers are making love,
in Jokkmokk a reindeer bull is staring
at the rock cleft;
if it was possible I would fuck my shadow
of any sort.
Jytte Rex, 2001
April 4, 2001 at the Anne Marie Telmanyi grant
“The light in the room makes moods visible, the sculptures make both the darkness and the shadows visible, they set them off permanently in the room. On a black sculpture the light becomes visible in the form of reflections in the surface, on a white sculpture you can see the shadows. In darkness, memory exists as a clue, in light it exists as a fact or event. The sculpture forms the meeting between the two; it is in modeling that the thought takes shape."
This is how Eli Benveniste has formulated, among other things, about the work on his sculptures, which today is a strong and original testimony to the survival of classical sculpture through the form's own inherent power. The sculptures seem intense and almost magnetic in their way of affecting space; they both push and attract the senses. For example, a black sculpture in a room can extend the experience of "blackness," so that the black form appears vibrant or soft in spite of the hard material it is made of.
There are sculptures that almost breathe between light and dark and open up - behind the sculptures - to the space where the shapes are created, and - as is the case with Eli Benveniste's sculptures - at the same time still can be felt as a direct fresh imprint of the mind.
Director Folke Kjems, Holstebro Art Museum, 2000
Eli Benveniste is one of the most talented young Danish sculptors. In her sculptures she expresses the great themes of life with a manifested and evasive form at the same time.
She prefers to work in clay whose supple and potent texture lends itself to her organic sculptures as to more concrete objects.
Birgitta Trotzig, 1997
Notes from an exhibition
In the light of Mind. The Art Picture Store: The vast memorial archive of Eli. Writes, "human spiritual fingerprints".
These images, the artwork, cannot be described and have no meaning other than themselves. They are existences, they are just there. (Just as the peculiarities of the human worlds will not be captured by preconceived patterns - both human and art work escape the thesis, intention and meaning, they will have no intention and meaning, they are existences, they are just).
"Walls and lights" - a story of smooth gravity, resistance and transmitting light, counter-movement.
From the concentration of light it becomes dense. From the flood of light of motion is reminded, stops the moment, becomes figure and letter. Dark beings rise up almost formless, on the boundary of form they take shape.
On the border, everything is border.
"The replaceable". In the light of tall windows. In the movement of light, the densely halted black figures hover. They hover in the state of motion - before - it - becomes -.
The state is remembered - the state creates a memory. From the light the darkness rises.
They are a story of light, of the movement's condensation to silence. Behind the silence.
Then, for all time, again and again disintegrating life, the inaccessible shining flood of light
The continuation of the story in the fixed black moments. The stopped life, the stopped movement. They are all dead. They are heavy but light. Therein begins the new movement of death - the memorial movement. Now memorials, the stalks of the memory, the "inner objects", the mutilated and proclaimed by death. They mark a boundary - signposts.
Outside the catalog, outside the register, outside. Like a wrinkled birthfold. Somewhat shrunk diminished? Or: a seed drawn in unknown gold? "The last of the righteous."
Jens Christian Grøndahl, The hesitation of the substance 1997
As you know, God tells us that he formed the first man of clay, in other words, of the earth's own material. He could of course also choose to use marble or granite, but he chose the clay, the soil. Maybe there was something he just wanted to remind us about before we got too started. If figures of clay remind us of the earth, then they also remind us of the body and death. Not the beautiful body, not the noble goddesses of antiquity and self-indulgent heroes in immaculate marble, but the living, transient flesh that, with age, will hang loosely on the bones. As if gravity causes it to aspire to the soil that is patiently waiting to digest it.
The clay is a changeable material. It is depleted but still moving as long as its water content has not yet evaporated. Eli Benveniste refers to the Italian saying that weight never sleeps. The vertical shapes by nature only obey the law of gravity and tend to collapse if they are out of balance. The clay is watchful, and working with it is both a balancing act and a transformational art. It can be sluggish or supple, it has no fixed, unchangeable shape and can undergo countless metamorphoses along the way in the work process. If time is inconceivable without change - and vice versa, you could therefore say that the clay has a time dimension, unlike stones.
The transformation of the stone is irrevocable, it occurs in sharp breaks, chops and other attacks with handguns. On the other hand, the clay transforms into softer transitions, as a smoother interaction between the mind and hands, between the hands and the fabric, between the resistance and indulgence of the substance.
A stone sculpture, like outside time, stands in the state in which the sculptor left it. Only the slow weather of the centuries and climate can change it from now on. It stands as a fact, indispensable in its heaviness, with an insistent authority in its presence. It is first and foremost a result and therefore there is something definite about it, like a decision that cannot be reversed. And so it is. Once a corner is first cut off the block, it cannot be reattached.
It's different with clay figures.
Admittedly, they cannot be redone once they have come into the oven, yet they seem tentative and incomplete. They appear, to a lesser extent, as unavoidable, indisputable results. Perhaps it is because the clay figure on his burnt body bears testimony to the work on it in the form of the innumerable marks of the surface after the restlessly modeling hands and fingers. In a clay figure, the progressive stages of being reveal themselves to the gaze as a spatial unfolding.
The figure is created - again - when you consider it. And through reading the imprints of the working hands, the gaze participates in the work's range of choice situations, where the design could have taken a different turn and the figure itself might have been another. Where the stone massively and immovably fills its form, the clay shows the traces of the metamorphoses it has undergone. One cannot help but think that the process could well have continued. And the gaze continues, the gaze goes on to the clay's changing narrative, where the working hands let it go, and thus the material opens itself to the undecided, the hints, the half-thought thoughts and diffuse notions.
Seeing is an ambiguous affair. It is to receive, but also to penetrate, to be shaped, but also to give shape. We discover ourselves by considering the world. We civilize nature by retelling it with the eye, we create the world by looking at it. We decorate it by furnishing it as you design a home: pleasing to the eye - and recognizable, above all. Manageable. Controllable. But at the same time, the gaze is constantly flooded by the world's bleak, shadowy and glittering, wonderful and terrifying maelstrom of irrelevant, nameless, tangled details. The world never finishes going down and resurrecting. Just as we do not even finish until it is suddenly over.
The world does not even distinguish between nature and culture, and so it is always alien to the gaze with its excess, its enigmatic presence that causes all forms, all concepts to flow.
Eli Benveniste's clay women are standing on their heads, with their legs bristling. But do they stand at all? Doesn't it look like they're standing and falling? Or have they been raised in landscape mode? Is that how they sleep, like the herring, with their heads down? There is something drawn and hazardous about them. They seem to get lost in the clay they have emerged from. An exuberant, abandoned, playful prodigy.
Other times, men and women emerge from the clay in whirringly twisted, ironic and pornographic attitudes. Faces fade out of the kneaded mass, distorted like melted death masks, cracked and blackened moss finds, or roughly and brutally furnished, with the nose in place of the ear and mouth spread out. Memories speak of the twisted heads of Picasso, of Dubuffet's curvilinear and shabby barbarians, of Giacometti's plastic croquis, of medieval crucifixes at once rigorous and fragile virginity, of Baroque acrobatic scams, of Miserism's tormented beasts of prehistory, and of African Africans: , gods and their mythological genetics, reduced to the archaic stylization alphabet of basic forms.
But the references do not act as role models, more like retinas on the retina, memories, associations, quotes and loving greetings that are effortlessly incorporated into the curious interplay with the clay's moist, picture-growing obesity. Then the clay sinks together and turns into stupid, shapeless things, almost excuses for himself, reconciliably ridiculous and strangely moving as someone or something for which it is a little pity. Until the play with vertical and horizontal expands into surfaces, walls, rooms: houses on an uninhabitable scale, yet with doors, windows and roofs over the distribution of light and shadow of the walls and openings.
Lopsided architectural characters, Asian or Native American in the contours, obscure temples for all the unfortunate, eccentric gods that the more business religions have run out on a siding. Or just plain human shelter of the kind that has disappeared in the belly of the earth, where those who came before us have been sitting and itching and messing with a stick in the glow as they watched the rain.
In her latest large, hanging sculptures, Eli Benveniste refers directly to the early humans: the black mummies found in Danish bogs, complete with faces, hair and skin that, in a marvelous way, resemble clay. These are human sacrifices, and the ancient, preserved corpses therefore bear testimony in more than one sense of the death anxiety that the human race has never overcome. In Eli Benveniste's highly stylized version, however, they express an opposite process. Not the dead, sacrificial body of the sacrificial body in the mounds of the moss, but the gradual appearance of man clay.
The man who becomes the image. An image of basic human experience, such as fear of death, maintained in the making of the image, the interaction of the finished sculpture between recognition and abstraction, between the carefully worked figure and the restless, aggressive or caressing traces of the surface. They are quite bony, at times almost clumsy, these faces, bodies and houses of clay, imperfect, as if they will not really appear, wriggle free of the clay they are made of. But there are forms of work which cannot be completed, the results of which are of a tentative nature, and which should therefore be left unfinished.
Eli Benveniste has understood this, just as she has the sense of the paradox that the works must nevertheless be worked up to the point where their inability no longer appears as a mistake, a defect, but as a statement. Her sculptures are liberatingly unpretentious insofar as the arts are all too often burdened by a vain dream of eternity. They are present in a way that art is only when it would rather be something else.
When it gives in to time and therefore also to the half-forgotten dreams and yet diffuse, unspoken longings. Exactly what they want to be, they don't know, these clay figures, and if they knew it, it would all be ruined. Maybe they won't be a thing at all, once and for all. Perhaps they are articulating precisely a longing to escape all fixed identities, to escape the eternal being in order to stay on and on.
Presence always meets us as a confrontation. First of all, with our own limits, our limitation. We become present at the sudden encounter with something unknown or when something familiar suddenly seems foreign. When it suddenly dawns on us that a change has occurred, that nothing ever becomes as before. Or when we forget for a moment what things and ourselves are called. When the words come up and we discover the things and faces themselves under the names of things and faces. True to this, we are only in the rare seconds when our eyes and minds can no longer freely and unobstructedly shape reality in accordance with our ideas and expectations, conjectures and aspirations. Where, instead, it is the unknown, alien reality that reaches us in the form of an unexpected touch, brutal or gentle, with an unprecedented pain or tenderness.
Once in a while it happens in art. When the artist succeeds in staying long enough on the fleeting boundary of presence between knowledge and uncertainty, between being and being, between form and formlessness, memory and oblivion. But the art is treacherous, it eats itself up from the inside, if allowed. It is "artificial", in contrast to the natural. A language of abstract characters that cannot easily be confused with what they refer to. At the same time that art throughout its history has been obsessed with imitating nature, interpreting it, abusing it, or belittling it.
The language closes around its object and can only expose it by revealing itself. In the visual arts, this happens in the exchange between the design endeavor and the materiality of the material, between the pattern of the narrative and the anarchy of the material. The work is both a thing and a picture, and in that duality the original interaction between the image-creating gaze and the organic excreta of the blind nature is repeated. For her, it's all nature.
That is why her things appear as ingenious little scandals. Aesthetic obscurity. A sometimes wildly gesticulating, sometimes playfully playful, at once obscene and innocent body language that propagates into the patient, formless clay, cheerful or passionate, twisting or dreamy. She must have discovered that the overly self-conscious, pervasive uncategorized gaze involves her own form of blindness. Just as she must be haunted by the little revelations that strike us when we discover that it is not only us who consider nature. That it looks at us too. With our own eyes.
Eli Benveniste hesitates before the solid form finally closes over the unruly substance. And therefore reveals the substance's own hesitancy to stiffen in a final form. It's a bit of a contradiction. To have the metamorphosis in mind when it is now something as tangible and immobile as sculptures you make. How is that possible? In that the working hands do not seek to stop, hold and gain what the eyes have seen. On the contrary, the hands surrender to the movement of the gaze and the substance. In that the works do not appear as protests, vain and ambitious rebellions against changeability, the unfinished movement, the eternal disappearance of everything and appearance. On the contrary, they act as traces of the transformation itself.