“The motive expands beyond the immediately visible because of our knowledge of its interior.” Klee
Some of Eli Benveniste’s works give you the impression that they have been found. They are part of nature. If you can imagine that the torsoes are intact, without deficiensies, you are getting close to a description. “ Michelangelo should have said that a good sculpture can withstand rolling down a mountainside. All limbs and details are dispensable as the information of the missing parts can be read in the movement and rythm in the nucleus of the sculpture. The same thing is clearly observed when I part a sculpture of clay to hollow it out before burning – each separate part must itself be a sculpture. It is what the archeologists are doing when they put a broken vase together – each sherd tells its part of the story of the original form,” she writes in 2003.
The sculptures are in a phase where they have not yet obtained a definite identity. Doubt still offers possibilities. Their mantra could be that doubt opens up, conclusions close. Whether they come from a microcosmos or macrocosmos is hard to tell. Are they meteors or cells? Cosmic or earthly or something in between? Our limited sense of time is eliminated. We are in a universe encompassing all time, beyond dates. Even the Borremoseman has left his ironage. The universe of the sculptures is the room they are in, nothing else. “As a good sculpture is spacial it relates to any room,” she notes.
That the sculptures relate to space means that they relate to time and thus to movement as well. There is nearly always movement in Benveniste’s works, even when they seem to appear static. They are studies in movement. The movement is detached from its context and captured so that you can become absorbed in it. The sculptures are a sort of threedimensional photo. They work, as she says, with the exaggerated perspective where, for example, one leg can be considerably bigger than the other or where a hand can become smaller inwards.
The procedure is related to the grotesque perspective of cartoons and wide-angle cameras. “At the same time I read about the theory of relativity,” she says, “ and transferred it to the relation between sight, dimension and movement. An approaching train is, at first, only a dot on the horizon, then it gets bigger and bigger, only to become smaller again in the distance, when it has passed you. It is neither the train nor the observer that has changed, but the relationship between sight and object.” These observations hold the key to an deeper understanding of Benveniste´s world.
The totally smooth object, often reflected in shiny surfaces, are apparently immovable; they are diagonally modelled so that each point lies precisely on a diagonal line. If you focus on the profile and walk around the sculpture, it is moving. If you stop, the movement stops. Other sculptures, some smooth and others grooved, are placed on mat plinths or bases; it is as if they are newborn and percieve the world for the very first time, feeling their way in the universe, listening to spherical music or singing soundles songs.
Her works of glass are in a category of their own in which light plays an active part and consequently they change constantly. I remember her separate room at Koloristerne’s exhibition some years ago where glass and light performed a visual concert; it was like a sonata of shattered ice crystals. “Cold glass,” she writes, “is actually a very “fat” liquid, which has congealed. When I place a sheet of glass over a sculpture in the oven, I can follow the movement. One can clearly see how gravity works, at first in one corner, then another. Then the glass folds… The process takes several hours and all the while you are wayting for the second where you have to make your decision. It reminds me of the concentration required in Zen Buddhism working with the profile of a moment or an extract of eternity.”
In Sø- og Handelsretten (The Maritime and Commercial Court) which she embellished in 2005 the philosophical dimension of her work is reinforced. Her glass decoration is called Skrøbelige øjeblikke (Fagile Moments) and has crime and punishment as it’s theme and Justitia as the turning point. If I am ever dragged to court, let it be in The Maritime and Commercial Court.
Something has happened. Three burnt Justitia heads now meet the onlooker as a morbid merry-go-round in an abandoned luna park and new philosophical considerations have been added, represented by huge androgynous figures with gasmasks and dressed in space suits. They look like robots. Are they astronouts? Executioners? Agents with a license to kill? Do they belong to a crack military unit? Are they trained to hunt terrorists? There is no doubt that they have added a threatening element to Benveniste`s work. They affect you. An ethical responsibility rests on your shoulders, a new narrative is unfolding, a cruel parody of homo sapiens is developing. Basic questions demand an answer.
Mankind has problems; the species is fatal, a catastrophe. The most miserable we can become is executioners. We cannot sink deeper.
Clear, so far. But don’t be mistaken. Executioner and victim belong together, and when two individuals syncronously kill each other they are both victims and executioners. This recognition and especially the brutal expression, which Benveniste has given it, is astonishing.
She is a very versatile artist, expressing her self in various forms and materials, figuratively and abstractly, poetically and epically and there is – as an undercurrent – this touch of humor and an inborn sense of absurdity and monotony of life like in the grotesque representation of the three-legged time spinning round and round like spokes in an invisible wheel.
Klee felt that motive reached beyond the visible because of the knowledge we have already. He wanted to evoke it, “also,” as he wrote, “the essential, which the optical perspective normally hides.” To evoke the essential demands a metamorphosis and a re-creation of nature.
I look upon Benveniste’s figures as such re-creations and, like Klee, I believe that it is not only the visible world that is decisive, but also the insight and absorption in something else, something original, which decides the shape of new objects. They are both culture and nature and at the same time forms interacting with each other and the rooms where they “float” or stand.