The International Worls Contemporary Ceramics Exhibition
'Adventures of the fire', Korea

Køppe Gallery Copenhagen

Elemants in White, Solo Exhibition
Galerie Marie Lund, Paris

By Erik Steffensen
Professor, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen

What is sensibility? I was jogging alongside a weak-sighted boy of thirteen who exclaimed: “How nice it was at last to make our way into the stadium here!” ”Yes, it’s always nice to reach the goal”, I commented. “No, I meant the surface of ground beneath my feet – it was nice to make our way onto the soft artificial turf”, replied the boy.

If you don’t see very well, perhaps, your focus is elsewhere! The perception of sounds and smells and certain sensibilities and receptivity may be differently developed than amongst the average person. Many blind people are great musicians: Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, just to name a couple of examples, but even in the events of everyday life that surround us, we can perceive and be sensitive to far more than we ordinarily are. This revolves around being with – and becoming accustomed to ¬– the substance rather than theorizing about perceptions and contemplating them from afar. Without going to any great lengths to veil his sense of disdain, the French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, has written about the moment when, in their exhaustion, these long-distance runners – these herd animals or lemmings – cross the finish line in the New York City Marathon and proclaim: “I did it!” The philosopher asks, what have these runners actually done other than tend to their own egos? Wrong! In these events and in other mass marathons, the runners have, in fact, vivified that which would otherwise have merely existed as a theoretical model. They have gotten in touch with the feeling of doing something that is larger than themselves. They have been sharing in a joint experience that, like meditation, extends beyond the individual – without necessarily having to imply religious overtones. This practice can also be found in philosophy, especially in the work of existentialism’s Danish founding father, Søren Kierkegaard, the wanderer, and also in the later writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who isolated himself for some period of time in a mountain hut in Norway. In the realm of literature, the Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, was very interested in this same way of testing out his prowess in situations. He has run no less than 26 marathons and a single 100-kilometer run on Hokkaido; it took him 11 hours and 42 minutes, not counting his short pause for a quick snack along the way.

Bente Skjøttgaard is a ceramist: she was born in 1961. In much the same manner as a runner or an existential philosopher, she is cultivating her material, which is clay overcoated with an application of glaze. She is a master of her field and she is “inside” the clay in the sense that she is challenging herself each and every time she creates a new work. The glazed pieces are constantly becoming larger and more voluminous, with interiors consisting of complicated constructions, as is the case inside a person or an animal, a prehistoric creature or another biological phenomenon. And the beauty cannot be mistaken. It is a kind of primeval nature, but accordingly a nature that is created both from within and from without, in the course of a protracted reciprocal interplay. There is never a matter here of theoretical ceramics – everything is executed with a sensitivity and a sensibility for the materials’ capabilities and intrinsic value. Clay becomes form, lump, branch, tube, excrescence – it’s clear that certain rules of the game are useful but the very act transpiring between artist and material is of an almost sensual, erotic character. What we have before us is an instinctual drive, a symbiosis between artist and work, a drive that can be likened to running without having a goal in sight, like a weak-sighted boy who is attentive to his surroundings through the means of all open senses. The foundation is here – maybe even the grounding. The existence. The attention is turned both inward and outward.

Along the way, another one of the joggers was talking about his three children. One of them, he mentioned, was afflicted with Down Syndrome. While we were running, it clearly sounded like what was a stress on the family was simultaneously an enrichment. The family possesses a life experience that might appear more difficult viewed from afar than lived from within. A wealth of nuances can be found in the lopsided, the tortured and the indisposed, even in that which we call ‘handicapped’ or ‘abnormal’. Bente Skjøttgaard is dealing in an analogous way with this lopsidedness, and with a great deal of painstaking scrupulousness, in her ceramic works. As we see in a Japanese garden, where the bonsai trees are constantly being adjusted and corrected – they are being cropped and trimmed and shaped and developed. Bonsai is a wise tree, they say in the Orient. Bente Skjøttgaard knows the tradition. She unites many spaces in her works: The tradition of form and glaze from the Jugendstil period in the Nordic region and Europe around 1900 with Japanese characteristics. Nothing seems to be foreign to the artist.

The ceramics are elemental and chaste, but Bente Skjøttgaard is not afraid of going to extremes. The artist moves wherever the clay happens to be pointing the way. Her ceramics look like stones and tree stubs that have fallen here and there on the mountainside, while we continue to move through the landscape; there are brooks that are babbling and snows that are melting. White glazes in all variations. There is proximity to moss and lichen, a feeling for snow, soft forms and erosion that upturns the mud and uncovers exquisite mineral deposits: kaolin, quartz and feldspar. Geological phenomena. Ceramics is geology – on the sophisticated and refined level. Basis and element converge with human beings’ ideas and present-day experience. Bente Skjøttgaard is working as a researcher; she writes down everything that she carries out in meticulous detail and she works with an admixture of glazes, but when she tests out the substance in the kiln and holds her creative productions up to the light of a final assessment, the systematics often break down. Here, it is only the aesthetic power and the expressive richness that count.

Bente Skjøttgaard rejects and throws aside works that are not “usable”, as she puts it.

It’s not the lopsidedness or the miscarried that determines whether something is usable or not – neither is this the case when we are speaking about a person. Bente Skjøttgaard’s ceramic work has soul – it is ... genuine.

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