Mette Winckelmann, We Have A Body, Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art, Copenhagen

Text by Bethany Rex

We Have A Body is a comprehensive solo exhibition by Mette Winckelmann. Winckelmann initiates a dialogue with Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art’s architecture and history as well as J.F. Willumsen’s thoughts behind the exhibition space’s layout and colour combinations. We spoke to Mette before the exhibition opening to find out more:

A: We Have A Body features installation work, painting, textile collages, objects and Sønderjyske Solæg – a speciality from Southern Jutland. What exactly is Sønderjyske Solæg and why have you chosen to work in this medium?

MW: Yes, Sønderjyske Solæg is a speciality from Southern Jutland. I am familiar with this phenomena since I grew up in this area of Denmark. I sometimes use language/dialect and different local traditions from this area in my practice. This is how you make the eggs: you boil the egg for quite a long time, then you put them in saltwater for 3-4 weeks, and then you peel them, and divide them in halves. Take one half boiled egg, lift up the, now greenish, yolk, put in some tabasco, mustard, oil and vinegar, eat it together with an Aquavit. This is a personal ritual which everyone has to do on their own. It is interesting to use this ritual because it divides people into a certain and unexpected hierarchy in the exhibition space, a hierarchy of people who might, and people who don’t, know about this ritual, and it creates a new agenda. It is also a repetition of a recipe, a phenomena which is important in terms of defining our identity. The fact that people physically accept the work by eating it is also of great value. The fact that it is an egg is also very nice as it is quite a heavy symbol of where your body came from in the very beginning. It is for the same reason that I am using the Danish dialect, or as I did in other works, dealt with insider gay language or abstraction. In all cases it defines an agenda that might or might not be familiar to you, depending on your background and experiences.

A: The abstract painting plays a central role in your practice. When did you start working with abstractions and why do you consider it to be the most appropriate ‘container’ for your messages?

MW: I have always worked in abstract, from a very young age with objects like rugs, made at the sewing machine. For me abstraction is a basic way to express important questions about our society, because it refers to the actual surroundings without trying to make an illusion or story of the imagination which stops at the edge of the square. In an abstract work, the materials step forward and become a significant part of the work itself. I believe that the viewer meets the abstract work in a physical way. The body immediately compares an object in a space to the body its self, and it enables a physical stimulating dialogue. I also see the abstract painting tradition as an important part of my own ethnic history as well as the Scandinavian patchwork tradition. Using it, or fragments of these traditions, combined with each other, or other ethnic traditions, I try to find new possible spaces.

A: This exhibition focuses on ‘the body’ and how different forms of artistic practice can liberate the body from traditional ways of looking. This is certainly not a new idea but I’m interested to hear your interpretation on this?

MW: The body is everyone’s basic starting point and basic material. The human body defines itself in relation to other bodies, placing other bodies in categories. When there is a body there is a gender, which is one of the strongest ways to categorize the human body (and individual) today. The problem is that the focus on gender deals with men and women as two binary poles. By focusing on the body and not the gender highlights my believe that there are variations of gender. It is flexible, meaning that there are many genders, and that they can change over time.

I consider my works as redefined bodies. In a very simple way, you could say that the media is the body, the material is the gender, and that it can be performed in many ways. That is also why I often make more than one version of each image, using the same abstract image, repeated in different versions and materials: as a flag, a painting or a fabric collage etc…. And that is why I also use exactly the same material in two totally different works! In our society I think it is a problem that people don’t think about the body as flexible and unique. That constitutes a problem for developing our society if we believe that we have to fit into a certain idea about the ideal way of performing the body.

A: Do you have your own answer to the subtitle of the exhibition: Do our views on gender and sexuality have an effect on our view of art and historiography?

MW: Actually that was not a subtitle that I came up with, more an explanation written by the curators. For me, I would rather ask the question: Are our lives, lifestyles and ideas about what we want from life influenced by the selection of artworks in the national museums and collections, which have become, both in their status and actual physical size, much like a powerful and religious monument?

A: When it comes to looking at painting through the lens of queer theory, I can understand how this would open up the possibility of the work in a new light, but surely this is the case for any object of criticism? For example, if we apply the theories of psychoanalysis to an artist’s work, we might achieve a broader experience, but not necessary an accurate one. If you were to carry out a mini ‘reception study’ during the exhibition what would you hope to find?

MW: During the work I have different experiences with the materials and media I am using. I sincerely believe that, if every person thought about the body as a flexible object it would open up a variety of new perspectives on gender, sexuality, age, family life, feminism, equal rights for every person and eventually lead to a more stimulating society. I wonder why people in general don’t know that their body is actually owned and dictated by the law, and that every country has its own idea about the ideal life, even countries like Denmark which in general is defined as liberated and democratic. As a woman in Denmark you are not allowed to reduce the gender you were born with. I mean, if you want to remove your breasts, you are required to have psychological tests beforehand. On the other hand, if you want to get a breast enlargement, you can just go ahead and do it. It is my belief that any improvement in this situation is beneficial, not only for the people who do not fit into the normative ideal idea of the body, but maybe also for the people who actually fit in in terms of a emancipation by having or getting a totally different view on the body.

03/12/2011 – 29/01/2012, Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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