Stick, Paper, Platform
Essay by Lars Kiel Bertelsen for the book Constructs, 2017

The leaf on the twig,
The twig on the branch,
The branch on the tree,
The tree on the mountain,
The mountain far out in the woods.
(Traditional Danish nursery rhyme)

Stick, paper, platform. The hand, body and gaze touch on their surroundings. Often aimlessly, occasionally purposefully. They can end anywhere, for example in images, which in the art of Lotte Fløe Christensen unfold between classical landscape photography and a curious, exploratory and sometimes even sculptural practice. The images are simultaneously works in their own right and documentation of the artist’s activities in the landscape – a form of absent-minded wandering interrupted by the kind of fragile constructions and signs we create alone in the woods. They are therefore related, yet very different in expressive form. The images operate on different scales, from the micro scale of inconspicuous stick structures, to the monumental macro scale of landscapes. And between them: the body looking at and acting in the world, because there is a constant and highly bodily doing at play here. Somebody (a woman) does something somewhere: looks, crawls, struggles with a sheet of flapping paper, constructs precarious platforms, unstable scaffolding for … for what? Is it a game? A strange variation on Rock, Paper, Scissors, which in Lotte Fløe Christensen’s version would maybe be Stick, Paper, Platform? And what is a game?

First and foremost a game is a set of rules: “If X, then Y”. Something familiar all the way from childhood board games to the codified social games of adult life. The key element in a game is the move. This is when the game becomes strategic. Simple, nursery board games like ludo are low on strategy (and therefore boring), whereas more open games, like social or erotic games, are highly strategic (and therefore far too exciting). Here everything is at stake, as we say. There seems to be an increasing complexity in the very form of the move – its aesthetics, as it were – that in simple board games is reduced to the mechanical gesture of moving the counter from A to B, even though this gesture too can be performed with elegance or bravura. Whereas in the moves of social and erotic games, elegance is not added: they are elegance or bravura. Otherwise they become what the French call a faux pas – literally a false step.

But if this is a game, what are the rules? Are there rules that limit the number and kind of moves? If that is the case, it is presumably so complex that it cannot be described in full (which is precisely why we are dealing with images). Nonetheless we can sense it, in the same way as we intuitively sense the mechanisms of social games. Or we can at least describe the different elements of the game as something relating to specific scales, materialities and bodily interactions, which as in the old Danish nursery rhyme are connected by links: The leaf on the twig/ The twig on the branch/ The branch on the tree/ The tree on the mountain/ The mountain far out in the woods.

It is as if the images form clusters or series, different yet connected. Like the nursery rhyme, what ties them together is a degree of ‘botanical’ fellowship that has traditionally been associated with more ‘lowbrow’ genres and images in art – ornamentation, floral paintings, embroidery – but is also linked to a more systematic, scientific view of the world, like that of the Swedish botanist Linné. As such, we can trace two very different visual traditions in the plant and flower photographs – ‘portraits’ of individual plants against a neutral, white background, which on closer examination reveals itself to be a meticulously perforated sheet of paper the plants protrude from. So what at first glance looks like a decorative, digital masking of the plant, reveals itself to be the result of a highly physical, constructed manoeuvre: the penetration of the paper with a finger or blade. Whereas in art this penetrative gesture has traditionally been associated with disfiguration and violence (like Fontana’s slashed canvasses), Lotte Fløe Christensen’s perforations are strangely ambiguous, because whilst they might disfigure the paper, they also make it possible for the plant to survive. The paper nestles temporarily around the plants in situ, enabling them to have their picture taken without having their lives taken.

This ambiguity between active, physical manipulation and a more passive solicitude for the organic is already traceable in these minimalist plant portraits, but it intensifies in the series of stick scaffolding, where the architectural/constructed aspect become more apparent, but is balanced by their modest scale and the simple materials of the constructions: sticks and branches. If this platform is intended to provide a view, it is a view of a small, close world – the world of plants – just as the scaffolding and platforms are incapable of supporting the weight of a human being, being more on the scale of the plants’ natural acquaintances, like snails, mice and small birds. In other images, the twigs and branches create geometric forms, which give the impression of a secret alphabet against the white background of the paper. But who is it that writes using these letters? What is a sign? If the camera is The Pencil of Nature, here it has made a fumbling attempt to write its first faltering letters.
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Finally, the sheets of paper are carried into the landscape in the series of images that draws most obviously on the classical representation of figures in nature of Romantic landscape painting. Here we have both the back-turned wanderer in the fog, and the solitary figure looking out across the sea. But in Lotte Fløe Christensen’s images the lone wanderer often carries oversized, white sheets of paper that are without motive, because what is the body doing with a flapping sheet of paper in the middle of a field of stubble? But they are also without motif, since it looks as if the figure is carrying a map, but there is no map on the empty paper. In this sense, the sheets of paper in Lotte Fløe Christensen’s photographs become potential images, images that could have been there, but are not. At the same time, most of them serve to cover the body carrying them, thus playing down the gender identity of the figure and hiding its eyes. There is no doubt that it is a woman standing there, but it is first and foremost a silent and fumbling human body. A body without a gaze, since it is as if the amorphous paper has absorbed the gaze, meeting the viewer as an empty surface for projection and looking blindly back at us.

***

Therefore: If this is a game, it can apparently be played at – at least – three levels. Three levels on three different scales:
–The level of the hand, of tinkering with flowers, twigs, letters and signs – the level of drawing, writing and encrypting.
–The level of the body, of manoeuvring with branches and scaffolding – the level of construction and building.
–The level of the gaze, wandering across the wide expanses of the terrain (and the white of the paper) – the scale of the forest and landscape and level of the journey and wandering.

If the three levels are equal (as I think they are in Lotte Fløe Christensen’s art) this implies a fundamental connection between the three most blissful, civilising capacities we possess, i.e. writing, building and wandering. It is the same game, yet different. Many metaphors point in the same direction by combining the three phenomena, like building castles in the air (as if our thoughts consisted of weightless structures), letting our thoughts wander (as if they were moving through a landscape), and running through a text (as if the text were an extended plain).

Stick, paper, platform. The hand, body and gaze touch on their surroundings. Often aimlessly, occasionally purposefully. Stopping in their tracks to create transient forms, be it a sign, a posture or a focused gaze. It is not until we see how the land lies that we become truly human.

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Interview by Sara Arvidsson
In connection to the show Notes on Things of Great Importance
Nextart Gallery, Gothenburg
13th Oct - 4th Nov 2012

SA: Nature is a recurrent theme in your work. What sort of relationship do you have with nature – is it unproblematic or is it a fearful and ambiguous one?

LFC: I do not see nature as a theme in my practise, but more as a tool I can use to investigate questions of meaning and fragility. Having grown up in the countryside my relationship to nature is fundamentally connected to a feeling of home. For me nature is evident; is not something that is in opposition to something urban or civilized, it is simply there. The world. When that is said nature, to me, also represents feelings of loss, longing and uncertainty and is thereby something I have an ambivalent relationship to. This might be the reason for nature having such a presence in my work.

SA: Would you describe your art as romantic?

LFC: In the sense that Romanticism in some aspects deals with an individual search for meaning in a world where meaning is not given, my work can certainly be seen as Romantic. I am very interested in the search for understanding and meaning that seems to be a deeply rooted human drive.

SA: Nature seems to be a popular subject in art right now. Have you had any thoughts about this, and if yes – what do they look like?

LFC: Artists have always dealt – and worked with nature, but it might be true that there has been an increase in nature-related work over recent years. I have previously not really considered this fact. Maybe because I find it quite natural that nature is present in contemporary art. I think that because the technologies, we surround ourselves with, have developed much faster than our brains, we are often stressed and feel detached and alienated towards the lives we live. I have read quite a lot of research dealing with nature’s healing and calming affect on people. I think that nature is somehow connected to something meaningful and is therefore a great tool to talk about meaning. This might be one of the reasons why artists increasingly deal with nature.

SA: In your work photographs get mixed up with objects. You pull branches and leaves out of the photographs and place them in new, three-dimensional formations. What happens in these encounters and why haven’t you decided to work with either photography or sculpture/installations?

LFC: I am not sure I can explain what happens in the space between the photographs and the objects/installations. But something happens. I see my work as examinations of different issues of creation of meaning. To approach these quite abstract issues I have in recent years felt the need to step outside the two-dimensionality of the photographs; to use more examination-methods to get closer to the subject. I think somehow the objects and the photographs are doing the same thing in different ways.

SA: What inspires you?

LFC: Literature inspires me. And books as objects. Conversations with people. Random research I come across. Exhibitions. Thoughts of material. The gap between two images. Maybe nature.

SA: You’re interested in the manifestations and acts that come out of the search for meaning. Are you never tempted to reach a target; to find a final answer? Is it possible? And what would happen in this case?

LFC: I do not think there is a definitive answer. So luckily the search can continue.

SA: What are you exhibiting at Nextart Gallery?

LFC: The exhibition consists of photographs and small resin sculptures on podiums. The photographs deal with the idea of support and fragility, signs and action and corresponds with the cubes of resin holding semi-cast twigs and paper.

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Interview by Kirstine Autzen
Kunsten.nu 8th May 2012
(In Danish)

Taktile tegn og fotograferede handlinger

8. maj. 2012 [Interview] Den danske billedkunstner Lotte Fløe Christensen har et mellemværende med grene, planter og sten. Men det handler faktisk ikke om naturen, siger hun. Netop nu udstiller hun i Göteborg og Stockholm som en del af sin afgang på masteruddannelsen fra Högskolan för fotografi i Göteborg.

Af Kirstine Autzen

I montrer midt i rummet ligger fotografier af papir, hvorpå der ubehændigt er klæbet blade på – med klisterbånd. Op af væggen står lænet en stor gren, og hvor spidsen rammer den hvide kube, bøjer et stort ark papir sig ud fra væggen.

Udstillingen ’Node’ undersøger, hvordan ting får betydning, som taktile objekter, som tegn og som handlinger.

Natur – kultur
Du placerer ofte dig selv i naturen eller isolerer naturobjekter i et renset (kunst)rum. Hvad betyder de to modsatrettede bevægelser? At kaste sig selv ind i naturen og omvendt trække dele af naturrummet ind i kunstrummet?

Det handler ikke om modsætningen mellem natur og kultur, men om en modstand, en ambivalens. En kamp, hvor jeg er med og imod på samme tid. Om kontrol og mangel på kontrol. Det er som en påstand om, eller en accept af, at der ikke er nogen grænse mellem mig og verden. Det er en indre kamp. Jeg er ikke interesseret i naturen som sådan, men bruger den som et redskab til at tale om modstand og mening.

Objekt og handling
Titlen på dit projekt 'Node' sammenfatter vidt forskellige betydninger; både punktet som et krydsfelt og som et udspringssted for vækst. I værkerne krydser naturobjekter, skulptur, krop og fotografi hinanden igen og igen med et performativt udgangspunkt. En stor gren, som holder et stykke papir fast mod væggen, og blade, tapet fast på papir og affotograferet. Hvordan ser du forholdet mellem billede, handling og objekt i dette projekt?

Det var vigtigt at trække flere af værkerne væk fra at være objekter og i stedet gøre dem til billeder. Objekter kan ofte, med deres stoflighed og rumlige kvaliteter, fylde for meget i oplevelsen. De tager for meget opmærksomhed. Jeg vil bag om objektet og vise tankerne bag tingen. I Sculpture Document var jeg i udstillingsrummet ikke interesseret i skulpturen som noget, jeg kunne gå rundt om. Det var et vigtigt værk at lave i værkstedet pga. handlingen og processen; det var det at gøre, jeg var interesseret i.

Værket A Sheet of Paper Supported by a Stick Leaning Against the Wall er dog ikke blevet et fotografi. Fotografiets fastfrysning ville have ødelagt muligheden for at tale om et punkt i rummet. Punktet måtte være fysisk tilstede.


Før værket

Hvilken betydning har de handlinger, som ligger forud for billederne?

Jeg er primært interesseret i de handlinger og forsøg, der ligger forud for værket. Der er en udveksling mellem værker og proces. Mine værker er delelementer i en større undersøgelse, der beskæftiger sig med meningsdannelse eller nogle gange manglen på samme. Det at handle, forsøge og konstruere ser jeg som meningsbærende. Fotografiets rolle i værkerne er at pege på handling, snarere end på objektet i sig selv. For mig har fotografiet en evne til at vise det, der befinder sig bag objektet. Nogle gange ændrer et værk sig undervejs fra at være objekt til at blive et fotografi. Og et fotografi kan blive et slags objekt, når det kommer på udstilling.

Da jeg så billederne, kom jeg til at tænke på performanceværker om handling, krop og dokumentation. Jeg tænker på værker af Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman og Charles Ray. Hvordan forholder du dig til det?

Uden at være bevidst influeret af dem, ser jeg selv tydelige referencer. Naumans Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square dukkede faktisk op i en samtale omkring Sculpture Document. Det performative har altid været en del af min praksis med fotografiet som en dokumenterende funktion. Og kroppen er meget tydelig i værkerne, fordi fotografiet peger tilbage på krop og handling i rum.

Hvad skal du arbejde videre med nu?
En udstilling er for mig ikke afslutningen på et arbejde, og jeg kommer til at arbejde videre med mine undersøgelser af skrøbelighed og meningsdannelse. Det er muligt at undersøgelserne antager nye former, men min fornemmelse er, at de på en eller anden måde stadig vil befinde sig et sted mellem handling, objekt og billede.

Kirstine Autzen

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Text by Simen Helsvig for the publication

Lotte Fløe Christensen (I.(P.)#6)
ISBN 978-87-994373-4-4
by Vandret

One of Dürer’s watercolours, the aptly titled ”Large Turf”, depicts precisely that: three youthful dandelions stretching out from a modest patch of jade-couloured grass and weeds, behind which lies the infinite nothing of the paper slightly dyed by the passing five centuries. The motif could not possibly be less significant, and yet it is one of the painter’s most memorable works.

Dürer’s ”Turf” brings to mind the peculiar nature of botanical classification and the insurmountable distance between species and specimen. The particular, the ”eternal stumbling block of thinking”, had long been a philosophical problem when medieval scholars, who had enough time to ponder these questions, came up with the term haeccitas, the ”thisness” of a thing, as opposed to its quidditas, the ”whatness”. The ”what” of taxonomy, the breaking down into common characteristics, – the shape of leaves, the colour of petals – is scientific generalization, and as such it strives for an everywhere, which is essentially a nowhere. But the illustrated example, no matter the blankness of a drawing’s background, no matter the nowhere of the herbarium’s white sheet, is always a ”this” and a ”here”.

The avid botanist Jean-Jacques Rousseau understood this. He considered botany the perfect accompaniment to his pastoral promenades. His herbarium was not the pastime of an amateur scientist, but merely the recollection – the re-collection – of pastures, woodlands and riversides once encountered. Each individual plant was a ”this”, a ”there” and a ”here”.

In the photograph (and isn’t the photographer also something of a collector?) there is a double haecceity, a twofold ”this”. There is the thisness of the depicted object and the thisness of the print.
The peculiarity of the photograph – which shouldn’t be less ghostly for us than for our ancestors – is that what we see in the print is an object or a person in the real world. And yet.
In this twofold of the photograph, in the very fluctuation between the states of ”this”, or perhaps: like an intangible crevice in the surface, there is something that binds the nowhere of thinking and the there of the world.

Simen Helsvig