“For the exhibition Eken will exhibit a forensic assortment of hand-painted ceramics arranged by size on the floor and three large tapestries on the walls. The sculptures will include all the objects one might find in a punk venue, perhaps even our former across-the-street neighbor here on the Bowery, CBGBs. From microphone stands all the way down to tiny bottle caps and guitar pics, these handmade and hand-painted objects will create a personalized memorial to NYC’s dwindling lawless zones and the mayhem they contained. Their anthropological arrangement on the floor suggests a methodical and scientific approach to categorizing and analyzing a lost culture, as though a forensic dig of the venue unearthed these strange relics.”
Rose Eken’s exhibition “Love is the Drug” is currently on view at Munch Gallery and runs through February 3rd. Gallery Director Lillan Munch leads us in conversation with the artist:
1/Tell us a little about your choices of media and how these choices relate to the objects represented in your artwork.
I work with a variety of media across different platforms like miniatures in cardboard and masking tape, sculpture and ceramics, video-installation, drawing, printmaking, and embroidery. For this show I have specifically chosen to focus on my embroideries and on a selection of smaller ceramic pieces.
Ceramic, or clay as a material, interests me for various reasons. First of all, clay is a very versatile and strong material – it is dense and heavy, and (perhaps for this exact reason) it is also kind of ridiculous. Somehow, no matter how you apply it, it always has a quality reminiscent of a clumsily made Christmas decoration to it …. Yet clay is also extremely rigid and fine, and can be remolded, shaped and formed into the most delicate, fragile and beautiful objects. You could in many ways say it mirrors the quality of sound; it spans from the heavy bass beat to the highest pitch. Secondly, I love the process. You have to work in stages; first modeling, then drying, firing, and glazing and it’s not until at the very end that you actually know the result – you are never 100% in control. I deliberately model the objects in real scale. Because clay shrinks slightly when drying, every finished piece is off scale– that is slightly smaller than the original object. Yet the colored shiny glazing makes them seem very real, almost hyper-real. Their awkwardness and imperfection also underlines this – it somehow makes us believe in them as objects even more … we want to compensate for their faultiness and inadequacy – so subconsciously, we complete the pieces – we pretend they are real – that they will become the rock stars they so aspire to be.
I began working with embroidery about 5 years ago. I have always sewn and made my own clothes, but it was never a part of my practice until then. At the time I was thinking a lot about my process and method of working and somehow everything I do is always very time consuming, and there is a particular sequence or repetition; you have to make at least ten barstools to make a miniature bar, and even more ceramic beer bottles or cigarette butts to create the illusion of the mess and debris left behind after a gig or recording session. I also made my first miniature ‘100’ piece at that time; ‘Edition of You (100 guitars),’ which consists of one hundred hand-cut and painted cardboard miniature replicas of real guitars. Rhythm and repetition are intrinsic to music. A musician needs time, concentration and patience to master an instrument; a particular riff or beat has to be rehearsed and re-rehearsed over and over again – it is this same persistence and reiteration, and stretch of time that I aim to echo in my embroidered works – stitch by stitch.
2/Music culture is a recurrent theme in your artwork. Why the fascination with rock & roll, and it’s aftermath/leftovers, in particular?
Music and popular culture play a very big part in shaping our identity and both can be an extremely collective experience; nothing quite beats standing in a large crowd in front of a stage singing along unanimously. But music also speaks very directly to our personal sentiments and listening to music is thus also a very private experience – basically music ties us together, and it sets us apart.
I grew up with music – that is classical music. Basically my mother is a voice coach for opera singers (She has even ‘delivered’ quite a few to the MET) so yes, lots of divas ‘screaming’ in my living room throughout my childhood… Also, I left school at the early age of 16. I got a job in a theatre working as a stage technician and I also started doing the lights for different underground and punk bands in Copenhagen. I became particularly fascinated by the venue and/or the theatre space without the audience. These spaces, and the objects within them, have a particular nature and resonance, which somehow have become embedded within our collective consciousness. Big (unlit) venues that are made for a crowd – without it the space seems suspended in time – waiting …. By recreating or freezing these moments in time, by resetting the scene in other media and scale I aim to shift the focus thus allowing the spectator to read their own personal narrative into the work.
3/Do you find yourself being inspired by other environments/life styles/subjects?
Yes, for sure. I am inspired by LOTS of different things which are not necessarily music related – like needlework, folk art, quilts, other visual artists of course – and not least, by people, or walking the streets, sitting on the train, going out, or by randomly chatting to someone in a coffeshop ….
4/I know you like New York a lot, but I sense this very Nordic melancholy in your work. Do you think living here would affect your art conceptually?
That is hard to say – it would affect me for sure and as such I guess it would also affect my art, but would it change my work conceptually? – well, I don’t know, it’s not really something I speculate so much about. The idea takes you where the idea wants to go …. But living here would definitely broaden my scope, just the mere scale of everything. How can you NOT be affected by this city? It has a very unique energy – you leave your house and something happens; you get a compliment from a random passer-by or you hear some amazing band singing in the subway – there is constantly something to look at, to take in, to dwell on and enjoy. You don’t get that in the same way in any other city.
5/What are you up to next?
I have a few group shows lined up in Denmark and in France, so I will begin working on that. And I will be finishing up a project I started last year, recreating Lemmy’s Marshall stack (The 1992LEM) in 1:1 in clay, and I am also working on some new embroideries, for instance I’m stitching a new 12” record in gold – real gold!
Munch Gallery, 245 Broome St., NYC (at Ludlow St.) subway: F/M to Delan./Essex St. or D to Grand St.
exhibition of embroidery and glazed ceramic sculpture. “Rose Eken’s art is about rock music. An eclectic genre that is both raw and embracing. There is nothing as emotive as music – both to the individual and the collective, music has a unique ability to evoke the most charged of human emotions: love, hatred, intimacy, injustice – and good old-fashioned Weltschmerz. But rock culture also delineates a story of rebellion, revolution and revolt against the sexually repressed bourgeois culture. All of these traits can be found in Eken’s artwork; the wild uncontrolled nerve of rock ’n’ roll subtly curbed by a sensible disposition. Yet what appears restrained and controlled retains a ring of the fierce and the savage” - Maria Kjær Themsen