Marie Raffn's solo exhibition at Studio PRÁM.
Marie Raffn: Bladdernut Hum
Curatec by Šárka Koudelová
June 19 - June 28,2019
Studio PRÁM, Prague
“A rhizome has no beginning and no ending, it is always in the middle, between things, between existence, an intermezzo. A tree is a runner (son-hood, growing from), but a rhizome is a connection, an alliance.” (Gilles Deleuze, Pierre Félix Guattari – A Thousand Plateaus)
In botany, a rhizome is a modified subterranean plant stem that sends out roots and shoots from its nodes in some perennials. It functions as a storage organ for the plant when it dies for the winter. Rhizomes are harvested for practical purposes in spring and autumn, when the plant uses them as its storage organ. If, such as at weeding, only the above-ground part of the plant is cut away, the plant can resume its growth.
This likely isn’t the first nor the last time that an artist has found inspiration in a book, that a book has become a “bearing vault” of the exhibition. It is probably symptomatic of an artist who finds herself in a foreign environment to reach for a local literary guide. However, Danish artist Maria Raffn’s (1991) connection to a written text is situation-based. Maria’s intermedia art practice is grounded in the visuality of writing, the double impact of calligrams, the rhythm of poems, and the onomatopoeia of recitation. Perhaps because Maria naturally favours the free interpretation of existing literary works, she didn’t search for the intimacy of her mother tongue in a foreign country. On the contrary, her attention was caught by a book found in a Prague studio, and it seems almost incredible how well this small poetic book fit her purposes. On a shelf, Maria found a collection of poems/lyrics Klokočí (Bladdernuts) by Jiří Suchý. The title refers to one of the most famous tunes composed by the Czech artist duo Suchý & Šlitr, although it’s primarily a botanical name of a leafy bush the characteristic fruits of which are lantern-like shapes that evoke a very emotional context: in the past, its small shiny seeds were strung on a thread to make rosaries for the poor. This is what Jiří Suchý refers to in his melancholic, lovelorn text when he sings of “grandma’s bladdernuts,” i.e. a rosary inherited from his grandmother. All the inner and outer connections stemming from bladdernuts, related to one another as in its panicle’s inflorescence, are also connected to Maria Raffn’s exhibition. The gurgling sound of the title, the rhythmic counting of the rosary beads, and the deep emotional ergonomics between human and seed, otherwise unrelated, define both the conscious and associative relationships with which Maria works. Despite its surrealistic impression, the title of the exhibition, Bluddernut Hum, is obviously a synthesis of the creative process that preceded it. A process similar to organic growth takes place—from the outside in, a growth through the gallery walls, and especially in Maria’s phonetic and visual reading of the Czech poetic text, i.e. of words with whose general meaning she has become acquainted but does not completely understand. This situation seems to mimic a contemporary globalised world where we are all somewhat able to understand one other, while still experiencing gaps or lapses in meaning. Do such circumstances force us to employ our imagination? Does understanding depend on exact translation? And, most importantly, do we experience an unknown word physically more than conceptually?
The botanical bedrock in which the exhibition is firmly rooted is a typical contrast, a natural dichotomy: on one hand, there are firm laws whose visual aspect often seems more accurate and breath-taking than any digital calculation. The flying seeds of the poplar tree Maria carefully collected in the gallery yard remind viewers of white cotton, but when observed under a microscope they seem to copy the shape of the parent tree. Similarly, the fan-shaped growth pattern of the bladdernut’s inflorescence, i.e. a panicle, or rhipidium, seems to portray fractal theory. Each larger unit is comprised of a mathematically arranged group of smaller particles whose shape corresponds to the overall composition. Rhipidium is the main structure in the central part of the exhibition: it is a welded iron construction that grows through the space in a surprisingly fragile manner. Long stalks reach out, allowing for the possibility of further reproduction as a cast blossoms on their ends. On the other hand, there is also rapid, organic, and uncontrolled growth distinct from botanical growth but similar to the Triffid-like world coming in through the gallery windows.
For Maria, this uncontrolled and unplanned growth is a natural metaphorical expression of subconscious association. In this state, rationalised meanings of words are unclear to us even as we link them together, perhaps based on connections we sense. Below the surface thoughts intertwine just like roots under the ground. Maria found inspiration in the sloping floor in one of the gallery rooms, and her installation there evokes the surrealistic world of growing roots and subconscious associations from which we are separated merely by a sensitive membrane. Its material gives a very physical impression: is it human skin or has someone cut out petals of it for all the flowers around?
The use of hard, technical materials to convey a flower’s fragility creates a paradox that is a spontaneous reaction to the studio’s surroundings. The neighbourhood still displays visible traces of its industrial past: randomly discarded iron implements have been forgotten and are disappearing under anemochoric plants and recent additions to the city. This post-industrial habitat has a clear impact on the exhibition. The fragile connection of flowers and machine-worked metal creates a new space for implicit social criticism. Man keeps on expanding his activity, replacing natural and fragile processes nonsensically and endlessly. Eventually, he will be forced to substitute such processes permanently. The Anthropocene has become such an impenetrable urban reality that we’ve stopped noticing whether it’s insects buzzing or trains passing by, not to mention the sounds of what used to be a workers’ quarter. Or is this another text the language of which we don’t understand? Does the complexity of the exhibition demonstrate intertwining roots, or are these also contemporary information flows that grow through everything like internet connection cables?
Just as the echo of metal hitting metal is an inherent part of the Prague Libeň neighbourhood, Maria inevitably had to include an audio component. Audio recording has been part of her creative practice for quite some time and she combines technical sketches of space with the poetry of recorded words in a very sensitive manner. Paradoxically though, in her recording for the Bladdernut Hum exhibition she doesn’t read the poetry that was the starting point for the present work. On the contrary, she focuses on the impact of sounds creating images in the imagination of the gallery’s visitors. We hear the rustling of birds’ wings and we ourselves struggle through vegetation: we find ourselves in an organic installation come to life by means of an audio poem comprehensible to all. And it’s hardly surprising that a small speaker hidden among the casts reproduces sound via numerous small openings reminiscent of sunflower seeds arranged according to the Fibonacci sequence.
Clink! A surprisingly metallic sound is heard in the recording. A magpie stealing bits of shiny metal in the neighbourhood has probably dropped one right in front of the gallery.
/Šárka Koudelová, 2019/
Photo by: Anna Pleslová