1999 RE KOLLEKTION – A retrospective of body works

1990s Exhibitions, MELTINGTIME

KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art Aalborg
17 April – 13 June
Curator Nina Hobolth


The exhibition of Kirsten Justesen’s art from the end of the 1960s up till now has been composed within a frame: photographic works. It must be immediately stressed that Kirsten Justesendoes not see herself as a photographer, – and nor, for that matter, does the art scene around her. She was trained as a sculptor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and her self-image as an artist – as well as her production – is a direct extension of this. However, like so many other artists of her generation, Kirsten Justesenincorporated photography in her work, – and ’work’, what was that? This brings us to the question of the ’artistic work process’ and the ’work-character’ that have been Kirsten Justesen’s vehicles for expression through more than 30 years.

The earliest works included at the exhibition at Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, are SCULPTURE I & SCULPTURE II, both from 1968. This is the very year which is remembered for the Parisyouth revolt, and Denmarkalso saw turbulence at the institutes of education, including among other things ‘student occupation’ of the institutes at universities and the ideological confrontations this engendered. At the Academyof Fine Arts, students had a desire to redefine the expressions of art, incorporating new techniques and new planes of experience. However, Kirsten Justesendid not get her ‘greb’[1] from the Academyof Fine Arts; that came from meeting with Situationists in Odensein 1960 and through her participation in Ung Kunst (‘Young Art’) in Aarhus1965-68. At the same time she studied the craft of sculpting with Knud Nellemose at The Academy of Fine Arts, Jylland – eight hours every day!

The conceptions of what art could be – and could be used for – were continuously examined during the first years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in collaborations with KANONKLUBBEN (the Cannon Club – after the super-8 camera).

Photography became an indispensable tool, – and Kirsten Justesenlinked sculptural expression, her own body, and photography in the two SCULPTURE works. At one and the same time they contain the three-dimensional, the identifiable and the photographic-anonymous. SCULPTURE I seems to be mirror images and reflections of the observer in relation to space and movement. SCULPTURE II is perceived – well, as a box-sculpture, containing – not a person, but a photograph of a person, – not in movement, but in a claustrophobic space. These two works underscore the truth of Kirsten Justesen’s self-image as a sculptor, working to explore the three-dimensional.

One of the most insightful books on photography as a new artistic media was published in the early 70s: Susan Sontag’s On Photography. Naturally, Sontag is mainly concerned with the American art scene, and the recurrent pivotal point to her is the place of photography in relation to painting, – to the picture. She is not concerned with photography in relation to the sculptural, – in relation to movement and space, yes, but not to sculpture. And yet she clearly sums up what the age perceived as essential to photography versus pictorial art: “On Photography” p. 149: “The traditional fine arts are elitist: their characteristic form is a single work, produced by an individual; they imply a hierarchy of subject matter in which some subjects are considered important, profound, noble, and others unimportant, trivial, base. The media are democratic: they weaken the role of the specialised producer or auteur (by using procedures based on chance, or mechanical techniques which anyone can learn; and by being corporate or collaborative efforts); they regard the whole world as material. The traditional fine arts rely on the distinction between authentic and fake, between original and copy, between good taste and bad taste; the media blur, if they do not abolish outright, these distinctions. The fine arts assume that certain experiences or subjects have a meaning. The media are essentially contentless (this is the truth behind Marshall McLuhan’s celebrated remark about the message being the medium itself); their characteristic tone is ironic, or deadpan, or parodistic. It is inevitable that more and more art will be designed to end as photographs. A modernist would have to rewrite Pater’s dictum that all aspires to the condition of music. Now all art aspires to the condition of photography.”

SCULPTURE I & SCULPTURE II carry the classical tradition of sculpture as well as the turbulent expressions of their age within them; both works reflect themselves and are reflective. With this duality, as sculptures and photographs, they bridge the gap between classical art tradition and the media-consciousness of a new era.


At present (1999) we are concerned with the breakdown of values, with society’s disgust with politicians, and with the lack of individual commitment to democratic processes (to cut a long story short!) Scarcely 30 years ago, Danish social debate sounded a different note. Among other things, there was class struggle, women’s struggle, and cultural struggle. Billedet som kampmiddel (’The Image as Weapon’) was the title of a book, published by Forlaget Information, about ’Images of Women between 1968 and 1977’. The book’s preface, which expresses the joint view of the contributing artists, art historians, writers, and librarians, says: ‘We see images as points in an ongoing process, as something mobile, which is not completed or finished as a final Work of Art. We will fight for those images linked to our work – to our children – with other people’s problems, work, and children – the surrounding world. The image should be a wedge that is constantly rammed in between conventions, bureaucracy, and social order, so that any relationship between established rules and people is always criticised in as manifold ways as possible, also in a socialist system, which we believe is the only dignified system to live, work, and make love.

Kirsten Justesen’s pictures from the 70s meet the above requirements with astonishing precision. Perhaps because she never resorts to sexual-political postulates without couching them with artistic form, personally experienced precision and a graspable point. Once again the three axes are maintained: Space, the moment, and the individual. And the medium of photography is completely unsurpassed in its ability to create atmosphere across isms. Of course there are references to the family idylls of the Danish Golden age and bourgeois complacency in a picture like The Class Struggle from 1976. There is also a confrontation with the many representations made by male artists of their wives at home, reading their newspapers (e.g. L.A. Ring’s painting of his wife Sigrid, who is reading the morning paper in a room filled with light, without any impositions from children or everyday life with cleaning and cooking). The prevalent atmosphere of disorder and chaos, with the housewife – clad in slippers and housecoat, curlers in her hair – deep in reading (a serious paper, not a magazine) is a counter-image to the bourgeois family patriarchy, which was considered truth and reality incarnate as late as in the 70s. All domestic duties have been thrown overboard: the children are playing with sharp knives, reading (as in: self-development) is given priority over domestic duties and presentable appearances. It is, of course, Kirsten Justesenherself posing in this claustrophobic space, where the only, yet obvious, reference to her work as an artist is the headless male sculpture glimpsed in the left-hand side of the picture.

Facing taboos and the loss of freedom is one of Kirsten Justesen’s hallmarks during these years, where childcare and domestic duties limit the scope for expression – or do they? For indeed artistic counter-images to this alleged loss of freedom are created! Just look at Lunch from 1975, a housewife’s dreams of freedom come true, out into the landscape, carried not by wings, but by a shopping trolley. What a counter-image to Duane Hanson’s American housewife, shopping, weighed down by shopping already consumed and shopping yet to come. And there are the rough pictures from the prairie, where we do not see the Indians capturing and tying up the white settlers; rather, innocent children are tied against trees, while mum is — where could she be?

The attributes of everyday life become an aesthetic; the private is made public. Kirsten Justesen’s studio is situated between nursery and kitchen; her work is a feminist aesthetic greb, never private. A ‘counter-image’ is created in the series BY GLIMPSES – We Give Strength to Each Other, where – in Kirsten Justesen’s own words – new heroines emerge to serve as role models, giving new strength.

Series by male artists from this period are different, concerned with the role of the artist, with posing and self-observation. For instance, Bruce Nauman’s facial contortions and bodily gesticulation, Gilbert & George’s staged posing, and William Wegman’s manipulated portraits are kept within a far more narrow photographic sphere, where social commitment and irony is not present.

But what was felt to be strong, contemporary images in the women’s struggle in the 70s was replaced by other modes of expression and currents in the 80s. The series of images created by Kirsten Justesenin the 70s were shown at countless exhibitions, as posters, in women’s magazines, and in art literature throughout the decade. With their photographic accuracy, their humour stamped by slogans, and their open statements they remain unforgettable icons of a decade, which was otherwise very often infused with implacable orthodoxy and self-righteousness.


“I use my own body, it can be undressed, dressed, cast, photographed, draw. It gets pregnant, older, thinner, and fatter. It is always at hand”, wrote Kirsten Justesenin the late 70s, and it was her own body which was at hand when she arrived in Greenland in 1980 and started new series of photos, including ISBRUD/ICEBRIDE I, II, and III from the series NOGLE REJSEBILLEDER /SOME IMAGES FROM JOURNEYS, and DISORIENTATION from the series SOME IMAGES OF FLYING. The work with ice, also perishable material, was continued in works such as Backwriter from 1985 and the running MELTINGTIME events, of which the cover of this catalogue and the poster for the exhibition is No. 8.

Where Kirsten Justesen’s photographic work had so far depicted interiors, landscape was only rarely present. It was seen in works such as LUNCH and PRAIRIE IMAGES, but as a symbol of freedom, as background against material objects. The encounter with Greenland’s nature became an encounter and a fusion with nature – a melting together. The nature characteristic of Greenland is the sea, the ice, and the large mammals such as whales and seals. The social aspects of the work of the 70s were laid aside, and in the series of Images from Journeys the naked, lonely female figure seems to embrace and inscribe the enormous universe, of which she is only a subset. The female body repeats the lines found in the landscape – soft curves and voluptuous dimensions echo each other in imagery, which is full of contrasts, but also calm. Gone is chaos and noise, – the grandeur of nature makes everything still.

But there is not just a break with earlier modes of expression. The picture Backwriter shows a woman with her back turned on us. She sits in the midst of an icy landscape, – her delicate skin and female curves brimming with erotic sensuality, – her pose refers to Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque and – especially – to Man Ray’s Ingres’ Violin, where the female model also has a ‘painted’ back. In Kirsten Justesen’s case, the model herself, the artist, is writing RYGSKRIVER / BACKWRITER. We see the brush and we note the slightly clumsy letters. Here, what is written is taken literally, and the woman’s activity and activeness has nothing to do with having backing nor with having your back scratched. A feminine re- and self-interpretation have replaced the passive model, depicted by male artists, – in Man Ray’s case with an added duality of both image and language –. It is erotically aware, it is beautiful, and it has been liberated from the claustrophobic space that we have seen both in the odalisques of the male precursors and in Kirsten Justesen’s SCULPTURE II. The female body has returned to the imagery of art with an expression both sculptural and sensual, which was downplayed in the staged spaces of women and struggle of the 70.

This underscoring of the body as sculpture, – as perceiving and perceptible sculpture, – is evident in the series SURFACING, where the female body and fish enter into close symbioses. Whether it is turbot, lumpsucker, or salmon, which is joined with woman’s flesh, it creates a shudder and a gleam of comic effect with the observer, who wonders if genetic splicing and mermaid myths are borne by common time and context. Kirsten Justesenherself states that SURFACING is also a three-dimensional matter. Man moves vertically, the marine creature horizontally – and this becomes a meeting point for two kinds of skin/surfaces.

For the artistic avant-garde in photography, sequence is a fundamental stylistic principle.” Volker Kahmen said as far back as 1973. To Kirsten Justesenthis became reality at an early stage, and consequently she belongs in an artistic context not yet emphasised.

Usually the photographic material either originates from the consumer world, or is taken specially, often not even by the artist himself, in an amateur world, without any artistic pretensions whatever. But the sequential arrangement which fosters coherence in the juxtaposed elements remains central to all, while the title plays an important role in imposing an interpretation upon what would otherwise appear as aesthetic informality … Each sequence, even if it is static, may, by comparison, produce the effect of movement in the mind of the beholder…” Volker Kahman continues in Photography as Art.

This very impression of movement, of coherence and identification in the observer is what Kirsten Justesenattains with her series of staged photos and photo collages. These works now remain as testimony of all the events connected to them, events which took place parallel with the creation of these works and which included exhibitions, installations with attached performances, and suggestions for decorative work. Work on the large photo series contains a process-orientated staging, giving rise to one story after another.


Can a plant grow without roots? Can an artist let go of her starting point? It seems as if, in her photographic works of the 90s, Kirsten Justesenhas returned to the starting point, the box and the stand. In the series MEMBRANE 1-11 from 91 to 94, the human body has not been forced into a box; it stands – hidden beneath stretched rubber skin – on the outside sides of the man-high boxes. And in the MELTING IN TIME series from 1995, the figure sits on a stand, – classical tradition has sculptural expressions placed on a plinth. This placed the figure above time and space, turns it into a frozen moment, which contradicts the title ‘MELTING IN TIME’. In this way, our experience of sculpture is played with, as are our references to

earlier art, our experience of photography as an expression of reality. And the model, – well, since the large tableaux of the 70s it has become faceless, has its back turned, or is covered/hidden. Anonymity, the non-identifiable, is subordinated to draperies, representations of proportions, and the absurd/concrete attributes. This can be seen e.g. in MELTING IN TIME, where the margarine-covered body sits on top of a glowing toaster.

This exhibition will also show entirely new works incorporating attributes and ice, developing metamorphosis in more than one sense. A RE KOLLEKTION, insofar as a large part of the staging will have new skin by means of digital scanning, adding more aspects to Kirsten Justesen’sartistic universe. But one thing is for sure: the model in the works will be Kirsten Justesenherself, and there will always be this duality between anonymity and the artist’s self, between work and body, giving them a special dimension. Female artists have been known before to use themselves as subject matter, again and again. And each time they have emphasised that this is because ‘the model is at hand’. A famous example is the Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck, whose self-portraits range from the freshness of youth to the death-marked face of advanced years; represented by means of figurative and realistic-scrutinising imagery. Also famous are Frieda Kahlo’s self-portraits, turning suffering and conditions of life into feminine icons possessed of strength and clarity. Both are ‘heroines’ of the women’s movement’s search for precursors in art, because they both found a universal mode of expression by means of individual imagery.

Kirsten Justesen’s art has moved from the avant-garde of the 60s through the women’s images of the 70s and the visions of nature and landscape of the 80s to the bodily identity of the 90s. But her own figure and being as an artist has been the red thread throughout. The individual features were never primary, but because Kirsten Justesenhas always very literally ‘embodied’ her art, they will influence the way her art is experienced. In a time perspective, Kirsten Justesen’s works form a long series of lives. This series, which seems to go on in an ever-expanding continuum, may only be able to continue in decay and death, – staged and carried out as an artistic prediction of the ages of the individual. As art, it draws on the past and points beyond the present, into the future. It incorporates anecdote, underscores absurdity, and connects with the ineffable. At one and the same time, Kirsten Justesenis both outside and inside her works, – she creates them and she is contained, held by them. This duality is a complex construction, both holding reality and being its own reality. As such, Kirsten Justesen’s photographic series become an artistic manifestation holding what we cannot grasp within that which we can.

Nina Hobolth, February1999

1. citat

Volker Kahmen: Photography as Art, p. 34:
For the artistic avant-garde in photography, sequence is a fundamental stylistic principle.”

2. citat, lige efter “understreget”.
Usualloy the photographic material either originates from the consumer world, or is taken specially, often not even by the artist himself, in an amateur world, without any artistic pretensions whatever. But the sequential arrangement which fosters coherence in the juxtaposed elements remains central to all, while the title plays an important role in imposing an interpretation upon what would otherwise appear as aestetic informality … Each sequence, even if it is static, may, by comparison, produce the effect of movement in the mind of the beholder fortsætter Volker

3. citat. Fra Susan Sontag: On Photography, p. 149
The traditional fine arts are elitist: their characteristic form is a single work, produced by an individual; they imply a hierarchy of subject matter in which sone subjects are considered important, profound, noble, and others unimportant, trivial, base. The media are democratic: they weaken the role of the specialized producer or auteur (by using procedures based on chance, or mechanical techniques which anyone can learn; and by being corporate or collaborative efforts); they regard the whole world as material. The traditional fine arts rely on the distinction between authentic and fake, between original and copy, between good taste and bad taste; the media blur, if they do not abolish outright, these distinctions. The fine arts assume that certain experiences or subjects have a meaning. The media are essentially contentless (this is the truth behind Marshall McLuhan’s celebrated remark about the message being the medium itself); their characteristic tone is ironic, or dead-pan, or parodistic. It is inevitable that more and more art will be designed to end as photographs. A modernist would have to rewrite Pater’s dictum that all aspires to the condition o music. Now all art aspires to the condition of photography:

[1] ’Greb’ is a particular term used by Kirsten Justesen and many others on the Danish art scene. It cannot be directly translated, but is explained by Kirsten Justesen herself in the following terms: ’In my work, I am concerned with my greb – my grip or handle on the situation. This word is not the same in English, as it is not a grasp or something you capture – as this implies you run after something. It is not an object, nor is it the context in which you work. This greb is not something you place on things or a context, it is more the result of a dialogue with the context, and that context could be many things: the circumstances, the size of a space, the various reasons why you decide to accept an invitation or work to create a situation, with money, without money. This is how you develop a score’ From Katy Deepwell’s interview with Kirsten Justesen, n.paradoxa, vol. 3, 1999, Body, Space and Memory.

February 1999, Nina Hobolth.


Udstillingen af Kirsten Justesens kunst fra 1960’ernes slutning til i dag er sammensat indenfor rammen: Fotografiske værker. Det skal straks understreges, at Kirsten Justesenikke opfatter sig selv som fotograf, – og det gør kunstlivet omkring hende for så vidt heller ikke. Hun er uddannet som billedhugger på Det kgl. danske Kunstakademi, og hendes selvopfattelse som kunstner ligesom hendes produktion ligger i direkte forlængelse heraf. Men Kirsten Justeseninddrog som så mange andre kunstnere i sin generation fotografiet i sit arbejde, – og “arbejde”, hvad var det? Dermed kommer vi til spørgsmålet om den “kunstneriske arbejdsproces” og den “værk-karakter”, som Kirsten Justesenhar udtrykt sig igennem i mere end 30 år.

De tidligste værker, der er med i udstillingen på Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, er SKULPTUR I & SKULPTUR II, begge fra 1968. Det er netop dette år, der huskes for ungdomsoprøret i Paris, og også i Danmark var der turbulens i danske uddannelsesinstitutioner, med bl.a. “studenter-besættelser” af universitetsinstitutterne og deraf affødte ideologiske opgør. På Kunstakademiet var der fra de studerendes side et ønske om at nydefinere kunstens udtryk, med inddragelse af nye teknikker og nye oplevelsesplaner. Men Kirsten Justesenfik ikke sit greb fra Kunstakademiet, men fra mødet med situationister i Odense i 1960 og via deltagelse i Ung kunst i Århus 1965-68. Samtidig lærte hun billedhåndværket hos Knud Nellemose på Det jyske Kunstakademi – 8 timer hver dag!

Forestillingerne om hvad kunst kunne være – og kunne bruges til – blev fortsat undersøgt i de første år på Det kgl.Kunstakademi i samarbejder med KANONKLUBBEN

Et uundværligt arbejdsredskab blev netop fotografiet, – og Kirsten Justensen sammenkoblede det skulpturelle udtryk, sin egen krop og fotografiet i de to SKULPTUR værker. De rummer på en og samme tid det tredimensionelle, det identificerbare og det fotografisk-anonyme. SKULPTUR I virker som spejlinger og reflekser af den betragtende i forhold til rum og bevægelse. SKULPTUR II opleves som – ja, som en kasse-skulptur, der indeholder – ikke et menneske, men fotografiet af en menneske, – ikke i bevægelse, men i et klaustrofobisk rum. De to værker understreger sandheden i Kirsten Justesens opfattelse af sig selv som billedhugger, i arbejdet med at udforske det tredimensionale.

En af de mest indsigtsfulde bøger om fotografiet som nyt kunstnerisk medie blev udgivet i begyndelsen af 70’erne, nemlig Susan Sontag’s bog “On Photography”. Susan Sontag er – naturligt nok – optaget af den amerikanske kunstscene, og det gennemgående omdrejningspunkt for hende er fotografiets placering i forhold til maleriet, – til billedet. Hun er ikke optaget af fotografiet i forhold til det skulpturelle, nok i forhold til bevægelse og rum, men ikke skulptur.Alligevel opsummerer hun klart, hvad der for samtiden opfattedes som essentielt for fotografiet versus kunstværket: “De traditionelt skønne kunstværker er elitære: Deres egenart er som enkeltværk, skabt af et individ; de forudsætter et hierarki af temaer, af hvilke nogle er vigtige, dybe, ædle, og andre, som er ubetydelige, trivielle og vulgære. Men medierne er demokratiske: De svækker den specialiserede producents eller kunstners betydning …. ; de omfatter hele verden som anvendelig. Den traditionelle elitekunst forholder sig til forskellen mellem autentisk og falsk, mellem original og kopi, mellem god smag og dårlig smag; massemedierne udvisker, hvis ikke de direkte afviser, disse kendetegn. De skønne kunster forudsætter at visse oplevelser eller emner har en mening. Massemedierne er ikke nødvendigvis indholdsløse….; deres karakteristiske udtryksform er ironi, ligegyldighed eller parodi. Det er uundgåeligt at mere og mere kunst vil ende som fotografier. En modernist bliver nødt til at gendigte Pater’s udsagn, at al kunst higer mod musikken som udtryksform. Nu higer alt mod fotografiet som udtryksbærende.” (Fra “Fotografiske Evangelier, min oversættelse). SKULPTUR I & SKULPTUR II bærer både den klassiske skulpturtradition og samtidens turbulente udtryk i sig, begge værker er selvspejlende og reflekterende. I denne dobbelthed, som skulpturer og fotografier, bygger de bro mellem en klassisk kunsttradition og en ny tids mediebevidsthed.


I skrivende stund (1999) er vi optaget af tidens værdisammenbrud, af samfundets politikerlede og den enkeltes manglende engagement i de demokratiske processer (for at sige det kort!). For knap 30 år siden var det andre toner, der lød i dansk samfundsdebat. Der var bl.a. klassekamp, kvindekamp og kulturkamp. “Billedet som kampmiddel” var titlen på en bog, udgivet på Forlaget Information, om “Kvindebilleder mellem 1968 og 1977″. I bogens forord, der udtrykker de medvirkende billedkunstneres, kunsthistorikeres, forfatteres og bibliotekarers fællesholdning, skrives: “Vi ser billedet som et punkt i en fremadskridende proces, noget bevægeligt, som ikke er afsluttet eller færdigt som et endeligt Kunstværk. Vi vil kæmpe for de billeder, der hænger sammen med vores arbejde – med vores børn – med andres problemer, arbejde og børn – omverdenen. Billedet skal være en kile, der ustandseligt bankes ind mellem konvention, bureaukrati og samfundsorden, så ethvert forhold mellem vedtagne regler og mennesker altid kritiseres så mangfoldigt som muligt, også i et socialistisk system, som vi mener er det eneste værdige at leve, arbejde og elske i.”

Kirsten Justesens billeder fra 70’erne lever helt forbløffende præcist op til ovenstående fordringer. Måske fordi hun aldrig forfalder til kønspolitiske postulater uden at iklæde dem en kunstnerisk form, en selvoplevet præcision og en let forståelig pointe. Det er igen de tre akser, der holdes fast ved: Rummet, øjeblikket og individet. Og det fotografiske medium er helt uovertruffent i sin evne til at skabe stemning, på tværs af ismer . Selvfølgelig er der henvisninger til guldalderens famileidyller og borgerskabets selvtilfredshed i et billede som “Klassekampen” fra 1976. Der er også et opgør med de mange mandlige kunstneres skildringer af hustruerne i hjemmet, læsende avis (f.eks. L.A. Rings maleri af hustruen Sigrid, der læser morgenavisen i en lysfyldt stue, uden at hverken børn eller hverdag med rengøring og madlavning trænger sig på). Den fremherskende stemning af uorden og kaos, hvor den tøffel- og housecoatklædte husmor, med Carmen-curlers i håret, sidder fordybet i (seriøs avis-, ikke ugeblads-)læsning, er et modbillede til den borgerlige families patriarkat, der så sent som i 70’erne blev opfattet som den skinbarlige virkelighed. Alle husmordyder er kastet overbord: Børnene leger med skarpe knive, læsning (læs: selvudvikling) prioriteres over huslige pligter og præsentabel fremtoning. Det er selvfølgelig Kirsten Justesenselv, der sidder model i dette klaustrofobiske rum, hvor den eneste, men dog tydelige henvisning til hendes virke som billedkunstner fremgår af den hovedløse mandlige skulptur, som anes ude i venstre side af billedet.

At se tabuer og tab af frihed i øjnene er et af Kirsten Justesens kendemærker i disse år, hvor børnepasning og husmor-forpligtelser begrænser udfoldelsesmulighederne, – eller gør de? For der skabes jo netop kunstneriske modbilleder til dette postulerede frihedstab! Se blot på “Lunch” fra 1975, der er en husmors friheddrøm-come-true, ud i landskabet båret ikke på vinger, men af en indkøbsvogn. Hvilket modbillede til Douane Hansons amerikanske husmor, på indkøb og tynget til jorden af allerede indtagne og kommende vareindkøb. Og der er de barske billeder fra prærien, hvor det ikke er indianerne, der fanger og fastbinder de hvide settlers, men uskyldige børn, der bindes til træerne, mens mor er — ja, hvor mon? Dagligdagens attributter bliver æstetik, det private gøres offentligt. Kirsten Justesens atelier befinder sig mellem barneværelset og køkkenet, hendes værk er et feministisk æstetisk greb, aldrig privat. Et “modbillede” skabes i serien “Glimtvis – styrkes vi af hinanden”, hvor der – med Kirsten Justesens egne ord – opstår nye heltinder, der kan tjene som forbilleder og dermed give nye kræfter.

Serier af mandlige kunstnere fra disse år er anderledes, optaget af kunstnerrollen, af poseren og selviagttagelse. F.eks. Bruce Naumans ansigtsforvrængninger og kropsgestik, Gilbert & George’s iscenesatte poseren og William Wegmans portrætmanipulationer holdes indenfor et langt snævrere fotografisk univers, hvor samfundsengagementet og ironien ikke er til stede.

Men hvad der føltes som stærke, samtidige billeder i kvindekampen i 70’erne blev afløst af andre udtryk og strømninger i 80’erne. De billedserier, som Kirsten Justesenskabte i 70’erne, vistes på utallige udstillinger, som plakater, i kvindeblade og kunstlitteratur tiåret igennem. Med deres fotografiske træfsikkerhed, deres sloganprægede humor og åbne udsagn står de som uforglemmelige ikoner fra et årti, der ellers ganske ofte var præget af uforsonlig ortodoksi og selvretfærdighed.


“Jeg bruger min egen krop, den kan klædes af, klædes på, afstøbes, affotograferes, aftegnes. Den bliver gravid, ældre, tyndere, tykkere. Den er altid ved hånden”, skrev Kirsten Justeseni slutningen af 70’erne, og det var hendes egen krop, der var ved hånden, da hun kom til Grønland i 1980 og begyndte på nye serier i foto, heriblandt Isbrud I, II og III fra serien “Nogle rejsebilleder” og Desorientering fra serien “Nogle flyvebilleder”. Arbejdet med is som ,også forgængeligt materiale, blev videreført i værker som Rygskriver fra 1985 og de løbende Smeltetid/ Meltingtime events, hvor omslaget af nærværende katalog og udstillings plakat er # 8 i rækken.

Hvor Kirsten Justesens fotografiske værker hidtil havde afbildet interiører, var landskabet kun sjældent til stede. Det sås i arbejder som “Lunch” og “Præriebilleder”, men som et frihedssymbol på baggrund af materielle genstande. Mødet med Grønlands natur blev til et møde med og en sammensmeltning i naturen. Den natur, som kendetegner Grønland, er netop havet, ismasserne og de store pattedyr som hvaler og sælhunde. De sociale aspekter i værkerne fra 70’erne blev lagt til side, og i serien af Rejsebilleder synes den nøgne, ensomme kvindeskikkelse at omfavne og indskrive det enorme univers, hvoraf hun kun er en delmængde. Kvindekroppen gentager de linjer, der ligger i landskabet, – bløde kurver og voluminøse dimensioner modsvarer hinanden i et kontrastrigt, men også roligt billedsprog. Væk er kaos og støj, – naturens storhed gør alt stille.

Men der er ikke kun et brud med tidligere tiders udtryk. Billedet “Rygskriver” viser en kvinde, der vender ryggen til os. Hun sidder midt i et islandskab, – hendes sarte hud og kvindelige former emmer af erotik, – hendes positur viser tilbage til Ingres’ Odalisk og – især – til Man Rays “Ingres’ violin”, hvor den kvindelige model også har “bemalet” ryg. I Kirsten Justesens tilfælde er det modellen selv, kunstneren, der skriver “Rygskriver”. Vi ser penslen og vi noterer de lidt kejtede bogstaver. Her tages det skrevne bogstaveligt, og kvindens handlekraft har hverken noget med rygdækning eller rygklapperi at gøre. Den passive model, skildret af mandlige kunstnere, – i Man Rays tilfælde tilføjet en både billedlig og sproglig dobbelttydighed, – er erstattet af en kvindelig ny- og selvfortolkning. Den er erotisk bevidst, den er smuk, og den er befriet for det klaustrofobiske rum, som vi har set i både de mandlige forgængeres odalisker og i Kirsten Justesens SKULPTUR II. Kvindekroppen er vendt tilbage i billedsproget med et både skulpturelt og sensuelt udtryk, der var underspillet i 70’ernes iscenesatte kvinde- og kamprum.

Denne understregning af kroppen som skulptur, – som sansende og sanset skulptur, – ses i serien ” Surfacing/Oven vande”, hvor kvindekrop og fisk indgår tætte symbioser. Om det er pighvar, stenbider eller laks, der kobles sammen med kvindekød, så skaber det en gysen og et strejf af komik hos betragteren, der funderer på, om gensplejsning og havfruemyter er rundet af en fælles tid og sammenhæng. Kirsten Justesenfremfører selv, at “Surfacing /Ovenvande”også er et tredimensionalt anliggende. Mennesket bevæger sig vertikalt, havdyret horisontalt – og det bliver et mødested for to slags hud/ overflade.

“For den kunstneriske avant-garde i fotografi, er serialiteten et fundamentalt kunstnerisk princip”, skrev Volker Kahmen allerede i 1973. For Kirsten Justesenvar dette tidligt en realitet, og dermed hører hun hjemme i en kunstnerisk sammenhæng, som ikke tidligere er blevet understreget. “Som regel stammer det fotografiske materiale enten fra reklameverden, eller det er optaget på en særlig, amatøragtig måde, – ofte ikke engang af kunstneren selv og uden kunstneriske pretensioner overhovedet. Men det serielle forløb, som medfører sammenhæng i de sidestillede elementer, forbliver det centrale, samtidig med at titlen spiller en vigtig rolle, fordi den lægger et betydningslag til, hvad der ellers ville fremstå som æstetisk ufuldkommenhed. …. Hver serie kan, selv om den er statisk, ved sammenligning skabe effekten af bevægelse hos betragteren….”, fortsætter Volker Kahman i bogen “Photography as Art” (min oversættelse). Det er netop dette indtryk af bevægelse, af sammenhæng og identifikation hos beskueren, Kirsten Justesenopnår med sine serier af iscenesatte fotos og fotocollager. Disse værker er nu tilbage som vidnesbyrd om alle de tilhørende og parallelt stedfundne begivenheder, der omfattede udstillinger, installationer med tilknyttede performances og forslag til udsmykninger. I arbejdet med de store fotoserier ligger en proces-orienteret iscenesættelse, der afføder den ene fortælling efter den anden.


Kan en plante vokse uden rødder?Kan en billedkunstner slippe sit udgangspunkt? Det synes som om Kirsten Justeseni 90’ernes fotografiske værker er vendt tilbage til udganspunktet, kassen og soklen. I serien “Membrane 1 – 11” fra 91 til 94 er menneskekroppen ikke tvunget ned i en kasse, men står – skjult under en udspændt gummihud – på de menneskehøje kassers udvendige sider. Og i serien “Melting in Time” fra 1995 sidder figuren på en sokkel, – i klassisk tradition er et skulpturelt udtryk placeret på en plint. Dermed er figuren hævet over tid og rum, i en fastfrysen af øjeblikket, som modsiger titlen “”Melting in Time””. Sådan leges der med vores skulpturoplevelse, med vores referencer til tidligere kunst, med vores oplevelse af fotografiet som udtryk for virkeligheden. Og modellen, – ja siden 70’ernes store tableuaer er den blevet ansigtsløs, rygvendt eller dækket/skjult. Anonymiteten, det ikke-identificerbare, underordnes draperingerne, volumengengivelserne og de absurd/konkrete attributer. Det ses f.eks. i “Melting in Time”, hvor den margarineindsvøbte krop sidder over en glødende brødrister.

På denne udstilling vil der også blive vist helt nye arbejder, der inddrager attributter og is, videreudvikler metamorfosen i mere end en forstand. En RE KOLLEKTION, idet en stor del af iscenesættelsen får en ny hud gennem digital scanning, og tilføje flere aspekter til Kirsten Justesens kunstneriske univers. Men en ting er sikkert: Modellen i værkerne vil være Kirsten Justesenselv, og det vil hele tiden være denne dobbelthed mellem anonymitet og kunstnerjeg, mellem værk og krop, der giver dem en særlig dimension. Det er set før, at kvindelige billedkunstnere har brugt sig selv som motiv, igen og igen. Og hver gang har de understreget, at det er fordi “modellen er ved hånden”. Et berømt eksempel er den finske kunstner Helene Schjerfbeck, hvis selvportrætter spænder fra ungdommens friskhed til den høje alders dødsmærkede ansigt, skildret i et figurativt og realistisk-granskende billedsprog. Berømte er også Frieda Kahlos selvportrætter, der gør lidelser og livsomstændigheder til kvindeikoner af styrke og klarhed. Begge er “heltinder” i kvindebevægelsens søgen efter forgængere i billedkunsten, fordi de gennem et individuelt formsprog fandt frem til et universelt udtryk.

Kirsten Justesens kunst har bevæget sig fra 60’ernes avantgarde over 70’ernes kvindebilleder og 80’ernes natur- og landskabsvisioner til 90’ernes kropsidentitet. Men hendes egen skikkelse og væren som kunstner har hele tiden været den røde tråd. De individuelle træk har ikke været det primære, men fordi Kirsten Justesenhele tiden i konkret forstand har “lagt krop til”, kommer det til at betyde noget for oplevelsen af hendes kunst. Set i et tidsperspektiv danner Kirsten Justesens værker en lang serie livsforløb. Disse synes at kunne fortsætte i et stadig længere kontinuum, kan måske kun fortsætte i forfaldet og døden, – iscenesat og gennemført som kunstnerisk forudsigelse af individets aldre. Som kunst trækker den på fortiden og viser ud over samtiden, ind i fremtiden. Den inddrager det anekdotiske, understreger det absurde og kobler sig til det uudsigelige. Kirsten Justesener på en og samme tid både udenfor og inde i sine værker, – hun skaber dem og hun er indeholdt i dem. Denne dobbelthed er en kompleks konstruktion, der både rummer virkeligheden og er sin egen virkelighed. Som sådan bliver Kirsten Justesens fotografiske serier en kunstnerisk manifestation, der i det fattelige rummer det ufattelige.

Februar 1999, Nina Hobolth.

Katalogtekst til RE KOLLEKTION udstillig på Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum april – juni 1999