The intention of Danish artist Lene Winther, is to both preserve and abolish the original form and function of things through constant exchanges
an article written by Mona Lisa Abramovich
The Danish sculptural artist Lene Winther (b. 1966) works in different medias. Consistently, the works are made from ceramics and textiles, which are often put together with found recycled materials and everyday objects. The individual parts are modelled and reshaped to then form part of a new and exploratory construction. Winther works with stage setting as a concept, where paradoxes and contradictions play an important role. Her intention is to both preserve and abolish the original form and function of things through a constant exchange between the recognizable and the alien. Order and chaos, the physical laws, metaphysics, transformation, illusion and relationships of strength and dependence are all concepts that, put in a psychosocial context, form the foundation of her practice. The works range from sculptures to larger and smaller installations.
From a very young age, Lene Winther has had a pronounced need to express herself. She ventilated an excess of pressure and tried to understand herself in relation to the world around her, by writing, drawing and doing experiments in and with nature. Winther clearly remembers the many stagings and ritual manifestations with e.g. loss of identity and impermanence as a recurring theme. Winther is still driven by the same urge to investigate. Her approach is narrative and with a special focus on the existential, where she constantly tries to be open and curious about life's paradoxes and crazy composition. Winther’s urge to create is rooted in a deep personal commitment and is connected with great joy and satisfaction and is at the same time driven by necessity, just like when she was a child.
As a teenager, Winther began to acquire craft and theoretical knowledge through various drawing and ceramics courses. Later, she further targeted it through, among other things, visual arts at the seminary, teaching at the Ceramic School in Copenhagen and art history at the Open University. Winther used these skills over many years as a creative initiator in workshop and project work with children, young people and vulnerable families, as well as a workshop assistant in one of Copenhagen's community centres. At the same time, she was doing well in her own art career and collaborated with Danish, German and Swedish galleries.
As the years went by, however, a sucking hole appeared that grew larger and larger. Winther could feel a vital need for deepening and further development of her own practice. It became clear that the need had been activated by the fact that there were sides of her that had not been met, acknowledged and stimulated. Winther was running out of energy with an increasing number of gallery shows and art fairs, despite the fact that she had devoted herself to art full-time. It was the start of 3 years of full-time study at the Art School Spektrum. It was here that Winther rediscovered her original spirit, desire and her courage to experiment, fail and develop new things. It became a journey where her idiom and methods were challenged and her awareness raised. The thematic foundation of Winther was, and still is, largely the same, but the desire and courage to take new paths brought, among other things, involvement of other materials in interaction with the ceramics, as well as a pronounced need to work with installations. It turned into a multi-year process, where her style and choice of materials were scrutinized and challenged in a new and more methodical field of investigation. Taking the issues of new forms and materials seriously and developing them further from a methodical approach has created the professional foundation where her art is today. The most important thing about it all, however, is that it is connected with great job satisfaction. Time and place are suspended in her workshop with the music playing and the materials available and often spread out on the floor. The urge to stage has returned, which has activated the need to involve both floor, ceiling and walls and to think in large works. It is SO satisfying to engage in dialogue with the possibilities and limitations of both the materials and the space. Winther often thanks the life crisis she was in at the time. It has had a great impact on her current position as an artist.
The work of Lene Winther always begins and sets off in an idea. The idea can arise in very different ways and from her own areas of interest, in conversation with others, through literature, music, film or through social conditions that arouse strong feelings or indignation. Regardless, her interest is piqued with an insistent flow of inner images that manifest as fragments or of the work as a whole. These inner images are maintained by sketches and a writing process where Winther tries to capture the essence of the work. Often there are references from films, books, philosophical or psychological theories, which usually require some form of research. This was, for example, the case in the creation of her latest installation “Picture Perfect Future”, a site-specific work for the Frederikshavn Art Museum. Here Winther had to go in and read about the city's nature and landscape planning, about climate change in Denmark and about young people's use of computer games.
To Winther, titles are an important part of the work and must not become too obvious, self-referential or emotional. As far as possible, she tries to come up with titles that do not describe the work directly but function as a hint, and then they must contain a duality. Once the modeling process starts, Winther moves into a more immediate and playful mode. Here it is important that she is open and curious and in direct dialogue with the selected materials without, however, jumping out of context. Her overall idea, with any dogmas and hard-work, must be maintained and at the same time slip into the background so much that new things can arise. There must be room for experimentation and idea development, with responsiveness to chance. There must also be time for craftsmanship issues that need to be solved concretely. Sometimes Winther has to crack the code to how several different, and not always equally cooperative, materials can be united and become a coherent and credible work. Sometimes it doesn't work, and then the work, regardless of how far she's progressed, has to be discarded. To Winther, it is important to have a back catalog of sketches and works that can lie and mature and perhaps make sense at a later stage. Others have to be shelved for good if she repeatedly struggle with them without being able to pick up any kind of energy or experience small breakthroughs.
Winther comes from a ceramic tradition with a lot of craft rules that make perfect sense in its own context. However, she admits that it has been great to take the ceramic material to another level where she now uses it in a much more complex and unorthodox way. In addition to clay, Winther now draw on widely different materials. The textile materials include e.g. artificial fur, satin, hand-dyed gauze, jersey and rya. In addition, she finds recycled materials and everyday objects that, in different ways, are reshaped and transformed into usable parts that can be included in a new and meaningful context. Winther doesn't simply make use of different materials. She uses the ones that make sense in terms of the idea of the specific work and what she would like to investigate. This happens after careful consideration and goes through a rigorous selection process. Winther has to dialogue with her underlying motives to create the work and, most importantly, try out the various material meetings and clashes in practice. A number of her sculptures and installations have the force of gravity as well as the relationship of strength and dependence as fundamental. One could, if she were to give an example, say that the hard partly angular ceramic object and the soft yielding fabric hanging from the ceiling create an interplay where the fabric partially hides the ceramic element while at the same time imprinting the fabric, it is enclosed by. The fact that they leave a mark on each other is something that interests her.
Another important focal point in working with the various materials is to get behind and delve into their origin or nature. When Winther, for example, uses mirrors or mirror fragments in her works, it is important for her to know the underlying references that are linked to this phenomenon. Winther looks at everything from the symbolic value in the classic religious and art historical sense to the approach of other cultures and philosophers to the concept. If Winther has to emphasize a material in particular, besides the clay, it must therefore be the mirror. It is very new for her to use it in her works, and she finds it very liberating. It speaks to something deep inside her. It is an old sadness and pain that she has carried from the very beginning of her life, where she lived in an orphanage for the first 11/2 years, from which she was adopted. Identity, loss and deficiency are themes that have otherwise been too painful to work with so directly, but which are now beginning to open up in the encounter with the possibilities of the mirror, and as something that can be channeled and generalized in her works.
To Winther, the usage of different materials and moving up to a larger format, where the installation and the space interfere with each other, is where the possibility of a condensed space, a kind of continuum, can arise. The immediate bodily and sensory experience with the tactility of the materials is something that she does not manage to bring out in the ceramic sculptures alone. Her limitations as an artist simply do not make it possible. However, Winther has also made a decision that the ceramic element must be present in her composite works to one degree or another. It can be understated, such as in that it is part of a larger textile work, as small ceramic weights that are spray-painted silver metallic, so that they do not reveal their material identity from afar, or it can be as fairly glossy ceramic objects lying in yielding fabric cradles, where the material fully reveals its identity.
At the same time, however, Winther is still working sculpturally with the clay as the only actor and here most often quite classically with glazes. Clay is and always will be a fantastic material that Winther doesn’t want to or can't do without.
One of the dogmas of Winther concerns sustainability and overconsumption. She therefore strives not to put more new things into the world than absolutely necessary, and therefore makes use of materials and objects that have been discarded. In the ceramic processes Winther screws up quite a bit and with the awareness of this environmental burden, in this context she tries to compensate. Materials that would otherwise be thrown away can in this way be exalted or revived, instead of perishing in our use-and-throw-away culture. It also speaks to her interest in investigating both vanity and impermanence. In addition, she gets a lot of reward from just selecting discarded everyday objects. To transform e.g. an old rya rug for something that resembles a furry animal creature from a distant galaxy, as is the case with the series "Alien And Beyond", is a great satisfaction, because with her shape manipulations, she both preserve some of its original form and function, but also dissolves it, and creates space for a completely different story.
To Lene Winther, a good composition is when she experiences that the specific work grabs hold of her and holds her. It must be suitably insistent. It absolutely does not have to be in a violent or caricatured way, but rather that it evokes either resonance, wonder or irritation. To Winther, the fact that a work of art is well-crafted and beautifully executed is not what ignites the desire to stand and try to understand it. There must be something at play that makes her wonder what the work is up to. She adores when a work contains references that are not too obvious and where materiality, means, theme and execution seem credible.
In relation to her own art, Winther strives to create works that are not immediately decipherable. There must be uncertainty and doubt about both materiality and content. Winther consciously play on the fact that things are both decodable and the opposite. She conjures up a field of tension where there is an exchange between impermanence and vital potency, between dependence, helper and power structure, between the visible and the invisible, the veiled and the revealed, between figuration and the abstract. In these opposites lies order and chaos as the ultimate force. To Winther, a successful composition therefore also depends on whether there is a comfortable presence with form and material disturbances that contribute to making the work interesting for others. It requires her to be aware of when it is necessary to turn things up and down for e.g. the glossy versus the matte, the hard and angular versus the organic, the light and yielding versus the heavy. And then the staging is where she brings the narratives into play and where she creates unease or doubt about what kind of phenomenon is unfolding. Here Winther makes use of references that both point backwards with traces of prehistory, geology or civilization and which at the same time are located in the here and now or reach into a future science fiction-like universe.
Winther knows that she has failed when the composition suffers from the fact that she has wanted too much, is too educational, harmonious or that she has been too easy and laid back. Thus, a number of works are discarded because they precisely do not contain the previously mentioned nerve and are not able to hold the tension. Enough space and openness must be created for the viewer to work with and activate their own stories.