(Ongoing project, expected to finish 2021)
What are memories and in how are we as humans attached them? How is it possible to make visual representations of something that only appears as deeply personal impressions in the mind? How does one work in a dialectic process with the painting to understand the significance of memory?
I have worked within a monochrome colour field on mould-made cotton paper mounted on round wooden boards. The pieces set off as figurative and colourful paintings with images stemming from my own distant memories. The images are covered with thin layers of gouache, then washed down with water, new images emerge and are reconstructed as abstract form, everything is then covered anew and the process is repeated endlessly until the works present themselves as meaningful compositions. The nature of gouache allows for a multitude of underlying traces of colours to shine through, and they end up as yellow energy fields with suggestive images somewhat appearing through the layers. The works have been layered, washed down and reshaped from anything between 20-60 times.
Working on paper means working with a canvas that holds a certain fragility, much like dreams and memories. The wooden boards are heavy, creating a contrast to the lighter, more delicate paper. The quality of the works as objects suggests ambivalence between the lightness and heaviness of memory. The continuous repetition of creating, erasing, leaving traces and altering becomes almost like séance, a deeply psychological process.
We alter old memories in a continuum as our life progresses, so how could anyone paint something that only exists as thought? In my work I seek to boil the vast process of memory down to its essence, although no essence can actually be found. The meaning of memory seems to exist in a constant flux.
Each of these paintings on paper contains 20-30 layers of images from moments in time. Each moment is a glimpse of something seen and each time what was seen is covered with another layer of paint until the work reaches a state of still noise, like a high pitch tune or a baseline, depending on which sound you might associate with the colour. Waves of visions, sound, light, energies of other people or objects from our surroundings are packed together in each painting.
(Press release, September 2018)
Ene Bissenbakker presents the Exhibition 'Slowroom Contemporary x Ene Bissenbakker' – a series of gouache paintings on Hahnemühle paper. The exhibition taks place in Pavillion No. 11, Kronprinsessgade 11, Copenhagen. The works are highly colour saturated and some carry figurative hints of every day objects, carefully peeking through layers of gouache.
Bissenbakker’s works is centered around her relationship with paper. Though also a relic of the past, it still influences our everyday lives. Labels, receipts, contracts, school books, the Bible, the Koran, cookbooks and even constitutions are written on paper. Bissenbakker’s works exudes quiet observations of the everyday life and uses paper as the messenger. The figurative objects are hidden under layers, and the artist’s obssesive work with the surfaces of gouache distort the recognition of these familiar objects. There is an ambivalence in her work, it invites the viewer to doubt the stability of the objects and reevaluate their worth.
The thin, aqueous gouache challenges the nature of the paper and reveals the hypersensitivity of the material. Frayed edges of the paper, small damages and errors testify to a troubled process happening between the paper and the artist.
Ene Bissenbakker (1982) lives and works in Copenhagen. She is a visual artist who, besides paper, works with vido, drawing and writing. Her works are mainly centered around paper because of its fraiglty and changability. She is educated in anthropology, Visual Culrtue and Documentary Filmmaking. She has exhibited various places, including Berlin and the acclaimed Spring Exhibition in Charlottenborg, Copenhagen.
(Exhibition text, September 2017)
Blaa Gallery is pleased to present The Bath - a solo exhibition of new works by by Ene Bissenbakker.
The Bath consists of a new series of large abstract gouache paintings together with a number of ink drawings. The exhibition is based around a study of Sjællandsgade Bad, the historic public bathhouse located less than a Kilometre from Blaa Gallery in the heart of Nørrebro. But rather than being a precise representation of motives from the bathhouse, The Bath explores the abstract and sensitive experience of the rooms.
Sjællandsgade Bad has served as bathhouse for residents of Nørrebro in Copenhagen since 1917, when most citizens did not have access to a proper bath at home. In 2010, Sjællandsgade Bad was the last public bathhouse to close down in Copenhagen. Since almost all apartments in the city have been sanitized, public baths have become superfluous. Or have they? A group of volunteers has successfully saved Sjællandsgade Bad from extinction because they recognized that public bathing serves a different purpose also: this is the place you come to let down your guard, to show your naked self, to be one with people you under other circumstances never would have encountered. Bissenbakker recognizes the place as meeting point for the socially awkward, a place where the anxious are draped in a curtain of respectful peace.
Bissenbakker is the silent observer, lost in a world of overgrown detail. Scenes from the bathhouse are dealt with in a sensible manner, carefully studied and mediated through fragile paper. Images of people are jotted on scraps of paper, their outlines trembling, never in direct contact with the observer. There is a schismatic drama being played out in this secret gaze - an almost longing to touch the bodies, yet simultaneously wanting to emerge into the corners of the bathhouse. It seems as if the silence in the large paintings are at stake when you examine them up close and find little cracks and errors in the layers of paint or imperfections in the paper.
As such, the works perform a balancing act between the need for human interactions and the ambivalence of dealing with exactly that. The simplicity of being naked and the struggle of being human.
Sjællandsgade Bad is now run entirely by volunteers and serves as a bath as well as a place for cultural activities. The Bath is also a greeting to the group of people, who keep Sjællandsgade Bad open, recognizing the need for little pockets of air for the socially challenged citizens of Copenhagen.
Ene Bissenbakker (1982) is a visual artist working primarily on paper, though also in the field of video and writing. She has exhibited in Copenhagen (including The Spring Exhibition at Charlottenborg), Berlin and Barcelona and is currently represented by Slowroom Contemporary and Galleri Stokkebro. She is educated in Anthropology and Visual Culture and often crosses over to this background in her artworks. The Bath is her first solo exhibition at Blaa Gallery.
To start with, this collection hides a deep research behind the visually minimalist execution of color flood. Can you dive into this research a bit?
I’ve stated before that working with abstraction resembles humming, whereas figurations feel more like singing. I guess that’s how the research process works for me. I look a lot at other people’s work, exhibitions, etc. I see what I like, and after a while it melts together and becomes a love for a certain color palette. Then I just start noticing everything in this colorfield around me and finally, it is condensed in the studio. I keep mixing colors until I feel it works for me and there you have it. It’s the best of the best of what my eyes saw. It’s not necessarily build up around a complex conceptual idea, but coming from a heavy theoretical background, I’m not longing for that either. Everything I’ve learned through Anthropology and Visual Culture (which I studied) comes into these paintings, but it’s quintessential for me that what’s left on the paper when I’m done, is open to a sensational interpretation.
You expressed a relationship with particular paper and paint that you’ve for this collection of work. Elaborate on that, if you would?
I’ve become quite a nerd with paper. Cotton based paper, which I work on almost exclusively, now, is so alive, it reacts with the air around you - moist or dry air makes it move! It can hold a lot of water and layers of paint. For this exhibition I’m using the world famous Hahnemühle paper, which has been produced since 1584. I recently met with an expert in that field. She was phenomenal! I really want to get even deeper into the chemical aspects of paper.
I work with the water-based gouache, which is probably one of the oldest types of paint there is. It places itself sort of in between water colors and acrylic but it really is something of it’s own and has a gorgeous dry surface. You can’t open it up and re-work with it like with oil paint, but it’s also doesn’t stiffen the way acrylics do. Once you make your mark on the paper, the pigment is going to make a permanent mark. In thick form, it can cover previous layers, but thinned out with water it becomes opaque.
As works like these require a certain understanding between color and composition, take me through the process of how each painting was created?
I start out by following a gut feeling, a certain instinct. I will usually lean towards a certain color and then I start seeing shapes and compositions. It will appear in my mind, and when making a decision, I play with doing opposites or just something else. When these shapes and compositions sail by, I pretend to form them in the air over the canvas until I feel like I should stop the flow. Then I do an immense amount of sketches until I feel like it’s going somewhere and start preparing a larger piece of paper, taping it to the floor, soaking it in water and later adding the base color. When I begin the build-up with the layers of painting, it so often looks nothing like my sketches. At that point, the paper will have consumed so much pigment that I need to go forward and continue - I can’t go back. The gouache dries up in a different tone than when it’s wet, usually brighter. It rarely never ceases to f*** me over! It’s a real battle between me, the paper and the paint. Once the paint is dry, I decide on where the new color field should go, mask out an area with tape and add a new layer. This process is endless! Sometimes I nail it in three-four layers and sometimes it can be 15-20 layers. I find this process psychologically and philosophically interesting. That you build a world on top of experiences, but what’s underneath will shine through, it can’t be erased.
A casual onlooker might see these pieces as rather simple in their execution. What would you say to convince that person of the depth of the work?
You need to look closely, of course. My paintings can hold up 10-20 layers of paint. I think all well executed minimalist art has this feeling to it - that you can sense the artist’s gaze as a condensation, nothing visually extra. What’s left of the tune he or she has been humming, seems like a single note, but the whole composition of the song is behind the veneers.
What I ask myself is this: do I want to paint an interpretation of a figure I saw (such as a person, a landscape, an object), or do I want to hum the sensation of having been somewhere and experienced that figure. I’m no longer so interested in painting the outlines of, say, the moon in the night sky. I’m much more drawn to that energy field that comes from having watched a thousand moons whilst thinking about the state of the world or my psychological relationship with the people I know. I’ve spent a lot of time in my home lately and naturally the paintings for this exhibition have become a reflection of that. I’m working with things that have dissolved until they become only a quivering overtone of color, an interpretation of the sum of what I have experienced.
If it were something that you could control, what would you want people to walk away understanding about this collection of work?
Silence is build up by layers of noise.