Exhibition catalogue: Ditte Ejlerskov - Can You Hear Me?

Page 1





Fe e re l fre tur e n m to e

9 February - 7 April 2019 #rรถdastenkonsthall www.rodastenkonsthall.se


9 February - 7 April 2019 Curator Mariangela Méndez Prencke Röda Sten Konsthall

Lured to Barbados by an email scam a few years back, Ditte Ejlerskov drifted around in Rihanna’s* world looking for something. A myth? A muse? One day at her studio, long after her dreamy Barbados expedition, one of Ejlerskov’s paintings woke up and said to her: “Hi. You made me up, Ditte. I am no longer a representation of Rihanna. I am a myth you created in your head. I am the echo of your own gaze.”

In Can You Hear Me?, it is the character of the awakened muse what makes us aware of this when we hear her say, in the audio piece that joins us through the exhibition: “You embody the privileged position as a white European. (…) Even though you talk about privilege and you see yourself as committed, you will always be removed from the equation, and that is the reason why you had to create me. With me you may portray white ambivalence.”

Through her body of work, Ditte Ejlerskov proposes that images amount to more than the desires and expectations we direct at them, they acquire a life of their own, as they are accessed through the codes under which we live and perform. Regardless if they are portraits of Rihanna or products of the artist’s mind, they are nonetheless renderings of the white gaze.

The exhibition Can You Hear Me? presents a series of paintings, an audio piece, and a video work about the artist’s connection with the motifs depicted, her privileges as a white woman, and the conflict between being critical of this position and yet living within it.


Rihanna: Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a famous pop singer, songwriter and actress. She is an icon, recognized as one of the most selling music artists of all times with more than 280 million of records sold worldwide. Rihanna, also called Riri by her fans, was born in Barbados in 1988.

DITTE EJLERSKOV was born in Frederikshavn, Denmark, 1982. She studied at Malmö Konsthögskola, Sweden, and since graduating she has exhibited at various art institutions in Sweden such as Malmö Konsthall, Malmö Art Museum, Skissernas Museum in Lund, Uppsala Art Museum and Kungl. Akademiens för de fria konsterna (Konstakademien) in Stockholm. In Norway, Ejlerskov has exhibited at Kristiansand Kunsthall and Stenersen Museum in Oslo. She has also exhibited at The Free Exhibition Building and Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, Denmark, at CCA Andtrax in Spain, Bonn Art Museum in Bonn, Germany, Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland and Barbara Davis Gallery in Houston, Texas, US. Ejlerskov was nominated for the Carnegie Art Award 2012 and in 2017 painted the official portrait of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s Prime Minister from 2011-2015.

The Muse by Ditte Ejlerskov

WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION 3RD FLOOR 1. The Real Grey House, 2019

11. I am 1, 2017

2. Striped Riri, 2018,

12. You made me 1, 2017

3. Dream Gradient 6, 2019

13. Beach Pattern 3, 2019

Mixed media on canvas, 190 x 170 cm

Oil on several canvases weaved together, 35 x 27 cm

4. Beach Pattern 2, 2018

14. Bents Greenhouse, 2019

Oil on two canvases weaved together, 30 x 40 cm

Oil on canvas, 170 x 170 cm

5. Bending and Blending by the Pool for you, 2018

15. Breeze Weave, 2017

6. Hand Code 6, 2019

Dye sublimation printing with waterbased inks on organza fabric 40 gr. 4 pieces of 340 x 140 cm.

Oil on 2 canvases weaved together, 100 x 120 cm

Oil on several canvases weaved together, 35 x 27 cm

Oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm

Oil on several canvases weaved together, 30 x 30 cm

7. Ass Grab Fuzz, 2018

Oil on two canvases weaved together, 22 x 26 cm

8. Black Carpet Weave, 2017

Copperplate etching, 22, 8 x 17,8 cm (edition of 1)

Mixed media on several canvases weaved together, 200 x 200 cm

Oil on 2 canvases weaved together, 200 x 180 cm

16. Sun Set Filter, 2019

Dialogue with the Muse, 2019

Audio piece. Voices: Shalisha Samuel (Barbados) and Ditte Ejlerskov (Denmark). Script and editing: Ditte Ejlerskov. Duration: 33 minutes.

Oil on several canvases weaved together, 220 x 200 cm


9. Paddle Painting 10, 2018

Sun Chair Weave 2, 2019

10. Sun Chair Weave 1, 2019


Oil on two canvases weaved together, 46 x 65 cm

Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 cm

Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 cm

Video with audio. Duration: 20 minutes.






7 13 16 6 14 5






Ass Grab Fuzz (2018) by Ditte Ejlerskov

Black Carpet Weave (2017) by Ditte Ejlerskov

Bending and Blending by the Pool for you (2018) by Ditte Ejlerskov

CONVERSATION with Ditte Ejlerskov One could think you have been a Rihanna fan. Of all the pop singer stars out there, how did Rihanna become your muse? To begin with she wasn’t a muse to me. But she transformed from Rihanna into a muse one day in the studio. After that day she wasn’t Rihanna anymore. Then what was The Muse before this event in the studio? Well... She was Rihanna, the famous pop singer. For a while I had been interested in the gap between academic feminism and the feminist practices of contemporary mainstream media, so I decided to explore in my work the strategies I found in pop. In my view, pop music challenges expectations and is an important form of oral communication, a never-ending historical dialogue where no one has the last word. The hints to history, philosophy and theory that permeate the mainstream, amount to more than just accidental reflections. Through my art I had looked at Britney Spears for example, but also a few other Afro-American pop icons such as Beyoncé

(‘The Survivor’) and Nicki Minaj (‘The Warrior’). I categorized them with names, Rihanna was ‘The Martyr’. I found that these women were in possession of deliberate methods for the implementation of feminism. I was interested in how they process and deconstruct the ways in which black women have had historically their sexuality displayed, and I wanted to increase comprehension of their work and their ’survivorinspired’ womanhood. My intentions were to provide an additional perspective to this type of pop, but I was often criticized for exploiting and appropriating black culture simply for the sake of my own glory in the white cube. To some, my work looked as nothing but half-naked sexy black women painted in oil on canvas by a privileged middle-class white person. Which it also was.

And why Rihanna as ‘The Martyr’? The thing is Rihanna practices a different, almost anachronistic type of feminism. Her refusal of the neoliberal black ‘survivor’ narrative and her sentimental, gloomy and rebellious images stand in relation to medieval women martyrs’ unusual agency—namely that of rejection of violence through passivity. She is deliberately an ‘unsurviving black woman.’ Not a very popular role to perform nowadays. The popular narrative that resonates well with the mainstream is the ‘survivor’, supported by for example Beyoncé. Rihanna, on the contrary, refuses to submit to any call for a narration of her ‘overcoming.’ She never gives a public confession, but releases an album entitled Unapologetic in 2013.

then become a political tool? In contradiction to Beyoncé’s survivor tactics, it seems to me that Rihanna does not speak of action but articulates herself in terms of refusal, withdrawal, passivity, unbecoming, and even ‘un-being’. A seldom feministic strategy employed to fight oppression. So what happened after you changed your view on her? One day a painting woke up and said to me: “Hi Ditte, you made me up. I am no longer a representation of the pop star. I am a myth you created in your head.” As if the painting was describing itself. I was in shock. But as I studied the painting, which I thought depicted Rihanna, I understood that I had created a kind of paparazzi painting with no direct connection to any real person or situation. It was pure fantasy. “I am the echo of your own gaze,” the awakened muse told me. So I began a search for the reasons behind the making of these paintings, and my relationship with the motifs depicted.



I am interested in what drives her. Could it be that by accepting failure, Rihanna discards the pressure of success? And by doing so, she challenges heteronormativity like medieval martyrs? Has her ‘failure’

You travelled to Barbados lured by an Internet scammer, how did you feel as a white Danish tourist in the Caribbean? One thing had led to another with this email-scammer from Barbados, and one day I found myself on an isolated beach on the other side of the Atlantic —continuously writing to the scammer’s now dead email account. I had a lot of time there... to think… to explore… to talk to people. Slightly confused but intensively alert, I was now gliding around in Riri’s world. Of course, to be a Danish white person in the Caribbean implies the baggage of a loaded history, and I don’t mean it just because of the former Danish colonies… My practice specifically works with and not against the unavoidable fact that I myself am white, and consume products from a white supremacist hetero-patriarchal media-centric society. So I want to question the collective, as I strive to present an individual experience. Collective guilt is too, a very particular concept.

I also hope my work reminds the viewer that popular media’s gaze is mostly white, it is a constant projection of that gaze in the world. With my stereotyping, of landscapes and people, I hope the viewer will acknowledge and take responsibility for their own gaze and their (most likely white) privilege. The white gaze and its privileges have gone too unquestioned for too long. Can you talk about your selfrealization of white privilege and the conflicting feelings that came with this awakening, your sense of white ambivalence? I think the white gaze, even though it is there all the time, and it is not pretty, needs to be exposed so that it can be examined properly. The power position it enjoys and the problems this pose have to be acknowledge.


Yes, it is impossible for me to fully understand the lived black experience or the feelings and motivation of a real oppressor. But I still embody the privileged position as a white European, the ambivalent position of being critical but still living within privilege.

I think that a black person does not have the privilege of ambivalence about these issues, and that makes me a constant tourist in this field. My work and my intentions will always look like “a project”. The video I am presenting in the exhibition is about this. I have chosen to do the video as I have, with a landscape that looks like a postcard from the 80s, to sort of illustrate by exaggerating the stereotypes. Who is the “I” in the film? The “I” in the film is a rather naïve white gaze, but in reality, I did not carelessly glide around in the island. I engaged in deep conversations with people in Barbados about these thematics. Ironically, on several occasions people told me they were fed up with Europeans and Americans arriving, wanting to discuss an issue they would rather rise above. They didn’t want to talk about the colonial times, and not because they were angry or ashamed, but because “there are many other things in life to talk about”. The ones I met didn’t linger in the past, that’s for sure. Those I spoke with were not academics, and they lived of off tourism, yet they lucidly said that white people, again and again, wanted forgiveness for this guilt they came to the Caribbean with.

I tried to learn from that and not adopt some sort of politically correct guilt to justify my being in the island. Even though my discussion about privilege is committed, I will always be removed from the real conversation. It will be inauthentic of me to deal with this in any other way than through my ambivalence and my “tourism” in the field. Why painting? When I paint I do not necessarily have a plan. I go for aesthetics and technical solutions to match the emotions I have around a topic. My critical position as a white person in the world is, I think, more apparent in my video and sound pieces than in my paintings on related issues. In video and sound I can more clearly portray white ambivalence, my privilege and my impotence in the struggle for justice. In these works, I am appropriating myself—a White European woman trying to view her own position in relation to the above-mentioned problematics. Impotence is at the core of my work but it is less visible in the paintings. Then, afterwards, I try with words, sound and video to understand where the paintings have taken me.


Guided visits with the exhibitions curator, at 17-18 Artist talk with Ditte Ejlerskov, at 18-19 Ditte Ejlerskov is an artist whose inner voice has acquired a life of its own, exposing her thoughts and intentions, her gaze and her ambivalence as a white European woman. At RĂśda Sten Konsthall she will talk about painting, the independent life of representations, but also about artificial intelligence and particle theories. The talk and the tour will be in English. WEDNESDAY 27 MARCH

Guided visits with the exhibitions curator, at 17-18 Talk Sound of the underground. On the relationship between visual art and music with Geir Haraldseth, at 18-19 Music plays a big role in the field of contemporary art, but is this role limited to avant-garde and experimental tendencies? Is there any room for the popular, the danceable and musical theater? And where is the body in all of this? Geir Haraldseth, curator at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, will do a quick shimmy through the interconnected world of art and music, with a particular focus on popular music. The talk and the tour will be in English.

With support from

Tue, Thu & Fri 12-5pm Wed 12-8pm Sat & Sun12-6pm