Absence in the Seats of Power/Take Your Seat: A Collaborative Installation by Åse Gitte Svendberg
"I have been working with chairs for almost 60 years; chairs have been with me through my entire life. It began during my youth, when I would sit for hours on a wooden chair behind the counter of my father’s shop in Copenhagen, watching as he packaged dried fish and cheeses. In my mind, chairs will always be associated with the fragrant smell of that fish and cheese. After my short career in the theater, I needed a change. I traveled to Reykjavik and was greeted at the airport by the lovely perfume of dried fish. This moved me to become an installation artist; the smell of fish inspired me as the theater never had.
I began my work as an artist using only materials native to Iceland, such as sheepskin, wool, dried fish, and gravel. By doing this, I aimed to explore the Icelandic way of being. This passion carried me for many years, but after some time I decided I wished to focus on my related interest: chairs.When I moved to my current home, in the beautiful Icelandic mountains, I only brought food for a month, a blanket, and a chair. There, I discovered how vital chairs are, as I was too old to sit comfortably on the ground. I was, at that moment, transported back to my father’s shop, with that old wooden chair, watching him wrap dried fish and cheese in brown, waxy paper, tied off with a red and white string. This sparked within me something that had always been there; my love of the four legged form. From there, I let my love of nature and my spirituality guide my exploration of ‘the chair’.
“Why chairs?” Many people have asked me. I work with chairs because of the intrinsic tension which they possess. As I discovered during my time in the Icelandic mountains, chairs are a necessity, a part of civilization which cannot be escaped. They have been present for much of human history, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. In a way, chairs are witnesses to civilization itself.
I have always felt negatively towards many aspects of society, especially lust for power and greed. By moving to the mountains, I had wished to distance myself from all of these, and civilization in general, in order to convene with nature. Yet through bringing a chair to my rural dwelling, I had undermined my own intentions. The chair was witness to my existence, and connected me to humanity regardless of my intentions. Furthermore, an empty chair creates a vacuum of power, whereas a filled chair is a space taken up. In that way, we are all drawn to chairs. Who among us does not wish to sit when a chair is placed before us? We want to fill the vacuum, to take the space for ourselves. To be with nature, I could not sit in the chair, yet my human body required at times that I must.
Thus, my work with chairs centers around this deep-seated tension: the inescapability of society and civilization against the unforgiving majesty of the natural world. The colors in this exhibition center around Icelandic natural beauty; the red of Rauðhólar (iron-rich formations from lava fields), the blue of the Iceland Sea, the black of volcanic rock, and the chartreuse of Yellow Moss. The exhibition also focuses on how chairs have been a connector between the concepts society versus nature in my own life."