Marie Raffn’s sculptures resist the commonly accepted absolutism of language
What if words fail to convey the meaning or idea of language as a conduit is no longer an obvious statement – this state of language disruption could drive people away from the area of certainty. Danish sculptor Marie Raffn creates installations to physically highlight what happens when the linguistic system suffers a breach. With an experimental approach, Raffn distorts the given uniformity of language. His work measures the human response to a situation once disturbed the received knowledge of language as an absolute subject. As the sculptures are twisted and turned in the hands of the artist, viewers are invited to probe what has until now been considered inescapable. The exercise of reading and writing is crucial in Raffn’s artistic practice. As someone who likes to work in layers and jump across multiple tracks simultaneously, be it notes, scribbles, sketches, short poems, Raffn explores the development of semiotics. With the sculptures, she plays with language, not as an immaterial entity, but “as a concrete material that can be manipulated so that meanings move and change”.
From the formative years, Raffn attended children’s art school while attending elementary school and high school. But it was at the Malmö Art Academy, while pursuing a BFA, followed by an MFA, that she was introduced to the humorous practices of 1960s-70s conceptual art. In an interview with STIR, Raffn talks about the impact of textual works by artists such as John Baldessari and Sol LeWitt. “I worked quite concretely with the words and I played with the language in a dry and perhaps ironic way. Influenced by typography and the tradition of concrete poetry, I was keen to combine form and content. Later it turned out more broadly as visual poetry influenced by Oulipo literature (works using constrained writing techniques),” she says. As someone who struggled to express themselves best in speech, the written word promised to be a source of relief. It is in the workshops, included in the program of the Academy of Fine Arts, that she learns to push techniques and materials to their limits. Combining this interest in language with textual worlds also involves a constant fascination with exploring semiotics in my own way. Raffn adds: “When I present sculptural signs, mainly symbols, in an exhibition space, these signs are part of a larger semiotics – that is, systems and structures that sometimes make visible theories or real-world conditions.”
Raffn confirms the exposure of An oval, a vowel, an e at Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon, Videbaek, Denmark, was a physical manifestation of ‘writing in space’. Since it served as a starting point for the exhibition, “I imagined an experience where the exhibition space served as a huge sheet of paper for a fragmented drawing to be discovered bodily – a game about 2D and 3D as far as perception is concerned.” To visually articulate the conceptual idea around language and its transformation, the exhibition required a lot of physical work: from folding, rolling to welding the metal. The metal was cast with the use of pigments at the end. Some castings stay in their nest, others move through space. The artist explains: “These pieces twist and stretch language like physical sculptures, and the feeling of lightness reflects the fragility of language in an immediate and direct way. printing and design. If I let someone else do it, it would be like mixing up the handwriting. At first, I felt a bit like a font designer working on a large scale, in 3D. I had to spend time studying the thickness, the width of the steel, and the maximum height of the shapes so that they balance without risk of falling.”
Soon, when Raffn was able to skillfully manipulate the final metal, she began to identify its similarities to the creatures or animals in some of the pieces. Later the sculptures were categorized into abstract poems and fictional species. She gives an explicit account of the sound systems integral to the exhibition space: “The combination of a hum of notation in the room and the means of communication of other animals made me curious to approach the final spatial design in the exhibition space like a score; meaning that some of the shapes would serve as symbols for the sounds. Working with sheet music is something I come back to because it mixes abstraction and language in abstract translations. The result turned out to be a score for abstract sounds of species and between species, performed on the violin. Whale songs, slapping shrimp, echolocation clicks, bird chirps and monotonous but rhythmic waves inspired these sounds. The interpretation was performed at the opening by violinist Helene Buchhave Lind.
Interestingly, the plan of the exhibition space, as part of the immersive exhibition, made in a scale of 1:40 with both graphic and textual representation of the works and their composition in the room gives meaning additional to the reading of the sculptures. “The division of the cards into fields suggests,” says Raffn, “different reading directions that point to a cubist style of writing, where the object is broken down and reassembled in an abstract form.”
For Raffn, art is an intimate, highly subjective and phenomenological experience that could awaken something unusual within. Hoping that his work presents a nuanced vision by imagining alternative worlds and systems through poetry and abstract mindset, Raffn admits, “It is extremely important to remain critical and to take care of the use of language – also to challenge, renew and play. with the limits and infinities of language. The way life on earth is treated motivates me and I hope to shed some light on the dangers of the biodiversity crisis that we all face if nothing is done seriously.