Beauty and the Beast
About Jens Galschiot’s sculptural world
of humanism and engagement
by Erik Meistrup
Jens Galschiot covers a wide field in his artistic work from mighty political sculptures to tiny fine works with descriptive surfaces or personal jewellery with sense.
On one side Jens Galschiot works with sculptural modes of expression, which is an attitude to some of the biggest challenges to the basic conditions of life of the twentieth century, that is suppression, degradation, murder, destruction, lies, war and devastation.
While I am sitting here writing this, the radio is playing an old distinctive song from the sixties (You don’t believe that we are) On the Eve of Destruction, with the now forgotten Berry McGuire.
In a convincing and beautiful way Galschiot has seized back to the general attitude of community of that time and carried on its deep humanistic message about not only taking care of ourselves, but that we have an obligation to speak for those who are deprived the right to speaking or whose life is drowned in the blood bath of fanaticism. This heritage from experiences from the Second World War and from the humanistic youth rebellion of the sixties has become the foundation of human rights, which gives us the right – and the duty – to intervene in Bosnia and Kosova.
Galschiot takes this humanistic challenge seriously in a political as well as in a artistic sense. He has thrown himself into the battle against our ‘Inner Beast’ (put up in 20 European cities in 1993) – the fact that we all consist of the good as well as the evil. The good thing is the humanism of which we built the community and the family, but the good is to be gained all the time through upbringing, openness, restrictions of using violence, a free debate, consideration for minorities and ‘the different’.
Humanism is the Christian heritage of Europe, which demands us to maintain as well the starting point as the heritage to preserve the personal freedom, which is the intellectual trademark of our society system.
In one’s battle for the good you have to put focus on the evil everywhere it is practised. In consequence of this attitude Galschiot has become the first Danish artist, who is real international in his view and his way of working. He works ‘glocal’ (global and local) all the time, when he from his workshop in the northern Odense with a group of volunteers tackles the next project. He finances all the projects himself through sale of bigger or smaller sculptures of some aesthetic beauty. Like Christo (the one with the wrapping of for instance Parliament house of Berlin in 1995)
Galschiot has attached importance to the fact that art is something to be seen and debated of all human beings. His artistic activities cover all the earth with putting up or support from China over Latin America to Europe. His intention of the view of Danish politics and Danish art cannot be overestimated, and he ought to be the most natural choice to obtain export- and art support from the Danish State.
But the representatives of the State do not wish to know him all too well. Perhaps his coarse and “dirty” artistic consciousness is still too direct for the decency and willingness of compromise of the polished floors. Aarhus was one of the cities which free of debt received a ‘My Inner Beast’ put up on the town-hall square next to ‘The Pig Well’ (which they are very fond of – and indeed it is sweet), but the ‘Inner Beast’ did not arouse happiness in the town council.
As quick as possible it was hidden in a place where most people are not happy to come, that is in front of the taxation authorities, and in this way an unintended Danish symbolism was added.
In the middle of the nineties Galschiot created his masterpiece ‘The Pillar of Shame’ which without doubt is the most essential Danish piece of art inside the last decade. It is incomprehensible, that The National Art Museum has not secured themselves a copy to place in their new sculpture hall, where emptiness is now prevalent as everything else is drowned in aesthetic vanity. At the same time a purchase would be a handshake of continuous dissemination of new sculptures, where they are needed. The work is not only a political manifestation, thus a real strong artistic expression, which seizes you by the heart. As by Wiig Hansen’s ‘Human ride’ you can be overwhelmed by nausea by seeing all this suffering, which is twisted together and becomes a spiral, which reach towards the sky with invocation of mercy and light.
The 4th June 1997 the first ‘Pillar of Shame’ was put up in Hong Kong as a conspicuous memory of the encroachment of the democratic movement in China, which ought not happen again. With Galschiot’s words the ‘Pillar of Shame’ is a kind of ‘Nobel prize of injustice’, which is given to those who represent the victims. And then the 25th April 1999 the eight metres high and 3 tons heavy sculpture was put up in Mexico City as an accusation against the encroachments of the Indian aboriginals. Due to the plan it is moved in May to the province Chiapas where the Indians have tried to get rid of yoke of suppression. The 9th November 2000 – the day of the ‘Reichkristallnacht’ – a ‘Pillar of Shame’ will be put up in Berlin as a monument of the victims of the Nazi terrorism and industrial extermination of all ‘the different’. The sculpture is to stand on a special bronze foundation, where surviving prisoners from the concentration camps have engraved 10 million notches, which symbolize the murdered. Gradually the monuments put up will create a network of visible memories of what must not happen again. It will be the visible expression of Galschiot’s artistic process with Aidoh: Art in Defence of Humanism!
Jens Galschiot also has another side of his life and activities, otherwise he would not be able to create his life work, the international artistic network, which bursts as well limits as consciousness. In his work with the beauty as form he has now for many years focused on the clothes we carry as a part of our body and outside identity. He is a very sensitive man, who notices even small movements and ‘creasing’ in what we wear, and he creates some incredibly beautiful and almost ‘meditating’ sculptures out of this observations. What ever is it a pair of creased jeans or a blouse or a swinging dress. He sees some stem forms and movements, which are united in a sculpture, which keeps them as a living form.
At the end of June 1999 his latest big work in this category is to be unveiled, namely a sculpture created over a dress by the couturier Erik Mortensen, who died 1998. They had earlier been in close contact to create a common work, but Galschiot’s other activities and Mortensen’s advancing decease had marked the time, when headmaster Karen Maigaard of the Dress Vocational School asked them to bring it up again before it would be too late. At Christmas 1997 the corporation got into a productive form and shortly before his death, Erik Mortensen was in time to point out the ‘Octopus Dress’ created for the house Jean-Louis Scherrer, Paris in the beginning of the nineties. The result is to stand in front of the school as a landmark.
The dress was lent from the Fashion house to the Dress Vocational School, where a teacher, Elise Steffensen, recreated a work copy together with students of the school and the college of education. From this copy Galschiot together with his workshop has made more different experiments in order to recreate haute couture to a sculpture. At first the stem form is to be decided, then the linguistic expression of the form (its life). Finally you have to find a way to make the special decoration of the dress – the octopus like become more visible.
As it appears from the process from wax copy, which is to be used for the final form, to the sculptural pattern, which is to be put on the form, it is a work, which is different from the other sculptures which Galschiot has created with basis in the form language of the fabric itself. The solution of the problem is that you create two sculptures – the form itself and the pattern – which is then added up so that also a material depth appears from the surface of the sculpture. The tentacle like pattern on the dress is created by using thousands of spangles and pearls, which are handmade in a workshop, which has specialised in this type of old workmanship. This type of depiction method you cannot use for the sculpture, as you would then not be able to see the pattern. It is necessary to make it a form which expresses a gathered movement which rises from the original surface form of the dress up above the naked part of the shoulders and points up over the person out into the space. That is a gathered thinking of the surface structure of the fabric with the dynamic of the pattern in order to make a sculpture, which maintains a magic moment of fixed graceful movement in the room.
Galschiot’s work with the expression of the beauty is the other side of his deep humanistic attitude to life. No beauty without horror, no darkness without light, as the artistic father of modern humanism Wolfgang Goethe portrayed it through as well his scientific work with light and colour as in his novels. We need to be reminded of both in order not to paralyse as human beings without spirit, and therefore it is good still having artists, who like Jens Galschiot dares risk and create visible memories of darkness and light.