Frejas Hall (2021)
Original publication here: https://himmerlandskunstmuseum.dk/portfolio-items/birgitte-stoevring-og-camilla-thorup/
Text by Natalia Gutman
About the exhibition
The hammer, which always hits the spot, forms the architectural form of the Himmerland Art Museum. It is Thor's hammer, which always returns to the hand that threw it. The hammer is of course coveted, and according to Norse mythology, it has only happened once that it has been stolen by a giant. To get it back, Thor had to pretend to be Freya and conquer it back as a woman.
Birgitte Støvring and Camilla Thorup fill the halls with their contemporary look at the mythological Freya. Who is this female figure? What qualities does she have as a goddess? And what cultural heritage and perception of women are there in the stories about Freya? Støvring and Thorup give the Freja figure body and shape. With paintings and clay sculptures, they show how the goddess is a dynamic and contradictory female figure who is both lady and ruler, fertile and destructive, sorrowful and amorous. Both her characteristics as life-giving and destructive and her ambiguous cats are common features that the two artists express in their own idioms and with facets that emphasize the figure's complex and universal character. The title Freja's Hall refers to a hall in Folkvang, where Freja ruled and received the dead. In the high-ceilinged halls of the museum,the audience will be met with lively figures such as a long-tailed cat, fertile women, agile weapon wielders, supple female bodies and a four-headed human being on colorful canvases and in substantial clay sculptures.
Human figures move across the canvas in narrative stories in Støvring's works. Often without regard to the law of gravity or to what is figure and what is ground. People are staged in abstract or constructed spaces. Colored fields form the ground, but on closer inspection, figure and ground have merged into an even kaleidoscopic scene of reality and fiction.
Several meanings and narratives are set against each other when Støvring presents us with the composite figure of Freya. Støvring has previously dealt with the power of various goddesses, including Indian, European and Nordic goddesses. For this exhibition, Støvring turns his gaze to his own national roots and origins and explains:
"These Old Norse feminine deities and views of women seem to me quite obvious to take hold of. I believe that the mysticism and myths still have power and relevance today."
The motifs are taken from the old legends and worked freely, where especially the contradictory character traits have interested Støvring. Muscular animals such as the deer, the horse and the castrated boar stand as juxtaposed symbols with the graceful pregnant woman and the lithe balancing figure. Women with drawn bows and raised swords appear with silhouettes of tiny unborn babies. And there is speed on the motives. The cats are sprinting and the arrows are being fired. The abstract colorful spaces, the layers of different colors and the characterful female figures, each representing its own domain, clearly depict the dynamism Støvring sees in Freja. In addition, Støvring also adds a historical consideration when one of the figures takes on the face of the Virgin Mary, who will be the later era's answer to a fertility goddess when Christianity takes over.
Camilla Thorup's figures are created in clay and stoneware, they are grounded, rough and substantial. Thorup's world of motifs primarily consists of people and animals, but not always as we know them from the real world. These figures can often control their bodies in difficult ways, and they have strength when, for example, they can turn their heads to their backs, or when they hold each other in tension and sit on each other's necks. They appear as a kind of archetypes, perhaps even mythological or as metaphors for something more than the robust figures in which they are designed.
Life and death, gender roles and our historical origins are some of the themes that Thorup has found interesting to investigate in the Nordic Freja. A central sculpture in the exhibition is Mother, a kind of mother earth, who stands naked and flaunts her pregnant belly, while her thick hair takes root in the ground. The small chubby feet stand firmly and apart from her magnificent ponytail, she appears to be more human than goddess. The new life is also celebrated when Thorup lets a silly figure with four heads in his hair hold up a small person in front of him. Is it Freja herself with all her sides of her being, or is it a contemporary woman who both holds the future in her hands and looks back at her foremothers? Freja could bring love, fertility and beauty, but she also ruled over the dead in Folkvang. In a supine figure, Thorup has replaced the belly with green vegetation. Perhaps life has left the body,