By ISSAC SCOTT, January 2022
Sometimes Marie Anine Møller gets her material from the seafood aisle. Her go-to is the Food Bazaar on Broadway in Brooklyn, a cavernous space stacked high with Goya cans and piles of chops, cow tongues, and fish parts.
Drawing from still life—nature morte—her work exists in photographs and sculpture as evocative reflections on society, the environment, and power.
In one piece, a trout emerges hauntingly vertical from a block of clear ice. It took weeks to perfect the technique of freezing the water into a clear, irrational encasement. It is living, it is sustenance. It is material, it is a being. It is frozen, it is melting.
Here she borrows from the ephemera of our days, transformed into objects of uncanny power; a terrain of the beautiful and unfamiliar.
As a Danish sculptor who’s studied at The Glasgow School of Art and New York’s Pratt Institute, there’s a strain of academic seriousness, illuminated with fervent eccentricity.
Her group show “Preternatural Impacts” last year with Copenhagen’s esteemed Arden Asbæk Gallery featured sculpted fish heads exalted on tripods. The living becomes fixed, unrecognizable.
Through these juxtapositions her work explores contradiction and the nature of value and truth: who defines them, how we recognize, negotiate, manipulate them.
Now based in New York City, Møller was recently named Managing Director at Kunstraum, an artist hub in downtown Brooklyn consisting of artist studios, artists-in-residence and a gallery space. We spoke over Zoom, ahead of her forthcoming 2022 show at Lower East Side gallery and nightlife venue Beverly’s.
ISSAC SCOTT: What are you working on lately?
MARIE ANINE MØLLER: Right now I am making new representations of Campbell's soup cans in ceramic and glass—knitting the labels for the ceramic ones. It’s going to be an installation of stacked glass and white stoneware cans.
I also just started working on a project where I present discarded and broken objects, or byproducts of other objects. My working title so far is “warming.” Blown glass water bottles with knitted labels highlight the value of the water within it, but also our seas getting warmer and warmer. Fish heads cast in plaster, wax, and porcelain are placed on glass sewer grids and displayed on a pedestal in a position of honor.
I like to look at the objects we select and surround ourselves with, because I feel like they say something about what we value in our society.
IS: How does travel fit into your work?
MAM: I’ve always loved to travel. With art, I started in photography, and you sort of run out of things to photograph in your own pond. So I’d like to travel and take pictures, and that escalated into more like a hunt for the pictures. At the same time, my thoughts about cultures and how we value each other as people, and politics in general, slowly became a bigger part of my work. It became part of my work to travel and see different cultures and depict from those cultures something that I could use in my art.
IS: Where’s your favorite place you’ve been to take pictures?
MAM: Ouch, that's a hard question. Well, I love Eastern Europe in general. There’s a lot of pictures there to find, especially with the plastic representations of things, like the plastic flowers and fruit a lot of people use as decoration. I really like the plastic flowers or representations in general because they hold a juxtaposition of the ideas of truth in them. It’s an object that is not the object, it is a representation of the object. A subtle lie. Even in the graveyards the plastic flowers decorate the graves of loved ones. Riga, the capital of Latvia, is one of my favorite places.
Also Haiti, which is a very different kind of aesthetic. There’s a lot of artistic expression there. Unfortunately the trash from the West washes up on their beaches, but they use it in their art which is very inspirational.
IS: You went to Haiti to seek out voodoo art right?
MAM: Yes, I sort of snuck a telephone conversation out of Jørgen Leth [the renowned Danish poet and filmmaker] to figure out where to go look for voodoo. He lived in Haiti for like 20 years. So I found a Danish phone number for him and called, I thought I would get like his assistant, but he answered the phone. We had a conversation about voodoo. At the cemetery in Port-au-Prince a lot of people took refuge after the earthquake in 2010, and seven years later there were still signs of that. All around there were small altars and voodoo dolls nailed to the trees.
IS: You talk about photography as a sort of hunt for you, to find these pictures; what about the objects that you use for your sculptures? How do you find them, what motivates your selection of these objects?
MAM: I love the still life genre, which comes from painting. It depicts arranged flowers and fruit, which back then as well as today, symbolize wealth. It holds class divisions within these depictions of things of value only the rich can afford. It is fascinating to manipulate not only the medium but also the forms, like with the plastic flowers in Eastern Europe: they represent the classes in society who can't afford to replace the real flowers or eat the real fruit. When I moved from photography to sculpture, it was as if these images—the subject matter of still life—jumped out of the frame and became objects. A transition from flat to 3D.
IS: How did you start integrating poetry into your work?
MAM: I’ve always loved to write, and I have a tendency to whenever I come across a sentence that I find appealing, or have a thought or whatever, I write it down in my notes on my phone. Every six months or so, I sit down and go through them and try to create poems from that. I don’t integrate the poems too much into my installations any more, but it used to be like the glue that could hold the understanding or intention of what I was trying to say with my pieces.
Language is such a powerful tool, and it can really be misused and is being misused right now in our political landscape, through hate speech and disinformation. So I feel compelled to use that same kind of tool but in a way to counteract how it is misused.
IS: This comes back to the idea of truth, and manipulation of truth—how do you address truth and contradiction in your work?
MAM: I like to look at things that look like something they are not. In my photography, I often take pictures of layers within our world. Like wallpaper or pictures of pictures. This kind of philosophical consideration of what an object is, or which one is the real object and which one is the representation of that object.
We are in such polarity right now, in our political landscape—it’s either love or hate, yes or no, these kinds of juxtapositions. I’d like to create some kind of middle ground of that, because we are living in a time which is so extreme. I think it’s important to find some kind of middle ground, or create more angles or new solutions.
IS: You grew up in Denmark, and moved to New York a couple years ago to get your MFA at Pratt Institute. What was your scene like in Copenhagen?
MAM: A lot of my friends in Denmark are musicians, so that’s been kind of my milieu. It was a lot of attending concerts, and I used to be a DJ back in Copenhagen for many years. But in Copenhagen the music and visual art scenes are quite siloed, compared to New York. Of course we went to concerts, but it could be difficult to drag my friends to art openings. But I feel like the music and art scenes are slowly mixing more together.
IS: You recently became Managing Director at Kunstraum.
MAM: Yes, Kunstraum is an artist-hub in Brooklyn, near the Navy Yard, consisting of two lofts with studios and a gallery. It is founded and directed by artist Nadja Verena Marcin and architect Fernando Schrupp Rivero. They wanted to create space for critical exhibitions and increase the visibility of emerging artists. We host both international artists and local studio members and have an annually rotating curator-in-residence.
IS: Do you have any shows coming up?
MAM: Yes, so far I have a group show coming up this year at Beverly’s in the Lower East Side, which operates in the space where the visual arts and nightlife intersect. WM