Elisabeth Tronhjem. Stones that breathe.
El País (España)
Elisabeth Tronhjem organises images and concepts in stone, penetrating with metal the sandstone of Majorca or the marble of Carrara in order to discover the expressiveness that breathes out of sight. She breaks away pieces of rock by hand, cuts, hammers, chops, working and polishing in pursuit of her calling. She is an organic, dynamic and complex sculptor.
(The Bay of Palma – Paseo Marítimo – Gomila – Titos -Victoria) This Danish woman is nourished by the light of the sea, fleeing from the light of daybreak and the sunset that crosses the bay to create a furnace of colours over the mirror-like Mediterranean dotted with boats. Elisabeth Tronhjem constructs an indeterminate iconographic universe: faces, geometric bodies, hands, pain, reflection, some beauty).
The noble and primitive art of making stones talk, of trapping nature and life in walls or the skin of loose rocks, originated with the anonymous or renowned master stonecutters through their medieval altar carvings, porticos, or the gates protecting works of ecclesiastical art. The stonecutters aimed for realistic scenes, the legendary or apocalyptic representation of religion and life through saints, metaphorical contact, in naive even pornographic forms, as can be seen in capitals and presbyteries.
(Elisabeth Tronhjem EH is a solitary and privileged inhabitant of the front line of the Bay of Palma, as well as a tough citizen, who in her unique loft – in an old-style Majorcan property that went on to become a summer retreat before becoming Tronhjem’s home – survives the impulses and pretensions of her powerful neighbours who raise and expand their monolithic leisure and luxury businesses).
Sculpture is a mental commitment, a solitary work that functions independently of the figurative reference. The creation of this collection has involved fighting with stone after stone in individualised challenges, one after another, until making what is almost a board of chess pieces. This is how I saw them: an army of figures seated on pedestals, when I met the work and its creator for the first time.
(The artist discovered the malleability of sandstone, because in the search for sun and salt, across the seas, her father left Denmark and arrived in the Bay of Palma in an old restored minesweeper.
The Tronhjem family stayed in Palma and the military vessel went on to become a part of the habitual fleet. The patriarch held his head high and bought a beautiful house close to the minesweeper; which is the location of Elisabeth’s studio and home)
The exaltation and triumph of nature, the manipulation of reality, the pursuit of beauty, the recreation of bodies, the reconstruction of colours, must be some of the options sought by artists throughout the History of Art. It is possible that traditional sculptors, due to the use of the materials, strive to discover the soul of the stones, the wind in wood or the death of metals.
(A cow and an empty bronze horse, both almost realist figures, with the surfaces merely insinuated, are displayed in EH’s house in Palma, bearing witness to other periods, old examples of this artist with a diploma in Fine Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts, installed in Contigliano for many years in a magnificent medieval country in an picturesque house, also with splendid views of Monte Terminillo, which is close to Greccio, where Saint Francisco founded his first “presepio”. In the renowned Pietrasanta she works marble and bronze. She creates and feels the historical tremors of culture).
The amalgam of spaces and the transcendence of volume with meaning characterise the work of Elisabeth Tronhjem, who had the impassioned patience to deconstruct with hammer and saw and then to reconstruct with finesse the geometry and volume of a sandstone cube, as an exercise in wisdom and patience and in acknowledgement of the spectator. Her directly related sculpture “Cube – Part and Totality” is in Holstebro Town Hall, one of the most significant exhibition spaces in Denmark.
(The famous Dane, Jörn Utzon, who was the architect of the Sydney Opera House, discovered sandstone in Majorca, the warmth and constructive amiability of this coastal stone – the solid material from which beaches are made and over which the island is seated – in three decades has built both houses in Portopetro de Santanyí and S’Horta de Felanitx, which are monuments, habitable sculptures, two essential jewels in architectural literature).
An artist manages the permanent equation with doubts and strength, the adventure of searching expressive routes, struggling with the materials, sometimes by cold meditation and sometimes by chance. The discovery, the impetus and the contrasts in these pieces suggest an almost mystic halo, a rejection of nature’s occurrences. However, in the matrix of contradictions, in their airs, faces and hollows, the „sacred stones“ of EH exhibit a type of wooden skin and a transparent architecture.
Seductive forms, connected figures
Compared to other foreign artists who live in Italy, Tronhjem maintains an aura that in a sense separates her from the place and the community in which she has chosen to live.
Unlike others, this Danish artist does not hide behind the exotic but well-worn romanticism of the “Educational journey” or even the isolation that characterises the “Golden Age” of any culture.
For those who often feel a stranger in their own country, the silences of the language are a pretext not to communicate through the established forms in the “common locations”. Thus, the loneliness that is created is a source of anxiety but it is also protection against consumerism and the violence of ignorance.
Perhaps we are always “foreigners”, to ourselves and to the rest. It is probable that only the works of art can try to communicate and, in their discreet attempt at contacting the outside world, give relief for the effort of the unbearable and painful long silences of non-communication.
The valleys and mountains have changed – different from the hills sheltered by the Rieti – with respect to the stabbing silences and nocturnal cries, far away in Jylland, in the area of Herning; but the “question” regarding identity and confrontation with the world remain, forming the voluminous masses that articulate, between the empty and the full, the sense of a sculpture that is in reality the anatomy of the silences and cries that can be heard in the bleak expanse of the sea, drowned in the furore of the wind, of Heldum, near Lemvig.
Tronhjem’s sculpture is articulated in the manipulation, primarily, of wood, iron, and finally, plaster. The cold and warm materials classify the taste and scent of the body of loneliness demonstrated in the geometry and volumetric conditions of the hollows and modular linking, which architecturally organise the vertical and diagonal spaces within which the figure acquires form and the movement of the figure’s body.
Emerging with impetus and intensity in these plaster works that Tronhjem has been working on lately, the modulation of the light over the lump of the plaster/flesh, or the still stabbing opacity of the cuts that cause the light to be reflected or retained, according to the opacity and brightness of the polishes and surfaces.
The cuts define the direction of the dry and rapid movements, which are almost violent like a subliminal “spatialist” gesture in the style of the angular geometry of a never forgotten Fritz Wotruba, or a Chillida, alluded to not by coincidence in one of Tronhjem’s first major works, modulated in permanent exhibitions in Holstebro Town Council.
With such projective, geometric conditions of constructive architectural value, a fusion takes place between the molten, lacerated, dismembered and shattered sense of those parts of the sculpture that evoke the anatomical figures of the face or of the hands, of the arms or of the legs.
As the Director of Holstebro Art Museum, Jesper Knudsen, has noted, Tronhjem works with informal, geometric distributions, bringing together the poetry of figuration and of abstraction in her work.
Figurations and abstractions that unite the existential legend of the encounter and of the embrace, of abandonment and violence, of retrieval and abandonment. Between salvation and perdition, the embrace between the empty and the full, form and amorphousness, takes place.
Between the embrace of Rodin’s “The Kiss” and the vampiric embraces of the kisses in the xilographies of Munch, and, consequently, between Rilke and Strindberg, Tronhjem sides firmly with Munch, extracting the nerves, filament-like signs that imprint with charred lacerations the white walls of worked plaster, modelled by the light, and translating its architectural articulations of dynamic torsions, sometimes sweet and sometimes aggressive almost twilight contortions, in such a way that this sculpture truly accompanies the nightmares (stylistic and literary) of the Strindberg of “The Ghost Sonata” or “Hell”, lightly attenuated by the legends of the “Inhabitants of Hemsø”.
Elisabeth Tronhjem, Rigour and Expressiveness
Elisabeth Tronhjem’s work, since her student days, has always been characterised by a sense of dynamism and domination. The tension between simplicity and rigorousness on one hand, and expressivity and eloquence on the other frequently coincide in a single work.
However, in other pieces she has centred on only one of these aspects. As a student, she achieved note for receiving the “Det Neuhausenske Legats Konkurrence” prize for her solution to the competition theme Kuben, Del og Helhed or Cube: “Part and Totality”. The cube is divisible into many elements, which separately and jointly form and comprise separate works. At the same time, Tronhjem also creates expressive and naturalist figures, portraits and groups of couples, loving and embracing one another.
The seated woman “Sus” from 1986 belongs to this category.
After establishing herself in Italy, new aspects appeared in her sculptures. A voluntary isolation from the art world subsequently allowed her to concentrate on artistic expression. The result was a series of works in wood, where the creations adopt the characteristics of both architectonic structures and organic forms. In recent years, Tronhjem has also produced a series of figures in plaster, where the experience of sculpting in wood have been widely developed, and feature traits from both classic and abstract sculpture.
In 1998, Elisabeth Tronhjem moved to the family residence in Majorca, a house with much character, made of local sandstone or “marés”. The same sandstone to which Tronhjem has given herself over passionately in her continued work in sculpture. Here Tronhjem works, in this picturesque setting, surrounded by hotels and sweeping views of the Mediterranean.
In her sculptures, Tronhjem unites her personal experiences with the inspiration provided by the artistic tradition of western Mediterranean culture. Thus, there are extremely expressive figures or sections of figures that are close to suffering and in which the head or face dominates, and rigorous or formal sculptural elements are often included.