REJSE LANGSOMT – Weavings 1959-1983
04 May – 20 Jun 2020
Just as when learning to read, letters gradually find their recognisable form, and words then appear. While slowly decoding the text – Lorca’s bleak and dramatic lullaby ‘The Ballad of the Large Horse Who Won’t Drink’ – words that become visible and disappear, one also discovers its weaved structure, a patchwork of small woven forms in various colours stitched together in one vibrant, fragmented image.
Her paintings and prints from the 1960s in no way bear resemblance to concrete art. On the contrary, in following an abstract expressionist, tachistic and surrealistic trajectory. Her graphics, mainly aquatints, brought her into cosmic and organic universes, whilst her painting led her towards imaginary landscapes painted with a spatula, demonstrating an intense use of colour. Weaving as a technique in itself became a means disciplining and realising works with colour as a material fabric: “I think that for me it has been one of the ways into abstraction. I learnt through old books and at museums, the old bindings and traditional patterns, the anonymous legacy of our ancestors, but developed with much love, finesse and creative ability. I use these techniques to express myself through texture, colour, and abstraction in my tapestries. The very struggle with the rigor of the technique is a necessity to me.” (Ragna Braase 1980)
Her first loom was a little frame loom that she built herself. After she permanently settled in France with her husband artist Ib Braase in 1968, she replaced her simple loom with a more advanced, self-built shaft loom. Through the 1970s one can follow her exploration and challenges with this historic technique in a richly nuanced and experimental movement, where the acquisition of the old is at the same time the creation of the new, as the applied technique are accompanied by highly original experiments in colour and rhythm. These untitled weavings are usually denoted by the terms of the techniques used: Beiderwand; Jämtlandsdrejl; Daldrejl; Kouvikas; Gagnefkrus; Munkebort.
The weavings are characterised in particular by their spatially expansive effects of pattern, with subtle and bold colour schemes, and asymmetries with almost psychedelic, hypnotising results. At times, she works herself into the very texture of the fabric, but not as a pared-down minimalism. On the contrary, she produces works with quivering intensity, as seen in her cosmically bright ovals from 1977, wherein the dynamic ovoid forms barely emerge from the textile’s subdued monochrome colour palette and structure – a motif she has also explored in her graphic works. In others, she lets the contrasts unfold as an accidental motif that arises in the dents of a dynamic and powerful weaving Natsværmere from 1978, in black, grey and green colours.
Sometimes she works in smaller series that examine the effects of significant shifts in rhythms of colours and patterns, as exemplified by two weavings (belonging to a series totaling five weavings, of which the remaining three are privately owned) where one uses light blue to green to light blue in a centered pulsating rhymth against an ochre-coloured core, and in the other calmer rhythmed weaving in white and brown tones, punctuated by three distinct colour markings in pink, red and violet.
In the more increasingly complex compositions, she loosens the symmetrical scheme even more, in favour of asymmetric fluidity, rhythmic sequences, and expansive compositions arranged like musical scores on squared paper in her sketchbook.
As the works grow in complexity, she gradually lets go of the course she pursued in the 1970s towards a purified use of weaving techniques concentrating on its contemporary language. With the loom as an unconscious metaphor, she writes in her notes: “Western culture is a far too narrow frame”. She begins to work with entirely new pattern formations inspired by mosaics on columns in the ancient city of Uruk in Mesoptamia (Iraq), Islamic tiles and architectural structures, and African masks that informed a stronger use of colour and several different types of yarn.
At the same time, she moves away from spatial effects retained in the two-dimensional (though she often placed her works freely hovering in space) to grasp all the dimensions of the room, allowing the weavings to tuck themselves into corners, run down the wall on to the floor, and even directly relate to the floor as her Fliser (Tiles) do – a series of works included in the exhibition Parterre at the conceptually-oriented Galerie Charley Chevalier in 1978 where all of the works of the participating artists relate exclusively to the floors. Finally, her weaving also come to being in architectural space as pillars Søjlerne fra Uruk 1979-80 (SMK, National Gallery of Denmark), wall structures in Africana’s hus 1981 (SMK, National Gallery of Denmark) and Quata (1982-83), or in tent formations such as Douar (1982-83), where the textile rises in space and hangs over a high-arched branch from which the woven surfaces of nuanced black-brown planes spread out like large wings.
A slow journey through the weaving’s anonymous legacy, which is said to be about reaching recognition for one’s own place. In her notes, she has writes about a journey towards a realisation: “The similarities emerged more strongly than the differences and in the differences we saw in the others renounce their exoticism and became what allowed us to see our own differences in relief”.
From a critical perspective, this journey of recognition could be seen as a paradoxical expression of a – though unconscious – colonialisation. In view of recent post-colonial criticism, Hannah Heilmann (2018) has characterised what she calls Ragna Braase’s ‘unreasonable exoticism’ and pointed out the paradox, that her interest in new patterns appears in 1978, the very year in which Edward W. Said published the book Orientalism, which became the stage for postcolonial discourse describing how the Western fabrication of the ‘Orient’ implies the use of power and oppression of Asian, Middle Eastern and North African societies.
But seen from a historical perspective that Ragna Braase worked within, one should rather see the intention of her project as being parallel and in solidarity with post-colonial efforts.
Even though Ragna Braase is not politically explicit about her practice, one can extract a critical view on Western culture when she in her notes writes that imaging “can help to better see the colours of our own culture, which have often appeared grey in a period of rational outlooks and industrialisation”.
As such, her endeavors are in line with the contemporary American movement Pattern and Decoration in which textile and other ornamental and craft-based practices – Islamic tiles and Mexican, Roman and Byzatine mosaics, Iranian and Indian rugs and miniatures – were practiced as a means to shut down the modernist discourse that had marginalised non-western and female forms of expression (Kozloff and Jaudon 1978).
Yearning is about traversing the outskirts of collective memory in order to expand the horizon of recognition, or as Braase writes in her notes: “We have a collective memory gathered from the dawn of time. The experience does not come from the new, what humans have never before seen or imagined, it is the recognition, the experience of something already lived that opens up, expands and forms new spaces”.
Ragna Braase, Grafik og billedtæpper/ Gravures et tapisseries, Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum . Informationsavis nr. 104, 1980.
Tråde på tværs. Mette Winckelmann og den konkrete kunst. Sorø Kunstmuseum 2015
Magnus Thorø Clausen ”Ragna Braases Telte”, i Ragna Braase. Esbjerg Kunstmuseum & Kastrupgaardsamlingen 2018
Hannah Heilman, ”Ragna Drømmer om Nomader”, i Ragna Braase. Esbjerg Kunstmuseum & Kastrupgaardsamlingen 2018
Valerie Jaudon and Joyce Kozloff, ‘Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture’ (1978)
Quotes without reference refer to Ragna Braase’s unpublished notes (c. 1985)