Artists Sofie Lenau and Marie Søe, a.k.a. UNISON, are passionate creators who are stubborn in their efforts to restructure time, or even pause it. In their work with performance and mixed materials including textiles and paint, UNISON’s work is ritualistic, and depends on sensitivity and a faith in equality.
In Exhibition #2 running at Springbrættet 6a, UNISON look closely at the belly button as a symbol of connection between humans, inviting their audience to touch and interact with their work as a way of creating meaning.
INN: Hi Sofie & Marie, where are you both from originally and how did you meet?
S: I’m from a place called Hareskov, just outside of Copenhagen.
M: I grew up in Southern Jutland.
U: We met at the Design School, where we started working together.
INN: What are your backgrounds / education with art before UNISON?
U: We’re both educated from the Royal academy of fine arts in Design. This is actually where we started working as the duo Unison. Our bachelor was a way to establish how we wanted to work together, and what we wanted to do.
INN: Why did you decide on the name UNISON?
U: Unison means singing/acting simultaneously. For us it represents the strength of unity, and working towards a common goal, rather than multiple individual ones.
INN: Can you describe the work you create together:
U: We create with a common intuition, a common motion. We work with our understanding of phenomenons, symbols, rituals and objects. We always get back to exploring time and presence in a room and with an object - for example the monstera plant and the textile collage, in the exhibition. They are both maintained in a motion as a way of stopping time. It's stubborn in a way, because it's probably not possible to keep it like that forever, but it's a way of insisting on trying to hold on to the moment.
Unison started as a feministic project, it still is, but it’s not the main agenda in the work. It has become a part of our philosophy, and it's still a part of everything we do. It’s the way we look at the world and in the way of embracing sensitivity and fragility. We try to understand what society considers as weakness and use it as a force in our work.
INN: What is the purpose of your work (to society / yourselves)?
U: Our work is a way of sharing our experiences of unity. How we are stronger when we work together. We want to celebrate female values, especially the ones that's often understood as weak in society. We want to create experiences, where people get closer to themself, or someone else. We insist on being present, seeing fragility as a strength, and showing that sensibility is to be cherished.
We always try to find a way for people to interact with our work, and be able to make their mark on it. This is why people in our current exhibition at Springbrættet6A are invited to touch our navel casts. Perhaps we will be able to see where people have been touching, and how it affects the material by dirt from their fingers.
What we do is also simply a way of being in the world, a way for us to be friends and a way to understand ourselves, life and each other.
INN: Can you explain the importance of ritual and experimentation (to yourselves / your work)?
U: We started our work together by exploring rituals. What we found out was that performing a ritual is defining a moment or a setting as something special, something memorable, a way to intensify the intention. We push each other to keep experimenting, learning, not being afraid of failure and exploring new ideas. Our rituals are a way to make a moment relevant and significant and of course also a source of aesthetic value.
INN: Can you talk about the theme of sensitivity and equality and why they are the building blocks of your work?
U: The sensitivity is in our work, in our chosen materials, and in our way of creating.
The process of creating is just as important as the final pieces, and it is important for us to feel good as we work. Therefore the sensitivity and care we have for each other and the struggles of each other’s lives play a big part in our work. It is all about unity and the strength of carrying each other through.
One of the most important things for our work is equality. No one owns an idea and we always keep the process open until the end. The work is alive until we pass it on, in this case, to the gallery. We feed off of each other’s ideas and they grow into something we couldn’t have done on our own.
INN: Why do you work with the mediums you do (textile, installation, video) and how do you decide what materials to use?
U: We both have a lot of experience working with textile through our education, but have always been fascinated by materials and surfaces and shaping objects relating to the human body, a room ect. We're not really sure if it's something we have decided or if it's something that just happened in the process. We try to be open about the media when we begin a new project, it's never decided in advance. We use what surrounds us, and often the materials just present themselves to us - in a dumpster, in the back of a closet, in the basement of the local thrift store. The material dictates a big part of the process and not the other way around. It sort of has a will of its own.
You can experience the textile hanging piece from 360 degrees and it looks different from every angle. Maybe it’s because of our background in garment making - our professors always exclaimed in protest if we ever made clothing that only looked interesting from the front.
INN: In Exhibition *02, you reference transient aspects of life (‘the flower that withers, the candle that burns, the egg that hatches and the light that goes out’). Can you tell us more about this concept?
U: The concept of transience has always been fascinating for us and somehow always a starting point for new work. In previous projects we have explored how to twist/stop time through living things. For instance in our exhibition in Stockholm we picked a large bouquet of flowers from the area of the gallery, and then dipped each plant in paint, to conserve them in that specific time, so that they wouldn’t wither and die. It is a way of displaying these cliché objects, such as the flower or the candle, as something especially meaningful. To twist our understanding of these objects, which are already charged with stories and meaning.
INN: How does your work in Exhibition *02 demonstrate this concept (with reference to the techniques, the symbols, the chosen materials and images)
U: In the exhibition at Springbrættet6A we also work with encapsulation. We soaked the textile in paint to make the drapes freeze in time. Guests are welcome to touch our pieces, as we feel it’s a big part of experiencing art, and it sort of disrupts our usual understanding of the material to feel the stiff drapes. It can never go back to another form as textile normally can, it’s forever capsulated in these shapes.
INN: What is symbolic of the belly button and how did you create those pieces?
U: The belly button is the very first place we have been connected to another human, and serves as strange remains of a function. The belly button is an intimate part of the body, the gateway into the inner body and maybe inner mind? We all have it, but few truly relate to it.
Navel-gazing is of course also a reference to being self centered, which is very much a thing in our culture today. However in the exhibition, we gaze at other people’s navels rather than our own. This is a self critical aspect of this work, where we comment on the artist privilege in a context of exhibiting. Just as the textile piece we welcome any urge to touch and pick at the navels. Only then have you fully seen them.
INN: What do you intend audiences to experience when they interact with Exhibition *02 (by touching the belly buttons for example)?
U: We don't think it's our place to tell people what to think when they experience our work. We just want to share an intimate bodily and tactile experience and maybe make people curious about the power of a collective voice. Nothing should be forced, so whatever the audience feels when interacting with the exhibition is equally valid.
INN: Why is unity, human connection, and the ability to carry one-another important for survival?
U: Perhaps it has a lot to do with sharing. When we share with someone, it's a way of having a witness in a certain situation, someone who can confirm the importance of an experience. This makes a valuable connection. To understand ourselves we think it is necessary also to look through the eyes of others, because we need the mirror that only exists in company with other people. There is much more at stake when you also have a responsibility towards your partner, and also just more fun and love and power.