For the current exhibition I have a deep nostalgia for the future, artist Emmy Skensved shares more about her conceptual process and literary influences. This interview was conducted via email between Kimi Kitada (Jedel Family Foundation Curatorial Fellow) and the artist.

KK: Considering the elements of the camping stools, sleeping bags, carabiners, what draws you to the camping equipment, conceptually and materially?

ES:  I am interested in how social exchange and interdependency are necessary for human survival, and frequently explore themes like togetherness and belonging in my work. I’m drawn to the formats of so-called “outdoor” or “adventure” gear, because these objects speak to survival and relate directly to the body in their scale, shape or intended use. In my work, I often arrange objects (like sleeping bags or camping stools) into groups or pairs, imagining them as stand-ins for human bodies, in order to represent a social gathering or an exchange between people. 

KK:  I believe the works touch upon some opposing forces of presence and absence, solitude and togetherness. How do you reconcile these ideas in Shelter of Presence?

ES:  The title of this work comes from a passage in a book by author John O’Donohue. He states “Gathered in the shelter of presence…there are the moments of our deepest belonging…for a while the restlessness within the heart grows still.”

Shelter of Presence is made from two handmade soft sculptures that resemble sleeping bags. For me, due to their size and function, the sleeping bags reference the human body, and the presence (or absence) thereof. The two forms are made from the same material, and linked by a paraphrased version of the above-mentioned quote, which begins on one bag and continues onto the other. My aim with this work was, among other things, to illustrate the connections between togetherness, security, and belonging that are suggested in O’Donohue’s writing. I also love his assertion that restless can be abated and a sense of calm achieved simply through proximity to others. 

KK:  In your recent exhibition Fixed Gear in Brussels (2019), I noticed that you were exploring similar formal concerns with the soft fabric sleeping bag, nylon straps, buckles. How did your perceptions or interpretation of this work shift after experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic?

ES:  My aim with the work in Brussels was to illustrate the idea of being “alone together.” I had recently read Sherry Turkle’s book of the same name, and was also influenced by Winnicott’s ideas about solitude from his 1958 article “The Capacity to be Alone.” With this piece, my intent was to represent two bodies that were inextricably linked but simultaneously autonomous. 

I think that the pandemic cemented my interest in the themes of presence, belonging and togetherness. The sudden lack of much social interaction that I had previously taken for granted made me think a lot about what was missing, in addition to the impact that this shift might have on other individuals and communities. I made the works for the Charlotte Street Foundation with this in mind.

KK:  In relation to the embroidered text on the camping stools, how would you define an “emotional risk”? What attracted you to the quotation about community by Mcmillan and Chavis?

ES:  I would define “emotional risk” as an effort to step outside of one’s boundaries and trust another individual. This could mean, for example, sharing personal information or asking for help. I’ve read that relations between two people can be strengthened when one individual shows weakness because it demonstrates trust and allows the other party the opportunity to express empathy, which helps to build an alliance. 

In their paper, “Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory” Mcmillan and Chavis propose that the emotional risk an individual takes is directly related to their sense of belonging within a community. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about community and the necessity for social support systems. I was drawn to their writing because they describe intimacy as a form of investment, and vulnerability as a necessary ingredient in healthy relationships, both of which I think are interesting ideas.

KK:  Could you tell me about an exhibition, or an artist’s work, you have recently seen that made a lasting impact on you?

ES:  It’s been a long time since I’ve been to an exhibition in person due to the current Covid-19 situation. I would say that the creative form that has influenced me most over the course of the pandemic has been writing, and more specifically poetry. I recently discovered the work of Mary Oliver, and it has had a profound impact on me. The thing that strikes me the most about her work is the insight and clarity with which she perceives and describes the environment around her.