Translated by John Kendall


From the exhibition SŪRIYĀ – in the land that was. Vendsyssel Art Museum 2018

THE EYE TEMPLE by Pernille Kløvedal Helweg

When in the 1930s the archeologist Max Mallowan (married to the writer Agatha Christie) with his team excavated the city hills, the so-called tells, in north-eastern Syria, they proved to contain layer upon layer of habitation showing that people were already living here in Tell Brak 8,000 years ago.

Around the year 4,000 B.C. Tell Brak was the biggest city in Upper Mesopotamia. It was at this very site that Mallowan found a temple with thousands of small figures with eyes that make them look like a mix of an owl and E.T. – hence the name Eye Temple – a find that differs from other finds in that it contains figures of eye idols.

We can only guess at the temple’s function. But it seems likely that the small figures were a kind of prayer figures to the all-seeing goddess Ishtar. This presumption is based on the fact that the temple was decorated with the eight-pointed star or rosette that was her symbol. She was queen of heaven and earth and the goddess of war, love and sex. She succeeded in descending to the dead in the underworld – and returning alive. In the exhibition this is symbolised by a ladder leading up to the sky and a ladder leading down to the underworld. At the same time the ladder symbolises that the ancient Syrian city of Tell Brak is one of the world’s first cities, which even today towers over the Syrian plain with many meters of cultural layers from the remains left by millennia of habitation.

The many small prayer figures were made by craftsmen and citizens of that era. By placing a form of “substitute”, one could at all times have a representative in the goddess’s temple.

The idea of having a “substitute” and being symbolically and spiritually together with other “substitutes“ in one’s own sanctuary or with the goddess Ishtar and asking her to turn towards love sounds for me like something I would like to be part of.

For that reason I have modelled a company of 1,200 stoneware eye idols and created a temporary temple in Vendsyssel Art Museum’s “cathedral-like” space with 11 metres to the ceiling. A sign that, despite a distance of 5,000 years, still functions as just that: a sign of life arising from being seen, heard and remembered in the present – both as a dialogue with the past but also as an expectation of the future. There are undoubtedly more stories buried in the sand, but the civil war in Syria has also ravaged around Tell Brak and thereby closed the door to the past.

Pernille Kløvedal Helweg has received a grant from Grosserer L. F. Foghts Fond




From the exhibition WHALES & WILD ANIMAL’S Field Prints at Vejle Kunstmuseum, Fuglsang Kunstmuseum, KUNSTEN in Aarhus, Stavanger Kunstmuseum and at Nordic House and Steinprent in Thorshavn, 2011-2012



A meeting with a tortoise

It started with a tortoise. As it does in Chinese mythology, according to which the world is carried on the back of a tortoise, and as it did for Pernille Kløvedal Helweg in her work over many years exploring animal tracks through her prints. In her book “Tilværelsens inderste skildpadde” [Life’s Innermost Tortoise] from 2001 she presents us with her commentaries on our time through 35 small characteristically wry and humorous etchings of a tortoise on a visit to the modern world. From birth figure to phallus, everywhere it sticks out its cheeky, precociously physiognomy. But the tortoise as a picture, as an idea, is one thing; it’s quite another thing to meet a living specimen of the animal itself. As is typical of Pernille Kløvedal’s way of addressing the world, she contacted Copenhagen Zoo in the year 2000 and managed to set up a meeting with a big red rainforest tortoise. She brought along a prepared copper plate, which she hoped the tortoise would move out on. “Have you anything to tell us humans here on earth?” Kløvedal asked, and that invitation together with some fresh banana was sufficient for the tortoise. What the tortoise had to relate through its erratic course across the plate has now been translated into a print and has been accompanied by the tracks of a Galapagos tortoise, the world’s largest land tortoise.

Pernille Kløvedal Helweg’s interest in capturing the tortoise’s gait stems from a different way of visualising the animal’s essence. A photograph registers the outer form of phenomena, while what interests Kløvedal is whether there is another way of getting behind it or, rather, more deeply into a form for fixing an animal’s signature. The animal’s rhythm, the way it draws its breath and the distribution of its weight; the sensibility with which it places its feet, paws or claws against the world’s surface. She herself speaks of “getting in under the skin without getting eaten”, which I take to mean that she wants to try to sense the animal’s essence without in another way imagining that she “speaks with tortoises”, and without letting go of her artistic integrity. It is not a scientific and correct registration the artist is looking for but a different form of insight and visualisation. It is a way of making the non-visible visible and an exploration of what happens when one moves from one dimension to another. From the physical space of reality to the flat surface of the paper.

When one looks at the print Kløvedal has produced from the tortoise’s walk, one doesn’t see a tortoise, but an abstract pattern. It might look like a work by the American artist Cy Twombly, with these slightly curled figures, which like two lines of music push themselves across the surface. One may also be reminded of characters, an ancient alphabet no one has yet interpreted. A subtle twist is that the earliest known Chinese characters were written on tortoise shells in about 1500 B.C. Like various other bones the tortoise shell was used as a kind of oracle during the Shang Dynasty, the first Chinese dynasty from which written material has been found. The Chinese engraved their signs and questions on the shell, after which it was heated, and the way in which it split was interpreted by a sage as answers. The shell was then archived in the tortoise library.

Through her education as a physical therapist Pernille Kløvedal Helweg is trained to read people’s movements as a language that tells its very own story about how we feel and who we are. We rarely think about it, but the ways in which we carry and move our bodies and let them interact with things and other people are also a language that we read without being aware of it. For many years Pernille Kløvedal has been occupied with studying people’s feet and their own unregarded gestures. All over the world she has photographed feet with and without shoes. We find the most extraordinary dialogue between shiny black men’s shoes, worn out slippers, black toes and sophisticated ladies’ shoes on the pages of her photo book “Footage” (2007). From the shyly sidling to the self-confidently pushy, flat tramping, the awkward and amorous and on to the lewdly flirtatious. This is the approach she uses in her animal prints, in an exploration of what pictures this may lead to. We could say that Kløvedal read the forest tortoise’s writing as an invitation to go further. An invitation that comes not from the tortoise, but from her interpretation of its signs. This is an important point, for Kløvedal’s project is not to romanticise the natural world. The tortoise is indifferent to humans, and it doesn’t communicate secret signs behind everything, but man is a being who reads signs in tracks, and that is precisely the creative source that Kløvedal takes hold of by using animals as tracksetters.

Through her education as a physical therapist Pernille Kløvedal Helweg is trained to read people’s movements as a language that tells its very own story about how we feel and who we are. We rarely think about it, but the ways in which we carry and move our bodies and let them interact with things and other people are also a language that we read without being aware of it. For many years Pernille Kløvedal has been occupied with studying people’s feet and their own unregarded gestures. All over the world she has photographed feet with and without shoes. We find the most extraordinary dialogue between shiny black men’s shoes, worn out slippers, black toes and sophisticated ladies’ shoes on the pages of her photo book “Footage” (2007). From the shyly sidling to the self-confidently pushy, flat tramping, the awkward and amorous and on to the lewdly flirtatious. This is the approach she uses in her animal prints, in an exploration of what pictures this may lead to. We could say that Kløvedal read the forest tortoise’s writing as an invitation to go further. An invitation that comes not from the tortoise, but from her interpretation of its signs. This is an important point, for Kløvedal’s project is not to romanticise the natural world. The tortoise is indifferent to humans, and it doesn’t communicate secret signs behind everything, but man is a being who reads signs in tracks, and that is precisely the creative source that Kløvedal takes hold of by using animals as tracksetters.

Field Printing 

The technique Pernille Kløvedal Helweg used to capture the tortoise’s gait is called soft ground etching. This is an old printing technique and only one of many ways in which one can work with copper or deep prints. To put it simply, the copper plate is covered with a special acid-resistant paste, a so-called soft ground, which is soft initially and then hardens. While the ground is soft, the wished-for traces or lines are pressed into it. After a short while the ground hardens and the plate can be washed with acid. The acid can only penetrate in the places where the motif has removed the soft ground. This means that only the motif formed in the soft ground will subsequently appear as directly etched lines on the copper plate. Then the ground can be removed, and the plate can be printed. The processed surface is inked and then wiped clean, so that the ink only binds to the places where the lines have been etched. Then moistened paper is placed on the plate. Now it can be run through the printing press, and for the first time one can see, in mirror-reversed form, what kind of a picture one has actually been working towards.

Along the way from untreated copper plate to print-ready master the plate has to be cleansed a number of times with turpentine, water, base and acid. Working with prints requires time, technique precision and chemical knowhow. For many years it has been the copper printer Mette Marott, who, besides being a perfectionist in her specialisation, possesses the inner calm needed to work in the most impossible conditions as in the Giraffe House in Copenhagen Zoo or in an icy hall in the Faroe Islands.

Pernille Kløvedal Helweg began her work with what she calls field printing in the year 2000. This took place at Atelier Agerbo (in collaboration with artist Bjarne Agerbo) and was limited to small-scale works. From 2004 she has in collaboration with Mette Marott expanded field printing to much larger physical dimensions. Field printing is a fusion of field work. as the term is used of research that is performed outside the controlled spaces of the laboratory or the library. and printing. The idea behind field printing is that the artist and the printer take the copper plates out of the studio, out into the field, where the traces are set in the soft ground or where the lines are scratched directly on the plate (cold needle). Other artists have also brought along a copper plate in their pockets and used it as a drawing pad, but few have ventured to take the soft ground into the field. With good reason, for working with large plates covered with soft ground outside the order and structure of the atelier is a complicated and demanding task. The plates are heavy to handle, and the soft ground is very easily spoiled. How for instance can one transport a 1 x 1 m plate weighing 9 kilograms without other impressions than one has just arrived at being made in the sensitive ground? This involves timing and lots of logistics.

Field printing is very much a long, rolling process which consists of reacting to multiple challenges that one can’t imagine beforehand and prepare for, but which arise along the way, It is primarily a question of trust and collaboration: The collaboration with a printer is of course always a matter of trust, but at the very moment one decides to make a print of an entire pilot whale, this will only be possible if many other people also believe in it and invest their efforts in the common endeavour. As an artist one must work trusting blindly in the other people involved, that each of them will do their best. One can’t plot a course towards the goal; one must let go and enter into the process without an idea of what is to come out of it and fully prepared to receive what comes. At the deepest level it is an almost Zen-like practice, in which being boxed on the ears by the Master is not a punishment but a recognition. The process and the goal are reciprocally dependent, and without the process there is no goal.

Animal tracks

In 2004 Kløvedal and Marott literally moved into the former Giraffe House in Copenhagen Zoo, where they set about getting an elephant, a boa constrictor, a coypu, a polar bear, a lion, a rhinoceros and in 2010 also a penguin and a brown bear to set their marks. In every way a challenging task that could only succeed with the collaboration of the keepers and their knowledge of the animals. How does one get a four-ton elephant to plant the first foot on a suspicious-looking, unfamiliar copper plate, and what does one do when the polar bear begins to lick the soft ground off the plate? Not to mention how one gets a snake, which is heavy but doesn’t weigh anything because its weight is distributed over several metres, to leave an imprint? The answer to the last question is that the artist has to lie down on top of the snake. Field printing in this league is not for delicate souls! But of course the aim is to get the snake to move across the plate, not just to press its paw down.

Most animals are with good reason distrustful of the ideas human beings think up, and so it is no simple matter to entice them to walk out on a greasy plate. Once the animal has left its tracks, it’s necessary to remove the plate without touching its surface. But here, too, all predetermined ideas have to be abandoned. What happens, happens and is also a part of it! As when the penguin after having waddled around for a bit releases a powerful jet from its waterworks! It required quite a balancing act for the printer and artist to remove the plate without miring everything in penguin pee.

The rhinoceros caused particular problems. It had absolutely no wish to walk onto the red plate (a soft ground approved by the Zoo’s vet), even though it has for days been living with a red practice plate lying in front of its stable door, placed there by the keepers so the animals could accustom themselves to the change. When they had accepted the plate and had begun to tramp across it, the artist and printer arrived, and the wooden plate was replaced by the copper plate. But what were they thinking of? A rhinoceros is fully able to register this was a different plate and therefore a quite new potential danger that had to be checked out first. No blandishments helped. Finally the keeper tried to push the great he-rhino towards the plate. And then he took off. More than 3 ½ meters and 3 tons of rhino set off across the plate! The she-rhino was left behind staring resentfully in the direction of her mate who had disappeared into safety. Finally it was she who ended up setting her hoof prints.

The brown bear was allowed to work on the unprocessed copper plate, as a cold needle etching. The plate was mounted on a door for the bear, which then scratched on it. The bear’s persevering work to remove the unknown object with its claws can be seen on one of the little films with which Kløvedal continuously documented her project.. A Danish animal also took part − a seagull. As most people know seagulls are always prepared to eat and come quite close if something tasty is served. How a seagull negotiates with a herring seen from below is now captured in the print.

The wonderful thing about the prints of animal tracks is that they yield quite different pictures than those we normally have of so-called “wild animals”. The completed prints have been produced through a co-print of the track plate with a background plate on which the artist herself has worked with acid wash, cold needle and aquatint. The tracks have so to speak formed the starting-point for an artistic interpretation, a composition if you like. The lion Olek from Hungary has printed dramatic red paws, while the polar bear’s furry paws float calmly on a seagreen background like strange marine animals or moss formations. A later print has a warmer background colour, as a reminder of the threat posed by climate change to the polar bear’s survival as a species. The coypu’s print has a quite different temperament − it has danced on the plate and changed direction many times. Perhaps it was its tail that made the figure that resembles a feather? When we speak of “wild animals”, our language and our inner pictures are brim full of clichés. The dangerous lion, the cute panda, the cunning snake. Just as we form clichés and readymade ideas concerning all sorts of other things that seem alien to us. The clichés are a way of structuring the world and making it reassuring, but they also make it more constricted. Kløvedal’s intention is, I think, to open up for many other ways of forming pictures..

The Faroe Islands and the Dream of a Pilot Whale

In February 2009 Pernille Kløvedal Helweg visited the Faroe Islands for the first time. With her she had brought a large wooden box containing 10 highly polished copper plates of 1 x 2 m. Kløvedal had a dream of investigating whether it would be possible to elicit a different form of expression from the pilot whale, which, both concretely and mentally, means so much for the Faroe Islands and which for centuries has been an indispensable source of food. She wished to explore whether, through an artistic process, the pilot whale would be able to give a picture of itself. A large number of specialists from the Faroe Islands, in particular Dorete Bloch, Professor of Zoology (whose special field is the pilot whale) and the lithographer Jan Andersson, head of Steinprent, the Faroese Graphic Workshop, had expressed their support for the idea. Without them it would not have been possible.

From the start it was clear that a print of a pilot whale would have to differ radically from other “field prints” inasmuch as it could only be done with a dead whale. This meant that the impression would not represent the animal’s movement and breathing or its natural tracks, but would be an impression of the surface with which a dead, torpedo-shaped body meets another surface. An impression that would at best reproduce the whale’s skin as an enigmatic text and at worst as a uniform flat blob.

“Field printing” is a concept the artist Pernille Kløvedal Helweg has developed. “Field printing” is a fusion of field work, as the term is used of research conducted outside the controlled spaces of the laboratory and the library, and the graphic arts. The idea of “field printing” is that the artist and the printmaker take copper plates out of the workshop into the field, where the traces will be set in the soft ground or incised directly on the plate (cold needle). Other artists have also put a copper plate in their pocket and used it as a sketch pad, but few have ventured to bring the soft ground into the field. With good reason, for it is complicated and demanding to work with large plates covered with soft ground outside the order and structure of the workshop. The plates are heavy to handle, while the soft ground and with it the clean print are very easily spoiled. Here there is no room for improvisation: what is needed is precision, care and timing preceded by a great deal of logistic planning.

Why a whale?

Why a whale? Besides the fact that Kløvedal had been on a whale hunt with a little family from Qaanaaq in 1999, where the last men in the world hunt narwhals with harpoons from kayaks for food, and that contact with the Faroe Islands brought her an awareness of pilot whales, there are a number of things that made her encounter with the whale so challenging. Like us the whale is a mammal; it gives birth to living offspring, and it breathes through lungs. Scientists believe that the whale has a pre-history on land, and that over the years its body has undergone changes that have adapted it better and better to life in the sea. This idea makes sense when one visits the Faroese museum of natural history, Føroya Náttúrugripasavn, and sees the two pilot whales hanging there. Liberated from the enormous quantities of meat and blubber the pilot whale resembles a peculiar mixture of mammal and bird, a flying dinosaur with four-fingered angel wings, a hovering mermaid with a bird’s beak. The whales are around us, but we don’t see them. They live parallel with us in a quite different element. But it means something for us that the whale exists, s swimming out there and filling the sea with mysterious sounds.

For a lot of peoples the whale is a source of food on which they have always depended. It has its own place in the mythologies of all these cultures. Original peoples, unlike us in the Western world today, have never thought of the animals that they lived off as simply meat. In the Western world despite its size, the whale has in time been reduced to something cute (cartoon films) and at the same time almost divine. In the latter perspective to hunt and kill whales is sacrilege. By an irony of fate it may also soon be a thing of the past. The whale is the last link in the food chain, and whale meat is now so full of heavy metals that one is warned not to eat it, especially meat from pilot whales. A sad thought that whales will end up as protected chemical depots.

The fin whale in Vejle

But even though you have decided to print a whale, there is no certainty that one will just turn up. Pernille Kløvedal Helweg had to arm herself with patience back in Denmark. While she was waiting for a pilot whale to turn up in the Faroe Islands, a coincidence occurred of the kind that you often experiences when you are deeply immersed in a material: a whale swam into Vejle Fjord. It was a baleen whale, a fin whale, and the huge attention it received from the media makes it clear that the whale is an animal that engages the public’s interest. When the whale died and was brought ashore, of course the field printmaker had to set out, not with plates and other equipment, but with a camera and a determination to get a chunk of the animal. This she did, in the shape of a piece of its peculiarly grooved belly skin, which can expand tenfold when the whale takes in water. The fin whale’s skin was printed as a lithograph, which clearly reproduces the structure of the skin.

The fin whale’s visit also showed how little we know about these animals with which we live side by side. For a long time it was assumed that the whale in Vejle Fjord was a young animal, and it was only after very careful analyses that it was concluded that it had to be about 140 years old, which meant that it is actually the oldest scientifically registered whale in the world. As a young whale it could in theory have swum past Charles Darwin before he died as an old man in 1882. It was here before we got electric light in Denmark, before the airplane and the theory of relativity; it was swimming around out there in the sea during World War I and World War 2. It had been there all the time, throughout our lives and the lives of our parents and grandparents. The meeting with the whale, whether it was at first hand or through the media, is also a meeting with time. A reminder that we live such a relatively short time, and that life will proceed without us, but also a meeting with all the history that is represented through the animal’s long life. Meeting the animal is something that occurred in the present, but the present also has its temporal dimension, a past and an extent. The whale’s time, like that of Darwin’s turtle, which died in 2006, 176 years old, is dizzying.

Print of pilot whale no. 14, summer 2010

At long last, on July 2nd, 2010, a pod of pilot whales landed on the beach at Tórshavn, and the project got its whale. A couple of weeks later Pernille Kløvedal Helweg arrived with her team of lifters and carriers along with the printmaker Mette Marott. The whale had been taken out of cold storage a week previously and transported to a little bay, Kalbak, where BioFar, Marinbiologisk Laboratorium is situated.

No matter how seasoned you are, it makes a big impression to meet a whale at eye level, to inhale the heavy oily smell and measure its enormous body against your own, to look into its tiny slit of an eye and just be struck by how alien it is, how little we are at all able to grasp the phenomenon of a whale. How little we have with which to grasp and cognize that which lies outside our world.

From a distance the skin of the whale looks uniformly smooth. Close up we see the body’s own history. Pilot whale no. 14 had indentations in its dorsal fin from bites after fights with other whales, marks after visits from the blood-sucking lamprey, and around its mouth the most delicate little “embroidered” circles from squid which in their last desperate seconds had tried to escape the whale’s jaws by sucking onto the predator . The whale “sees” with its sonar system. It emits sound waves, which are amplified by the enormous ovoid fatty organ, called the melon, which forms the rounded shape of its head and catches their rebound. On top of the head there is the blowhole, its nostril, through which it sends one-metre high squirts of filtered air and vapour.

For it to be possible to place the whale on the five big copper plates it was necessary to be able to raise and lower the 1.1 tons. A hole was made in the dorsal fin so that the whale could hang from its natural point of balance. It looked quite extraordinary: a sort of zeppelin from an unknown universe. Days passed with preparations, raising and lowering. The process had to take place in one movement – the slightest slippage would ruin the print. It’s no easy task steering a semi-frozen deadweight down onto a surface and bringing it up again just as quickly. Field printing in these dimensions requires muscle power.

For days on end the printmaker had worked with the five reddish-gold copper plates each 1 x 2 metres, only 1 mm thick, but weighing 18 kilos. The more thoroughly the plates are cleaned before the soft ground is applied, the clearer the print will appear. For an outsider the perfectionism seemed quite absurd and unending, but there were no easy shortcuts. Sheets of wood were placed beneath the hovering whale. The printmakers brushed the soft ground onto the plates, and at the same time they were carried over onto the wooden sheets in a silent choreographed dance. It had to be done quickly so that the first plate didn’t have time to dry before the last one was ready. The whale was dabbed with cloths – it had to be absolutely dry. The pulleys creaked as three men slowly lowered the whale. The men pushed and heaved. At last it was in place, perfectly, with the fin underneath the body. The tail was causing problems and the artist had to contribute her body weight. Then it was up again – at once!

How do the plates look? Different. That has to be the first principle of field printing – it always looks different. But the impression is there. Time will show whether it will yield a picture. It didn’t take many minutes – the magic moment around which everything had revolved for the last two years – in which the whale met the plate. Now the big plates were to go into an acid bath, after which the artist would be able to subject them to further treatment.

Two other plates were made with impressions of the tail and skin. The tail was separated from the body and cut open on each side of the tailbone, so that the tail could lie flat, and correspondingly the skin was spread out against the plate like a carpet. A third plate received the footprints of all the people who were present on the day the whale became a picture. All of then, from 15-year-old Sølvi from Klaksvig local radio to the whale professor, had to go up and set their footprints.

The whale’s blue shadow

January 2011. In Denmark the country was covered in snow. On the Faroe Islands it was milder, but misty and rainy. Three weeks had been set aside for printing the copper plates at Steinprent. 16 square metres of copper plates took up a lot of space, as did the paper, which first had to lie moistened, then in the drying system, as well as the piles of ironed felt pieces to be put in between. The two printmakers followed a wonderful choreography, and in that process everyone else was in the way. A helping hand in the wrong place could do a lot of damage. After a week’s preparation the first plate could go through. There was a breathless suspense.

Producing a copperplate print of a pilot whale under field conditions is a conceptual, an idea-borne project. The print is partly an impression from a quite specific body transferred via a copper plate and partly an impression of a lot of people’s physical toil and determination, but most of all it is an impression of an individual’s dream of a sign. The whale’s sign, the blue-black formation on the white paper, carries no suggestion of weight. It rises above the toil and effort; it looks light – like a single beat of an airborne wing. The whale will always escape us. The recognition of this fact is one of the most beautiful facets of Pernille Kløvedal’s project.

The interpretations and readings are our own. We see that which we know, but perhaps in our meeting with Pernille Kløvedal Helweg’s prints we may see something else in the impression, for the very reason that we don’t know the whale’s precise form. Because the print does not bring to mind our own preconceived idea of a whale, but sets us free to meet the whale in a different way. The artist has not, in a romantic fashion, come closer to the whale’s own essence, but offers us an opportunity to see through other eyes. The print is a myriad of structures, a world to lose yourself in, an almost Japanese perspective, in which mountains and rivers are displaced, where recognisable structures appear as if out of the Faroese mists and perhaps make you think of wanderings in the structures of pictorial art or of nature. The print of the whale does not resemble a whale, but it is precisely this paradoxical fact that makes us able to see the whale as something other than “the picture of a whale”. The print gives no answers but refers us to our own speculations as to what kind of a being a whale is, why the whale means something for us, and what it is actually all about when it turns up in our dreams.

The work with the whale has elicited a response, a sign that we could not have thought up. All who have been part of the process have become richer by an experience, have received an impulse from a whale that suddenly became an immediate part of their lives. In the same way it is the artist’s wish that the viewer who meets these pictures, films and stories in the museum will also leave it with new images on their retina, new thoughts about who we and the animals actually are.

Mai Misfeldt M.A. Literary and art critic. Author of a large number of catalogue texts on Danish artists, among others, Eva Koch, Lone Høyer Hansen, Anne Marie Ploug and Tina Maria Nielsen.



Fra udstillingen HVALTEGN & DYRESPOR hos Vejle Kunstmuseum, Fuglsang Kunstmuseum, KUNSTEN i Aarhus, Stavanger Kunstmuseum, Nordens Hus i Thorshavn, 2011-2012


Some years ago I had the good fortune to be able to accompany some experienced hunters from the Gwikhe people on a number of winter mornings in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to look at tracks while the sand was still cool and firm. You didn’t have to go far to find tracks. Just over there in a ruler-straight line run the tracks of a roughly three-foot long puff adder, a contributor to the greatest number of fatal accidents in southern Africa. A little later we discover the serpentine prints of a black mamba, named for the black interior of its mouth. It belongs to the group of “three-minute snakes” because it is vital to get treatment as quickly as possible to have a chance of surviving a bite. A little further on , there are the distinctive tracks of the Kori Bustard, an almost five-foot tall bird. The Bush People say of it that if you boil it for a week together with a brick, the brick will have become tender, but not that miserable tough bird.

Right there as if it had just walked across one of Pernille Kløvedal Helweg’s copper plates we can see, light in the grey patch of sand opposite us, the unmistakable footprints of a honey badger, which has just slipped in between the low bushes. The branches are still moving. Lion tracks along the road as clear as if they had just been made. Even lions prefer roads when they want to travel in comfort.

All the time there are discussions and stories about the tracks, when they were made, how old they are, the size or sex and condition of the animal. As written signs they are so easy to read for those who know Kalahari writing, whether they are from a chamois buck or an eland antilope. Here and there the finely printed tracks of the long-eared ibex, a shy mini antelope with incredibly beautiful eyes. The compact, fist-sized footprints left by the ubiquitous, but rarely seen leopard. Excrement, where it is found, is scrutinised as intensely as if it contained recipes. After so many years these hunters can read Kalahari as clearly as we others read our newspapers, and every day there is a new story.

The first time I saw Pernille’s prints of animal tracks, it was with a feeling of immediate recognition from the mornings in Africa looking for tracks. Imagine if the hunters I was with had been able to see these prints of lion, elephant, giraffe tracks, etc. I wonder what they could have read out of them. Because, after all, it is not the tracks that are the important thing. It is the movement, captured just there, that really opens up the potential in the prints.

This is true for all the different prints. For me it is the living movement that creates the incredible experience of having captured something that is no longer present.

This doubleness − the movement across the plate along with the movement caught on the sheet − is for me the most magical thing.

For those who fully open their eyes there are great experiences in store. Those of you who have seen them before, look at them once again! See the doubleness of the movement. Those of you who haven’t seen them before, open up fully − you won’t regret it for a moment. For the blasé among you who think, well they’re just animals who have walked across a plate − how much art is there in that? Well, just look again, think about the fact that there has been an animal at the other end of the track you’re staring at, and it is its gait, its way of walking, that has been captured, but no animal moves out onto a plate without having an idea, big or little, about what it is doing at this very moment, right there as the movement is being caught. That is the simple and enthralling thing about these prints.

Looked at in this way, the whole exhibition can become a single quivering space filled with the movements, thoughts and discoveries of humans and animals that perpetually take place, now and always, each time the eye undisturbed perceives these traces of life.

Have any of you seen how an African elephant places its feet?

Even when it is running, it treads cautiously as if feeling the ground. It does not tread down with its full weight until it is sure of what kind of ground it is. If you have ever followed an elephant’s tracks through the sand, you will know that many of the prints are made so you can see how the its pad is not just one big pad but consists of skin that on given occasions can be drawn back into folds. A big foot, true, but a sensitively registering foot. Just like ours, which also consists of various folds and cracks conditioned by the bones and muscles lying beneath the sensitive skin. And we too have preserved this delicate ability to sense when we get the earth beneath our feet. As is the case for the elephant, it is almost part of our perceptual apparatus. One can remember with one’s feet when one has passed over a piece of ground sufficiently often One knows how it will feel in one’s feet. I clearly remember the feeling of recognition in my feet when I was walking on paths in the Faroe Islands many years after I had walked there as a child. The hurried city dweller no longer needs this sense. I am sure that elephants have an equally good, if not better, memory in their feet. True Pernille’s elephant feet are Indian, but no doubt they remember in the same way, and somewhere in the animal the copper plate is still remembered. In the old days, by the way, bush people in the Kalahari had the idea that all animals have once been humans, so the elephants had too. One night the elephant women got tired of waiting on the men and decided to run away. So as not to be discovered they put wooden bowls on their feet in order not to leave recognisable tracks. Ever since that night elephants have always left those big round prints. If you don’t believe it, just look! Elephants are the only mammals that have knees and bend their hind legs in the same way as humans and monkeys, which bushmen call the little people. Yes, it’s quite true. Even a circus elephant sis down in the same way as the spectators.

But I’ve strayed from the colours used in the prints. For it is here that Pernille starts on the second part of the process. First she captures the movement and then she chooses the colour that will bring the animals’ tracks to the viewer. And here the doubleness again makes its appearance. Let’s simply stay with the elephant tracks that are unmistakably elephant tracks, but are at the same time water lily leaves floating on a dark lake, weightless and reddish. If a breath of wind moved through the room, they would slip over the edge and down onto the floor. Or the turquoise that carries the polar bear’s tracks, the great hairy paws, they move so sensitively that they can suddenly appear as big amoebae on a histological slide at the same time as they as polar bears place their great paws on the crystalline blue-green ice that we, submerged like seals, are looking up towards.

I simply have to tell you about the Galapagos turtle. You won’t find anything more interesting than that print. The Galapagos turtle has a life span that corresponds to its slowness. It has to live for a long time if it is to manage to do all the things it needs to do. But as opposed to the elephant and the peppery rhino its gait is not sensitive in the same way. It drags itself forward, step by step. Convinced that it’ll get there in due course. And it has time to observe its surroundings.

A girl friend of mine when I was reading medicine many years ago lived in a flat below a man who had two large Galapagos turtles walking around in his small rooms. And they made a good deal of noise rumbling across the floor while we were sitting bent over our books. In the beginning I didn’t believe her. So I went upstairs and asked to borrow the conventional cup of sugar. He opened the door and went back to fill the cup. Then I saw them, quite unreal, two large, moving stones in the sitting-room. He came back with the cup filled and said he had been a seaman, but now he was an asthmatic petit bourgeois, who wanted to be left in peace. Then he shut the door and left me standing on the mat with my cup of sugar.

Now notice the Galapagos turtle’s gait in pink. It could reflect a vision of a lighter way of moving about on this earth. But the slow, thoughtful steps stand as written characters denoting a time even further back. The pink background brings out the advancing movement perfectly − like a dream in motion. Look at it for a long, long time, I say in my best hypnotiser’s voice, and you will be able to see it walking slowly forward.

In a way the two prints, the fin whale, which is 140 years old, and the turtle, which has wandered around on the islands that Darwin climbed about on in his youth, bring the exhibition together. I see the young fin whale and the elderly Darwin naked with his beard, swimming around in the blue sea. This is a picture that should only be formed in the mind and be viewed there. But Pernille Kløvedal Helweg’s unique prints are worth seeing many times for all the impressions they create every time one views them.



From the exhibition THE DEPTH OF THE SURFACE, Kunstetagerne, Hobro, 2012

HELWEG AND THE TORTOISE by Mikkel Bruun Zangenberg

It’s thought-provoking that both the slave and the philosopher, both Aesop and Zeno, let the tortoise come before the hare or the hero. In Aesop’s fable this is because the over-confident hare takes a nap in the middle of the race, after which the tortoise slowly but surely overtakes it and arrives first at the finish. And in Zeno’s second paradox the idea is that any line can always be subdivided into an infinite number of ever-smaller points. Each time Achilles, who gave the tortoise a head start, arrives at a given point on the line followed by the tortoise, the tortoise will have moved some

points further, along its route, and so on. That’s the case here, where the tortoise from the most fantastic place has arrived for its meeting with Pernille Kløvedal Helweg. It is our good fortune that Helweg in her own fashion has adopted the motto that Blixen took from Dennis Finch-Hatton’s coat of arms, namely ”Je responderay”, ”I shall answer”. This led to a meeting that takes place at a vibrant crossroads where many tracks, lines and routes interweave.

The meeting occurred at a specific location in Hanoi in Vietnam at the Temple of Literature Van Mien. Here, in 2003, Helweg came across the 82 large granite tortoises arrayed in four symmetrical squares whose portraits she reproduces in her multi-coloured lino prints. A stone tablet has been set up on each tortoise’s back, on which are listed the names of the only 1323 elite students who gained a doctorate in the period 1442-1779 and thereby access to the imperial court. The temple of literature has also been a university and is thereby located in the cross field between literature and learning. It is probably difficult for a Westerner to grasp that the temple – with its associations with the sacred and the religious – is actually dedicated to literature, which is very much in and of this world. And the tortoise, this slow, mild, longlived animal is the zoological incarnation of literature’s magic space. But that’s how it is, and with the folding together of the tortoise’s granite countenances and Helweg’s portraits we are presented with an expansion of our sense of fiction’s mighty power.

Normally the geologist studies the microscopic, chronological deposits of fossil layers one after the other, or the archaeologist digs painstakingly through ever deeper prehistorical layers. Here we have chronological synchronicity: this arises because we see a cross-section reproduction of the many sedimented layers in, for instance, a rock. But what literature and visual art can achieve is quite different, something we might call an eclectic synchronicity: that layers separated from one another in time and space are suddenly and with great effect brought together over what are usually great distances. The interesting thing about the meeting between the tortoises and Helweg is of course, that we have here a union of enormous slowness and great speed. The tortoises are a symbol of the deliberate wiliness that takes its time but nevertheless always arrives before the hare. And in Helweg’s almost conceptual, Warhol-like reproduction of the seriality of the 82 tortoise faces there lies a resolute, quick-witted response to and rethinking of the original granite figures. The Vietnamese tortoises in the temple of literature and the modern Danish artist’s tortoises suddenly combine to constitute an exposed double portrait that casts light both backwards and forwards. For this reason the title “The Depth of the Surface” makes very good sense indeed: it is through the flat two-dimensional reproduction of the many expressions of the tortoises’ faces that a fruitful depth of meanings is opened up, extended between Hanoi and Hobro, between the 13th century and 2012, between the sacred power of literature and the subtle, perception-borne wisdom of pictorial art. In this way Helweg has composed a novel narrative, one in which the tortoise and the hare are no longer competitors, but on the contrary come to meet one another, each from its own exciting, vital and vibrant point of origin.



From the exhibition FOOTAGE hos Apair i København, 2010

FOOT AND FASHION by Lisbeth Bonde

The foot serves the human body in the same way as the plinth serves the statue. It stabilises and keeps us standing in a vertical position, so we don’t fall over. But as a  flexible pliable platform of bones it is at the same time the precondition for our mobility. Nevertheless it ranks − both in terms of values and anatomically at the bottom of the body’s hierarchy and is on the whole treated accordingly.
We should therefore introduce a Day of the Foot, when we could liberate it from the dark casing of the shoe, so it could feel the tickling of the grass. On such a day we should also massage it with lovely oils − like Mary Magdalen in the New Testament, who moistened Christ’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. But if we do not value the foot sufficiently, the languages has on the other hand taken it seriously for centuries.. We speak of verse feet, to go in other people’s footsteps, to be on a good footing with someone, to get a foothold, to have the world at your feet, to stand on one’s own feet or to get a foot in the door. One could go on and on. But when has the foot ever been the main motif in an artwork?

Pernille Kløvedal Helweg published her book bogen FOOTAGE in 2007 at the same time as her exhibition FODENS GESTUS at Kunsthallen Brandts in Odense, where she showed her highly original photos of feet from all over the world. By directing her camera downwards she was able to tell some quite new stories about socilogy, ethnicity, stile and aesthetics and thereby also about the human condition and the distribution of wealth around the world, for fewet reveal the real state of things. They are not trstrf eith Botox or plastic surgery, but bear sober witness to the truth about a person. The artist told her snapshot stories with humour and without moralising, and the pictures united to form a poetic statement about the multifariousness of life presented with a sure sense for both composition and colour..

In Apair’s shop window Pernille Kløvedal Helweg displays five work from this series in a new context. They appear in pairs and relate to each other in polar oppositions: summer legs in slippers are seen next to the bootblack’s down-at-heel sandals, highheeled shoes appear vis à vis an anatomic study of an x-ray of a foot that has seeen better days. We see feet resting in hospital next to feet hurrying through a public space, a foot in a red shoe appears alongside a child’s shoe that has flown over oto the breakfast table − not to forget a pai of designer shoe with mahogany wedge heels seconded by a pair of carved wood woman’s legs dangling macabrely and reminding us of the ephemerality of life. These photos contain all the complexity and poetry of human existence and show an unheeded world seen and sensed at ground level.

Lisbeth bonde, M.A., author and art critic for Weekendavisen.


From the exhibition SÅL at Galerie Birthe Laursen in Copenhagen, 2007

FOOTNOTES by Tor Nørretranders

“Footprint!” they yell at you. What’s your ecological footprint? Your negative impact on the planet? The CO2, you produce, the steaks you consume. Computers left on standby. They want to know how much you’re burdening the environment.

But that’s getting things the wrong way round. Beneath our feet we can feel the grass grow; it is they that ground us; the soles of our feet inform us about the state of the planet. We are persons who connect with the planet by touching it. But oh no, that’s far too risky. We keep our shoes on — that way we avoid vermin. We prefer the civilized feel of shoe soles to letting our foot soles kiss the earth beneath us. If we walked on our hands, we would always wear gloves.

“The simplest way to explore Gaia is on foot,” writes the visionary British scientist James Lovelock in setting out his marvellous Gaia hypothesis, to the effect that the Earth is a Wing organism whose key surface properties are regulated by life. To get a sense of Gaia, you have to walk. Preferably barefoot.

We then get to realize that the Earth needs us. That we need, in Alexander Pope’s words, to be “fools” who “rush in where angels fear to tread.” Stepping up to the mark as agents in the world, taking responsibility for it and registering its needs. The Earth’s climate has a problem and it’s up to us to do something about it. Planetary barefoot medicine is the answer.

Here’s what you do. Stand barefoot – if not on a beach, then on some delightful stretch of non-asphalt planet surface — your legs slightly apart. With your weight distributed on both legs and your shoulders relaxed, look straight up into the sky. Now extend your arms upwards, out into space, and register how you feel, from your fingertips to your heels. Register it again, filled with longing, and then do the flip – – –

Suddenly, you find yourself handstanding in the sky! The globe lifted up by the soles of your feet. You are the planet’s footprint in the sky. Your soles are your soul.

It tickles, doesn’t it?



From the exhibition FOOTAGE at the Museum for Fotokunst Brandts, 2007

A FOOT ABOVE THE GROUND. Preface by Finn Thrane

A foot is the part of the weight-bearing limbs of ter-restrial vertebrates that makes contact with the ground. So says my encyclopaedia. Escalators and travelators are currently limiting the need for the foot function. An American businessman hurrying to his lunchtime meeting takes the elevator from the 27th floor to the parking basement under the skyscraper, walks the 40 steps to the car and glides off effortlessly, he hands over his vehicle to the parking attendant and he strolls a block or two to his meeting. Concrete or asphalt, needle felt or oak parquetry: the terrain is flat – surveyor and architect have been there with spirit level and levelling instrument and smoothed out anything that might challenge legs and feet. We are still born with the bone-based bend in the leg that is called a foot and enables us to walk, run and dance, but for how long? The little toe is a rudiment of something that was presumably once a prehensile (i.e. grasping) toe — in a million years perhaps the flexible joint of the foot will have stiffened or become atrophied because of lack of use.

But language keeps its fossils for a long time. Our languages are full of feet that wander around in written and spoken texts and remind us where we get our balance in life from. We can gain a foothold or even have both feet on the ground, and if you’re a success at something you find your feet or never put a foot wrong. But you can also lose your balance and get cold feet, or be swept off your feet, in fact you can even open your mouth and put your foot in it. And language itself joins in the game when the writer trains it to dance along on metrical feet or supplies a book or article with wise and perspicacious footnotes.

In the really old days, way back in medieval Danish, the phrase living on a long foot meant living a life almost on the same affluent footing as modern westerners have been smart enough to achieve. Originally the phrase meant you were granted the privilege of wearing curly-peaked shoes of a size that demonstrated to everyone that they were looking at a person of a format that could be measured. In the fourteenth century it was prescribed that commoners must not wear peaked shoes over 6 Danish inches in length, while the aristocracy could be recognized in two categories, from the baron’s 12-inch peaked shoes to the count’s impressive 24 inches.

In Footage our gaze is once more directed to the down-to-earth domain of legs and the foot. But it isn’t one social class’s swaggering boastfulness over another’s that is the essence of the story; it is rather a magical journey related to those of Hans Christian Andersen, where you travel around the globe with your magnifying glass on a selected field of interest such as the eternally passing feet – floating and graceful, elegantly fashionable, sore and tired – training a passing spotlight on a whole age through patterns of movement and body language. Footage is a charming voyage of discovery with one eye closed and the other attentively half-open to capture the fine portrait-like signals that issue from the lower extremities of the planet’s anonymous nomads of the species homo sapiens – walking, jumping, dancing, resting. Pars pro toto was what the ancients called it when an artist ignored the totality to sharpen the gaze by looking at the detail.

Footage is diary-like snapshots taken with a pocket camera. The object in front of the camera is footwear or bare feet, but the statements touch on timeless tem-peraments such as melancholia, pride, flirtatiousness, idleness, indomitability and resignation. Their empathetic presence is related to the moving graphic traces from a copperplate with a soft background that Pernille Klovedal Helweg has taken from old footsteps of kindred spirits among the animals such as the elephant, the rhinoceros, the snake and the tortoise. The common denominator is empathy with the living, balanced by humour.



From the exhibition TRACKS AND 82 TORTOISES at Museumscenter Aars, 2004

SPORETS RYTME af Alexander Carnera

According to the Stoic philosopher,  Lucretius, sense perceptions are imprints from the world that make an impression on the body. ”All objects send out impressions, airy forms thrown off by the outermost “skin” of things and completely alike them”. (On the Nature of Things). In the same breath Pernille Kløvedal Helweg’s ”animal tracks” are a graphic imprint that makes an impression. The animal has made its print, but what emerges is rather the foot’s gesture than its track – a sense perception that  concerns the world.

It is a tactile sensing that comes into being in the encounter between this gesture, this tramping, this seizing and the stuff and colours of the copper surface. The skin of the elephant is touched by the skin of things. The texture of things is struck by the tortoise’s flat feet and the hairy paw of the polar bear. True, it starts with the foot, but the finished foot print looks more like a flickering film, a shimmering carpet, there where a sensing foot is vibrating, a film in which the skin has torn itself free of the foot itself and is now melting into the stuff of things: a stuff not merely made up of fluids and colours, but also of light and refractions of light.

When we see a footprint, we immediately say that it designates something, perhaps an animal that has passed by, but it could also be imperceptible impressions of something else. In Pernille Kløvedal Helweg’s pictures the track becomes an arrangement of dots, lines and surfaces. That is why we say that the animal discovered the territory not as a delimited coordinate system, but as a mobile rhythmic mapping of the land: the animal moves in the direction of tastes and smells that can reach it from a great distance, of things it has buried, and some animals move on the basis of changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure. The animal orients itself on the basis of speed and rest, length and breadth, and composes these effects into its movements. The animal’s body composes together with nature’s a piece of music that exchanges these forces.

Perhaps there is rhythm before there are steps, a songline in which the animal and even homo erectus inscribe themselves: in the beginning there is the dance in the constellation of the stars, in the vibration of poetry and in the gait that listens to the wind, writes Michel Serres. It is a rhythmic flow and a struggle between chaos and form. The life of the atoms breaks their descending linearity and creates a common form, not for ever, but in this gesture, this step, at this moment. Our wanderings on earth need not be justified by comforting maxims, but stick out their antennae and mingle with the forces that increase our sensitivity and our thoughts. Any movement must pass through this resistance, right out there where the monotonous step becomes tedious but also dangerous. Here the movements set a quivering, an oscillation and perhaps also a soul.

In her pictures Pernille Kløvedal Helweg breaks with the unambiguous impression left by the track and creates the track as a rhythm, a composition. The track of the snake doubles itself and becomes a texture reminiscent of algae in water, and as we know water leaves no tracks. The lion’s track becomes a battle zone between the scratches of the claws and heavy paws, perhaps an intrigue between the fury of history and the murmur of nature. The polar bear’s lonely pacing as its burnt remainder in an arctic waste where each single particle trembles and bursts as crystals on the sheet of whiteness. The elephant’s heavy steps become light and fall like composite bodies into a trust in things. Where does this lightness in so heavy an animal come from? A Buddhist master has said: The elephant is the wisest of the animals, the only one that remembers its former lives; it stands motionless for long periods at a time and meditates on them.

The track of the coypu has already become an echo, a lunette and its prints levitate like the dance of insects burning into a surface which could just as well be air With its attentive and indifferent slowness the tortoise cuts its way into nature’s background noise, its whisper sounds and tumult. With its lumpy legs charged by alternating heat its patient compasses draw a line that is not extended between two points, but a long rhythmic pressure like satellite dishes in the night. It envelops the world in its slow movement. With its huge muscle mass the rhinoceros presses its initials down into an asphalted world.

If we have a need of animal tracks, it is not to remind modern man of an original and lost dimension in life, but by letting an animal’s body exchange a zone with the human body, remind us of how art creates a new body, a mixed race, perhaps a slightly more innocent one. If Pernille Kløvedal Helweg gives animal tracks a soul, it is because this exchange creates a special surplus, a vibration common to both animals and humans…

Associate Professor Alexander Carnera, PhD from Copenhagen Business School