TEXT BY TORBEN SANGILD. MA IN PHILOSOPHY AND MODERN CULTURE. PHD IN MODERN CULTURE.
TRANSLATION BY MARTHA GABER ABRAHAMSEN
Per Ahlmann’s ceramic sculptures are curiously fascinating, spanning a range between the obvious and the very strange. Obvious because they are there in front of us, as shapes in a familiar material. And strange because they continually surprise us with new aspects and details when we see them from different angles. Per Ahlmann’s sculptures do not make the same impression when we see them from two different angles. One might believe that this holds true for all sculptures, but it is not just a question of seeing different parts of them. Some of Ahlmann’s sculptures change essentially when we shift our gaze, and this accounts for much of their fascination. They are complex and inexhaustible, almost inconceivable as entities. We see something that is difficult to synthesize but manifests itself as facts: objects served up for the imagination.
We can try to distinguish four elements in Ahlmann’s works:
First there is the organic, which plays a decisive role. Soft, irregular shapes bring to mind something corporeal, something physical, reminiscent of a jellyfish or ameba. Like the deformed lump that clings to the architectural prosthesis in Prosthesis Architectura. Or like the almost slimy tentacles in Cruel Tool Reprover. The organic is connected to something living, to the biological.
As a contrast to the soft, organic shapes, there are a number of recurrent industrial elements that look as if they had been mass manufactured, slickly designed, geometrical. Like the black box shape in The Curse or the telescope-like, symmetrical shape with spheres at the end in Betelgeuse. The industrial is inorganic, and consequently an obvious contrast to the organic. While the organic points to nature, the industrial points to contemporary culture, to a society where we are surrounded by industrially designed and mass-manufactured things. It is the serial shape, the matrix, and not crafts, that is at the core of the industrial.
Thirdly, there is often an architectural element. We zoom out here on another scale and see the object as a kind of micro-world with buildings, staircases, skywalks, balconies, etc. Not as concretized illusions of possible buildings, but rather as more isolated architectural fantasies. One end of Respector Lux seems to be close to an architectural model, but on the other side of the “skywalk” we meet a corporeal, organic shape with a black shell and a kind of handle that thus functions on another scale. The architectural comprises fragments of dreams about buildings.
The fourth element is found more discretely in most of Ahlmann’s work. We could call it the unformed or the raw. Here the clay manifests itself more as matter than as form, as the lumpy material that it is. Either unadulterated as a lump in Lovers, for example, or combined with the architectural, as in the base of Cruel Tool Reprover, or molded even more in the many finger-shaped furrows. We get glimpses of the fingerprint, the creative process, the craft, which is not cultivated as something particularly authentic but only as a little crack that gives us an inkling of the textural aspect.
The next necessary step is to describe what happens when these elements are brought together in a single object. The first thing to note is that rather than being brought together in an organic synthesis, the individual parts remain heterogeneous elements that grate against one another in a kind of ceramic collage. In a collage, it is the physical forcing together that nonetheless makes us view otherwise incompatible elements as part of a whole. But in Ahlmann’s work, there is yet another unifying factor: the glaze, which like a membrane gives the individual object a unity.
If we take a closer look at Apologizer, we see a funnel-shaped object with a soft, tongue-like organ on top of and half way around it. There is also as bicycle-light mount at one end and a lump flowing out of the other. The whole object is glazed in white and pink, forcing elements together that otherwise have nothing to do with one another. This creates images, metaphors, narratives. Certainly not complete, coherent narratives, but more like fragments of something narrative, as if in a dream that we cannot retell in words. If we add the word, the title, we might get a complex image of something softly apologetic that lovingly wraps itself around something more rigid. But this is only one possible narrative. Perhaps the lump is something that bleeds; perhaps the bicycle-light mount is actually a screen with peepholes; perhaps the soft organ is strangling the funnel. Our imagination is set in motion, but constantly changes track.
In Betelgeuse, our imagination takes a course towards catastrophe. While most of Ahlmann’s works seem to be stable, Betelgeuse leans perilously in several directions. It tilts restlessly and large expanses of it resemble something that has been destroyed, a collapsed building. Betelgeuse is a star that can be seen from Earth and looks like a large disc when seen through a telescope. It is on its way toward a supernova explosion. Ahlmann’s Betelgeuse has no supernova explosions; it has a telescope and an intimation of destruction and perhaps Doomsday. Nonetheless, there is something comforting in the shiny spheres; the firmness of the symmetry testifies that something will persist.
A recurrent feature in Ahlmann’s sculptures is the smooth, shiny surface, which, together with the runny glaze, has associations to something liquid. At the same time, there are these furrows and grooves and hollows, almost begging to be filled up with water. Most of all, of course, in In the Corner, this beautiful turquoise-blue paradise of stalactites with a touch of something unsettling. The try square meets the jellyfish-like roof of a cabin or a prison, and isn’t there a volcanic lake of lovely but poisonous water? What we see is much more than what we can say about it.
Wet clay is soft and organic. Fired clay is hard but fragile. Instead of limiting himself to these qualities, Ahlmann makes clay sculptures that look as if they have other characteristics: solid and hard metallic, for example. We know well enough that they do not, but the shapes play with our cognitive processes, the ones that in our everyday life judge objects. qualities on the basis of what we see, before we have touched them and lifted them and smelled them. There is a tension between what we see and what we know.
But it is also a question of a kind of empathy. We let objects express themselves by intuitively sensing what it would be like to be them – to be the funnel or the organ around it, to be the black box in The Curse or the stand that holds it up and shields it. Not that we concretely identify with them, but part of how we formulate a meaning for complex objects has to do with sensing them through body analogies. The objects express themselves because we let them do it.
Per Ahlmann’s sculptures bring together incompatible elements and begin narratives that remain fragments. These curious objects that we cannot be finished with continually show new aspects of themselves. They live on as remnants of dreams that we will have some day.