We all have a body, and we all have an idea of what a body would look like. We experience the world through our body. Through her stone sculptures the Danish artist Freja Niemann Lundrup aims to visualise the internal processes of the body, specifically those related to trauma and horror. In other words, she sculpts an outside for the inside. During her residency at SEA Foundation, Freja Niemann Lundrup focuses on the ‘Unheimlich’ in relation to horror and trauma in the body. The idea for this approach sprung from a museum visit, where the portrayal of the horrendous and traumatic, in her eyes, was too outspoken. She reacts against the claim that “you do not have to have experienced something in order to show it.” She saw a simple illustration of what a typical idea of ‘horror’ and ‘trauma’ would be, rather than the actual intricate feelings that accompany it. In reaction, she relates these feelings to the Unheimlich.
Sigmund Freud described the Unheimlich – or, uncanny – as being familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It is an eerie sense: the ambivalence of something that at first sight may seem perfectly fine, but appears to be really distressing after a second look. According to Freud this sense is the result of a repressed feeling or a secret coming to light. Something was supposed to be hidden, homely and private, but revealed itself as something strange and disturbing. The key to the Unheimlich is the link to everyday life, to the familiar. This connection is exactly what Freja Niemann Lundrup inspires. Instead of showing overtly horrendous or traumatic scenes, she exposes the hidden and ambivalent feeling that Freud describes. She phrases that the uncanny feeling is in the small, trivial things, and it is these small, trivial things that trigger trauma. You feel something is not right, rather than being shown an obvious dread. It is going on inside the body where it cannot be seen.
Physical and rational
Freja Niemann Lundrup’s sculptures demonstrate the intricate relation between body and mind. Or, more specifically, between the physical feeling and rational thoughts regarding a traumatic experience. Thoughts that come up expectedly or unexpectedly, and can surface years after. She explains how the body reacts in a certain way in the traumatic moment. In this moment, you can become detached from your body. That is, in hindsight you know what you needed to do with your body – for instance, run away, punch, or hide. You can reflect on the use of your body and make it rational, but only afterwards. This is why references to everyday life become uncanny: in the exact moment the mind and body do not wholly add up to what is directly in front of you.
Memory, narrative, identity
Inevitably, in this situation, thoughts come up such as ‘what if’ and ‘could I have’. These form an infinite formation of layers. Not only what did happen, but also what did not happen remains present in the mind and body. These layers shape someone’s memory, narrative and identity. Freja Niemann Lundrup uses stone, because the layered formation represents precisely this. Erosion and surroundings change the mass of the stone, but happenings from years, decades or ages ago are still present. For the artist, the same goes for the body. Whatever happened before always leaves traces in the body. These traces are accumulatively stored in the body and mind, according to her. Precisely this is the reason that the claim of not having to have experienced something in order to show it does not add up.
Systems and layers
The stored layers represent not only the expansion of experiences, but also of knowledge. Freja Niemann Lundrup argues that we always add things to things we already know. She states this inevitably happens within systems. Systems created by people, but now – albeit unknowingly – decided as the truth without being questioned. However, she says, “we need systems as points of reference, as we have the inherent desire to have everything all figured out.” The layered formation of physical and psychological experiences form how we see and feel the world.
The Danish artist executes the idea that if limbs would be unattached, you cannot work with them. In order to work with them, you are not just in need of having them, but also understanding them. She sees body parts as tools that find their function in reacting on happenings. You have to understand how to use your ‘tools’, your body, but in the case of traumatic memories this understanding comes later. She uses the metaphor of not knowing how to use a flashlight in the dark. Only afterwards when it is light you realise how to put it to your advantage. This is the reason why Freja Niemann Lundrup only sculpts body parts. She does not see reason to portray a full body, as it would then be “just a surface” and empty. Instead, the works illustrate the more invisible and internal reaction of the limbs. So, yes: we all have a body and an idea of what a body would be. But Freja Niemann Lundrup goes beyond the ‘idea’ of the body and exposes the uncanny, familliar yet unfamiliar, ambivalent parts of the body instead.
Check out Freja Niemann Lundrup’s instagram page here.
This text is published in the publication ‘Making the Unseen Seen‘