“I’m interested in thinking of the paintings themselves as if they have their own agency. Like they can make their own choices – they’ve tossed themselves in the ocean, made encampment, and now they’re going to go to the sky. In a way it removes me out of it.”Mette Tommerup
My name is Patricia M. Menendez, and I am a junior at Florida International University pursuing a B.S. in Digital Communication and Media and a B.A. in Sustainability and the Environment. In the near future I hope to be working with an environmental-based company that educates and enlightens the public through a multimedia platform. Through this course, I hope to enhance my creative side and gain more knowledge not only about the world of art but its role in shaping and documenting societal progression. I believe that this course will help me decipher the environment (or society) my work will take me to, as well as help me capture its essence.
Born in 1969 in Copenhagen, Denmark, contemporary artist Mette Tommerup was born into a kingdom with a “freeform environment” and a time period that some may recall as the “Flower Power” era. At the age of seven or eight, Tommerup moved to England, where she spent only four years after moving back to Denmark. During her time there she saw a television show of an artist painting a piece, and at that moment she knew that that’s who she wanted to be. Unfortunately, there were no art classes in Denmark, so Tommerup set herself to pursue a math and biology major in college.
However, upon finishing high school, Tommerup applied and got accepted into a year-long exchange program to the United States, where she received her first proper introduction to art.
“I opened the course catalog and I was like ‘wait a minute, you can just take painting and drawing?’ It was almost as if it were illegal…”Mette Tommerup
The year-long program extended to three years, and there in the U.S., Tommerup earned her BFA from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1990. After completing her BFA, she returned to Denmark and realized that she had no plan but had to do something to continue her passion. So, Tommerup applied to the School of Visual Arts in New York City, New York and was accepted.
In 1995, Tommerup received her MFA from the New York City graduate school. There she learned from established artists like Joan Snyder, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Gary Stephan and Will Insley, who became key figures in her development as a professional artist. She also met her husband in New York, American sculptor Robert Chambers, who she considers to be a mentor type figure and a supporter of all her work. Tommerup considers her time in New York as “the best years of her life.”
In 1998, Tommerup moved to Miami, Florida with her husband, where she now resides. She relocated there during the early days of the Miami art scene and describes it as “a nice time.” And from 2003 to 2011, she taught painting in Florida International University. Today, Tommerup is represented by Miami gallery Emerson Dorsch and has a studio in Fountainhead Studios, Miami, Florida.
In September 2017, Hurricane Irma hit South Florida. The natural disaster tore up the state and destroyed many things along its way. Among them was Tommerup’s studio. At the time, she was preparing for her installation, Ocean Loop. The wreckage and aftermath of the hurricane left an impression on Tommerup, and after seeing what nature could do, she was inspired to create her current series of work and manifested it into Ocean Loop as well.
“Nature is destructive but amazing. After the dust settles there is a force in it that is destructive, but it feels like a fresh start afterwards in a way.”Mette Tommerup
Being exposed to the artists of New York during her time in graduate school was also central to Tommerup’s current work. She describes it as being “transformational.” In the School of Visual Arts she was given true instruction of art and learned how to defend her work.
Being from Denmark, Tommerup considers her Danish heritage as very important to her work. For her upcoming installation, Tommerup’s main character will be Freya, the Norse Goddess of love, and the name of the piece will be Ønske, an old Norse term which means wish or desire. By incorporating pieces of gold leaf in her upcoming piece, Tommerup will be representing this wish or desire of the paintings to be free again and “escape” the art world. The installation will be part of a Locust Projects show that will be celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage, thus the piece will also be advocating for feminism through the use of Freya.
Similarly, in Love, Ur, Tommerup also uses a Norse term in her title. “Ur” refers to the pre-Christian Nordic world’s connection to nature. The meaning of the term is represented through the activation of the piece, where viewers become participants by being able to interact with the piece and move the objects, creating a sense of liberation and freedom in the piece and the participant.
Aside from her Danish heritage, Tommerup also identifies with several artistic movements such as post-war Avant Garde movements, like Conceptual Art, and Color Field paintings from the 1950s to 1960s, which can be seen her piece, Love, Ur. Overall, Tommerup draws inspiration and identification mainly from experimental work from the late 1960s to 1970s, specifically those related to conceptual art and performance art. From these movements, the idea of her paintings being “actors in their own right” emerged.
SUBJECT OF ARTWORK
Tommerup’s artwork not only demonstrates the beauty and force of nature, but also our relationship and interaction with digital technologies.
In Ocean Loop, Tommerup draws inspiration from the ocean and uses water as a metaphor to digital communication via the Internet. Ocean Loop symbolizes the mind’s reaction to the ever-changing digital landscape and how we are learning to navigate through this overload of information. Meanwhile in Love, Ur, the concept of manipulation and creation, as seen in video games like Minecraft, is used through the participant’s ability to manipulate the space within the piece. In addition to this, Love, Ur, is also intended to be a commentary on the art world and the artist’s frustration with its hierarchies and current power system. Love, Ur also aims to reconnect participants with their primal instincts, a time before any virtual world existed.
Aside from its digital allusions, Tommerup’s “trilogy” also follows a certain narrative. With Ocean Loop, the paintings come back from the ocean, as a sort of “rebirth.” Then, in Love, Ur they make encampment on land, and soon (in Ønske) they will escape back to the sky during nighttime.
All in all, Tommerup’s artwork has been successful in its message. She says that with Love, Ur, many have participated with the piece and she finds their joy to be the most rewarding part of it all.
“[It has been] successful in the sense that no matter where you are from, it is visually seductive because of the scale, color and texture [of it all].”Mette Tommerup
Tommerup’s work brings into question our relationship with the digital world and how the human consciousness responds to it and has changed because of it. Along with this, the work also showcases the work of nature, and how sometimes art can be art on its own without the artist; therefore breaking artistic norms and societal perceptions of what art should be and how we interact with it.
FORMAL ELEMENTS OF ARTWORK
Inspired by nature both conceptually and physically, artist Mette Tommerup has little to no control over the composition of her artwork. The only choices she makes are those regarding color and scale.
While creating Ocean Loop, Tommerup attached small oil paintings to a string and threw them in the ocean, letting the sea work its artistic hand on her pieces. She did the same to squares of raw canvas with blue dye, which she later sew together to create one large piece. For Love, Ur, Tommerup took large rolls of canvas and put them in a container filled with water. She then added vibrant pigments into the container and soaked the canvases in them. After that, she took the canvases out and left them spread out on the ground outside for some time, exposing them to the random processes of nature. Tommerup is pursing a similar approach in her upcoming piece by leaving the paintings on the roof of her home, letting nature take over.
“Sometimes I know what I am going for, but it is not a controlled process at all. It’s pretty wild…”Mette Tommerup
As for color, Tommerup’s narrative of the paintings coming back from the ocean, camping on land, and then escaping into the night sky is reinforced through this element. In Ocean Loop, Tommerup focuses on the color blue, whereas in Love, Ur vibrant colors and earth tones are demonstrated, such as greens, purples and pinks.
EXHIBITION AND PROJECT HISTORY
Artist Mette Tommerup has exhibited her work across the United States and the globe. Most notably, her work has been showcased in The Bass, Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at FIU, the Chelsea Art Museum, Exit Art, Art Basel Miami, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. Her work can also be found in the collection of the Lowe Art Museum, Royal Carribean Cruises, Wilmer Hale in Washington D.C., PAMM, the Frost Art Museum and many more. Her latest piece will be exhibited at Locust Projects in Miami, FL later this year.
The most important experience for Tommerup as an established artist was when she was accepted and selected to be part of the Exhibition of Works by Newly Elected Members and Recipients of Honors and the Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts for the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City in 2010. Not only did she exhibit her work for the Academy, but she also won the Hassam, Speicher, Betts, and Symons Purchase Fund for three of her pieces: Mining (Cave), Mining (Water), and Explorations (Fish). All three pieces were gifted to PAMM.
“My dream is to do more shows in New York, and I’m hoping that the show at Locust will do that.”Mette Tommerup
This experience was monumental to Tommerup due to the fact she was selected and amongst other prominent artists in visual arts, literature, and performing arts. She was honored and grateful to be amongst many greats in her field.
Working with artist Mette Tommerup was extremely rewarding and enlightening. Not only did I learn about the journey of a contemporary artist based in Miami, Florida, but also the definition of art and how its meaning and perception can change throughout time. Prior to my knowing of Tommerup, I have only known artists who intentionally planned their pieces, focusing on formal elements and seeing how they can manipulate them to express their desired outcome. Meanwhile, Tommerup relinquishes almost all control to nature and recognizes the opportunity of the work to become its own and decide its own meaning.
Not only did I learn about a completely different outlook on art with Tommerup, but also how one’s cultural and national heritage can deeply influence the content or meaning of one’s work. Tommerup connects her Danish heritage in many ways with her work, figuratively and literally. In this way, the work is unique to her and becomes a representation of who she is.
Interestingly enough, after my interview with Tommerup at her studio in Fountainhead, she asked me about my opinion on the digital world and what I have learned about it (since I am a Digital Communication and Media major). What amazed me about this conversation is how Tommerup was taking into consideration my words and writing them down on a huge notepad. She truly draws inspiration from everyone and everything, and is eager to learn from those who have experienced issues that are engaged in her work.
I am very honored to have learned and spoken to a great artist like Mette Tommerup for this project. I not only met an amazing person in the process, but also developed a deeper appreciation for contemporary art and its role in the expression of the human condition.
*Quotes taken from interview with Mette Tommerup on March 9,2020 and April 14, 2020.
Corsano, Erica. “Mette Tommerup’s ‘Love Ur’ Exhibit Is an Interactive Wonderland.” Ocean Drive Magazine, oceandrive.com/Mette-Tommerup-s-Love-Ur-Exhibit-is-an-Interactive-Wonderland.
Heartney, Eleanor. “Exhibition Essay ‘Out to Sea’ by Eleanor Heartney. PDF.” 2018.
Heartney, Eleanor. “Essay by Eleanor Heartney about Mette Tommerup.” Emerson Dorsch, 3 Apr. 2020, emersondorsch.com/essay-by-eleanor-heartney-about-mette-tommerup/.
“Mette Tommerup.” Mette Tommerup, mettetommerup.com/.
“Mette Tommerup.” Emerson Dorsch, 3 Apr. 2020, emersondorsch.com/artist/mette-tommerup/.