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De Anima

Nina Mae Fowler | Casper Sejersen

"We cannot learn without pain." - Aristotle

Cob is proud to present ‘De Anima’, a digital exhibition of work by Nina Mae Fowler and Casper Sejersen.


Documenting a series of exchanges between Fowler and Sejersen across the vicissitudes of 2020, ‘De Anima’ forms a shared journal of the pandemic year. In cyberspace, on paper and in cardboard boxes, it traces an illuminating and unexpected interchange of positions and dispositions, with each artist reflecting on their own and the other’s work and feeding the insights back into their practice in an ongoing chain of developing interactions.

The exhibition’s title references Aristotle’s treatise of circa 350 BC, which explores the hierarchical structures and drives of the soul across all living organisms. In the second book of this treatise, Aristotle argues that the simplest form of perception is an animal ability to feel pleasure and pain – the two sensations that form the preconditions for the experience of desire.

Though Fowler’s and Sejersen’s practices in drawing and photography are outwardly very different, ‘De Anima’ brings their meditations on these Aristotelian motifs into close orbit with one another. The vexations of love and loss, power and performance, secrecy and openness emerge and intertwine in symbiosis with renewed clarity, at points enchanting and at others almost overwhelming. The result is a sustained interrogation of each artist’s approach to the alternating tenderness and violence of looking and being looked at, following Charles Baudelaire’s maxim that the best criticism of a work of art is another work of art.

One thing that becomes clear throughout the exchange is the way that Fowler and Sejersen each revel in material finesse. Meticulous approaches to craft and scrupulous attention to detail emerge as common strands through which their mutual confrontation with counterpoints like desire and repulsion, passion and intellection, control and chaos are shaped and channelled. An antidote to the profusion of cheap imagery in our internet age, their work nevertheless takes this imagery seriously as the building blocks of our common dream-world – and it is out of this clash that the vitality of the work shines through.

In this respect, it is apt that the exhibition recalls the Surrealists’ game of the ‘exquisite corpse’ not only in its formal structure, but also in its vision of reality as underscored by submerged energies, of the waking world as saturated by dream. Bodies teeter on the edge of self-destruction, driven by forces only partly clear to the conscious mind. Fulfilment ever threatens to lapse into implosive excess; madness loiters at the door.

The rolling metamorphosis of ideas to which ‘De Anima’ bears witness, a process of accretion and evolution, echo and exchange, offers a singular example of the pent-up energies of lockdown being redirected to productive ends. The intensities of contemplation and confrontation with the self, the sense of profound distance from those close to us and the countervailing immediacy of the far away – all of these phenomena are crystallised by Sejersen and Fowler into something unusual and enriching, forming a lasting account of an experience which has shaped us all.


Box A - Sejersen to Fowler

A leaf
A coiled up lead
A broken flashbulb
Portrait with tape
A white pencil
The Ace of Spades











Dear Casper,

Here is my first drawing in response to the box of objects you sent me.

I saw a noose like wire, a broken flash bulb, a woman restrained, an abandoned key and these things combined led me to make this drawing.

The drawing is based on Pier Angeli who committed suicide (age 39) from an overdose of barbituates, having failed 4 previous suicide attempts. At 22 she was deeply in love with James Dean but her mother + MGM Studios forbade the relationship. She married someone else, and legend has it that Dean stood outside the church and revved his motorcycle throughout the ceremony.

Just before her suicide she wrote to a friend “I’m so afraid to get old…Love is now behind me, love died in a Porsche” (referring to the death of James Dean 16 years earlier)

The interior of the drawing is based on the 1948 film “The Snake Pit”. The film recounts the tale of a woman who finds herself in an insane asylum and cannot remember how she got there.

I hope it provides further inspiration for you!

I look forward to receiving your response to the box.

Nina

Nina Mae Fowler
Love Died in A Porsche, 2020
Charcoal on paper
730 x 920mm

Dearest Nina...

No words here again.... !!!

My response will come shortly… Your box is so full with facts and information, and I am in the middle of making all this into nothing or all…

Stand by!

Casper


Box B - Fowler to Sejersen

A rejected cast of a sculptural frame
An antique lipstick holder and mirror containing a secret
A sketchbook
A tracing of Judy Garland
The Sunday times magazine announcing Elvis’ death.
A studio still from ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ (1962)





Dear Nina

Hope you are good and safe… Been looking at Love Died in a Porsche again and again, still can’t believe how you can do it… And the James Dean and Pier Angeli story, which I did not know about… I mean love!!!

In your box I found … A lipstick container with a secret that made me cry, a magazine with the title “The King Is Dead”… I thought of parenthood, about raising kids. I thought about the state of the world right now, about love, about youth, about revolution, about change… I used Elvis, my son, the secret, a lipstick. I used the titles of two Elvis love songs, in a remixed way. Pop culture can be so powerful...I made the photographs together with my 14 year old son Leo, as his generations wish for the future. As a pacifistic, but yet revolutionary way to make change… The light on Leo's spine in one of the pictures is a tribute to you, the position of Leo's head in the other picture is a homage to Man Ray….

Looking forward to the next step…

LOVE,

Casper

Casper Sejersen
DON'T BE CRUEL, 2020
Archival pigment print on canton palatine paper
Edition of 5
596 x 511mm

Casper Sejersen
IT'S NOW OR NEVER, 2020
Archival pigment print on canton palatine paper
Edition of 5
596 x 511mm




Dear Casper,

Here is mine.

It’s a small coloured drawing of ‘Consuela Cosmetic’, a New York drag artist. She appeared posthumously in the 1996 documentary, “Mirror, Mirror” directed by Baillie Walsh. The film depicts the final year of Consuela’s life. She died of complications relating to AIDS in March l996, during the film’s post-production.

Your images of Leo and the illusion Man Ray’s photo of Lee Miller - a female neck or a male phallus… also your photo of ‘Desmond’ the 11 yr old ‘Drag Kid’ (which moved me greatly). Gender is such a deeply complicated subject but one which fortunately seems to be evolving so much lately. Our children have so many more options and choices in which we can support them (especially at Leo’s crucial age). Like the texts on his body which speak so loudly and unapologetically of the bold choices they are set to make. Under the cover of pop songs and ballads lies a much stronger significance - I see this same paradox in the performances of great drag artists.

I am not good with words which is why I make the drawings! Hopefully this one speaks of what I am trying to say.

Looking forward to seeing your next one.

Nina

Tonight, I gave the greatest performance of my life
I never lost control, I played the part so well
That not a single soul could tell that I was lying
And so, though it was hard to face our friends, I gave a party
I know I meant to show them all, I've gotten over you
And though I saw the unbelieving looks on all their faces
I had to try to make them think that it was true
So I, who had me dance, dance through the night, just like the gypsy
And I who seldom drink, drank like a fish till I was high, and I
Who hadn't laughed since God knows when, out laughed Pagliacci
Till they believed it more than even I
Tonight, I gave the greatest performance of my life
I never lost control, I played the part so well
That not a single soul could tell that I was lying
But love, if you had been behind the curtain, when it fell
When all the lights were out and I was all alone
You would have seen this actress crying
Yes, tonight, I gave the greatest performance of my life
I never lost control, I played the part so well
That not a single soul could tell that I was lying
But love, if you had been behind the curtain, when it fell
When all the lights were out and I was all alone
You would have seen this actress crying

- Nancy Wilson, The Greatest Performance of My Life

Nina Mae Fowler
Consuela Cosmetic, 2020
Coloured pencil on paper, hand painted glass
320 x 470mm




Dear Nina

Whitney died first… Days of Wine and Roses…

Title is… I would rather be alone than unhappy… Which is a Whitney quote…

And I will hurry up with the next one!

Casper Sejersen
I would rather be alone than unhappy, 2020
Archival pigment print on canton palatine paper
Edition of 5
513 x 588mm








Dear Casper

Here is my response.

I watched a film recently called ‘Secret Ceremony’ with Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum and Mia Farrow. It reminded me of your picture as the story is so charged psychologically - it’s about a stepfather who has abused his step daughter for years under the nose of the mother. He brings her roses and continues to abuse her sexually and mentally until eventually she commits suicide. In this, the last scene (having murdered the stepfather beside her daughters open casket) Elizabeth Taylor recounts a fable about two mice:

“Two little mice fell into a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned, but the second mouse, he struggled so hard that he eventually churned the cream into butter and he walked out.”


Hence the title of the drawing.

Nina Mae Fowler
Butter, 2020
Charcoal on paper
760 x 410mm


Nina

Nina Mae Fowler
Butter, 2020
Charcoal on paper
410 x 760mm






BLANCHE

What you are talking about is brutal desire - just - Desire!
The name of the rattle - trap street - car
That bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another...

STELLA

Haven’t you ever ridden that street - car?

BLANCHE
It brought me here...

Desire, 2020
Archival pigment print on canton palatine paper
Edition of 5
465 x 542mm

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