Nordic Contemporary Art Center, Xiamen China 30.03-30.05.2024


As an artist, I stand on the shoulders of other contemporary witnesses and mediators from all eras. We have inherited symbols that express insight and emotions - and that enable shared understanding across cultures. One thing I am very concerned with as an artist is to provide keys to people who are not initiated into the language of art. Therefore, I have often used universally applicable and simple symbols that have been used in art history, in religious contexts, but also in fairy tales and fantasy narratives - in a way that connects people and hopefully opens doors to multiple layers. One of the symbols is the mermaid - which has thousands of years of history behind it - and which exists in all cultures. She is mythical and mysterious, but also overused in pop culture and sentimental, romantic depictions. Nevertheless, I have chosen to use this symbol because I have a daughter who has been chronically ill after a tick bite. Lyme disease - ME, terrible diseases that have caused her to identify with the mermaid and being in another world, in order to endure and survive so much pain and suffering.
Also in Chinese culture, there are several stories from all times where the mermaid symbol is important. Jiao ren; a Chinese mermaid weaves silk that cannot get wet, and her tears turn into pearls.

Pearls are export goods in Xiamen where we are going to exhibit. I want to further develop the collaboration with my daughter, composer Tonje, who writes and creates music around the mermaid. We created a project together for Vejle Art Museum; Floating Art, which we have expanded in several stages. Now I want to see if the beloved symbol, which these days is spreading widely in major film productions based on HC Andersen in the Western world and on Chinese mermaid myths in China, can create a common understanding of emotional and disease-related situations between our different parts of the world.

More specifically, I have selected sketches and drawings I have created over several years with the mermaid theme. They are an attempt by me as a mother to visualize and accommodate the condition of my daughter - where she is underwater much of the time, but where hope and belief that there is something above water is available. I have used the sketches as a basis for modeling reliefs - (in self-drying paperclay) -, in China. They are displayed in their own small "aquariums" - boxes there where created in Xiamen, where you can see the figures behind glass. They also contain local pearls. They are exhibited as a complete installation, along with a beautiful piece of music composed by Tonje is played.

Nordic Contemporary Art Center, Xiamen Kina - ART IN SOCIAL SPACE

Marit Benthe Norheim, along with 11 other Scandinavian artists, has been invited to participate in the exhibition "Art in the Social Space," curated by artist Tine Hecht-Pedersen and Dr. Phil Else Marie Bukdahl in collaboration with Lan Lan, curator of the Nordic Contemporary Art Center. The exhibition is a cultural event aimed at promoting the exchange between Nordic and Chinese culture and art.

PROCESS IN CHINA - click for large pictures

PICTURES FROM THE EXHIBITION- click for large pictures

The theme for the Danish group opening an exhibition at The Nordic Center of Contemporary Art in Xiamen, Southern China, on March 31, 2024:


Art is always the result of new confrontations with reality and a striving to capture new insights into both the inner and outer worlds. Artists open up a new experiential space that contains markers towards new meaningful orientations, as well as revelations of false values. However, the visual artist also creates an independent experiential space, different from what poetry produces. This is because the visual language of artists is more intense and perceptible than even the poet’slanguage. Through the artistic interpretation, the seen is experienced as something current, expressive, and present, generating new and unexpected ideas that are both larger and different from those we know from our everyday reality. Art also has an interdisciplinary aspect because it often contains visual dialogues with science and poetry and often -in a concrete and present way -reveals new perspectives in them.

Finally, over the past five decades, artists have increasingly emphasized that viewers -both children and adults -can be actively drawn into the artistic universe and stimulated to uncover new orientations, create new connections to the people around them, and discover new social and ethical obligations. Art operates in diverse ways in both cultural and social spaces.

Else Marie Bukdahl

Dr. Phil, Art Historian, and Former Rector of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts