press release

This was the first Copenhagen showing of the internationally renowned Portuguese artist Rui Chafes, who in 1995 represented Portugal at the Venice Biennale. Since then he has made his mark emphatically within European sculpture, and in 2004 he represented his country at the Sao Paolo Biennale.

The sculptures at the exhibition ash flowers were individual works, but at the same time they shared a spatial interdependence with each other and the settings in which they were presented, as it could be seen outside at Nikolaj’s tower, in a tree at Nikolaj’s Square and inside at the Upper Gallery.

The works were installed in such a way that the character of the surrounding space became a part of the sculptural expression. They were not merely works on a wall or on a floor; instead they constituted a universe of their own which encouraged the spectator to adopt an open mind towards life’s fundamental questions and themes.

In connection with the exhibition, a catalogue was published with an article by Portuguese Alexandre Melo.
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The works resembled receptables and various objects intended for the human body: fencing masks, coats, corsets and chairs. Or nature’s own containers: cocoons, capsules, beehives etc. But they no longer contained anybody or anything: they surrounded a void.

In Chafes’ sculptures absence is represented as presence.
German Romanticism and in particular the thinker and poet Novalis (1772-1801), whom Rui Chafes has illustrated and translated into Portuguese, provide a vital foundation for his artistic universe and inform his ambiguous sculptural mode of expression. Since the 90’s he has been working consistently with malleable iron – a material with an important philosophical significance to his art.

 The aspect of worksmanship and the nostalgic feelings towards the Middle Ages are key elements in Chafes’ working method, even when combined with a more modern sculptural tradition.

Novalis adopted the old mining idea that minerals and metals grew as foetuses from Mother Earth’s womb. In the same way that metallurgists and miners prepare, transform and release the metal that comes from the interior of the earth, the artist gives shape to the idea.

As Rui Chafes puts it: "I do not believe in objects, but I am convinced that only through objects will I be able to show their idea".

The duality of Rui Chafes’ works can, for instance, be found in his poetic handling of the iron which almost defies belief, as the hard and cold material is transformed into soft, organic shapes which at times seem to almost do away with the law of gravitation.

The enigmatic title of the exhibition, ash flowers, contains all the contrasts and paradoxes around which Rui Chafes’ art revolves. The title refers to life’s beginning, birth and bloom, as well as to the death and perishableness that mark the end to everything that lives.

Chafes’ works make the space around them as well as the spectator’s experience of them oscillate between these poles. He draws us into a boundless field in which dualistic meanings and ambivalent feelings may co-exist for a while.

This was the first major danish Rui Chafes exhibition, and it was co-arranged with Inge Merete Kjeldgaard, Esbjerg Art Museum, where it was shown previously. It included works from the 1990’s till today.


Rui Chafes: ash flowers