Birgitte Due Madsen
“In addition, it is a fantastic trick to be able to work with things spaciously rather than digitally. I appreciate the continuous, constant, and elongated project, in all aspects of life, and several of my works often turn into a kind of meta-projects that are allowed to unfold in different and new materials over time. ”
Birgitte Due Madsen’s work evolves around craftmanship and quality. Her work is produced in her own studio and by herself. With a constant awareness and humility toward functionality and quality her professional integrity lies in the fascination of the elongated project which examines elements such as materiality and aesthetics and which allows the project to develop in abstract form before it is formalized. Through an autonomous and unpretentious approach, she integrates new materials such as gypsum, resin or concrete and various techniques to achieve her design ideals. Her works are characterised by a subtle, poetic colour scheme, tactile textures, and a strict, playful geometry.
Birgitte works on her pieces for a very long time continuing to refine the material in a way that pays of in the final result and in the interaction with the beholder. She trusts her instincts and values. Everything has a history and is inscribed in historic contexts and classic disciplines that seems to offer more inspiration, matter, and content than passing trends or fleeting influences. We are all based on historic records and a rediscovery of this in our own time intensifies our presence. If one goes into the basic principles of geometry the possibilities of form are endless.
In addition to industrial products developed in collaboration with distinct manufacturers, experimental prototypes, and sculptural unique pieces are an important part of Birgitte’s work. Working at the intersection between art and design, she exhibits at galleries, museums, art- and design fairs, in the fashion industry and does collaborations within industries such as fine art producers, jewelers, and perfumers working with both editions of one off pieces and regular duplicates. She has been awarded several grants and honorary prizes, including the Danish Craft Award of 1879 twice and the Danish Arts Foundation’s grants on various occasions. Birgitte is represented by agencies and manufactures such as Studio M+M, Boon Paris, Fredericia Furniture, and Karakter Copenhagen.
Join Birgitte in this interview, as she dives deep into her universe of creativity, exploring themes of calmness through material experimentation and abstract forms.
Hi Birgitte! Please start off by describing your visual universe and your values as a designer.
Regardless of fleeting trends my visual universe is white. It is predominantly about form and tactility and refers to a classic, universal design language that spans across time and trends. My workshop is reminiscent of that of a sculptor’s studio with a large number of both finished and fragmental sketches such as pieces of abstract forms, curves, circles, spheres, extruded lines, convex and concave cubes, solid sections, cylinders, parallel pipes, prisms, and various other geometric forms that fill the shelves and walls in both studio and workshop. Everything has its place, and everything relates to each other. This is an expression of a fundamental fascination of the enrichment communities that can be if one is willing to contribute to them and expand them. Preparation, practice, and repetition are the basic principles of my success and my work and the values that characterise my life in general. My practice is both a studio, a workshop, and a gallery in one, which is an ideal context for me. I have shared my studio with many good colleagues through time. Most recently art institution and graphic magazine Plethora by Peter Steffensen. I have always enjoyed sharing a platform of different disciplines where we can share inspiration, motivation, and a professional network and collaborate on changing exhibitions in the gallery space. Soon new experiences will follow in the studio.
In addition to my three-dimensional work, light has come to mean a lot to me in my practice. This applies to both commercial designs, but also in my artistic works. Therefore, many works are illuminated in the studio as well. That you can study or observe the material as both active and passive, on and off, adds 50% more possibilities in the perception of both the material and the expression. I live in a country that is dark more than half the year, where light is crucial to me and is the function I keep returning to. Light and water are the most essential elements for us humans, in addition to being loved of course.
What do you base your creative expressions and methods upon?
Gypsum is the basic element in my work and the starting point for many of my works and designs. Since it is both my sketching material and the finished work, I do prosper on manifesting the form by myself from the beginning. By utilising abstract forms and sculpting by direct shaping or carving I use a method characterised by working directly with the material, as opposed to the significantly more common practice of making a model to be cast or executed by others. That way, I work my way into a shape by constantly subtracting, extruding, and cutting my material. It is a method where the process helps to determine the final shape through an immediate and direct processing of the positive and negative spaces, which is the special quality of the material and the beauty of its surface. It is a very honest methodical process, where the final form arises on the material’s own premises. I work extremely intuitive, autonomous, and anti-authoritarian, very rarely with a result in mind. I keep on reshaping and reproducing until it feels right.
In addition, it is a fantastic trick to be able to work with things spaciously rather than digitally. I appreciate the continuous, constant, and elongated project, in all aspects of life, and several of my works often turn into a kind of meta-projects that are allowed to unfold in different and new materials over time. I work very systematically and methodically. At the same time, I trust my intuition in relation to how far and wide the material can stretch before it takes its final shape. I concentrate best on the abstract expression until the work formalises itself into a final work or product. Most of my works start as one off pieces, in which there is a general study of form, a kind of internal catalogue of possibilities, which I then in the long run can use in more commercial designs. Unique pieces are the premises for duplicates in my production, you could say.
My works are often created in groups or series. Common to the design is that it is relational to its surroundings. Each curve and shape relate to the family from which it derives from, mediating an encounter between the viewer and that sculptural form of positive and negative spaces it contains. It never stands alone, but is part of a geometric family of subjects and works that first comes to life in the interaction with an audience and are thus conditioned by the social and organic context in which it takes part.
Describe your view on materiality, surfaces, and colours. What does it mean to work on the premises of the material?
My professional integrity lies in the fascination of this elongated project described above, which examines elements such as texture and aesthetics and which allows projects to develop in abstract form before they are formalised. I primarily use low-culture standard materials, which at the intersection between art and design illuminates inherent qualities in materials such as plaster, concrete, and resin.
I have relatively late thrown myself into the use of colours in my production. But over the past year I have focused to develop my knowledge of resin. Like gypsum, resin has a monolithic expression that emphasises the same sculptural desire as one associates with gypsum. And like gypsum it is a castable material, but potentially with even more possibilities both aesthetically and commercially. In addition to the natural transparency of the resin, which can be gradually opaquer by adding pigments, it achieves an extremely delicate colour scheme in most dyes. The processing of the surface moves from refined silky mat to a shiny high-gloss polish. This is how I developed my latest piece TIME. It originated from a gypsum form into resin. By composing different types of colours, I got a very playful and inviting, almost candy-colored, piece that calls for a following touch. I am currently working on developing new works in illuminated resin. I am adding treads of LED to emphasize the qualities of this exact phenomenon, that depending on how you want to translate your light, you can adapt the material from completely transparent to the most subtle colour shades.
On the interaction with the viewer I feel pleased to master materials such as plaster and resin that invites to a following touch. It surprises and attracts with its soft surface and deep reflections of light and shadow. For me high quality is a central value to beauty and skilled works. It affects you physically and you respond to the gesture with your body. It is an almost sensual play with the laws of attraction. If you touch the object you get a more sensible and sophisticated understanding of the craftsmanship behind as well as the beauty of the surface.
What are the challenges and blessings of working alone and in collaborations?
I experience that when building a community up between disciplines you strengthen your own expression. Your perspective and scope expand when you allow yourself to open to the influence that new ways of looking at the surroundings can give.
The good thing about communities is that they must be maintained through action and solidarity, and that is the element that is good for creativity and the precondition for greater freedom. Lately I have experienced the prosperities of working within a more professionalised environment together with my Dutch based agent, Mirko Musmeci, sharing our love for materials, aesthetics, and design visions. Receiving the kindness of a calming sentence like: “don’t worry dear I have this!”, means the world in a very compact and at times stressed practice like mine. This autumn, I am collaborating with Plethora Magazine on several illuminated resin works framed in acrylic boxes called CHROMA to be exhibited at DesignArt Tokyo this fall and was already showcased this September during 3DaysofDesign in Copenhagen. CHROMA has a composition and a transparency that balance lightness and weight. It addresses the universal needs for a constant subtle or natural source of light. It is spheric and cool in its essence and focuses on geometric abstraction as its minimalistic expression.
What are your inspirational sources?
I select and listen to a lot of music – often recordings that I am inspired by for many years like J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations in a particular late recording with pianist Glenn Gould. In recent years, I have seen exhibitions and been introduced to artists who have been great inspirations for me. Art nouveau artists René Lalique is diametrically opposed to my metier with his ultra-refined, and highly detailed design language within his jewellery and drawings. Insisting on such a recognizable expression in a deeply refined craft fascinates me with a degree of detail contrasting my own minimalist expression. I think it is good to be fascinated by something completely different from one’s own expression. It often turns out to be methodologically comparable anyway. Also, an artist like Dahn Vo’s multidisciplinary work is very inspiring to me; the democratic process his works are created in, before they spread and function as fragments of the same thought. Or the textured monochrome surface of Yves Klein, which has followed me since my childhood, in addition to Anish Kapoor’s studies of geometries and pure pigments; colourings that are impregnated into the material and that leave a velvety, almost seraphic expression on the surfaces of both the inner and outer spaces he creates. This thoroughly affects my perception of materiality. Constantin Brancusi’s studio in Paris, which is part of the always overwhelming Centre Pompidou, is clearly very inspiring to me for the three-dimensional spatial experience and the direct processing of his material. A recent acquaintance like Rachel Whiteread inspired me for her texture and design of the negative space.
I also draw very much on literature and return to Norwegian Knut Hamsun’s Hunger for his formidable linguistic precision about being humans, which I also find at director and author Ingmar Bergman. At Swedish author Karl Ove Knausgård, I recognise a thoroughness and a generational community that is very present.
But the most crucial to me are my travels. The experiences I have through my private life are the real inspiration for me. Not just in my work but existentially, and as a creative these things belong together. A few years ago, my partner Emilie and I celebrated my birthday in Paris, where we saw a breathtaking Sophie Calle exhibition at the wonderful Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature in the Marais district. It was like watching a Louis Buñuel film in a hyper aesthetic and sensuous universe, where the artists’ deeply moving and captivating studies of her own personal history were expressed in an overwhelmingly honest mix of exhibitionism, masochism, humour, and remembrance, where the museum’s hunting gear got the story to emerge seductively clear. In the autumn Emilie and I travelled to Catalonia in northern Spain, a region characterised by the urge for independence and a rough coastline. Here we lived in the mountains surrounded by historic towns, beautiful galleries and many antique markets close to the border of France. It was magical to experience how artists had settled here throughout time and translated the most primitive terms into rich artistic expressions rooted in the area’s craft traditions and a unique material consciousness. We just spent three weeks in Athens living under the rock of Acropolis. This indeed is the cradle of Western history and in the same time the contrasts are immense. Brutal in its poverty and anarchistic in its heart. Inspiring and dirty – a bit of the same feeling as being in Berlin 10 years ago with a vibrant art scene and a battle for prosperity. Finally, we keep returning to Mallorca where our heart is. Here I experience all that matters to me basically; island living with water round you, fertile soil, rural living, scents, and sights close by no matter where you are and with my love close to me.
Describe how SOLID VOIDS is a continued exercise of form and beauty?
SOLID VOIDS was a result of repeated experiments over time, making series of objects from gypsum. Normally gypsum is a sketching material intermediating different processes before a work is made in marble or other solid materials. Instead I thought of this as studies made on the premises of the material; since plaster is a fluid material I chose to work on the premises of this quality or capacity, shaping in molds, carving, and casting geometrical forms in an ongoing study of positive, negative, and hollow spaces.
My idea was to create several different forms where everyone was related and responded to one another. The geometry was extruded into a sculptural form by repeated investigations of interrelated concave and convex shapes coming into proportion by the shifting light and shadow at the very beautiful exhibition hall at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen where the series was exhibited for the first time. By extracting the circular geometry in continued studies of curves I, in this way, created a relational family of forms connected by a continued level of abstraction, as a three-dimensional geometry at the intersection between art and design.
What is CONTINUUM; exhibition, work philosophy and working method
My latest series of gypsum pieces is called CONTIUUM. It was exhibited at Den Frie Udstillingsbygning on the exhibition Material Matters, organized by the wonderful team behind Ark Journal and curated by Pernille Vest during 3DaysofDesign in Copenhagen. CONTINUUM demonstrates that there is an intuitive movement for any coherent structure. Any given unit can be infinitely divided through a mathematical methodology. For me, it is important to work with systematics or a strong methodology – it is the trip up that provides the content and deprives the object of the eternal or uncritical: “is it beautiful? Is it good? One cannot define these mechanisms without a content or a structure. This is directly translated by the title and a natural progression of my SOLID VOID-series being an infinite division of elements or a gradual transition from one movement to another.
What does it mean when you say you go from unique pieces to duplicate? Describe your current collaborations where your archive of forms from your one-off pieces develops into commercial design.
I experience that several of my meta projects and one-off pieces develop into autonomous/independent designs at different manufacturers. That unique pieces calls for duplicates shows through a series of new furniture and lighting that one of my business partners and I are developing for Fredericia Furniture, a renowned family driven company with a compelling design history and a fine heritage including a portfolio with some of the best Danish designs. Here, we launched a stool during 3DaysofDesign and are working on more products to come in the new year. I also have an interesting collaboration with newly established, very strong profiled Karakter Copenhagen, where a series of the handmade gypsum lamps MOBY LAMP amongst other designs are under development in more durable materials such as crystal plant and stone.