Over the Sea, Under the Sky: Contemporary Danish Tapestry
Ulrikka Mokdad, Curator
Gallery 1: THE SEA
In the late 1960s, Birthe Bo Sakurai was the only Danish self-taught artist to be selected by Michel Tourlière  in order to be trained at l’Ecole Nationale d’Art Décoratif d’Aubusson, France, to produce paintings suitable for being interpreted in woven tapestry. During the 1980s, she developed a unique method of weaving three-dimensional conches made of steel wire and nylon ropes from fishing net production. Unlike most other Danish weavers, Birthe’s motifs are often overtly erotic and she has not hesitated to bring feminine or feminist themes into her art. Her woven conches have been exhibited all over the world, and for more than a decade the sensual forms of the marine creature’s shell served as her main source of inspiration.
In the end of the 1990s, it became clear that Birthe had to stop weaving due to arthritis. The many years of hard work with steel wire and other difficult materials, often in cold and humid studios, finally put an end to her close relationship with the loom. Thanks to her training as a cartoon painter, she can still produce motifs for woven tapestry. Nowadays, Birthe still gets her inspiration from the sea, but also from Bornholmian folklore, fairy tales and ballet. The figures depicted in her art often seem to float in the air or under the surface of the sea, surroundings that are very suited to stimulate the viewer’s imagination. Thus, the motif of her tapestry The Mermaid and the Farmer is based on a Bornholmian myth in which a farmer falls in love with a mermaid. Their under-water kisses are immortalized in a tapestry woven by master-weaver Bernard Battu, Aubusson, France.
Marianne Poulsen’s The Journey of the Viking Ship is a trilogy of three large tapestries that took her four years to complete. Her tapestries are created on a huge high-warp loom that her husband built for her. Unlike most tapestry weavers, Marianne never makes use of a full-size cartoon while weaving, but prefers to have a blank paper fastened behind the warp. Instead, she carefully follows her sketch, which is 1: 10 and hangs in front of her on the loom. She normally works with up to six strands of yarn put together in a butterfly, and she gradually changes the shades of colors by changing one strand of yarn at a time.
Often inspired by Nordic mythology, ancient history, music and the undulating landscape of Odsherred , her tapestries also have a personal, psychological and sometimes religious content. In her motifs, a myriad of details and symbols can be detected, some of them appear to be familiar forms while other details can be harder to recognize at first glance. None of Marianne’s tapestries are meant to be solely decorative or descriptive interpretations of nature. There is always a subtle message or appeal in her work, which is not necessarily obvious to the viewer. Thus, according to the artist, spectators confronted with her tapestries can have their personal experiences and are free to draw their own conclusions.
 Michel Tourliére was the director of l’Ecole Nationale d’Art Décoratif d’Aubusson from 1959-70. Originally a painter, he created more than 300 cartoons for weaving during his career.
 The Geo Park, Zealand.
Click on any image to scroll through enlarged images.
Birthe Bo Sakurai, 1986, nylon and steel wire, (photo by Tove Kurzweil)
Spiral of Life
Birthe Bo Sakurai, 1998, 130 x 150 cm, haute-lisse, linen and wool, (photo by Birthe Bo Sakurai)
Spiral of Life (detail)
Birthe Bo Sakurai, 1998, (photo by Birthe Bo Sakurai)
The Mermaid and the Farmer
Birthe Bo Sakurai, 2010, 150 x 200 cm, basse-lisse, woven by Bernard Battu, Aubusson, France, cotton and wool, (photo by Birthe Bo Sakurai)
The Mermaid and the Farmer (detail)
Birthe Bo Sakurai, 2010, (photo by Birthe Bo Sakurai)
The Journey of the Viking Ship I
Marianne Poulsen, 2000, haute-lisse, cotton warp, wool, linen, silk, metal threads, 200 x 250 cm, (photo by Jan Djenner)
The Journey of the Viking Ship II
Marianne Poulsen, 2002, haute-lisse, cotton warp, wool, linen, silk, metal threads, 200 x 333 cm, (photo by Jan Djenner)
The Journey of the Viking Ship III
Marianne Poulsen, 2003, haute-lisse, cotton warp, wool, linen, silk, metal threads, 200 x 250 cm, (photo by Jan Djenner)