It’s a little piece of Greenland on canvas.”*.
This is what Naja Rosing-Asvid says about four of her works in the permanent part of the exhibition at Nuuk Art Museum. The works are made on square canvases with silver leaf and materials from the nature. The four artworks in the nature exhibition all have a background of sand, whose colors range from black to a light beige and a mottled sand color, all collected on different beaches and mountains around Nuuk. Especially the works Birds Polka and Sprouting Islands are reminiscent of asymmetrical mandalas, as the sand forms harmonious patterns of twisting arcs and circles. Imagine taking a walk along the shoreline “right there in the line where the last high tide left a strip of seaweed drying in the wind. Where you can find crab shells, bird feathers and small pieces of driftwood.”** It is these finds that catch Rosing-Asvid’s eye, and it is these treasures of bird feet, feathers and musk ox hair that you find in the four works in the nature exhibition. It is neither a romantic nor particularly realistic depiction of nature, but rather an interpretation and reworking of familiar flora and fauna.
Walks in nature often precede Rosing-Asvid’s works, which often contain elements from nature. The work Bird polka includes bird feet with webbed feet spread out like the skin of a drum. In one of the two untitled works from 2005, Rosing-Asvid also uses bird feathers, which at first glance resemble the hair tufts in Sprouting Islands. One of the most eye-catching features of the works is also the musk ox’s spiky tufts of hair. The coarse hair almost ‘grows’ out of the canvas. In Sprouting Islands, the hair protrudes like little geysers from islands. This means that the work should not only be experienced facing the canvas, but requires the viewer to angle themselves according to the direction of the hair. The collected materials are all in various stages of decomposition. “You can see that time has been at work, the light, the sun has been at work, the wind. (…) The materials have had a long life before I find them.”*, says Naja Rosing-Asvid in an interview. Whether it’s the grains of sand that have been grinded small, fine and round over thousands of years, or the feathers that hours earlier fell off a grouse in the mountains, all the materials are beautiful and pure because they have a natural patina. This purity also affects the way Rosing-Asvid applies the objects to her canvases. Rosing-Asvid only uses glue sparingly and almost always supplements it with steel wire and thin nails to ensure that it is durable – also in the long run. Using long, solid nails inside the feathers and feet makes them easier to manipulate and gives them a light, floating appearance.
Rosing-Asvid first started making sand art around 2003 and has gradually combined the sand art with silver leaf and materials from nature. Naja Rosing-Asvid (b. 1966) is a trained architect at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture in Copenhagen and is responsible for the exhibition design at the Greenland National Museum. Rosing-Asvid is a member of the Greenlandic artists’ association KIMIK***. She is also the author of the children’s books about Aqipi****, and is nominated for the Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize 2023. In her art, Rosing-Asvid experiments with the possibilities of Greenlandic natural materials and changes expression depending on the material she selects from her large collection of nature finds. In an interview with Rosing-Asvid, she describes her collection of natural materials as a candy store. The natural materials are sorted by type in transparent plastic boxes so that Rosing-Asvid can select the ‘goodies’ to be included in a work. *
As a member of KIMIK, Rosing-Asvid also exhibited several works in the temporary exhibition KIMIK: Ukioq – Winter at Nuuk Art Museum, which ran from February 17 to May 7, 2023. Two of these works also include finds from nature, which Rosing-Asvid reuses and gives new life. Inside the canvases of two of the works, ‘windows’ have been cut for the skeletal creatures – a frame within a frame – and here they stand with their grouse claws, bone wings and smiling faces of vertebrae. Rosing-Asvid has deliberately placed the bony creatures on a ledge in the canvas. Their claws curl around the edge, making you wonder if they will still be in place next time, or if they will have flown away by then. Like Aqipi, the little helper spirit that emerges from the shaman’s box of nature objects, the skeletal creatures are also made from the same elements of the animals that you see in the amulet next to the skeletal creature. The amulet consists of a dark brown piece of leather cord that strings together grouse feathers, musk ox hair, polar bear fur and seal teeth in a downward-facing bouquet. In this way, the skeletal creature references the amulet’s components. The skeletal creature clearly manifests the changeability and mobility that Rosing-Asvid’s works revolve around. Bone and animal materials that were once part of a living animal die and lose their purpose, and in the process are transformed into a degradable material in nature. But in the hands of Rosing-Asvid, they are recycled and given a new purpose, as something that can live on and provide new experiences for the viewer.
In general, Naja Rosing-Asvid’s works revolve around themes such as the balance of nature and its changeability: the ‘dead’ materials are recycled and given new life in the sand motifs or in skeletal creatures. The materials are always renewable and speak into the reuse and upcycling processes of thinking of by-products as new materials.
This Behind the Art article was written by Emma Hytting Magnussen.
* From interview with Naja Rosing-Asvid on 13/04-23 by Emma Hytting Magnussen
** From Naja Rosing-Asvid’s website: http://www.najarosingasvid.dk/
*** Naja Rosing-Asvid & KIMIK: KIMIK ukiut 20 years. Tupaarnaq Rosing Olsen (ed.), Nuuk: milik publishing, 1st edition, 2016
**** Naja Rosing-Asvid: Aqipi – the little helping spirit, milik publishing, 1st edition, 2012