MAIKEN BENT

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PAINS AND PLEASURE

“Oh, what a pleasure it is to be beaten!” maliciously expressed Galician novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch in the incipit of one of his short stories. Emphasizing the ambiguous feelings and practices that connect pain and pleasure, the author of the infamous Venus in Furs (1870) notoriously claimed that happiness endlessly alternates with pain, as if one could not exist without the other.

Paradoxes and tensions appear as a starting point of Maiken Bent's multidisciplinary practice, where sculpture and installation prevail. Reflecting upon fetishism as a desire, in which pain and pleasure interweave, her series innocently titled Dreamcatchers (2011) features hanging, surreal torture objects consisting of an interlace of golden chains, jewels and ropes. Looking closer at the sculptures, one would notice a large handcuff-type ring here and whip-like sticks there, barely noticeable. Bent seems to operate an aesthetization of sex in bright colors, somewhere between Gucci and fetish-wear, luxury and the hardcore.

Another striking series of objects, entitled Gränsarkeologi (2010/2011), are vitrines presenting safety equipment such as helmets and construction hats. Each ensemble is named after a male worker that has contributed to the erection of the bridge linking Copenhagen to Malmö. But the gear ineluctably reminds the viewer of executioner hoods, harnesses and whips: perfect SM apparatuses. Most of Bent's objects seem to contain a sexual connotation-for instance in the sculptural column, installed at Kronborg castle in Denmark, encircled by leather belts and explicitly named Domina (2007); or in relation to perversion as in her psychedelic green wooden pillory, Untitled (2008). Bent clearly plays with the expansion of authorized pleasure to other fields than sex, what philosopher Michel Foucault defined as “desexualization”, by emphasizing the importance of the game within sadomasochism.

Bent's work presents a particular perspective on issues of gender by questioning a certain definition of feminine art. At a first glance, her precise technique could be associated with a handicraft savoir-faire utilized as she produces handmade, leather patchworks mixed with elements of jewelry. Bent's elaborated and colored pieces of leather along with accumulated, golden chains sometimes echo the tackiness of Italian luxury brands, yet sometimes the sobriety of Danish furniture making. In this sense, her pieces carry a strong connection to design, which is considered alternately a benefit or an obstacle of being born Danish, surrounded by stunning furniture and designers. Bent, however, plays against stereotypes, incorporating found material often dug out from hardware stores or fishermen supplies, such as rope, feathers or chains, into her craft. This wide range of heterogeneous material provides her corpus of works with a specific raw and brut aspect.

The fetishist importance of ritual is at stake throughout Bent's practice. First, the ritual of sex and perversion, then by extension, of the body. Indeed, for her 2009 solo exhibition in Copenhagen, the artist turned the gallery space into a gym complex, installing a set of large colorful wall bars, pommel horses, hula-hoops and mattresses. These material icons of exercise culture were subtly decorated with leather patchwork and colored strips, revealing a very modernistic approach to color, while formally challenging the opposition between functionality and aestheticism. Maiken Bent's stories of perverted sex, stretched bodies and deviated design reveal in the end an uncanny atmosphere of sophisticated roughness, and an imaginary world made of somehow restrained phantasms.

Martha Kirszenbaum