by Paul D'Agostino
Kin and Not: Mille Kalsmose’s Substitute Families
Mille Kalsmose probes and mines the definitively trying, variably traumatic aspects of her own familial history to question interpersonal relationships, social mores, maternities and paternities, kinships and kindredness, filial similarities and otherness, and the differently meaningful strangeness of strangers as they embed themselves into our lives as friends and acquaintances. Whether her works assume form as installations, photographic series, sculptures or broadly variant visual essays, they amount collectively to so many investigations of the ethical, physical, existential and socio-spatial malleabilities of our regards for one another, related or otherwise—as well as our regards, both obliquely and directly, for ourselves.
In her newest body of work, Substitute Families, Kalsmose expresses the presumed rigidities and sometimes veiled fragilities of familial rapports through materials and selective placements. Crafted out of iron, wood, silk and pigskin, this sculptural series consists of a number of very similar individuals qua family members of variable heights and spatial relations to one another. Hard and heavy, the iron elements are at once the individuals’ bodily sticks, cranial frames and standing perches, as each figure appears in several forms, suggesting perhaps maturation and the passing of time. Delicate and liminal, and stretched taut into their iron frames—then fastened firmly in place with most visible, ‘rigidity’-implying rivets—the silk and pigskin elements make up certain body parts and facial forms. As these features grow and ‘age’, they eventually become the iron-bound wooden templates that gave them form, to some extent, in the first place.
Bereft of truly individualizing features—although certain shapes do suggest that one might be a little girl, another a boy, others parents— these standing figures scan as curiously looming stand-ins for some sort of ambiguously ‘related’ collective. At once human-like and not at all, they are markers of the subtle individualities and samenesses that define us not only as beings, but also as groups, and their differential proximities to one another leave viewers pondering their interpersonal intimacies, closenesses, distances. They might be a family properly-so-called; they might be a family only circumstantially; they might not necessarily be a true family at all.
Are they facing toward or away from one another? Are they coming together or cleaving apart? These figures’ formal simplicities and spatial suggestivities leave them posing splendidly unanswerable questions of ethical, philosophical, socio-cultural and psycho-familial sorts. At the same time, viewers might simply find them pleasant objects to look at, walk among, be around. In a way, we all hope to be a bit like that, too, sometimes.
This essay was composed on the occasion of Kalsmose’s Substitute Families series being included in Afterimage, a group exhibition at InCube Arts, located at 314 West 52nd Street in New York City. More information here.
Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.