Sara Lidman on Martha Edelheit
(Translated by Joan Fälldin)
The first thing I saw of Martha Nilsson Edelheit's was an ancient man's face so recently affected by grief that the features were trying to pull away from the skull. Black paper as a background. White string, tightly joined together formed the face muscles. String coming loose here and there, hanging down like tears. Or like blood sweat, where the redness has been fired white-hot. How the pain simultaneously paid tribute to that person who was the cause of the grief.
This and other masks of suffering was what Martha produced during her last years in her home country, the USA.
Now the artist lives on a farm outside Stockholm and can see more cows and sheep that people in her immediate vicinity. On entering her studio I am struck by a canvas/relief which looks very much as though it depicts Norrland in late November. Chicken wire covered with newspaper and prepared so you see a light layer of snow, with sheep, moving across the land; the snow is composite bluish, mysterious, dazzling; among the painted sheep spread out across the landscape there are sheep silhouettes in iron wire and the observer stares. Are they recently deceased sheep? Alive only in the memory of living sheep like secret companions. Or are they sheep in the making? Stubbornly aiming at an existence in flesh. Not a trace of comeliness and yet I can't take my eyes off this quiet urgent desire to live.
Everyone who has the good fortune to live close to animals knows how enigmatic they are, how incessantly surprising. We disapprove of the constant warning against "attributing human feelings to animals." This ban seems to us farm children like a monopolization of feelings reserved for human beings, primarily civilised ones.
Wouldn't we rather believe that, just as all basic elements are present in all organic life, there is a response dormant in all beings, a response waiting to be summoned by those nearby?
Martha captures an incessant, subtle response from the bodies of these animals their eyes, hooves, knees, muzzles, and nostrils.
I look at the two elegant old ewes; one has a comforting motherly expression when she looks at her doomed friend. They appear so distinguished! You can't portray sheep in this way! It is too soulful! It's quite enough to see such expressions in real life and especially among sheep but you need credibility as well... and tender sheep are once and for all banned from art which wishes to be taken seriously ...
Martha is not easily discouraged not even by my warning about a huge bull who looks like Belgian blue. Martha just says that it isn't genetically engineered. She has seen it and admires it as quite natural phenomenon. She doesn't need to be instructed neither about what's charming nor what's hideous.
She knows what she's doing. I stand staring at a sheep whose inner expression shines through the ram's features; still and awe-inspiring and disquietingly ...
Indeed there is a lion in there!