A brief look at The Female Christ
On 29 May 1969 at 15.30 a naked woman carrying a cross walks through the Copenhagen Stock Exchange. The contrast is startling: The public, male-dominated space; the formal, immaculately dressed men, Big Business: All this versus a lone, naked woman. This proved that art could be more than just sculptures in a room; it could also constitute an investigation of social and cultural structures, of spiritual versus material values, of gender roles and politics.
The background behind The Female Christ
Bjørn Nørgaard met the artist Lene Adler Petersen in 1968; they were married the next year. Together, the couple were at the heart of the alternative squatter and hippie scenes in 1960s and 1970s Copenhagen, and together they staged collective actions, exhibitions, journals, political demonstrations, films, etc.
Collaboration and the opportunities represented by collective living were central issues for Adler Petersen and Nørgaard. They staged joint actions exploring whether – and how – art can interact with society. In 1969 their actions reached the Stock Exchange in Copenhagen. Performing in the work The Female Christ, Lene Adler Petersen walks – entirely unannounced – through the building’s vast hall while carrying a cross. The artists introduce a new, vibrant image depicting one of our grand narratives and carry out a startling intervention within the pulsating business world. The resulting clash has become an iconic modern-day image. The footage created for this work should also be viewed within the context of the film community ABCinema, which worked with e.g. collectively produced film and collective film screenings where several films were screened simultaneously.
Lene Adler Petersen about the action
Speaking of the action, Lene Adler Petersen relates: ” We went there in a taxi; I was naked underneath my black coat, and I kept the cross against my stomach … I was amazingly nervous …But suddenly they were in full swing. David stood by the exit, filming, and Bjørn was walking with a tape recorder and with my clothes, and then I started walking. I remember a rope was suddenly blocking my way, I wasn’t expecting that, so that was quite weird, but then I just kept walking with the cross, holding it up high at first and then downwards, the way you hold a yo-yo. Then it was over. And you could have heard a pin drop! Someone shouted ”But – you can’t do that!” and ”Good heavens! Look, Sørensen, look!” Then we went out to the taxi waiting outside and drove away”.
The Curator: Proto-feminist practice
In the book accompanying the exhibition, art historian and exhibition curator Birgitte Anderberg offers an analysis of the Stock Exchange Action with The Female Christ and the project’s feminist and political value: ” The female Christ becomes an erotic, holy, vulnerable, naked, natural – female – counterpart set up against the powerful, patriarchal, authoritarian, capitalist social structure symbolised by the stockbrokers and the Stock Exchange as the centre of capital. Thus, the action was also proto-feminist in its attribution of value to femininity and female values, both in general and as values with political potential.”
Bjørn Nørgaard about the figure
Speaking about the background behind the Female Christ figure, Nørgaard says: ”It followed out of the way in which Lene and I worked together ... it was about finding completely different ideals about what it means to be a man. All the things we found that Jesus represented were viewed as “female qualities”: gentleness, love, openness, caring for children. So today it would actually make more sense for Jesus to be a woman. For all the things that represent the opposite of Jesus are the typically male traits. Creating such an image was actually a very political thing to do.”
A democratic medium
At the time, the new film medium super 8 offered more democratic access to the film medium; the technology was inexpensive and easily handled. Bjørn Nørgaard saw it as “a method for reproducing yourself and your surroundings, i.e. a way of building your identity, of making your own story and history.” The films vary in terms of expression; some are reminiscent of private home video footage while others are staged sequences, document Nørgaard’s artistic actions, or involve sequences reminiscent of the actions. While film was a tool for examining reality, it was also a material and form in its own right. Just as Nørgaard experiments with the formal language of sculpture, he also experiments with the fundamental devices of filmmaking; with camera angles, double exposures, and colour effects.
Bjørn Nørgaard about technique
"The unprofessional was a matter of principle. Things should not be made too professionally. For at that point we regarded professionalism as part of the hierarchical structure, and to make something in a ‘professional’ manner was the same as distancing yourself from the ones you wished to speak to. As a result, the amateurish was an ideal."
Tania Ørum, article in the book for the exhibition "Amatørfilmen som ideal", The National Gallery of Denmark, 2010