Rasmus Søndergaard Johannsen
Lineated Luminary
99 x 99 cm (8) / 198 x 198 cm (2)
Urtica dioica (stinging nettles), cyanotype,
Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust) and roofing lead

It took Rasmus Søndergaard Johannsen close to a year to weave the first of what is now a series of 10 tapestries, using the fibres of stinging nettles as his yarn. The nettles themselves were harvested by Søndergaard Johannsen in the shadowy areas of the otherwise green hills of Humboldthain, a Berlin park constructed on top of what was once a mountain of Second World War rubble. After harvesting the nettles, Søndergaard Johannsen processed the fibers and spun them into thread, stretched the threads as warps on a wooden frame, thus creating a simple loom, which he then used to carefully weave a fabric. Once finished, the fabric, naturally striped in nuances of brown, was treated with cyanotype, a photo-sensitive mixture of iron salts. Søndergaard Johannsen then brought his frame back to the park where the nettles were harvested, on a night with a full moon, and leftit there until morning, allowingthe moon rays to expose the cyanotype. He himself stayed next to it throughout the night, guarding his work from anything that might happen in a city park in the small hours. What fell onto the frame from the tree tops was left there until morning, leaving spots of the fabric unexposed to the light, thus keeping the natural color of the untreated nettles.

As Søndergaard Johannsen kept working on the series, the time required to finish a tapestry was reduced to 7-8 months for the subsequent bigger works and just 3 months for the smaller weaves still an amount of labour we seldom allow for any object of our times, be it a work of art or an object of everyday use. As he was working, the cityscape around him changed. Invisible for most of the inhabitants of the city — leisurely using the park for picnics, throwing frisbees or running — the nettles multiplied and now grow not only in larger areas than they used to, but also denser. A weed, thriving in areas dominated by human waste, be it from war like in the park where Søndergaard Johannsen harvested his nettles or from the otherwise destructive habits of our species, the nettle has become a biological winner on an increasingly polluted planet. Although it is unwanted both by gardeners and farmers, it seemed to him that the more nettles he harvested, “weeded” so to say, the more nettles would come back the following spring. To him, the thought that any attempt at removing the nettles might be the very reason they would thrive — stinging our bare legs in summer if we happen to step off the beaten path — seemed an interesting twist.

Søndergaard Johannsen tends to refuse any spiritual influences. The spiritual representing the irrationalwhich goes against the practical way of thinking that to him is at the core of his work. The night of the full moon is the night when it is most practical to develop cyanotype, as it is the night when the moon light is the brightest. Nettles are the fibres most easily accessible when you live in a city, as no one will be guarding them. For the nettles themselves, growing in the forgotten parts of the city is a natural adaptation, just as the back wall of the outhouse, where men would urinate before the introduction of modern plumbing, used to be their habitat. Their thick tap roots are specialized at sucking water from deeper grounds, sourcing nitrogen in the soil from long dead mammals. For them, thriving on what others have left behind is merely a strategy of survival.

- Inger Wold Lund