A Oaxacan Who Happens to be Danish
by Michael Sledge
To be of a place and at the same time apart from it is perhaps to see its beauty, and its ironies, with more clarity. Trine Ellitsgaard grew up in Denmark, and it was there she trained as a weaver, but for the last twenty years she has made her home in Oaxaca. Inside her studio, a Nordic serenity reigns. But step out into the street and you are instantly confronted by the clash of traffic and exhaust, the saturated colors of sky, colonial buildings, and graffiti—the rich, anarchic weave of Latin America that threatens at every moment to overload the senses. You cannot help but be swept into the chaos, or fight against it, or both.
It is more than an interesting side note that Trine still weaves on the loom she imported from Copenhagen when she first arrived in Mexico. Looking at her textiles, what is most striking is not the overtly visible influence of Oaxacan craft but its apparent absence. The ordered geometric designs, the muted colors, the soothing balance of forms and textures all seem to express a Scandinavian sensibility in direct contrast to a life spent in Mexico or to traditional Mexican weaving. But the influence is undeniably there.
Sometimes it is in a form she has appropriated, such as the woolen skirt worn by the Chamulas of Chiapas—Trine has joined two woolen lengths with a striking ray of horsehair. Or it might be in an element suggested by ritual: the dried flowers set upon the graves in the town of San Antonino during Day of the Dead become paper pom poms in an homage to her father. Most often, however, the experience of Mexico is found in the combinations of the materials themselves. In her mischievously titled Mi Vida en Oaxaca, she has tied knots of black rubber into a woven white background of plastic and silk. Gold thread and nylon, paper and palm, sisal and seeds—the organic is paired with inorganic, luxurious with pedestrian, rough with smooth, shiny with sensual. Underneath the deceptive simplicity and harmony of the designs, these surprising clashes and combinations reveal a delight in strangeness as well as the peculiar beauty that can emerge from chaos. Trine’s work takes hold of all that she has observed in Mexico, but the Scandinavian in her reconstitutes it into new patterns; out of the meeting of these two cultures emerges a new way of seeing both.