About the Pharmacist
Morten Søndergaard (born 1964) is a critically acclaimed poet and artist. Søndergaard has attended the Danish Writer’s School in Copenhagen, he holds an MA in Comparative Literature, and since his debut Sahara i mine hænder (Sahara In My Hands) from 1992, he has published a substantial number of poetry books, translated several works by Jorge Luis Borges into Danish, been an editor for the renowned Danish Literary Magazine ‘Hvedekorn’ (Wheat-grain), and has co-founded the influential experimental poetry-group ‘Øverste Kirugiske’ (Upper Surgical).
Søndergaard’s tireless explorations of the various collisions between meaning and materiality has resulted in extra-linguistic works that span sound art, artists books, asemic writing strategies and performance. His artistic practice unfolds around explorations and challenges of what poetry can be and is, and how it can subsist in the breaches and connections between signs and things. Unwearyingly, the works plunge themselves into the various alliances and fractures between world and language that constitutes our always already semiotically mediated lives.
Søndergaard’s versatile oeuvre is perhaps best described as a long flickering walk within language, a search into its corners, edges, vantages and points of observation. In an organic manner the works expand into other genres and media over time. The poetry collection Et skridt i den rigtige retning (A Step in the Right Direction) from 2005, branches out into several exhibitions and publications that deal with the somatic experience of navigating in and with language. The exhibition Sahara under mine fødder (Sahara Under My Feet) from 2011 – a title that nods to Søndergaard’s debut book – displayed prints of the etching-plates Søndergaard had attached to his boots before venturing on a desert journey. The result is indechipherable, yet still significant inscriptions that are formed in a transhuman collaboration between landscape, metal-plate and the walking body. The genreless book Processen og det halve kongerige (The Process and Half the Kingdom) from 2010 reiterates the motif of walking with its associative and disoriented drifts in language that constitute a complex mesh of shifts and interchanges between the body and poetry in motion. As a poet, Søndergaard shows an interest in exploring not just the possibilities of a sentence, but the very potential for language: the silent or unarticulated thresholds before meaning is released and separates itself from the material it denotes. His sound performances often dwell in the moments before the articulating voice: the diminutive hesitation and the prepared click of the tongue before the mouth opens to form words. The works testifies to an intense interest in the relationship between body and language – concepts that are never allowed to rest in the binary oppositions that are often taken for granted. In Søndergaard’s work the organic realm is not some semiotically unmarked world of mute things but a meaning-making modality buzzing with strange voices. In the center of this stands the living body: part subject and part object, an equally articulating and articulated nexus of signs and things. In Søndergaard’s work, language is an entirely contingent material that perpetually runs wild and creates obscure meanings. The textless artists book Suture (2015) displays one long transcript of the connective structures of one hundred skulls found in the catacombs of Paris. The word ‘suture’ refers to that strangely ornamental seam binding the different parts of the skull together. Suture is also the word for the medical thread used to sow wounds together, and in geology the word refers to a collision between two tectonic plates. With Suture, Søndergaard insists on reading the seam of the skulls as engraved signs of some strange sort, hieroglyphs in a (still) unknown language. The work offers a quiet, but rather adamant hope for a healing of fractures – of the distances between word and organic materiality, however temporary and brittle such reconciliations might turn out to be.
This interest for the transversals between body and language are expressed in several works that incorporate the medical in the poetic and vice versa. Må Sort Dreng Dø Ren (May Black Boy Die Pure) from 2009 is a poetic experiment that takes as its vantage point an analysis of Søndergaard’s own DNA-profile. The work both radicalizes, dramatizes and parodies the romantic idea that ‘true’ poetry is written in the blood of the poet’s heart – a point supported by the strange title, which is an anagram of the poet’s name. The genetic fingerprint of the poet is translated into the signs for the DNA-bases: adenine (a), guanine (g), cytosine (c) thymine (t), and the combinations of these letters constitute a threshold-language of some sort, mediating between nonsense and meaning, while continually threatening to mutate and dissolve the significations put to play in the poems.
Må Sort Dreng Dø Ren gives a nod to biosemiotics by insisting on a continuity between the organic body and the semantic field, and insists on the subversive potential of the innumerable para-texts that exist everywhere around us, not least in our own living bodies that can never be reduced to the ideas we evolve around them. The interrelations between language and body, poetry and medicine are further considered in the work of concrete-poetry Ordapotek (Wordpharmacy) from 2010. Here, the poet-apothecary ordinates words against various disorders without ever losing sight of the potentially problematic side-effects of language. The work consists of ten medicine boxes each representing one of the ten word-classes, and each containing a leaflet that advises about the effects of the given word-class. Symptomatic of Søndergaard’s practice the work stages an intricate intimacy between language and body that hastily sprouts, and breaches out into the world: ‘Plant a verb. Eat its fruit!’
Morten Søndergaard’s works have been translated into a large number of languages, he has exhibited throughout Europe and has received several literary awards, most recently the Danish Art’s Council life-long grant. Morten Søndergaard lives and works between Paris and Pietrasanta.
– Ida Benche