It is easy to come close to Monika Larsen Dennis' art. Especially to her sculptures that invite you to touch them. Right now there is a large exhibit with her sculptures and photographs at Millesgården i Stockholm, together with paintings by Marc Chagall.

I meet Monika Larsen Dennis at the Zinc Gallery on Skeppargatan in Stockholm. She is showing new sculptures in white marble and photographs. The later shows details from famous historic paintings. Like the photo Handling from the Painting Series, that shows a woman’s hand resting over her thigh. The detail is taken from Edouard Manet's famous and scandalous painting "Olympia“ from 1863. The painting that hangs at the dÓrsay Museum in Paris shows a naked woman lying with her hand on her thigh and a black woman that hands out a bouquet of flowers.

In Monika Larsen Dennis picture she has concentrated on the hand. A gesture that in its puzzling way both invites and rejects. Like in relations between people. Come closer, Don’t come closer!
Or as she herself has expressed it in a earlier art piece Round and Round made together with Maria Freiberg: “...but I thought, you always say that, I didn’t mean it like that, how could you, I told you so, I never said that, you promised, why didn’t you say something, now you’re telling me, that’s not what I said, you don’t understand...“

In close encounter with sculpture
Her latest sculptures in white marble are embodying similar questions. Sculptures that are a kind of negative prints, where the actual sculpture is that which has been taken away. Like in the one named the Hug from the Marble Series. In one large piece of marble she has carved in a channel that ends in two holes at the long side. When the viewer, if he or she dares, sticks his/her hands and then the arms into the holes the hands and the arms meet in a gesture like an embracement of another body. A sudden meeting that can be both hard and soft, cold or warm. As in relationships between people. Another sculpture, also in creamy white marble, are made so that the viewer can fall down on his knees to rest his chin and forehead in a position as in prayer. At the same time there is the danger of sliding into the marble, as in relationships between people.

In yet another sculpture she lets two spike mats meet at the floor. The spikes are just sharp enough so that two people can stand on them barefoot facing each other for only few seconds, but only if you get up with both feet at the same time and in that way spread one's weight. Monika Larsen Dennis places her hands on the spikes and claims that it could be possible...if you are good at turning off your emotions... like the fakirs.

Long way to art practice
Monika Larsen Dennis was born in 1963 in Malmö, Sweden. She has been involved in art most of her life, but it took long time before she made her first appearance. First she traveled around southern Europe and the USA and when she applied to the art school in Malm
ö she didn’t get in. So she studied in Iceland instead. A time that she experienced as "
incredibly instructive.“ Then she attended the Art Academy in Stockholm and left there in 1997. She has participated in several group exhibits, among them together with Maria Friberg when they showed an enormous video against the wall of the Culture House in Stockholm in 1998/99. The title of the work was Driven and it showed two bodies that embraced, struggled or danced with each other in a film sequence that was only 7 seconds in real time, but had been extended to a 2.5 minute slow motion loop.

For Monika Larsen Dennis the piece was showing a relationship that had been distilled into pure essence, about weakness, strength, aggression, passion and sexuality.

And now we can take part in an exhibition of Monika Larsen Dennis investigations of human relations and gestures at Millesgården till the 25 of February 2001.

Konstvärlden & Dísajn Nr. 6 2000
by Göran Hellström

Central in Monika Larsen Dennis whole production is that of the duality of the relationship, its eternal pendulum between trust and suspicion, affection and aggression, longing for freedom and captivity.
I get very frustrated when it says “do not touch” beside a sculpture. Because the experience just will not be complete without contact. Honestly, it is not often I amenably meet such a request. The alarm may go or not. Monika Larsen Dennis’ sculptures at Zinc Gallery not only allow you touch them, they invite your touch. Yes, it is more than that: it is when you first touch them that they become fully meaningful. Without the viewers active participation Larsen Dennis’ sculptures stay in a sort of pupated esthetic state.

A few meters up on the wall sits a soft polished block of white marble. From the block two keyhole-shaped openings have been carved. The whole thing looks like an abstract sculpture made in a classical material. But the title Handcuffs opens up for another, more loaded interpretation. The form is not just form, it also has a literal “captivating” function. Bondage is not my thing, but I accept the challenge and place myself with my back against the wall, pull my arms up and place my wrists into the openings of the marble block. The edges of the handcuffs are not sharp but softly rounded and I can get loose whenever I want. Nevertheless a strong feeling of defenselessness and exposure appears. I am bound (maybe voluntarily) and at the same time totally deserted. It hits me what a strong picture this is of the sort of “bondage” we call love. Deliciously smooth it binds us with its soft rounded irons. The stronger it is, the more defenseless we become. Am I free to go? Maybe so. I am nevertheless at the mercy of a force as fettering as handcuffs of steel.

Spell strikes a theme central to the whole production of Monika Larsen Dennis, the close relation, the duality of the relationship, its eternal pendulum between trust and suspicion, affection and aggression, longing for freedom and captivity. Knuckle-duster is a knuckle-duster in fine-polished white marble: At the same time a tool for maltreatment and a beautiful instrument to both caress and be caressed with. The marble effectively underlines this duality. Warm and cold, smooth and hard it creates an interesting tension between “high” classicism and “low” triviality, between form and context, esthetics and thematic, art and use. Sometimes the ambiguity is also spiced with a sort of burlesque contemptuous humor. A wall sculpture (also in marble, without a title) looks both like a scrotum with an erected penis and a fist with the middle finger straight up in the air. Up yours!

Dagens Nyheter 11.11.2000 Culture critic/reflection
By Lars O Ericsson

My art is an investigative, continuing, process where I can interest myself with what is most important to me at the time and at the same time express it. "An exciting journey based on curiosity," says Monika Larsen Dennis, sculpture and multi artist, as we meet in the beautiful Kasper Sahlin-priced exhibit hall, Millesgarden, in Stockholm.

Here in the lightest part of the hall she shows a selection of her latest creations: Artwork carved in marble and black granite or cast in sandblasted glass and metal together with a suite of photographs. The first artwork I notice is titled Reconsidering Choice, a soft-surfaced marble piece with sculpted depressions for the knees, chin and forehead. Like a prayers bench it lures you to contemplate. Maybe even forgive?

Beside it is Armor, two body socks that are connected and stand in front of each other, made of 230,000 small metal rings. As Tool for Endless Longing: a massive desk in black granite, creates an effective contrast to the pile of almond-oiled double ears in sandblasted glass that lie on top. For a moment it looks like the ears are lifting like butterflies. This is an example of the avskalade art, concrete and spiritual, that seems to be the signum of Monika Larsen Dennis. It lures you to touch - and to interpret.

She describes it herself as she in her work, "buzzes around invisible areas of mental complications.“ About such things that relate to meetings, relationships, trust, body language and lyhördhet. Therefore the double ears on the black granite desk. For isn´t it easier to distinguish undertones-subtle unspoken nuances- in what someone says, than to discover the same in writing?

- My sculptures attempt to visualize these mental complications that we nearly all live with in smaller or larger doses, she says, when after leaving the exhibit hall, our talk continues in the nearby privacy that Anna Milles room at the Millesgarden offers.The viewers active presence are also one, but only one layer of many, that is the meaning of her art.

- It is a possibility. But there is never just one meaning with my work. There is many levels. But when it comes to sculpture I have always wanted it to be touched, says Monika Larsen Dennis, that in her on personality strives after to „develop both the emotional and the intellectual sides“ Besides a strong presence and verbosity she is also stubborn and focused.

- My father showed me every second of my childhood that nothing is impossible. That has had a tremendous impact on me. When people say, "that is not possible,“ it´s not in my vocabulary.
Born in 1963 in Malmö with „an extremely playful childhood“ and where the danish born father stood for the emotional and the mother for the intellectual, it still took quite a while for her to decide to fully work with art. After as a 29 year-old have started at the art school in Reykjavik 1992-94 and after that filled in with three years at the Art Academy in Stockholm, she have now gotten a bit on the road on the trip she sees her art as.

In only a few years Monika Larsen Dennis has established herself as one of our most noticed young artists, both in Sweden and abroad. Last year she among other things participated at Wanas sculpturpark - with hailshot trees - while she at Zinc Gallery in Stockholm and Gavle showed sculptures in marble, stainless steel and photographs.

Until today's date, she has had four separate exhibits and participated in a large number of group exhibits. She is also represented in Lund, Kristianstad, Stockholm and Luxemburg. It would not surprise her if her work in the near future will be in Berlin. Because between Berlin and Stockholm she now commutes since she met a German man.

My future dream is to develop the meeting with him. Something that can change me and open me up for new creative possibilities.

Svenska Dagbladet 02.22.2001
by Thomas Haegerström

Monika Larsen Dennis’ art peels the emotions off your skin. In her art, lust and pain are two sides of the same coin. And the naked is not only sensual, but also full of fear and worries.

Everything is sooo clean, sometimes I think of commercials for hair products when I see Monika Larsen Dennis work: smooth, pale, female bodies in harmony on white sheets; naturally beautiful skin, expressive hands that show life and emotions; touch, closeness, milk white marble and a faint haze on the surface like the trace of a fresh breath. Soft value, I’m thinking of. And then, when the other danger appears it is like in the fairytale: Snow White and jet black; heart and pain; freedom and captivity; cream-white sleepy princesses and silver crowns with knife sharp edges.

In Monika Larsen Dennis’ art, sensuality and violence stand right next to each other. In contrast to Cindy Sherman, who also uses her own body, when she, in different ways, stages the subject and the sexuality, with art historic, popular culture and image rhetoric references, the viewer does not become a you for Monika Larsen Dennis. Here is another dialog, without looks. It is more about intimacy than reconstruction. Consequently, it’s not about what you hide behind, but revealing yourself completely, to really show yourself.

Here, Monika Larsen Dennis has something in common with Louise Bourgeois and her symbolic, expressive riddles. One big difference though: Monika Larsen Dennis works in a highly impersonal and out-distanced way, with cold colors and materials without real presence. Rather, here are traces of stripped, classical form clean and shallow, graphical design language.

But even if it is undressed to its purest, most simple idea right next to the skin, it is still the mutual, emotionally loaded, complicated, painful and pleasurable relationship that is central. That between the subject and the object. Between the body and the objects, between the I and it’s mirror reflection, between the softly formless and the knife sharp, aggressively hard. Maybe most of everything, the relationship between two individuals, where all is blended. It becomes stories of a we, about them or about us. Loneliness is far away, it is not that which scares, but rather the relationship. It is that which is between two, that which makes you throw yourself between the poles of fear and pleasure.

And even the hard, sharp is in Monika Larsen Dennis: clinical sparkling spike mats, a shining dagger, edgy handcuffs without locks in shiny steel against white walls, and tables with even edges and perfect surfaces. Glass, steel, marble, photography, edges, torture and kisses: there is always a duality that makes the beautiful, fragile and naked full of tension.

Matter can be both materials and things that you care about. Monika Larsen Dennis always makes the urgent obvious. She gives ambiguous feelings an image, shape, course of events and substance. It’s endlessly difficult: her world is magical.

In Hands (7) the clenched fists are filled with bitterness, fear, belief, agony, peace and strength. In the Dinner sits the suspiciousness and affection with compressed palms and squeezed fingers across from each other under isolated glass-covers at the dinner table. The difference between the two hands is how hard the squeeze, how close the hands are together. The closer, the more fear in the fingertips. But never in Monika Larsen Dennis images, does anyone take the others hand, and hold it cautiously.

One of her best works has been shown many times before, the video Driven from 1998. Here sometimes hugs, sometimes fight and alternately dances to suit dressed persons. They frustratingly pulls each others black suits, squeeze the arms, takes steady grips around the waists, try all the time to get close and at the same time pull and escape from there. It is a power game filled with passion, fear, love and hate. Both are forcing and tempting the other to continue the eternal battle.

Or take a Long Kiss Goodbye; the petting wallpaper where the nearness and the feelings in the end get blurred and vague. One kiss loses the contour and disappears beyond time and space; its tension is smeared out in the movement and fades away. Fast, fierce cuts, as if to catch a course of events that slide out of your hands. There is a fury in the will to grip the emotion. At last in the obscure mirror on the wall you disappear, dissolve to a shadow that floats into the white. And you get to grope about in the dark about that image too, try to give your own feelings other expressions.
That is even harder.

In the piece Armor, are those of small metal rings meticulously put together dresses heavy but see-through armors. Even the naked must protect them selves, everything is highly dangerous.

NT 2002 08 26
Natalia Kazmierska
Passagen Linköping, Sweden