Love, Fear and Evil - Horsens Kunstmuseum 2015, Holstebro Kunstmuseum 2016, Edsvik Konsthall, Stockholm 2016

Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
I am drawing things that happened a long time ago
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
My mother went to Mexico to meet Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. When she came back, she brought a couple of Mexican records that she’d play in her studio whenever she was in a good mood. My sister and I always danced along to them. My mother would shout “STOP!” and we’d stand still for hours while she painted us
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
These are some of the things my mother brought back from Mexico
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
My mothers Mexican relatives had emigrated to the United States
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
My grandfather was a famous architect who built Gothic-style churches. He fell off a high mountain and died
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
My grandmother was one of the most beautiful actresses in the world. Before the accident, 27 men proposed to her, but she’d rejected them all
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
Only one man ever proposed to me: “Please marry me so I can stay here,” he said. “If I go back to my country they will kill me.” I said no
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
He was tortured to death in prison. The warden called his sister and said he was going to be released and she could come and get him. When she got there all that was waiting for her was the gatekeeper with a bundle of her brother’s blood-spattered clothes
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
She wrote to me about it but I didn’t get her letter. There was a postal strike at the time. By the end of the strike, a mountain of letters had built up. Lacking the energy to sort them, the postal workers decided to burn them. They burned almost 4 million letters
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
I lay in bed for weeks, staring at his chair, imagining him sitting there like he used to – daydreaming, looking out of the window, thinking about his paintings
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
I went to visit my old friend Edvard Munch. He told me that, in all his life, he’d only ever been obsessed with one single, solitary person. He was eager to tell me all, but then the nurse turned up to take him to the dining room
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
Edvard had never lied to me. I remembered what he once said about fear
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
A train leaves the station as I walk along the platform at Gare de L’Est. I catch a glimpse of a man bent over a book. He looks up, sees me – and then he’s gone
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
There’s a sudden, loud bang. The train has been derailed. Unharmed passengers are brought to the station, and after a brief search I find the man I’d seen through the train window
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
“We meet again?” he says, profoundly surprised. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m a Professor of Mathematics at the Sorbonne. I’ve devoted my life to the study of probability and just worked out that the odds of us meeting again like this are 1 in 234,569,663,452,379. We must celebrate this exceptional occasion! ”We visited his friend Nadar, who took this photograph
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
Once we’d emptied two bottles of Touraine, Nadar showed us a machine he’d invented that could re-create the labyrinthine structure of the city in three dimensions
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
Unfortunately the machine was destroyed in the big fire of Paris and he only managed to complete two re-creations – one big, one small. This is the small one
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
This is the big one
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
I clambered in through the open window. The geographer and his assistants were just inside. The geographer pointed at the map. “You no longer have to think about how you’ll paint,” he said, kindly. “Just stand on the compass rose and my assistants and I will help you.”
Nina Sten-Knudsen, Paintings
I stand on the compass rose and the next moment I’m walking down a dusty dirt road in the last rays of the setting sun
At a crossroads I meet Monsieur Rousseau . “Bonjour Monsieur Rousseau!” I exclaim. “Is it true what my friend told me – that you went into the forest to feel fear?”
He laughs out loud: “To feel fear...? I’ll tell you about fear. Every time you encounter a red mushroom with white spots on your path, bend down and take a bite – but only one that’s growing on its own, never the ones you find in clusters.”
I realised that all the colours I’d seen stemmed from the old painter in the corner of the garden. Wherever he looked, the colours changed
He took his left eye out and lowered a small ladder so I could enter his brain through the eye
This is what I saw
The woman in the white dress said to me: “Follow the stream that runs through the garden.”
I followed the stream and in the evening I reached the point where it flowed into the ocean
It worried us that no one was steering the ship.
In the end, of course, the ship sank
A cargo ship bound for New York picked up the survivors. Oh, if I could only describe what the city was like back then!
We argued constantly, so when we reached the Mesa Verde I asked him to stop the motorbike and let me off
I continued on horseback,
beginning to gallop
I couldn’t stop the horse
and at last it ran far out into a lake.
Terrified, I discovered that a strong current had caught both the horse and I. Its irresistible pull carried us into the middle of the lake
A tremendous force pulled us down, down into the black hole, where the water became a strong wind, which whirled incessantly round and round and round
At last, all was silent, and I saw that I’d landed in the African rainforest
I’d always wanted to live in the forest, and built a little log cabin right away. Every night I sat outside the house, smoked a pipe and watched the moon rise over the hill. The waxing moon. The full moon. The waning moon. Then I realised I was pregnant
I gave birth to a little girl on the terrace of the midwife’s bungalow
On the way home I stopped off at the beautiful waterfall, breastfed my daughter and ate lunch. I saw two small figures far away, by the waterfall. I waved automatically, as you often do when you spot someone in the distance
Fear
Small lids opened on my hands. Animals crawled out of the holes
The animals multiplied and grew until they were everywhere
I fall down in the darkness
I let you go
Black
I was alone in the darkness
when I caught a glimpse of light
A small girl stands in the ruins.
It is my daughter;
she is now seven years old.
Her hand has been cut off.
‘When you let go of me in the dark
I fell down into a village in the Congo.
The country belonged then to the Belgian king.
If people did not work hard enough, their children were punished.’
This was a very common punishment
‘If we are to be together again,
you must go back in time
and undo the evil that was done.’
With these words she turned and entered the orphanage
I tore open the heavy door and ran into the building.
Inside were many other children,
but I saw no sign of her.
Desperate, I cried:
‘Where is my daughter? What are you doing here?’
One by one the children began to tell me their stories.
‘My mother was always finding me new friends.
The first time I went to the school doctor,
they sent me here.
I haven’t seen my mother since.’
‘I lived alone with my father in a house beside the sea.
My dogs were my best friends,
we played together every day.
But then one day my father slaughtered them –
he wanted me to eat them for dinner.
I wouldn’t, so I ran away from home.
For a while I slept under bridges,
until some people came and brought me here.‘
‘When I was at school my best friend gave my name to the police
so that he wouldn’t be arrested.
They tried everything to make me talk
but I was just a boy who liked to play guitar.
Afterwards they threw me out of a car – I was unconscious,
so I don’t know how I ended up here.’
‘I worked at the chemical plant from the age of six.
The owner couldn’t care less about the rusty pipes.
When the chemicals came leaking out
I was the only one in my family to survive.
I have nowhere else to go.’
‘My father is a famous sculptor.
He grew up in a concentration camp.
Right now he’s working on a memorial
to the victims of the slave trade –
he’s making copy after copy of Michelangelo’s dying slave,
and they’ll be interred like the terracotta army.
He’s just gone away for a little while, I think,
so I’m staying here until he comes to fetch me.’
‘And what about you?’ I asked the girl with the black ribbon in her hair. ‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha,’ laughed all the children. ‘You won’t get an answer out of her. She can’t talk, she was kicked in the head by a wicked horse. And its owner didn’t even say sorry to her mother, not a word…’
I put my hands over my ears
so as not to hear the children’s laughter.
How could I undo so much evil?
But then I felt a hand on my shoulder
and a voice said: ‘Don’t be sad.
I know who you can ask for help.’
She followed me to the palace
‘If you can find the Root of All Evil, you can right the wrongs that have been done,’
said the king of Kumbo, pointing out over the hills:
‘Out there lives a man who has seen far back in time
with his long telescope. Maybe he knows something.’
I found the old astronomer in his library.
He began at once to explain:
‘It’s simple enough to tell you how this evil came to be,
the Root of All Evil…
I have seen clearly what happened:
It was as one of the great ice ages began.
We lived in the trees, sustained by fruit.
But the Great Ice swallowed up the water, and the drought spread,
the trees shrivelled and the fruit vanished – what shall we eat?
Only dead animals remained, so we began to eat them.’
‘Our teeth, made for plants, began to chew half-rotted meat.
The Fall was not when Eve first took a bite of the apple,
but when she first took a bite of a dead creature.
We stepped out of the food chain,
where as plant-eaters we belonged.
Our brains developed unnaturally;
we grew strange, broke apart from the others,
and the animals became frightened of us.
And now perhaps you think everything will be alright
if we just become vegetarians – but it’s not like that,
the damage is done, it’s too late, and the evil is ingrained.’
No, I thought, his mind is gone.
A Darwinian original sin? I don’t buy it.
After all, I’ve given birth to a child myself
and seen with my own eyes
that all new human beings
come innocent into the world.
Then I looked more closely at the picture of Adam and Eve.
I knew that tree!
That was the World’s Oldest Tree,
which I’ve painted so many times.
Surely it could tell me
what really happened back then.
And I knew exactly where it grew
All the way down
by the tree’s outermost roots
where the four great ocean currents meet
the mother of the sea gives me
a black-and-white shark
and a little red horse
The shark helps me back to the surface.
Maldoror stands on top of the cliff
and sings his songs.
I have never heard anything more evil.
I must get to know this man.
Maldoror is a heroin junkie.
‘Want to try it?’ he asks, friendly.
‘You’ve never felt anything like it.’
I jab holes
Beautiful colours and patterns
One day I came home and Maldoror was dead.
Perhaps I killed him.
The police took us both
They locked me up in the deepest dungeon.
The old man said:
‘Everyone has a song. What is yours?’
Hesitating a little, I began to sing
This is what I sang


I am transported to a prison camp;
I send the Red Horse
to the shamans in Siberia
who stir the lemmings’ longing;

I can flee,
fly downriver

to Gondwana;
I become a Megazostrodon,
the first little mammal,
which lived two hundred million years ago

The huge animal catches sight of me!
I can’t move so much as a muscle
But then a figure leaps out and kills the animal
I become human again
The castle
I drop the pail
Epilogue