Back in classical antiquity, there was a plant worth its weight in gold. Legend has it that this plant was first discovered on the east coast of Libya over two and a half millennia ago. Roman pieces of literature have referenced it in poems, and songs. Its name was Silphium (also known as silphion, laserwort, or laser) and, because of its seedpod’s resemblance to the heart shape, some believe it was responsible for the use of the heart symbol as a representation of love and affection.
Heart shape shapes us by Clara Toksvig embodies this myth and reinterprets what would be the original shape of the plant and its heart-shaped seedpods: there is a central ceramic sculpture representing the body of the plant, with small leaf-shaped sculptures around it. Movement is clear and explored using ceramic, a material often perceived as heavy and static.
The installation integrates the plant’s elements as they could be in nature. On the one hand, everything looks very natural and casual. On the other hand, the natural elements call for symbolism, which could have started a long time ago. Just as ancient narratives seem to be clearly embedded in this piece, they are also there to question their role in our culture, the effectiveness of these symbols, and how their meaning has changed over time.
Heart shape shapes us
Clara Toksvig: My work Heart shape shapes us takes its starting point in a myth, that the heart shape originated from the ancient Greek Silphium plant. The seedpods of the plant and the heart symbol bear a similar shape. Today, the heart is probably best known as an emoticon and as a symbol of love. On social media, the heart is connected to a like, and often it is expected that chat messages contain a heart. Through my work, I investigate which meaning the heart symbol contains when it reappears on new premises in the internet culture and moves away from the nature it originated from. If the meaning slowly will become more diluted as the symbol is used more frequently.
The Silphium plant
Clara Toksvig: The Silphium plant has gone instinct. For me, it is therefore surrounded by a great mystery. My work Heart shape shapes us is my interpretation of how the Silphium plant could have been materialized, based on very limited ancient depictions. The central ceramic sculpture represents the Silphium plant, while the small leaf-shaped sculptures around it represent the plant’s seed capsules, resembling the heart symbol. Some of them I have left open, with a tiny seed inside.
Clara Toksvig: In my work, I always try to challenge the perception of the ceramic material. I find that ceramic often appears static. The big sculpture in the middle also has a static expression. By combining it with the small sculptures, I try to create more movement in the installation.
What always fascinates me about ceramic, is that it moves towards the imperishable and that we are perishable. That what we create will be here long after we are gone
Clara Toksvig: I often process narratives that have existed for thousands of years. Particularly I have an interest in how humans over time, constantly have been reproducing symbols. In my artistic work, I explore the value of a symbol and whether a symbol can retain its values even though it is constantly being reproduced, and its meaning inevitably changing.
Words by Rita Trindade and Clara Toksvig | Photography Ole Akhøj