top of page

purity and danger

Sculptural artwork titled 'Still Life with Basin and Charcoal' by fine artist Pernille Holm
Sculptural artwork titled 'Still Life with Dummy and Chain' by fine artist Pernille Holm
Sculptural artwork titled 'Still Life with Potty and Brush' by fine artist Pernille Holm
Sculptural artwork titled 'Still Life with Towel' by fine artist Pernille Holm
Sculptural artwork titled 'Hook and Eye' by fine artist Pernille Holm

Click on images for more information

Purity and Danger is a series of still-lives that consist of cast, found, and manipulated objects from the bathroom. The majority of them have been arranged on a set of low square plinths in odd and seemingly incongruous combinations that encourage poetic exchanges of meaning. The title is borrowed from anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas' book from 1966 where she analyses the concepts of pollution and taboo.


The objects on display refer to routines of childcare, particularly to those that evolve around rituals of hygiene, bathing, and grooming. Mostly painted white or cast in white plaster, these mundane objects - ranging from a spiky hair brush to a curvaceous twin washbasin - have been rid of their functionality and revealed as surprisingly beautiful and sensuous forms.


In the West, ‘whiteness’ is typically associated with ‘lack of colour’ and, in a wider social and cultural context, with notions of purity and innocence, an allusion that is reinforced by the many references to sanitation. To wash and groom means to rid the body of unwanted matter – of (coloured) dirt, excrement – and to restore order (to unruly hair, for example). Many of the objects on display in these still-lives would originally have been used in service of such rituals. But as objects in their original form, they would have been tainted by the unwanted matter they would have (temporarily) contained and held. Crucially, in their transformation from functional object to (white) art object, they have been removed from such ‘dirt’ and can now be read as aestheticised symbols of ‘decontamination’ rather than as contaminated objects.


Yet, this orchestrated impression of purity and polished beauty does not go unchallenged. For each and every still-life is equally charged with a sense of the uncanny, of peril, or hostility, brought out not so much by the objects themselves as by their surreal exaggerations, transformations, or juxtapositions.


Insofar as the works reference routines of childcare – and thus by implication parenthood, a role typically idealised as selfless and virtuous – such expressions of barely contained aggression register as subversive and unsettling. Situating parent-child relations in an idealised and ‘purified’ setting, whilst voicing darker, repressed undercurrents, the still-lives unsettle western ideals of purity and strive for perfection.

Nav 1 left black small
Artwork from series titled 'Purity and Danger' by fine artist Pernille Holm showing two plaster cast ducks on a sugar-coated shelf
bottom of page