Madame Nielsen Interview: Such a Pain Such a Beauty

“I like to laugh, but I like to laugh in the Russian way. Like the women in Chekhov’s plays. They always laugh through tears.” Meet the exceptional artist, author – and bird – Madame Nielsen. In this extensive and unusual interview, she talks openly about identity, working in various artistic fields, the connection between creation and depression, and the longing for – and fear of – death.

“I’ve been a male animal, or a male plant, for some thirty years, maybe a little more. And then I thought, maybe it was time to be someone else. So, I became a woman.” Madame Nielsen, who was born as the man Claus Beck-Nielsen, compares herself to a bird in her looks and her solitude. Being a performer, who works in many different artistic fields, Nielsen feels that she is what she is doing: “When I write novels, I’m a novelist. When I write poems, I’m a poetess.” What’s important, she continues, is making good things: “Instead of concentrating on being an artist or an author, then I try to write good novels, or good poems, or good songs, and make my pictures and my performances in a way that are good – better than the other ones.” What she wants her work to do, she adds, is to change the world – or at least the people who experience them.

Nielsen feels that depression enables her creativity – when she writes a good sentence, she has always been depressed just before writing it: “I think depression is a very basic thing in creation.” Moreover, thoughts of death occupy her mind: “When I wake up in the mornings, I want to die.” At the same time, she explains, she is very afraid of dying. When she writes, she wants her sentences “to be at the edge of language” and to capture this paradox of being. To grasp and capture the “terrible, and wonderful, and colourful, and beautiful pain” in the world: “To be alive… it’s such as pain, but it’s also such a beauty.” At this point, Nielsen also talks about her weak physical state, and the fragility this entails: “My mind is too big in relation to my body.” Finally, she talks about her passion for music and concludes the interview by singing.

Madame Nielsen is a Danish novelist, poet, actor, musician, performer and artist born as Claus Beck-Nielsen in 1963. In 2001, Claus Beck-Nielsen declared himself dead and became a man without an identity. The nameless person who remained was made director of an enterprise called Das Beckwerk, and in this capacity, for a decade, carried out experiments exploring what it means to live without a name. During this time, the nameless person existed as a homeless for two months, spent three months staying in a storage room, and took up residence in the apartment and life of a professor of semiotics, who was away on research leave. In 2011, the Das Beckwerk project concluded with an elaborate funeral inspired by an ancient Roman death ritual. One day, when the artist put on the dress of the mother of his son, he transformed into Madame Nielsen. Nielsen has published several critically acclaimed books including ‘The Endless Summer’ (2014), ‘Invasionen’ (The Invasion) (2016), ‘Det højeste væsen’ (The Supreme Being) (2017) and ‘The Monster’ (2018). Nielsen is the recipient of several prestigious awards.

Madame Nielsen was interviewed by Klaus Rothstein at Rungstedlund (The Karen Blixen Museum) in Rungsted, Denmark in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival in August 2019.

Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard

Edited by Klaus Elmer

Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020

Supported by Nordea-fonden


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