FROM FAMILIAR TO FOREIGN AND BACK
NOTES ON THE ART OF META ISÆUS-BERLIN
Written by: Niclas Östlind
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE
“I imagine myself suddenly returning from a long trip and when I open the door of my home nothing is as it normally is. Details seem to be different. Not least my bed, gigantically charged as that item is, gives me a sense of uneasiness and makes me feel slightly lost.” This quotation from an interview with Meta Isæus-Berlin published exactly ten years ago refers to her Chair Beside Bed (1996) but the description also gives an indication of what is characteristic of her art in general. An intellectual dimension runs through all her work and one could add to the term intellectual the words memory and dream or hallucination. Her art, in the form of installations, sculptures, paintings and drawings, bears those characteristics which we associate with the mind; and in spite of what is often a strongly physical element, her works conjure up the sense of another world. Strangely enough, in most cases this world could almost be mistaken for the normal world but greater or smaller differences create shifts that make what is familiar seem strange. This characteristic is fundamental to the appeal as well as the rather uncanny feeling that is so much a part of Meta Isæus-Berlin´s art.
In the quotation above she describes returning from a journey and this naturally links up with time and movement but also – and not least -with seeing things anew. Meeting with the past is a prominent theme of her work; often in a seeming confrontation. The implacable way in which meeting up with something again clarifies changes (or their absence) in others or in oneself leads to a situation that is full of expectations as well as fears. But journeys are also intimately tied up with narrative and the narrative element is present in her work in various forms. Her paintings are full of people who are busily engaged in conversations or deep in thought or daydreaming. In each case the mood is concentrated and we become witnesses to dramas whose content one can only guess at. Even the installations display a highly theatrical character and the objects in them have a magical dimension which transforms them from objects into living beings – which is also true of the items depicted in her paintings.
The bed, the item of furniture mentioned in the quotation, is the site of our birth and our death. In bed we are cocooned in sleep and dreams or we are liberated from ourselves in orgasmic ecstasy. The bed turns up on several occasions in Meta Isæus-Berlin´s imagery and it is, as she puts the matter herself, “gigantically charged”. Her choice of subjects and props (if we may use the term to describe the objects in her installations) contributes to the strange heat that is characteristic of her work – strange because it is both low-key and powerful at the same time. It is reminiscent of a bed of coals or an underground fire that spreads rapidly via the roots of grass and other plants and in which the heat proceeds from a hidden source. This aspect of Meta Isæus-Berlin´s work can be interpreted in psychological terms and with this perspective the inner pressure is generated by desire and by feelings of shame and guilt which create a drama in the manner of Ingmar Bergman or Lars Norén. But there is also a more physical tension and this is reminiscent of something that was common at the end of the 19th century. At that time one could pay to see collections of natural-looking wax casts of bodies, many of them contorted by illness, congenital defects or injuries.
These displays were – and still are – irresistibly attractive to people of all ages and from all walks of life. Large-scale anatomical drawings were also popular as were books of fold-out portrayals that date from the same period. The first illustration in such a book normally shows a man in early middle age. He is well built without appearing athletic, his hair neatly parted and he is soberly naked. A simple manoeuvre moves the outer shell to the side revealing the muscles, connective tissue and tendons underneath. One can continue the inward journey to reveal all the internal organs of the body, ending up with the bare skeleton. Even if the matt paper of the book, the dull colours and the doll-like format lend a somewhat dry note to this systematic dissection, the illustrations have a somewhat macabre aspect; appealing perhaps to a darker urge than merely scientific curiosity. A concern for bodily functions and the desire to reveal what is usually hidden – literally to turn things inside out – link Meta Isæus-Berlin´s works with the anatomical books. A mildly historicizing element in her work also makes its contribution.
Matter, the body and sensuality
One way of understanding a particular artist´s work is to let her most prominent characteristics function as analytical tools which can cut through both styles and genres and thus help to clarify what is specific to the artist. In the case of Meta Isæus-Berlin, besides the dominating intellectual aspect and the movement between outside and inside, there is a striking sensuality: her work swells and pulses, it is cold and slippery, warm and sticky, wet and hairy. Thus the first of these categories might be termed matter, body and sensuality. A succession of works rapidly joins this group, notably works from the early nineties. At this time the artist was working in a post-minimalist spirit and the unexpected meeting between the strict form and the tactile matter served to strengthen the sense of corporality. It is all a conscious play on the expectations that pertain to minimalism; a tradition that has perhaps been most clearly characterized by Michael Fried.
In minimalism, or literalist art as he called it, the boundary between painting and sculpture has been dissolved and the beholder, in different ways, is made conscious of her position in the room. A new type of relationship is created between the work, the body and the place and this contributes to the theatrical aspect that is fundamental to minimalism. Even if, in his view, this was a problem that influenced the artistic quality in a negative direction, his description has become a guiding principle for understanding the specifics of minimalism.
One of Meta Isæus-Berlin´s works of this type is Knuff (Nudge) (1995). This consists of a group of organically shaped objects that seem to be hovering or floating above the floor. The billowing contours are covered with a shiny metal strip and the surface is covered with white candle wax. Even if, from a strictly minimalist point of view, the items exhibit individual elements, thanks to their family likeness they clearly belong together. Underneath they have been provided with wheels which means that they move if you give them a shove, and the idea is that visitors should alter the appearance of the work by changing the relationship between the various parts. In this way a dynamic situation is created in which the work, the beholder and the room are indissolubly united.
The cube – the geometrical figure that, more than any other, is associated with minimalism – has also been important to artists who, in various ways, have continued the development of what is at bottom a reductionist aesthetic. In this case the way they have used materials to lend a clear dimension of content to their work plays a central role. This is especially true of the cube, seemingly preserved “in aspic”, shown as Utan titel (Untitled) (1993) that Meta Isæus-Berlin made out of silicon used for breast implants. This is a material which – given the pressure on women (and men) to go to the extreme of altering their bodies surgically in order to approximate to an ideal that is formulated in the worlds of fashion and advertising – charges the otherwise “meaningless” cube with both sexual and political dimensions. The consistency of the silicon causes the strict figure to bulge in an almost indecent manner. Even more uninhibited in all its swellings and trepidations is the large, pale yellow balloon that is filled with water and placed on the floor with a string attached.
The pure physicality of Balloon (1994) arouses an irresistible desire to touch or stroke the object but this feeling is complicated by the fact that the object is surrounded by an aura that is, simultaneously, permissive and forbidding. Like many other of her works, Balloon balances on the boundary between desire and revulsion and this ambivalent position, which has various connections with womanliness, was brought into the light during the eighties by psychoanalytically oriented art critics. In the abjectal, which this position between subject and object is known as, they saw a subversive force and a tool for challenging and reducing the elevated position of modernism.
The expressive mixture of desire and revulsion is prominent in Container (1994). A square is placed directly on the ground covered with a thick layer of pink silicon that has a skinlike appearance. At one point, to one side of the middle, the surface is perforated and we are confronted with something that looks like an oozing wound. In this work, too, the tactile character of the material introduces a friction with regard to our expectations of a minimalist object which, in its classical form, has a smooth, industrial finish. Both here and in a succession of other works, there is a membrane-like character; an organic surface with a special, permeable aspect. The eardrum can serve as an example. Its sensitivity to the wave-like motions of the air conveys impulses to the brain which, in turn, translates these into voices and other sounds in our consciousness. The membrane is a living and receptive conveyor and, in the case of Container, it creates an impression that, beneath the surface, there is something else and that the damaged skin is a thin foil separating two worlds. This specific form of organic partition is also to be found in the installation Almost as Usual (1994) which consists of a table, four chairs, a lamp suspended from the ceiling and a large art-nouveau cupboard.
The door and the sides of the cupboard have been removed and the wood has been replaced by surfaces that are reminiscent of skin. From inside the cupboard we hear a beating heart whose rhythmical movements cause the elastic skin to rise and fall. The tabletop, on the other hand, is as calm as a dark pond. It is covered by a thick layer of sunflower oil. The shiny surface reflects everything above it – in this instance the inside of the lamp and the ceiling – and seems simultaneously to hide bottomless depths. The reddy-brown tone of the furniture and the warm glow from the lamp create a sense of intimacy in what is otherwise an abstemious exhibition. Over the years, the modest furnishings have silently absorbed the feelings of the people seated round the table. The existence of the furniture has been successively transformed. The wood has gradually but irresistibly become flesh, body and life.
Memory, history and narrative
Several of the carefully constructed settings exhibit this encapsulated impression. It is as though everything has gathered time and that this accumulation causes both the objects and the atmosphere to become denser. In Meta Isæus-Berlin´s work, fleeting time often assumes a concrete and materialized form and in order to clarify this characteristic the other category consists of memory, history and narrative which are all closely linked to questions about time. A partially different movement, but with the same effect that time becomes an aspect of the thing, has to do with her choice of materials which are visibly broken down. That this process of dissolution is an important part of the works is apparent from an interview published in the periodical Material in 1996 in which she says: “I see stability in an artwork as the epitome of death. A piece of art that just exists over the centuries in an unchanged fashion gives me the creeps. It´s unnatural. If death is present I prefer to incorporate it in my own art in an ‘organic’ fashion. Most of my pieces disintegrate over time. They have a life-span built into them, and with time they are reduced to fragments, but that doesn´t diminish their value in my eyes – it just makes them more true to life.”
These works include, especially, the items made of silicon and rubber but also the installation I am Not at Home (1996) which is largely made from play-dough. The ivory coloured substance is rolled out on a number of tables and it spreads like a thick and viscous material. The dough is made from fl our, salt and water. Day by day the water evaporates while the dough slowly collapses, becomes rigid and cracks. The crackled surface is similar to dried-out skin on which time has literally left its marks. There is a claustrophobic air to the installation and the feeling of being shut in comes from the fact that the dough forms a floor which is alarmingly close to the ceiling. From the ceiling hangs a naked bulb whose glare dazzles the beholder while illuminating the cramped interior. Even if this, too, is only a place that one can view – and which one can only imagine actually being in – the squashed space between floor and ceiling creates a very distressing sensation. The distance between the beholder and the work creates a space that is filled with all the force that imagination generates. And imagination can, as we all know, give rise to narratives of the most ghastly sort.
Among the unstable materials in Meta Isæus-Berlin´s art, water occupies a place of its own. Partly because it is more a question of change than of decay and partly because she has been using water ever since the nine ties. The water cascades and floods but it can also lie still as a mirror or be frozen and solid. There is one particular installation, Ett vattenhem (A Water Home) (2001) in which one of the rooms gives off cold steam and in which the permafrost seems to have penetrated the entire environment and to have laid a paralyzing hand on life. It is as though time itself has stopped in the freezing cold room and the installation becomes an image of a frozen moment in time, for ever preserved in its crystalline state. By analogy, the work can be seen as an expression of an inner state and, against the setting of a middle-class interior, a family drama appears in which feelings and relationships have long been deep frozen.
Every thing signals absence and distance but the extremities touch each other. The extreme cold is a form of heat. And frostbite causes the same sort of damage as burning the skin. The present is constantly vanishing and at the very moment that it is announced it passes into history; though the speed at which this process takes place naturally depends on the perspective that is applied. In Burnt Norton T.S. Eliot spoke of the relationship between now and then:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
Thus, in his view, one cannot be separated from the other. Time forms a fabric in which warp and weft run in different directions and create a con – text in which everything is dependent on everything else. Två parallella nu (Two Parallel Now) (2003) is an installation consisting of two rooms that are both separate and connected. One room is furnished with a worn, pink divan, a desk and a stool made of birch wood or ash. Lightcoloured dresses hang from hangers on a clothes horse. On the floor there is a large, framed drawing portraying a dress of the same type. What makes the room remarkable is, in the first instance, the walls. Lengths of various wallpapers bulge and billow from the walls because they have not been pasted up in the usual manner but fastened with pins. In some places there is an extra layer consisting of tracing paper on which the fl oral pattern of the wallpaper has been copied in ink. The patterns contain not only roses in full bloom and garlands of green leaves and white flowers but also sentimental, pastoral scenes. By modern tastes there is something overloaded and almost embarrassing about this excess of patterns and romanticism. The walls seem to give off a heavy, sweetish scent that is fuddling to the mind. If one is not on one´s guard one may find oneself overwhelmed by it all and lie down on the divan to sleep for a while. The question is whether one would then ever wake up again. Stepping into the neighboring section is like being in a dream in a sober condition. The room is almost bare and the few pieces of furniture, as with the room beside it, are transparent and almost brilliantly white. The objects in the room are totally unsuited to everyday life but this is of no consequence in the reality that they find themselves in. Parallel lines – or worlds for that matter – run side by side without ever crossing each other´s paths or actually meeting. But since the beholder in this case moves from one room to the other the link created by the poetic duality is emphasized.
The delicacy that is so characteristic of the abstract part of Två parallella nu recurs, though on a much larger scale, in the work Återblickens transparence (The Transparency of the Past) (2004). Here, too, transparent items of furniture hover just above the fl oor and together they form the inventories not just of a room but of the entire apartment. The fictitious dwelling lacks dividing walls and the various rooms can be identifyed by the constellations of furniture: bed and bedside table in the bedroom, etc. In its incorporeality the complex is reminiscent of mist which, through the forming power of memory has been condensed into items in a home. The desire to preserve life is involved in an uneven struggle with the obliteration of forgetfulness and the continuing dilution makes it increasingly diffi cult to catch sight of the past. The immaterial character of Återblickens transparence can be compared with the robust expression in the installation Vad minnet väljer (What Memory Selects) (2001) which also portrays a multifaceted relationship with history. In this work, a home has literally been split in two and then put back together again. Though only after a substantial middle portion of the furniture and the appliances has been removed. Everything has become much slimmer and the altered proportions – together with the obvious cuts -lend the stylized apartment an appearance that is as strange as it is violent. The objects, whose user value has disappeared for all time, become pictures of the falsity of memory, but also a literal depiction of the fact that history never appears in full scale, one on one. The narratives of the past are interpretations that are controlled by more or less clearly expressed interests. But our memories are also engendered and formed by something larger than the conscious ego. The process of memory is driven by desires that we cannot always survey or comprehend. And the title of the work in question, Vad minnet väljer, also implies that memory itself owns a selective capacity that is beyond our immediate control.
In Meta Isæus-Berlin´s preoccupation with the home there is a search for something fundamental and recognizable for many people: an archetype. That is to say, a notion that is native and common to everyone. In a sense this movement takes us away from the sphere of history and into the world of myth. In this world, paradoxically, time is both fluid and unchanging and can best be described as a sort of eternal present. A widely disseminated and accepted myth is concerned with sunken civilizations.
In a couple of major works Meta Isæus-Berlin has approached this submarine world. Entire rooms are filled with water. We can look into the kitchen and the bathroom which – apart from the extraordinary condition – are entirely familiar. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they have suddenly and unexpectedly been buried by the vast amount of water and thus been preserved like fragments of an era that has disappeared. The fact that we are in this way placed in a fictitious future gives rise to a strong desire to reconstruct, understand and feel how things once were. In spite of the fact that the water-filled rooms are so clearly a part of our own time.
Even if the boundary between myth and story is anything but unambiguous one can claim that Meta Isæus-Berlin takes us from the world of myth to that of narrative in the two installations that are based on the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She draws from the familiar story new and tragic elements by visualizing aspects that many of us have avoided.
In The Seven Dwarfs (1998), two curtains hang from the ceiling forming a corridor in which seven beds have been lined up. They are arrestingly small with their headboards pushed up against the white fabric walls turning the space into a cramped, though brightly illuminated, oblong space. The whiteness radiates a sort of clinical cleanliness which the neatly made beds add to. The blankets are very carefully tucked in under the mattresses and the lace-edged sheets lie like collars on the pillows. Everything is clean and tidy. One might claim that there is an atmosphere of innocence in the room; not the naïve sort but, rather, an anxiously conscious and constricted innocence. Perhaps their meeting Snow White puts the dwarfs on their guard against themselves. The tense aspect is even more apparent when this bright installation is compared with The Abandoned Dwarfs (1999) which, with its very black atmosphere, seems to be the reverse side of the world depicted in the first version.
Here the beds are filled with water and the headboards are tall and dark making the beds look like a row of sarcophaguses. The charged atmosphere expresses loss and mourning but also frustration and unresolved feelings. Meta Isæus-Berlin drives a wedge between the narrative structure and this allows her a more complex understanding of the relationship between the dwarfs and the young girl. The dwarfs, because of their unusual appearance, are seen as shrunken people by the judgmental eyes of the world. They are obliged to live as aliens in the world and this fact helps to explain our fascination with dwarfs through the ages. In many ways they belong to a human category that is difficult to define exactly but they are often portrayed as sexless children-uncles. But in her interpretation the dwarfs are depicted as men with instincts and desires and their sexual frustration acts as a hub of meaning in the work. Snow White – the object of this joint desire – contributes both a protective purity and unlimited darkness and, despite her absence from the scene, she becomes present through the despair of their longing.
The narrative element in Meta Isæus-Berlin´s works is a striking feature of her paintings too. True, the stories that are depicted have an open and associative character but at their core are tense relationships between people and the various scenes are permeated by sexual attraction and by unexpressed feelings and thoughts as well as by a liberating sense of humour. Here, too, and even more than in the installations, middleclass sensibilities and the setting itself are important points of departure. Every thing takes place within this historical framework. Two paintings actually have direct references to the world of academia: Doktorand på fest (Doctoral Student at a Party) (2005) and I professorns bibliotek (In the Professor´s Library) (2005).
In the first painting, a broad-shouldered older man wearing a dark suit converses with a young woman wearing a red, very low-cut, sleeveless dress. She is leaning against a cupboard of baroque size and massiveness and she is looking at the man who – which may be purely accidental – looks like Sigmund Freud. Strangely, large parts of the man are transparent and we can look straight through his impressive personality. Can this temporary transparency have something to do with the meeting? Judging by their body language and their gazes there is a mutual interest and they seem to warm up in each other´s company. She looks relaxed in her thin dress and he is on the way to dissolving, to melting into nothing. There is a pendant to the scene in the form of a group of decorative porcelain figures on top of the massive cupboard. They depict a loving couple with all the charming sensuality of rococo chinaware. The interplay between the man and the woman is characteristically casual but the figures are placed dangerously close to the edge and there is a serious risk that they will fall and be smashed to pieces. Love is, after all, a dangerous game.
I professorns bibliotek, the most voyeuristic of Meta Isæus-Berlin´s paintings, also portrays an erotically tinted meeting. The composition of the picture means that we view the room from the side. This creates a sensation of peeping, making us aware of our own vision, but also of the almost shameful delight to be found in seeing without being seen. The room is furnished in a mix of minimalist modernity and traditional middle-class solidity. Two people are sitting very close to each other, he on the low table and she on the sofa. The woman is wearing a silky dress which emphasizes the curves of her body and she occupies space with confidence. Her naked right arm is resting in an inviting manner on the edge of the sofa pointing towards the man and her legs are slightly apart. She radiates confidence (melancholy too) while the man´s bent posture gives the impression of a need for distance and protection. The emotional tension that permeates both works can be found in other of her paintings, not least in Bekännelsen (Confession) (2004), Frustration (Frustration) (2005) and She doesn´t Know I Know(2005), though she also has paintings of a completely different and reserved character. In these works, focus is on both time and waiting and they give off a special sense of desolation.
This applies particularly to Förberedelse (Preparation) (2005) where the subject is a room in which the furniture has been pushed aside and covered with a cloth to protect it from dust and dirt. The fact that the objects in the room are hidden in this way contributes to the feeling of expectation that fills the emptiness. Even A Moment Ago (2005) has the silent unease that is characteristic of Förberedelse but comparing the works makes their differences very evident.
In the latter, the real subject is something that has yet to happen while in the former we find ourselves in time just after the event; a gap or short delay before repeating the scene: the wind lifts the light curtains which produce a movement in the elegant room in which a woman is sitting at a long, polished table in a strangely shaped chair. The image is a repeat or déjà-vu. The clarified yet dreamy element in these paintings is further reinforced in Sommarnatt (Summer Night) (2004). There is also a text belonging to the painting whose poetic colouring mixes with the picture and helps to bring forth an elegiac tone that resonates through the painting:
She looked out through the window.
Outside the morning mist lay heavy on every cavity. Garlands of mist round the tall grasses, little clouds above the puddles.
The sky was a pale pink. She was pained by the morning calm.
The steps echoed in the large room, rather cold, drew the woolly lace cardigan over her back, fingered the table setting. The thick linen napkins were damp. Dared a glance up at the ceiling.
It was still hanging there.
How had it got there?
The enormous soap bubble glittered on the ceiling. It stretched across the entire surface, reflecting the furniture as lopsided miniatures.
It must be the oil in the soap that gives such splendid colours, she thought as she looked up and went and mirrored herself in the enormous sphere. Now her face bulged green, now mauve, pink, yellow. She walked slowly out of the room.
The Beautiful and the ugly
The element of corruption, of material that in itself testifies to time and dissolution, is perhaps most evident in the extensive work Nästan ingenting (Nearly Nothing) (2002). Dried fl owers and other plants which – with help from threads, transparent fabrics and a thin metal skeleton – create walls and furniture in a room that radiates pale delicacy as well as intense and lustrous colours. In its combination of decay and magnificence it gives expression to a consciousness of death that seems almost decadent. And by means of this extraordinary installation we are led into the third and final category: the beautiful and the ugly.28 This pair of opposites is linked in an interesting fashion with another dichotomy which, as we have seen, plays a central role in Meta Isæus-Berlin´s art, namely what is familiar and what is foreign.
Beauty is a culturally dependent and historically alterable category but, in its classical form, it makes up a tenacious triad with goodness and truth. Even if there are variations and differences among both the philosophers of classical antiquity and among those who hold this aesthetic heritage in trust in modern times, beauty is seen as a harmonic ordering, that is, a balance between opposites and between parts and the whole; as well as of clarity and lucidity which means that anything that is beautiful in itself cannot be too small or too large. It also serves its purpose and is incapable of being destroyed. Ultimately it is divine in origin and, therefore, morally obligating.
Unlike beauty, ugliness generally lacks an existence of its own and is described as the lack of those positive characteristics that beauty owns. So that ugliness is contradictory, impure, confusing and disharmonic. An important aspect of ugliness lies in its indistinct limits and this lack of precision is particularly problematical when we are concerned with the difference between ourselves and the Other since this questions our identity and threatens our ego. What is strange is both frightening and ugly; beautiful is what is like ourselves. In his principal philosophical work L´être et le néant (1943), Jean-Paul Sartre has described the particular characteristics of stickiness. In his opinion its ability to adhere makes it more difficult, or even impossible, to preserve the distance to what is foreign and this carries with it a serious risk that the subject will collapse and be completely consumed by the world around. Stickiness is a prominent feature of Meta Isæus-Berlin´s early works, not least Way Up (1993). This is a cable-like object, several metres long, consisting of jelly figures threaded onto a piece of wire. The surface is sticky and the material is reminiscent of sweets and thus readily awakens an infantile, oral reaction. The corporeality that characterizes both this and other works generates a sensation of repugnance just as much as delight. The body represents what is low and everything that finds its way out from the interior of the object, or in some other way creates uncertain limits, dirties it and is ugly.
Against a background of the fact that, in classical terms, what is beautiful is also harmonious and accessible, Nothing in Exchange (1996) with its enclosed character, can be described as Meta Isæus-Berlin´s ugliest work, though also her most interesting. Following a succession of works that aroused a great deal of positive attention on account their striking sensuality, even though this was of an abjectal type, in 1996 she presented an installation that was so antipathic as to be anti-aesthetic. In the gallery she had installed a floor-like construction a couple of decimeters above the actual floor and this gave the whole place an unstable character. The material was plywood with a thin layer of play-dough on top and the sheets of plywood overlapped without any attempt to make them fit in an elegant manner. One could not tread on the installation which meant that there was little room to move in the gallery. In many respects this was a jarring work and besides its appearance, which negates the form of beauty, the title too rejects the ideal of harmony that is part of the concept of beauty. The title tells us that nothing is offered in exchange (for the beholder´s interest and willingness to experience and understand) and this creates an imbalance that upsets the harmonious order.
Nothing in Exchange also broke with what people expected from her art. The work acted as a subject and its aggressiveness contributed to its ugliness. But there is beauty of another sort too. Beauty in which chaos and dissipation rule. Beauty that is intoxicating on a Dionysian scale or that is dark and scary in a sublime manner. The latter category has a long history in aesthetics and even if it is often contrasted with beauty it exists, unlike ugliness, within the same register. Ugliness is the negation of beauty and when it makes itself felt it presents a real danger to our identity while, faced with the sublime, the ego is strengthened since the experience posits a clear limit. We find ourselves on the edge and we look at what is frightening. But we are certain of not being consumed, merged or of falling helplessly and losing control. For then the situation is no longer sublime but is merely appalling and ugly. In the case of the sublime, though also with romanticism´s emphasis of the subjective, following rules is no longer important; rather the reverse.
Individual expression, feelings, imagination and interpretation take the place of the carefully considered proportions. Meta Isæus-Berlin´s new paintings belong to this dynamic register. They have an eruptive, fl owing character and they seem – to make use of concepts from the world of the sublime – to have been brought forth by a volcanic force. The paint streams like lava and the pictorial space does not let itself be restricted by the demand for a central perspective but it rushes off, curves and bends with recreative energy which is both internal and external in character. But it is not just the traditional structure of the room that is broken down. She treats the surface too and brightly coloured patterns wind and spread themselves like ivy growing on a wall. A strong feeling of fin de siècle exudes from this ornamental excess but at the same time there are paintings that are almost neo-functionalist in their austerity.
What is characteristic of Meta Isæus-Berlin´s art is the movement between extremes. And the breaking up of fixed categories in the world creates expressive utterances that swing between the beautiful and the sublime but also touch on what is genuinely ugly. From her earliest objects and installations to the latest paintings she shows a loyalty with ambiguity, confirmation of that which is perishable or foreign, that which appeals and frightens but, primarily, that which gives us freedom from the paralyzing limitations of the unequivocal.