Swedish artist, lives and work in Stockholm

What the memory selects and the dream sees

Written by: Monica Nieckels

META ISÆUS-BERLIN HAS ever since the start in 1993 when she graduated from the Royal University College of Arts in Stockholm, been known as an artist with a masterly control of the art form of installation. In piece after piece she has demonstrated her expert skill and power by staging objects that, taken together, have created breathtaking images. They are many by now, and we remember them with gratitude and troubled minds – works that have been shown at the Venice and Istanbul biennials, in South Africa, Melbourne, Australia and in Sweden. To name but a few: Chair Beside Bed, 1996, Almost as Usual, 1997, She Leaves the Light on, and Forgets the Room, 1998, Vad minnet väljer (What Memory Selects), 2001, and Ett vatten-hem (A Water Home) at the housing exhibition Bo01 in Malmö the same year.

But then something happened that became apparent in conjunc-tion with the large mid-career retrospective at Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm, in the spring of 2006. Painting had replaced installation as her chosen form of expression. On canvas after canvas, in the centre of the exhibition, the colours flowed and the stories seemed endless. Now we got to see the people who perhaps had populated the spaces of her installations, or maybe it was a completely different side of the story that took centre stage.

To move from one medium to another was impossible for an artist in the late 20th century, but now in a new millennium when new generations of artists work across the boundaries, well, then it feels liberating and self-evident.

Looking at a photo from the installation Återblickens Transparance (The Transparency of the Past), 2004, I am struck by how much it reminds me of her recent paintings. That´s how well she has translated or transformed her expression from installation to painting. That which she wished to express in her installations is now expressed in her paintings, and the people have become visible in the spaces. The colours flow freely and joyfully with a life-enhancing sensuality and a powerful erotic presence.

Paint enables Meta Isæus-Berlin to move further into the imaginary spaces. The narratives have been liberated and the magical and irrational qualities have taken over the dark sections of the canvas and are now in possession of that which we cannot see but only sense.

In her painting Dröm – Geten – Miami (Dream – The Goat – Miami), the dream of Miami merges with Robert Rauschenberg´s goat (Mono-gram) from the Moderna Museet collection. The goat, with paint on its face and a protective tyre around its belly, became a self-portrait or an image of the conditions of the artist. Here it appears in the centre of the painting, clean and white, re-sembling a lion. The paint has run down into the bottom section of the canvas and the long Angora hair twists and entwines itself playfully and gently around its horns, the curtains and the room.

Meta Isæus-Berlin follows traces in everyday life. She is reminded of feelings and events that have taken place in dreams or in reality.

The canvas becomes the stage on which the drama is enacted, mixing widely differing events. Time flows through the filter of me–mo-ry and the paint freezes time for a moment and makes an imprint.

In her paintings, Tivoli, Dag och Natt (Day and Night) and Sekretären (The Secretaire), the emotions flitter between desire and distaste. And in the middle of this ambivalent condition, darkness tries to take over, creeping, crawling and floating forward. That which we cannot see, inside the darkness, tempts and frightens us, sometimes more than that which we can see.

The black organic shapes that hang from the ceiling, close to the lamp and next to the windows and the flapping curtain that follow the light in Dag och Natt may be omens that lead straight down into the depths of the bathtub. Behind Sekretären a dark space towers and encroaches. But the beautiful, billowing and delicate curtain keeps the darkness at bay and catches the secretaire with all its secrets and memories. From darkness to the diaphanous, the transparent, light and to the amorphous water that runs, floats, gushes, and the wind that makes the washing flap and dance.

In her painting, Ursköljningen (The Rinse-Out), the young woman´s hair floats in the washbasin like that of Ophelia, and her dainty, naked body gleams palely and intensely.

In Blottad (Exposed), the underwear flaps on the clothes-line between the washed sheets. The wind plays with the shapes, fills them up and lets them fly freely for everyone to see.

Thus, the invisible – that which takes place in light and darkness – is given form in her paintings. It fills the stage and invites us to places we recognise but have never really visited. With a steady brush and steady feel-ing, Meta Isæus-Berlin takes us on adventures that we never imagined existed.

And I come to think of something another artist said, the photo-grapher Diane Arbus: “Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It´s what Ive never seen before that I recognize.”