Swedish artist, lives and work in Stockholm


Written by: John Peter Nilsson

On the floor there is a low, rectangular box that gleams softly every now and then, reflecting the light as I move round it. At one moment the surface is reminiscent of the thinnest ice. The next, the box seems to be covered with some viscous Quid, phlegm, perhaps. On top, somewhat asymmetrically in one corner, there is craquelure on the thin surface. Out of the hole a liquid bubbles and quietly oozes. The work arouses strangely dualistic associations. It is both reticent and vulgar, beautiful and ugly, delicate and muddy – a1l at once.

An emphatic duality characterizes Meta Isæus-Berlin’s sculptures. At the very moment when I believe that I have captured and defined their significantly 1 feel them slipping away from me. She makes full use of the contrasts. The works are both seductive and repellent.

This is a matter of divided sensory impressions. And I suspect that her intention is to create a room which excludes the power of words. Indeed, the duality creates a sort of disguise that mocks not only any attempt to nail down and place the works in a category or in a hierarchy in words but also in vision. The works appear as hallucinations. I do not know where to look or what feelings or significantly I am able to trust. In this sense one can say that her works unmask my vision, release the safetycatch from my feelings, “disturb” my intellect. I am stumped by the works – and by myself. Returning to the box on the floor, Container from 1994, it is as though Isæus-Berlin is pointing at something else specific.

The surface not only suggests thin ice or some slimy quid, but also skin – something corporeal. But I do not know whether it is the outside or the inside of the body, whether the oil-like quid in one corner is leaking in or leaking out. . .

The work would seem to emphasize ambivalence. Or rather, Container is a vessel for something that I cannot divulge. For were I to do so, the magic would be broken, my imaginings would disappear – life would be dismal. For the work points to something peculiarly complicated. Infatuation, or even love ?

To scrutinize is like investigating: I investigate the other’s body, as though 1 wanted to see what is inside it, as though amechanical cause of my desire were to be found in the body in front of me (I am like a small boy taking an alarm clock apart in order to find out what time islxx, writes Roland Babes in his Fragment dún discours amourex (1977) and he continues: Clearly I am making a fetiche of a corpse: the proof of this is, that if the body I am scrutinizing wakes from its lifelessness and does something, then my desire changes. If, for example, I see the other thinking, then my desire ceases to be perversion and is bound again to the imagination. I return to an image, to a whole: I love again.

What Barbes means is that one can only love wearing dark glasses, which is to say that my own imagination or projection of the other is just as important as who the other actually is. Thus it is a game played by truth and falsehood, reality and fiction. The difficulty is, of course, to achieve a balance of opposites. But without what is contradictory, desire, lust, vitality cannot arise.

Iæus-Berlin’s play on contrasts reminds us of the necessity, for example, of experiencing darkness in order to see light, of understanding hate in order to love. This is also true of the strange tension between distance and proximity. Container would seem not merely to turn the “body” inside out but the artist plays with my longing to touch. This is even more apparent in her Way Up from 1994.

Hanging from the ceiling is something reminiscent of a thick rope. As I get closer I realize that it consists of little animals in some strange material that is both strand malleable. There are some hundred toy animals, bound together with thin wire. I cannot resist feeling them. I grasp the rope and it feels like grasping some part of the body. The material seems to stick to one’s hand without actually doing so. . . But it trembles, like fat, like jelly – like some lifeless limb… Once again a dual experience is called forth. The artificial colours and the toy-like animals make my eyes enthusiastically “eat” the sculpture. But when I feel it, as Is&alig;us-Berlin encourages me to do, I experience a powerful feeling of aversion – which by no means discourages me from wanting to touch it and embrace it again and again.

Iæus-Berlin puts her anger on the strange paradox that extends between ten-or and delight. It is as though mankind has an inert longing to risk what is unpleasant. If, for example, one asks a mountaineer why he or she breathes death itself one is informed that – I feel that I am alive… This, in different degrees, is true of much in life. There is a pleasant drive urging us to conquer difficulties. Even such as one constructs oneself

But I think, too, that one can translate this strange paradox so that it is most applicable to a moral problem. What is unpleasant is related to what cannot be controlled. Something that I cannot control will often seem strange or even frightening. Discovering harmony and balance is a matter of controlling fear, of conquering demons. For example, by voluntarily incorporating tension and terror into one’s life.

Certain things remain foreign. There are differences and people are just as different as they are similar. Attempting to find harmony and balance by only looking for similarities means that differences are amputated or that they are repressed, something which can seem even more threatening than accepting the differences just as much as the similarities. But by respecting what is foreign, rather than overcoming it, a “balance of terrors” is achieved, making it easier to come to terms with human injustices and one’s private demons.

Meta Isaeus-Berlin’s sculptures both affirm and respect what is foreign. The sculptures bear something secret, something that I neither can nor wish to divulge. But I am seduced, again and again. . .

I lose my possession and find delight.