Foreword Nocturnal Logic
Written by: Karin Sidén
When I walked into the large studio at Waldemarsudde the other day, I felt the great space all around me under the curving ceiling, and saw the shimmering line through the middle of the room in front of me. And that, I suppose, is how everything begins: without words.
Meta Isæus-Berlin on Nocturnal Logic, surrealist commentary from her book Time Capsules (2019).
Since the 1990s, Meta Isæus-Berlin has been one of Sweden’s most compelling and talked-about installation artists. She has had many solo shows, both in Sweden and abroad, and has also contributed to group exhibitions and major biennial exhibitions, including those in Venice, Istanbul, Melbourne and Johannesburg. Confident that Meta Isæus-Berlin would take on the challenge and take over the Studio and South Attic space at Waldemarsudde in a way that was at once interesting and empathic, I contacted her just over two years ago. The initial phone call led to several more creative meetings at the museum and at the artist’s studio on Kungsholmen in Stockholm. The result of the meetings and the time in between them is the well conceived, site-specific, utterly engaging exhibition Nocturnal Logic, which can be seen at Waldemarsudde during autumn and winter of 2019–2020. It revolves around reflections and perspectival displacements in life, and exhibits various three-dimensional objects, installations and paintings in dialogue with one another.
In our meetings at Meta’s studio, the conversation tended towards the deeper aspects of her artistic life. These included the relationship between art and life, and between the deeply, personally familiar and the universal, as well as her interest in existential questions and the significance of the unconscious. The visits to Meta’s studio, in the rooms where her ideas originate and the work is created, were always set to classical music. Bach’s St Matthew and St John Passions were among the sonic worlds framing our conversations. If music is important to Isæus-Berlin’s creative processes, so too is her relationship to art history. The latter includes a particular interest in the ideologies and visual idioms of symbolism and surrealism. Like these artistic currents, Meta Isæus-Berlin’s installations and paintings relate to the subconscious and to unusual states of consciousness, sometimes in combination, as well as to dreams and inner worlds.
Objects that are ever-present, important parts of any home, such as a bed, a table, cabinets and chairs, are recurring elements of Isæus-Berlin’s installations, and they are included in this exhibition, too. In her installations, these apparently ordinary objects take on an elevated aesthetic value – a palpable materiality, space and emptiness – but are also charged with deeper meanings relating to life and how we live it. Who left the chair there and why? What happened before the bedsheets were put back in order? What conversations went on before the table was cleared? What actions, thoughts, memories and future events are encompassed by these otherwise ordinary objects? And can interpretations and retellings of what happened – which the objects and artwork silently bear witness to – actually be the substance of life? The encounter with Isæus-Berlin’s ambiguous installations raises such questions. Her show Nocturnal Logic can be compared to a wordless visual poem, or a piece of music with themes and variations.
Nocturnal Logic is the thought-provoking title of the show. It builds, as mentioned, on inherent and actual reflections, on displacements in one’s existence, and on the states one can find oneself in between dreams, sleep and wakefulness. The thoughts that arise in such borderlands have, like waking life, a meaning and a logic of their own – nocturnal logic. The artist describes this wiggle room in conscious experience as “a liberating interior space”, but also “a passage to a wordless universe”.
Her artistic production, the works exhibited and this show can all be interpreted as retellings of things that have happened, outer and inner events, mental states in and through time. The beautiful and striking installation The Arcadian Mirror, a piece created in situ for the show in the Studio at Waldemarsudde, is an example of such a retelling. With its mirrorings and “shining horizon”, the installation refers both to Arcadia as a place of dreams, where peace and harmony reign, and to a particular state of mind. In this installation and the show as a whole, objects are mirrored against each other, creating layers of meaning and parallelisms. The actual interacts with the fictive, dreams interact with reality. One thinks of Paul Auster’s writing, including The New York Trilogy, in which diverse concurrent, unexpected events contribute to an intended uncertainty about the relationship between fiction, dreams and reality.
What was once landscape painter Prince Eugen’s studio and an attic at Waldemarsudde has now been assigned brand new functions, spatial characteristics and meanings by Isæus-Berlin’s show Nocturnal Logic. Now it has a lounge area, a conversation area and a bedroom. The choice of certain objects in some of the installations was guided by personal references, such as a chair that was reminiscent of a chair in the artist’s childhood home, or a table that’s similar to a table that was very important indeed in her first independent home. The objects chosen help communicate feelings and moods in the works in which they’re included.
The installations and pieces exhibited in the show include a bronze sculpture of a bed entitled Night Logic from 2018, the painting Retelling of Night Logic from 2019, Oblivion from 2017, Preparation from 2017, The Leak from 2018, a group portrait, Reflecting People Right Now from 2019 and Dream Wall from 2019. Of the latter work, consisting of paper and a fan, Meta Isæus-Berlin writes in her book Time Capsules:
Wallpaper strips, tissue paper, words I hear myself saying when I wake up. Plus sketches and drawings that almost float past. I let them rise and fall on the wall like waves, borne by currents of air.
In a separate room on the middle floor of the Mansion, unconnected to the themes of the show Nocturnal Logic, Meta Isæus-Berlin has created a “dream room” in which several ambiguous paintings, including Struggles, Euler’s Identity and The Botanist, are exhibited. The dream room is interesting enough in its own right, but also in relation to an exhibition of work by Edward Burne- Jones (1833–1898) in the Gallery, which is open concurrently with the Isæus-Berlin show. The late Pre-Raphaelite Burne-Jones was a precursor to international symbolism, depicting in his work dreamed worlds revolving around existential issues, inspired by myths, folktales and legends.
For giving us the opportunity to exhibit her thematically fascinating and beautiful show Nocturnal Logic, we are grateful to artist Meta Isæus-Berlin. Thanks to her as well for all the work she put into conceiving and realising the exhibition, and for her generosity and warmth in our conversations and collaboration on the show. Many thanks to Professor Cecilia Sjöholm of Södertörn University and historian of ideas and radio profile Per Johansson for their stimulating articles for the catalogue. Special thanks to Annika Widebeck for the video interview with Meta Isæus-Berlin, which is shown in the film room next to the show. We are grateful to Catrin Lundeberg, exhibition coordinator at Waldemarsudde, for all her work with the exhibition and the catalogue. Thanks also to communicator Josefin Sahlin and museum technicians Lars Engelhardt and Lars Edelholm, the latter for major efforts installing the pieces in the show. Thanks to Lenah Bergstedt and Johan Dubois for their work lighting the show. Warm thanks also to Beatrice Bohman for her design for this book, to Göteborgstryckeriet for the printing and to Gabriella Berggren and Robert Dunlap for the English translations. Last but not least, we wish to express our gratitude to the museum’s partners, Handelsbanken, Kinnevik, the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation and Märta Christina and Magnus Vahlquist´s Foundation for their always much appreciated contributions to the running of the museum.
Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, 5 September 2019
Director-General and Museum Director