THE ANIMATED INSTALLATIONS
Written by: Torsten Weimarck
At about the same time that I saw Meta Isæus-Berlin’s remarkable installation Ett vattenhem (A Water Home) at the Bo01 Housing Fair in Malmö I also happened to see Johannes Stjärne Nilsson and Ola Simonsson’s film Music for one apartment and six drummers which was shown as a supporting fi lm in the cinema.1 It struck me that these works had interesting things to say about each other; that in spite of their manifest differences they had remarkable similarities that caused them to be in some strange way related or contemporary. For both of them made very drastic use of visually consummate but seriously gloomy objects and environments that seemed literally to have been taken from a straight-up and-down reality in the immediate vicinity of time and space. These ambiguous social and temporal markers were used here as objects, as materials and as visual communicators for highly conscious modes of artistic expression with a strong feeling for the shadowy metaphors of everyday objects and equivocal emotional tensions.
In Ett vattenhem (A Water Home) the everyday items are somewhat dismal and worn, several decades old, almost forgotten and they seem, at first sight, to be playing their usual roles though these roles are (substantially) manipulated. Their one dimensionality ? highly evident, really ? has been and conserved in a state in which their unfashionable integrity has even been emphasized. The furnishings or interior design may seem like animated fragments of the sets for various acts of a play in which it is we, the audience, who are on stage since the actresses and actors have abandoned the theatre, either temporarily or permanently. But the fictitious theatrical aspect is often so toned down that we might as well be looking at a section of a real apartment or interior. As the beholder one is in the midst of the objects whose offensive normality and second-hand friendliness (though this does not apply to all the installations) one can confirm with a sigh of recognition while in other works they have been accorded an elevated, almost elegiac dignity. One is frequently dumbfounded by the capacity of physical objects to absorb or to reflect the mental state of their surroundings. Is it really possible that these objects can know me so intimately?
What struck me about Stjärne Nilsson and Simonsson’s film ? apart from the well conceived sound and picture editing and the slapstick performances of the characters that caused them increasingly to seem as though they were taking part in a profane and joyful St. Lucy procession ? was the fact that they had succeeded in finding such existentially rich and suggestive images, sounds and rhythms in such mundane objects and settings. Obviously staged yet so apparently “real” that “reality” imitates them too; or should that be the other way round? One soon loses one´s way among the different levels of reality which, it transpires, all exist only as medial expression: the objects are the bearers of visually coded, more or less oblique experiences and memories, and to such an extent that the objects themselves appear like overly definitive, materialized linguistic elements rather than things with primarily practical functions (whatever the differences between these are in reality).
Through their unexpected entrances in such dimly varied and seemingly scattered levels of reality, in Meta Isæus-Berlin´s installations the otherwise often neglected mental visual appearance of objects and the remarkable masked social intrigues that they form part of are strongly emphasized. Their emotional characteristics and charges can seem like the intricate remains of or messengers of dim and ambiguous memories and experiences: the items were present themselves; they have been formed, infused and animated by a social and psychic cosmos (or chaos) which has gradually sunk into these things and that lives on visibly there and there alone. What then continues to be expressed and handed on by them amounts to a complete instrumentarium taking the form of ? “reality”.
The immediate, concrete or physical “reality” and its objects is simply dealt with as a rich, artistic language deep roots accumulated in many layers in our consciousness and our memory: the visually expressive language of the objects is recognizable in our bodily experiences and immediately strikes us since the objects speak the same wordless language as our bodies.
Making use of “reality” as an artistic element is nothing new in itself. The frequently problematic relation between “reality” and the arts has existed as an undercurrent of intellectual reflection, particularly about images, for a long time. And at least since the 19th century the issue has been acutely important in that “reality” in various direct ways has invaded and mixed itself with the fictions of pictorial art ? whether these have been more obviously “unreal”, idealizing pictures or figurative art in general, particularly that with naturalistic intentions. Jean Baudrillard writes that “we live in a world in which the primary function of a sign is to make reality disappear and simultaneously to hide this disappearance”, i.e. the task of an image is to eliminate reality and to eliminate the fact that this is happening. The result is, he continues, that “The image can no longer depict reality since it is reality? It is as though the objects had swallowed the mirror that reflected them” so that they constantly “secrete copies, clichés of . “Reality” can, in the view of Jean Baudrillard, not (any longer) be distinguished from the signs, images, things, etc. that we use to describe it, to give expression to it and, finally, to fill it. “Reality” appears as a section of the continuous flood of representations, a constant process of multiplication in which every object is transformed into pregnant digital matrices that seem to increase merely through some sort of vibrations or echoes, thereby repeating themselves visually and materially.
This links the genre to object art, of primary relevance here, which does not generally use a traditional artistic language, a normal type of symbolic or expressive language. Object art, on the other hand, works with a pictorial language whose formal elements consist of the things themselves; where the objects in their total physical aspect and materiality act as and constitute the signifying images – that is not their name, connotations or practical objectives.
One can, of course, see this interest as a modernist continuation of the classical still-life tradition in which items were depicted, as is claimed, after nature, that is to say as they appeared to the painter´s sight in reality. But in object art there is something qualitatively different since artists have discovered that one does not need to make a detour over the seen and depicted object, but can use the object itself directly for an artistic end; an object that is, so to speak, ready made. Or put another way: artists discovered that all observed objects are already depicted in the sense that they are either artifacts, that is produced by human hands, or are coded cultural constructions of divinely or naturally created objects.
The object – unlike the traditional sculpture – is often described as an object from an everyday human situation but that has been removed from its normal context and been transformed into an aesthetic object by being regarded with artistic intentions or expectations. In this respect the genre of object art is, in fact, supported by a classical academic reductionist aesthetic. This established itself during the period 1880-1915 when numerous artists started to show an interest in objects with this strange, opaque density and weight that so clearly distinguished themselves from traditional, figurative sculpture´s intended signifying “transparency” and dematerialization. Putting an everyday object into an aesthetically conscious visual context meant that the object was often seen as being on a special level of reality, somewhere in between a real object and an art object. Object art, with all its physical authority, its indisputably present weight and mass, is often seen as a sort of transferred object, a charged object for concentration or meditation; and it is in many ways as a consequence of such attempts – and needs – that object artists of more recent times have worked.
Meta Isæus-Berlin’s water-home installation is not included in the Liljevalch exhibition but I should still like to describe it in more detail (as it appeared at the Bo01 (Housing Fair in Malmö) since it contains numerous characteristics that I fi nd particularly illuminating with regard to several of the other installations. Ett vattenhem consists of five rooms sited on a small, raised refuge or platform in the midst of people walking along the main thoroughfare. As a beholder one felt as though one were crossing the railway tracks and looking up at a sort of podium with a partially enclosed pavilion on it whose content and function were only intimated. The only parts of the pavilion that were open and visible from the passage beneath were the Hall and the Bathroom which were situated at the beginning and the end of the pavilion whose narrow shape and enclosed, windowless spaces were also reminiscent of the sort of fitted interior that one meets on ships with their unalterable spatial organization and limited possibilities for movement.
The Hall and the Bathroom both lacked a roof. The Hall consisted solely of a simple, screened space at an angle decorated like something from a Kabakov interior with a hat rack, some coats and underneath them a wooden shelf with three pairs of shoes on it. Meta Isæus-Berlin writes of this intimated room: “I hear a sound, something steadily running ? in the corner”. And this was the case: water was running along the wall and the shoes were full of water. As one looked down at the shiny dark water in the shoes, it moved; the surface seemed to be disturbed by the flow of water from beneath. The shoe-openings were highly organic. It was like looking down into a well or into a throat, a little scary but also somehow expected – it transpired – as though the shoes, with their origins in the animal kingdom were just waiting to be refilled with bodily fluids; the shoes were like baby birds with their beaks wide open. The water here seemed to have nothing to do with rinsing or cleansing. It was as though the circle was completed and that the water was a sign or confirmation of the intimate corporality of the shoes. (Much reinforce after several months of flooding at Bo01. Both the shelf holding the shoes and the parquet flooring were obviously water-damaged when I saw the installation; on their way to a less specific state of nature.)
The Bathroom, at the other end of the pavilion in Malmö, was probably the part of the installation that received most attention. Partly because it was like an open life-size doll’s house, immediately visually accessible to anyone walking past and partly because it was rather spectacular and recognizable though we must hope that no one had actually seen anything quite like it previously. The tiled but roofless room contained all the usual bathroom fittings including a mirror, hooks, toilet-paper holder, lamps. There was water here too, far too much of it in fact, but it came not from the taps but seemed to be pushed up from below, from the drains, and to run in all directions from the overflowing vessels: the toilet, the basin and the bathtub. In spite of the fact that water was also running out of the taps – always supposing that it was not being sucked up by them – the course of the water seemed in all essentials to be reversed as compared with what is normal: instead of merely running out of the taps it rose up from the drains. It fizzed and foamed and bubbled up as though from a volcanic spring and heaved itself, indeed it poured itself, just as thick and wet as when one pours a bucket of water onto the floor.
Like copious floodwater it hurried across the tiled floor and down over a high, gently rounded step out into a long canal that ended in an opening down into the depths of the earth. The seeming hurry that the water displayed might have been entertaining but there was a worry on the part of the beholder that the torrent might have been caused by flooding, by an eruption, by nausea that meant that the entertaining aspect – which was also reflected in the smiles of recognition on the part of viewers – gained a lingering undertone: what was it that one was really witnessing? On the chequered floor a decimetre thick carpet of water moved at great speed covered by a foaming, tangled cover and presented a constant feeling that this might have been something unpleasant though perhaps it actually was not.
On reflection it is apparent that, in the entire composition of the room, including the position of the beholder, there is a notable visual shift in relation to normality. If one walked along below the podium one was roughly at eye level not with the mirror over the basin as would be normal but, rather, with the edge of the bathtub and the room unfolded to the viewer thereafter in a uniform manner from in front almost as though it were a demonstration of the central perspective of a virtual room. The fact that one was half a metre below the normal floor level changed or alienated one´s relationship to a very familiar room whose individual expression and visual meaning one normally does not think very much about. Meeting it here from a rather different point of view brought forth new aspects: as expected, it turned out to be a very manifest room designed to meet the practical needs that it was to fulfill but it also now appeared as an abstraction, created from models of a logically and geometrically calculated virtual room. That is to say, the bathroom as a place and tool for bodily cleansing is, at the same time, an expression of a spiritual approach that includes sublimation, a more or less mechanized repression that is both centrally sanctioned and technically administered. This means that all of the objects in the room, the fittings and the topography, were determined or mediated by intellectual and ideological principles rather than by bodily thinking and needs.
The central perspective of the Renaissance – the example, par excellence, of an abstract, theoretical construction with strong claims to power and control – could, besides the geometrical characteristics of the pictorial space, also deal with the various levels of reality, truth and meaning that were considered to be connected with them by sitting objects in different places and at different distances from the beholder in a recognizable spatial depth (though projected or drawn on a fl at surface). By visually moving between different objects and levels in the pictorial space one simultaneously moved between the charges of different areas of meaning. This was particularly true of the places in the picture that represented different degrees of truth and sanctity.
The wall-mounted items in Meta Isæus-Berlin´s bathroom were by no means archaizing, artistically elegant or in any other way remarkable. They were decidedly ordinary. But thanks to the artistic context of which they are part, they turned out to be, if not bewitched, at least animated without actually being distinguishable from other similar objects outside of this context. But the partially inverted direction of flow of the water seems to point to the objects being just as much “reversed”, a second side: the water fl owed forth like visible rays towards the beholder, even splashing one. The central perspective starts from the eye. Here it is as though the perspective has been partially turned around so that rays of light and water flow, instead, towards the beholder. An animated effect not wholly unlike the one Edward Weston developed in his poetic photographs of everyday objects, isolated or like small constructions reminiscent of votive images. In this context I think especially of his Excusado (1925), a photograph of a toilet bowl in organically shaped, white faience seen almost straight on and further alienated by being viewed at knee height.
But the Bathroom was also accessible from behind or, rather, from above: one could climb some steps on the podium at the back of the room and look down into the bathroom over the end wall. This also involved a different viewing angle. First one might think that it was a good thing that the front wall had been taken out as in a doll´s house because otherwise the room would soon have filled up with water.
The installation consists of five rooms in a row with a space, almost of a technical nature, in between each of them. One could go from one room to the next. This was a sort of pilgrimage, not perhaps towards wisdom, but a sort of meditative progress of dream and memory.
From the Hall one reached the Dining Room, a particularly chilly and dismal room with a sparse and solitary, dimly illuminated chandelier above a deserted, oval dining table veneered in some dark wood. There was a cold chair at each end of the table and the ceiling was as low as that of a caravan. The tabletop was covered with something that might have been a sunken sheet of glass but was, in fact, ice. Two dinner settings were frozen solidly into the tabletop. The ice was milky and worn; frozen to a temperature of minus 11º Centigrade according to the data provided. Everything, not just the objects, was covered in frost. The dark, heavy and wet carpet gave off puffs of frozen breath, a white fuzz that swept slowly across the fl oor down there in the darkness. There was a tall, fateful looking cupboard in the background, broody with aggression and guilt like a Kienholz tableau. This is an image of a home, or rather the painful contrast between the home as a fundamental metaphor of security and the absolute absence of security in the dysfunctional home. Like looking into the hell of relationships in a situation where everything is reflected in the state of the furniture; something especially obvious here since there are no people or pictures of people in the installation. As I remember it, one was mercifully separated from the room by a sheet of Plexiglass (which, I think, was mainly intended to keep warm air out of the room).
The Kitchen was entirely sunk into the floor and could only be seen from above. One looked down into a boxlike space filled with water, a gently bubbling kitchen whose ceiling consisted of a thick sheet of glass that also served as a floor for the beholder; like a lift on its way to the centre of the earth. The kitchen was life size and was furnished with real “white goods” (a strange term), yet it gave the impression of being a model, a peep show. Like looking into the helmet of an ancient diving suit. By the window wall (affording a view of what?) there was a chair and a little table with a cloth at an angle where one could sit and dream. Beneath the table was a small kitchen rug with neat fringes. Everything was clearly soaking wet but to such an extent that the water was only discernible as little colonies of bubbles. But this created a sense of remoteness, a spatial and temporal distance. Here Meta Isæus-Berlin alludes to both the sunken city in A Thousand and One Nights and to the MuminTroll who, when his house was flooded, swam into the kitchen through the window to fetch a comforting and undamaged tin of biscuits. The white enamel cooking stove has warm, expressive eyes in the form of electric rings. (Their gaze is more comforting and motherly than when Rosemarie Trockel developed this intricate subject, for example.) Meta Isæus-Berlin writes that the dream of “A sunken civilization seems always to have been borne by humankind as an archetype”.
The kitchen down there is as though seen through the wrong end of a telescope: familiar yet smaller than in reality and like a detailed memory. Yet extraordinarily difficult to get at if not actually running away. One could physically enter the Living Room, even though this was not such an inviting prospect. But marks from shoes on the light-coloured flooring showed that some visitors had really done so. The rounded forms of the furniture, with its velvet upholstery, seemed to swell up in the room. There was a coffee table and plant on a pedestal and little clouds of some sort of cold steam seemed to rise from the cushions, remaining briefly like an elfish dance at dawn in the soft pile of the velvet. Perhaps the furniture was giving off this cold, humid mist because it was so replete; a mist that was like old tobacco smoke in a smoking carriage on the railway, or some sort of foam from a fi re extinguisher that covered everything like a psychoactive drug, threatening to suffocate or drown it. Perhaps it was merely an abandoned summer room in a garden cottage where the furniture was sweating cold humidity as the snow melted outside. And a rug that was as saturated as only a Wilton rug can be.
Drenching things with water – or with water in the form of ice or steam – recurs in several of Meta Isæus-Berlin’s works. In her exhibition Chair Beside Bed (1996) the dark innards of the bedstead, lacking a mattress, are filled to the brim with water and the white pillow´s pale dryness fl oats on the surface like an Ophelia while the dismal dark brown veneer of the bed ends is repeated in the mirror of the water. The line of the back of the rather worn, white wooden chair by the bed frames the back with its glass like thick ice, inset like soapy water or a lump of gelatine. It is an old person´s chair on a visit, dumb or blind perhaps, faced with the situation that the body is missing from the water-filled bed (or does the visitor not notice?). The back of the chair gapes powerlessly. There is not the slightest trace of movement on the surface of the water.
The seat of the dark-stained dining chair in The Lesson (2004) is made of icy glass, like newly formed ice; a perfectly mirror-bright, slightly swollen cast of the upholstered seat. The glass-ice cold would penetrate one´s trousers as soon as one sat down. This is strange since there is no simple relationship between the fabric of the seat or of a plastic-coated textile and icy glass. Yet they seem to have important expressive characteristics in common that create a sort of unexpected recognition (but exactly of what?). Artists have a fundamental urge or irresistible desire to translate an expression from one material or medium to another, as though the new form or material that the expression now appears in creates a particularly strong emotional recognition of something familiar when it appears in a different material and context. Expression in a certain material or medium that familiarity has worn and made almost invisible can, in a new material, be recognized again on account of the contrast. Artists think concretely and in material forms. They find and recognize rather than looking for something when expression is so unexpectedly recreated in other materials and media.
Made-up beds filled with water are also a feature of an installation entitled The Abandoned Dwarfs (1999). The dwarfs stand in line with their tragic water mirrors like polished black gravestones. The very short, but conventionally wide beds, each with differently veneered bed ends like hotel beds with an unassuming origin are crowded at right angles to a high passage which is as narrow as the beds are short. (The installation was produced the year after The Seven Dwarfs in which there is a similar row of short beds though here the bed ends are less impressive and shiny. These beds are neatly made up with blankets in individual colors and patterns. In The Abandoned Dwarfs the beds recur but the mattresses and blankets have been replaced by water: the beds are fossilized like glass coffins; a monument where time has stood still.) And the ice that covers the dining table in Ett vattenhem has a corresponding element in the form of the very heavy film of sunflower oil that, remaining totally still, mirrors the ominous dining-room lamp with its glowing radiance in the installation.
Almost as Usual (1997). There, too, is a hopelessly dreary linen cupboard with an oak veneer (with an obvious nod at Kienholz, brownish silicon has run over the mirror). The water-filled kitchen, sunk into the ground, in Ett vattenhem, was preceded by another, equally strange and suggestive installation, She Leaves the Light on, and Forgets the Room(1998) with a drowned bathroom completely submerged in the grasscovered ground. The daylight filters down through the slowly rising bubbles and the surroundings are reflected in the surface of the water. The joints between the tiles appear as a grid, an aid or discipline of central perspective, an abstraction that can be projected on the world.
There are many elements in Meta Isæus-Berlin’s works that contain references to psychology and psychoanalysis and I am particularly fascinated by the fact that the visual expression of this sort of mental “archaeology” of mythical, latent meanings does not, primarily, consist of composed or more or less ingenious symbols but that the expression is directly reflected and expressed in everyday objects and contexts. They often seem to be chosen at random – which is by no means the case. We are confronted with a very consciously created set that approximates “reality”.
The objects are used and function on numerous different levels at the same time without any of them being emphasized more than another. For one thing it is a matter of objects used for furnishing that, in everyday life, are often enslaved by the demand for them to be practical, serving or admonishing aids, autocratically subservient to the arbitrariness of the commissioner and constructor as well as the casual user. These objects have often united themselves with their task and have been deformed in accordance with this single role and during this time they have almost lost their memory, i.e. other memories. Further, these are objects that are unilaterally subjected to the task of acting as means of communication, sign bearers and the foundation for messages, instructions and orders but also the conveyor of memories and associations. Finally the objects are seen as non-serving, as being in themselves; quite simply as things. What is specific to their artistic use is that these levels can be shown as contemporaneous, inseparable. They express, illuminate and reinforce each other. In an everyday context it is often the technical functions, solutions and uses that dominate one´s attention rather than the visual expression of the objects or how we experience them so that on many occasions we are not conscious of the enormous, latent visual expressivity that objects can have a materialized language and the importance that they have in our day-dreaming, our identity-creating memory and our consciousness.
Water again. It is directly or indirectly present in almost all of Meta Isæus-Berlin’s installations. It was already there in the two thousand waterfilled surgical gloves of Utan titel (Untitled ) from 1993. The gloves were mounted on a wall and the symphonically billowing fingers form an oceanic forest of ground-swell and seaweed. Beneath is a pulsating sea covered with a silicon cloth. Meta Isæus-Berlin explains that at some point while she was preparing this exhibition she was unsure whether to include Jag förlåter ingenting (I forgive Nothing) (2006), one reason being that it is a technically complex installation requiring vast amounts of water. But later she explained that “it really is necessary. It binds together old and new and it would open the exhibition with a bellow.” A bellow? Indeed, for the expression forcefully illuminates one side of her artistic motivations and intentions even though the installations themselves work equally well for those without any knowledge of this.
The installation Jag förlåter ingenting seems powerfully animated existentially and directly coupled to her as an individual but it is primarily coupled to, or rather installed at the highest tariff of the water utility: in a drawing, vast wet cascades of water flow out of, and partially over, all of the objects in a complete living room (like an interior from Max Ernst´s surrealistic collage-novel Une semaine de bonté but housing a drama that rather makes one think of Bill Viola´s grand video Going Forth By Day). The bookshelf was originally intended to occupy an entire wall with a broad flow of water falling over the shelves. Water also spouted from the armchair while the lamp above the coffee table might have served as an umbrella if it had not been for the water coming from inside it. A drape of water ran over the table and water fl owed over the paintings on the walls from the lamps above them like window blinds. The standard lamp wept cascades like the figure Lillan in Ivar Arosenius´ book which shares a perspective from underneath that, in the case of Meta Isæus-Berlin, is totally literal. Indeed one views the entire installation from a position in which one is one metre shorter than usual, like a small child since the floor of the installation rests on a podium which is a metre high. “The table”, she says, “one sees from below”, the underneath being its dark other. With the child´s right to its own truth about reality: Jag förlåter ingenting. (Some of the details in the drawing will, for technical reasons, be replaced by other solutions. There will be no walls to the room which can thus be viewed from four directions. Some of the water will be replaced by steam.)
The installation Vad minnet väljer (What memory selects) (2001) comprises an entire little show apartment constructed like a display unit with a tall core from which various sections of rooms radiate like a cross. These are simply furnished with furniture, accessories and technical equipment from the fifties and sixties but everything ? table, chairs, bed, bedclothes, mirrors, rugs, cloths, TV, sink, kitchen cupboards, stove, toilet, absolutely everything has been cloven in an appalling way. Split down the middle, usually with a saw and with great precision. Not just once, for everything has been cut twice and the middle section has been removed, as though the central part of things was superfluous. The new objects have been created by loosely joining the two outer parts or by placing them side by side. One might have expected that the very core and focus of the objects would then have been destroyed. But the reverse is rather the case. The objects´ character of visual, graphic signs, of animated, expressive objects has been reinforced and made all the more evident. The fact that a contemporary design trend works with “cartoon-strip” furniture and interiors is surely no accident. Meta Isæus-Berlin´s idea of cleaving the objects and joining together the outer aspects of them in a concentrated and sober rhetoric with a view to revealing the latent meanings of the objects can cause us to think of Cubism´s deconstruction of the conventional scientifi c view of the world which followed from montage as a new constructional principle in which the pieces were assembled in a new fashion.
It is precisely Vad minnet väljer: the fact that every memory takes form in a material mode of expression, that appears as animated. What has been removed showed itself, at least on this occasion, to be merely a filling, a sort of expendable objects´ “transport mass”. She writes in a letter:
The cut indicates that I have been there, there too.
In the bed, the dream, the nightmare, in sexuality, the toilet – you name it.
Drawers sawn apart, the kitchen-mother, etc.
Everything nicely put together, neatly but with the cut clearly showing
that I have been there.
And forgotten that I forgot a lot
and put together a new memory with the parts that I remember.
There is no lack of humour in the way that Meta Isæus-Berlin uses objects from “reality” but the visual jokes are usually highly dramatic at bottom. The bedroom in the installation with the bed made up, a wall mirror and a bedside table with a lace cloth on it ? all of these cloven and with their narrow outer parts loosely assembled or placed side by side – are on the one hand playful and spirited with their character of enlarged doll’s house furniture: the table with its teak veneer where the inset handles end up right next to each other, looking like a facial expression on the body of a know-all Disney Mimmi-like figure with a frilly bonnet and everything. On the other hand it is an awful image of something stunted and corseted. The anorectically disciplined bed cannot really hide the chaos that presses in from inside and, in that it has been divided, it has in some strange way been stretched out into a mental tunnel vision rather than just becoming narrower. The width of the bed ends has been halved and they have become chair backs and the entire bed has been transformed into a chair with a nightmarishly long, extended seat; which is somehow reminiscent of a barking dog that has stretched its lead to the uttermost.
The fittings in the kitchen have a corresponding character of double-bind. Round the kitchen table with its Formica top, now cut down to two narrow planks, there are two chairs, one of them divided front to back and the other from side to side which has given them different physiognomies. But what is it that they are saying? This is determined, within a narrow framework offered by the objects, by the experiences of the beholder. Above the table there is a lamp suspended, once round and now cut down and reassembled in something like a forage cap. In the background are the stove, kitchen cupboards and the sink, all so narrow that there is almost only room for the controls, the hinges and the handles. The design language, the visual expression, is clarified in a nightmarish manner by the object itself, the body (stove, cupboard) having almost disappeared.
The experience and interpretation of objects in installations of this sort naturally tends towards metaphor. The objects are seen as material forms of expression and symbols of states or conditions, situations, people and experiences and since the object can be seen as being more “real” or “realistic” than pictures or sculptures of such objects – since they are one step closer to the Platonic idea or form – they can be experienced almost as some sort of remains. They are not artificial, that is they are not realized signs or narrative symbols but they are bearers of meanings that could have been precisely them, that themselves once acted on the Urstage that the installation conjures up. From that point of view the real objects in the installation are less a question of representations than of repetitions as Hal Foster proposes in The Return of the Real (1996). The objects not only refer to specific traumatic events but they are themselves a species of simulacra, of material replicas or casts; the only traces of those otherwise inaccessible processes in which the “real” is materialized. The situation is further complicated by the fact that items in the installations usually belong in other contexts, in socially defined, visual discussions that are manifested at different levels of representation; practical, symbolical and technological.
The narrative elements (tales of lives that have been lived) are sometimes reinforced and dramatized, sometimes drowned by the fact that the object is here and now, physically present in the beholder’s space and time. Here it becomes really evident that there is no difference between the object as sign and the object as reality: the sign “is the reality”, as Baudrillard wrote. The sign appears as matter with social origins but also, to the greatest extent, as physical matter that intervenes directly and that is present in the beholder’s visual reality. The experience of the distance between the sign itself and what the sign represents is a moment of truth, like a stone that suddenly breaks up the smooth surface of the water; a painful, flash-like punctum (Barthes). Shortly it will have disappeared but the memory remains as a trace, a rent in the eye´s field of vision.