Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm
Ragna Berlin, 3-18 December 2005
Presentation by Curator Niclas Östlind
In a certain sense every exhibition is a performance formed by the place, the time, the works (or actors) and the beholders. When the exhibition is over, the particular experience offered by the specific compilation of the works disappears. This applies all the more in a situation where the artist has created directly for the room and the context in which the work is being shown, as is the case with Ragna Berlin’s installation in the sculpture hall at Liljevalchs. In a very concrete fashion, she has taken the architecture of the venue as a starting point and has formulated an sensuous and playful alternative to the strict order in both the classicist and modernist traditions. Ragna Berlin makes use of organic elements that rub against and exceed boundaries, both between artistic genres and between what is seen as feminine or masculine. In her exhibition, the works and the room fuse and the various elements – both fixed and temporary – create a whole, while also emphasising each other’s individual characteristics.
In front of the western wall – or on it, depending on how one chooses to view the situation – Berlin has placed two sand-coloured columns consisting of soft, irregular spheres. At first sight they seem like boulders that have been piled on top of each other in order to create an upright structure; something that has been practised in many societies including the Sámi, Buddhist and American Indian cultures. The pillars do not seem to have any practical function, such as supporting a roof or any other structure, which reinforces their character as cult objects: a sacred place for sacrifice and worship. The columns, however, are paintings, painted on a thin, plastic material, and it is the meticulous layering of paint and shading that create the sense of volume which makes them, optically speaking, fall somewhere between painting and sculpture. Their execution causes the solid surface of the wall, to which the paintings are attached, to disintegrate. Thus, without the aid of the vanishing point of central perspective and its parallel lines, an illusory space is created between the pillars.
On the opposite wall there is a monumental painting in a warm orange tone. Its appearance changes in a striking way depending on where one is standing in the room. When viewed from a specific point in the middle of the hall, its otherwise uneven contour suddenly joins up to form an almost complete circle. The left part of the painting runs across the corner between two walls and should, therefore, be read as folded, thus interrupting the sense of a whole. But in spite of this, the painted area appears as a continuous surface. The distinguished shape and the way in which the paint has been applied contribute to this effect, as does the lighting. The lamps are directed upwards towards the coffered ceiling which acts as a large reflector. It fills the room with a mild and constant light that evens out irregularities and helps the eye to discern the larger shapes.
The paintings on the two end walls define and accentuate the floor of the hall, which, with its dark stone paving, spreads out like a public square. Visitors share the space with Pluttan, a small but highly persistent robot.
Besides the connection between art and architecture Ragna Berlin has long nursed an interest in the relationship art-technology. Pluttan is the most recent in a series of robots that reflect this interest. It is highly sophisticated, designed with new cutting edge technology* to follow people – and other moving objects – without ever knocking into anybody or anything; if one approaches the robot it rapidly withdraws like an inquisitive but alarmed animal.
It is, however, neither the paintings nor the robot that visitors first encounter at the exhibition. On entering the narrow arcaded passage that leads into the sculpture hall, one confronts five luminous objects hanging from the ceiling. Made of glass with a milky-white surface, their shape is organic and irregular, just like the boulders in the painted columns. They might be interpreted as large drops of liquid that have been arrested during their fall and now hover just above our heads. The “lamp sculptures” are hung very low relative to the ceiling and on entering the passage one feels a need to stoop slightly. One immediately emotionally as well as physically become aware of the surrounding space –an experience that applies to the entire exhibition.
* The technology was developed by Lennart Brobeck of LBI-system
Ragna Berlin was born in Stockholm and she is living and working in New York since 2000. She trained as an architect at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (1978-83) and then studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Umeå (1989-91) and at the Royal University College of Fine Arts in Stockholm (1991-94). Ragna Berlin has had a number of solo exhibitions and has taken part in group shows in Sweden and the USA. She has work in the collections of Göteborgs konstmuseum (Gothenburg Museum of Art) and of the Swedish National Public Art Council.