visual artist

Kinesis, text by Katji Lindberg

Kinesis, text by Katji Lindberg (English)

Kinesis, text av Katji Lindberg (Svenska)

Kinesis*

If one looks carefully towards the end of Anna Stina Erlandsson’s video Still, Moving (5:08 min., 1990/2011), one notices a shift in the age of the (ceaselessly shaking) face, which makes up the focus of the film. How has this breach come about, and where does the idea of the shaking face come from? One can shake with laughter, but what is it that motivates this hysterical-mechanical movement? The film itself gives us no answer, although the sound of something reminiscent of a centrifuge may associatively guide us in a certain direction.

Thus there are two kinds of movement: the movement of shaking and the movement of time. In this case there is a movement backwards in time, towards a younger version of the same personality. As a hypothesis, we can imagine a kind of self-portrait, so that the I of the film is connected to the artistic I, but it is just a connection. Apart from this, the figure[1] of the film moves about freely in her art-universe. By freeing themselves from an ”ordinary” physical context, the images of the film can speak to us on a more general level about perturbation, about movement as a phenomenon, about the transfer in time that we all experience, constantly in every second.

These images say something about the perturbing aspects of existence.[2] But the final glide, which leads over into the untested openness of youth, also has a calming effect. The I sinks through the gloaming transition from a brusque turbulence into stillness with her eyes closed. In this way, the film draws an arc: from the disruptive movement which by its own force, like a glacier-crevasse opening at great speed, expands the gap and increases the loss of control, to a standstill, to a certain harmony and a concord with the personal sphere. A self-forgetting stillness.

The usage of contrast is here, as in all art and literature, an efficient means. In Erlandsson’s films one often finds a kind of drastic effect of contrast operative which charges the works. In the other two films in this series, Fire (1:12 min., 2011) and Force (5:13 min., 1998/2011), there is also a tension between the monotony of everyday life and an inevitable existential undercurrent. In a text about the Finnish artist Elina Merenmies, Juha-Heikki Tihinen writes that art shows ”existence compressed”.[3] I fully agree with that and this applies also to Erlandssons work, which reflects the mysteries of existence in a remarkably clear and humoristic way. Her works bring about the occurrence of recognition. Everything that tends to go by unnoticed in our day-to-day routine, but which we can sometimes glimpse in a moment of reflection is condensed in the film sequence into something striking and immediately identifiable.

 

The work Fire however, is a variation on the theme of existence and life that is more directed towards the contemporary icons of violence, sexual stereotypes and sexual domination than towards existence as such (although like the other films, it also starts out from the domestic sphere). The unexpected microcosm that the world of toys consists of, contains fragmentary transpositions of the more problematic parts of the macrocosm. The soldier that is crawling forward to the sound of a machinegun (also here mechanical movement is reiterated) in its banal repetition of meaningless aggression, becomes a remarkable duplication of another movement: the inherited sexual, repeating and perhaps urgent, perhaps just slightly comically self-absorbed gesture of corporeality. In this case, the soaring contrast arises when the adult world with its full arsenal of loaded phenomena brutally moves into the children’s room.

 

In front of Force, we once more come to a halt before the merciless influence of time that gives free rein to gravity and that effects the lineament of the same character as in Still, Moving. In a farce like counter-movement the female actress uses masking tape to fix her facial features where they once used to be. The stratagem to employ coercive force in order to press the I into an ideal condition, also entails a kind of mental vice. When the need arises to shed tears and to give free rein to emotions (if only due to the chopping of an onion), we encounter the tautness of someone who has had a too tight facelift. The facial expression goes numb and the individual is caught in the vacuum that arises when the connection between body and emotion has been cut off. Here again a field is exposed that coincides with the unavoidable predicament of human life, but which is rarely or never described in its full complexity in media. The words and language speak of things like ”to grow older” or ”not to look like one used to”, but already here we are trapped (precisely by language) in such an embarrassing banality that we prefer to drop the subject. If you want to be a part of the game, you’d better start paying attention to your looks, but by the way, who cares about looks, who cares about the law of gravity?

 

If the micro-revolutions of our existence aren’t expressed through art and poetry, if the shifts that proceed in such a low gear that they are barely noticed, if these shifts aren’t recast in an act of interpretation, then we will sooner or later have to face a great many questions. Actually we have encountered such a void already when we were children. The English author and art critic John Berger says:

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.[4]

The abyss which opens at lightning speed in front of us, in that ”unsettling situation” when we, as the metaphor has it, lose our footing, is suddenly there when the condition that grants everything its ordinariness is pulled away, and the less well functioning body, illness or death takes its place. This can also, which should not be overlooked, apply for the positively revolutionary experience: childbirth, the arrival of a new individual or other movements of love…

The tension between the recurrent ”shaking” or ”perturbation” and the feeling of calm and claimed understanding that every interpretation can offer, is the very nerve that lies imbedded in the artwork. Every medium has its own ways of dealing with this tension. In the video film or art film, there is a possibility to freely exploit this tension by the weaving together of content and (an emphasis on the temporal) form. This is what happens in Erlandsson’s work when she puts her temporal thematics (the body and time markers) into the moving medium of the film, which in itself always relates to the extension of time.

The Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf comments on this in the essay Självsyn (which could be translated as Selfsight) – which parenthetically speaking, artists probably relate to quite intuitively but nonetheless astutely – where he speaks of artworks that have time as their central dimension.[5] The film work (where we indicate length in hours and minutes, not the spatial measures of centimetre and meter) or the polyphonic poem ”should”, according to Ekelöf, open itself to a rhythmic organization since ”time has its own form”.[6] The work of art that is based on time makes use of the fact that there is a before and an after, and the dynamism is created by means of ”repetition of motifs and developments, allusions to that which has been and that which is to come, parallelisms, similes […]”.[7] A relation is established between recurring, similar parts, and thereby a rhythmical structure appears. But it is as if Ekelöf wants to underline that form is not just form, for in the same sentence he adds: ”all these devices by means of which man tries to enjoy existence, by adapting at least a part of the play of the sunlight on the grass under the trees on a windy summer day, a part of the eternally shifting dance and movement, to its meaning, its order […]”.[8]

 

In the three works Still, Moving, Fire and Force it is movement that serves as an interconnecting theme. The variations in each work’s respective take on time and movement enhances them reciprocally in relation to one another, and furthermore the artist draws up a specific temporal terrain for each work. We have already mentioned the transition between a somewhat older and a younger I, the parallelism that arises in the space that separates the two egos; in Fire the simple dramaturgy of constant repetition ensures that we see what we haven’t seen before; and in Force the simile is put to work – to keep something in check, to try to make something stick, to subjugate the passing of time. The movements in the intimate sphere have their own character, while at the same time pointing outwards and beyond. The temporary order that is created in the prism of interpretation makes it possible for us to affirm the ongoings of everyday life, and when someone now and then provides a helping hand by fixating the slidings in the now and by also placing the perturbations in their contexts, we gain an understanding of all the fluctuations that surround us. With preserved calm we can once more sink down into the flow, and without thinking too hard, let us be brought along to the next stop.

 

Katji Lindberg

Art critic

 

(translated by Nicholas Smith; all translations in the text are mine unless otherwise specified)

 

*Kinesis, the Greek word for ”movement” leads back to the many discussions concerning the problem of movement that engaged philosophers such as Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greek thought. While Heraclitus meant that movement and change was a fundamental principle, Parmenides argued that movement was impossible…

[1] The English word “figure” stems from the French figure, which can mean either face, physical appearance or shape.

[2] I here come to think of a text by the Swedish dramatist Barbro Smeds, ”Skakande situationer” (which could be translated as ”Perturbing situations”) in Berättelse och kunskap, (Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2006), p. 144. Smeds’ eye for the abyssal in everyday and professional life also brings to mind the ”everyday-brutalist” tradition that the Swedish poet Sonja Åkesson has often come to be associated with, and that Erlandsson at times approaches. Taking its cue from the fundamental, but not always prestigious sphere that is called home or everydayness, these writers give voice to elementary but often overlooked insights, always in refreshing language. Anaïs Nin also regarded this sphere from a wider perspective when she said: ”The deeply experienced personal life is always expanded into truths that lie beyond it.”

[3] Juha-Heikki Tihinen, ”Aude sapere – om Elina Merenmies konst”, in Bera Nordal (ed.) Elina Merenmies (Skärhamn: Nordiska akvarellmuseet, 2010), p.12.

[4] John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: BBC and Penguin Books, 1972), p. 7.

*Kinesis, the Greek word for ”movement” leads back to the many discussions concerning the problem of movement that engaged philosophers such as Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greek thought. While Heraclitus meant that movement and change was a fundamental principle, Parmenides argued that movement was impossible…

1 The English word “figure” stems from the French figure, which can mean either face, physical appearance or shape.

2 I here come to think of a text by the Swedish dramatist Barbro Smeds, ”Skakande situationer” (which could be translated as ”Perturbing situations”) in Berättelse och kunskap, (Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2006), p. 144. Smeds’ eye for the abyssal in everyday and professional life also brings to mind the ”everyday-brutalist” tradition that the Swedish poet Sonja Åkesson has often come to be associated with, and that Erlandsson at times approaches. Taking its cue from the fundamental, but not always prestigious sphere that is called home or everydayness, these writers give voice to elementary but often overlooked insights, always in refreshing language. Anaïs Nin also regarded this sphere from a wider perspective when she said: ”The deeply experienced personal life is always expanded into truths that lie beyond it.”

3 Juha-Heikki Tihinen, ”Aude sapere – om Elina Merenmies konst”, in Bera Nordal (ed.) Elina Merenmies (Skärhamn: Nordiska akvarellmuseet, 2010), p.12.

4 John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: BBC and Penguin Books, 1972), p. 7.

5 Gunnar Ekelöf, Självsyn (Poeter om poesi), 1947; excerpt in Stig Carlson and Axel Liffner’s En bok om Gunnar Ekelöf (Stockholm: FIB:s Lyrikklubb, 1956), p. 68.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid, my italics.

[8] ibid.

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