We review the show dedicated to the work of two contemporary Swedish artists Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand
Edefalk presents us with a series of twelve (very) different painted versions of the same nude statue, all called ‘Double White Venus’. While there is no sense of direction, repeated action, or consistent approach in this series, the paintings are arranged carefully in relation to one another – in sequences, groups, or individually – to draw out the web of connections and associations between them. The same image is painted again and again, but in a variety of ways and at a variety of scales – sometimes small and more detailed, with the whole scene shown, and sometimes pared down to a few essential forms and surfaces, all blown up in size. The Venus is painted in white on an unpainted canvas ground, in negative, or left unpainted with the scene drawn in around. Thin layers of paint have been applied with the canvases hung at different orientations during the process, so that the drips trace a field of forces across the surface. The whole collection seems to investigate the idea of identity through this mise-en-abyme – this play of signifiers within a ‘text’, of sub-‘texts’ mirroring each other – built up with repetitions, reflections, absences, the choreography of placement, and traces of past positions.
Wåhlstrand presents us with painstakingly accurate, photo-realistic, large scale reproductions of photographs, created with watery washes of ink. The photos were mostly of scenes from her father’s childhood, who committed suicide while she was one year old. Perhaps the demanding work of executing these images can be seen in a metaphorical relationship with the gradual labour of mourning and erasure of pain. The work clearly allows the artist to somehow physically and psychologically approach a personal history that she did not experience, yet the consequences of which she is still living with. By enlarging the photographs, it is almost as if she were trying to open up the space enclosed within them, to gain access to the past.
As one draws nearer to them, zooming-in, the details and edges blur and the image becomes soft, frustratingly beyond reach. This is not, of course, the natural limit of resolution since when, under magnification, the details of an analogue photo break down into grain. Rather this is an artificial rendering of that lack of resolution, with the indexical link to a real past having been broken. The glint in an eye – that sharp point of light – becomes a soft empty space where the paper shows through. This softening is like a washing away of the photograph’s power to touch and pierce us – of its sharpness, its pointedness.
What unites both these artists work then is a profound sense of loss, melancholy, and a play between presence and absence. The women of Edenfalk’s paintings turn their backs to us, stare into the distance, or are edited out altogether, while the flash in the bespectacled, and meticulously rendered, eye of Wåhlstrand’s father blurs and slips out of focus as one looks closer. Words Laurence Lumley © 2011 ArtLyst
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