The undercurrents of things and history
Essay by Kjetil Røed for Frail Mighty, Kunsthall Stavanger, 2018
In his treatise The Nature of Things (written around 30 AD), the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius explains that the world arose as a result of particles descending through the infinite void, where occasionally they collide and accumulate into clusters that in due course give rise matter and, quite simply, things. But the result is merely surfaces, provisional configurations; beneath the surface, the atoms remain in motion and other natural forces continue to act, pulling in opposing directions. The works of art in this exhibition can be regarded as sediments, accumulations, crystals and prismatic forms that echo this philosophy.
In her drawings and mosaics, Elin Melberg presents arrays of pixels frugally arranged directly on the wall or on paper. These pointillist pictures fix the mobility that underlies permanence as something that needs to be thought about. Using the language of meditation and reflection, her works show a concern for the undercurrent of mutability in all things. Ane Graff’s textiles straddle the categories; they are entangled in the history of painting and textile art, but also sit at the boundary between private and public, as works that remind us both of unmade beds and of abstract-expressionist compositions.
The relationship between chaos and order finds concise expression in Mattias Härenstam’s video work Portrait of a smiling man (2010), which records an actor’s heroic attempts to hold a smile for as long as possible, although he has no reason to laugh or smile. The face and the appeasing laughter that usually create context and meaning in life are exposed here as a thin membrane stretched over chaos. Masks and faces also play an important role in the art of Vibeke Tandberg. In this exhibition, it is the mask the artist used when playing the old man in her photo series Old man going up and down a staircase (2003) and Old man (2015) that provides the supporting medium. Here, however, the mask is not primarily a form she uses to explore her own identity, but rather a surface that collects and reflects her struggles with the historical sediments of her own practice. Whereas Tandberg shows us the artist’s confrontation with her own creative history, Härenstam illustrates how strenuous it can be to maintain a firm grasp on the current state of things.
Nathlie Provosty’s paintings are fractured on a variety of levels. Some of her surfaces project outwards to form reliefs or plateaus, as do the letters that feature in her pictures; they are oriented in directions that prevent us from reading them face on. They prompt us to view them from different places in the room, like a baroque anamorphosis, which required the viewer to look at the subject from a certain angle to see what was depicted. If we are to follow the descent of the particles through the void and glimpse the currents beneath the masks, we must submit to the paths along which those processes lead us.
Margrethe Aanestad’s drawings and paintings are more ritual and meditative, the external expression of an inner attentiveness. Her black stone circle The Place, set on a marble plinth, is a symbol for various forms of heedfulness, a material cipher for a spiritual quest, a physical mantra. A marble circle also figures in AK Dolven’s To you (1994), this time on a meadow near Hå Gamle Prestegård. The circle constitutes a ritual site, a place that serves both as a stage, a locus for concentration, a space to withdraw, and as a prism that refracts the encounter between culture and nature through the simplest, most incisive form: the circle. In the video work that documents this stone sculpture, we see a girl testing out the stone circle as a stage that is distinguished from nature by nothing more than its form and the history invested in the material.
For me, these works are reminiscent of Lucretius because they elicit currents of significance that usually lie concealed beneath surfaces. But I am also reminded of Lucretius’ successor in our own time, the anthropologist Bruno Latour. In his recent essay Down to Earth, Latour writes that for centuries we have thought of nature as something separate from us, as a resource we can divide up with units of measurement and quantifying instruments. But there are processes that lie beyond our control and which are constantly moving in directions that cannot be inferred from surface appearances. Our involvement in such processes – whether the movements of history, atoms, or the unconscious – is something we should seek to foreground. By doing so, Latour claims, we would get in touch both with ourselves and with the earth on which we walk. Although it is the sedimentary deposits on the surface – our own face, the artwork, the things around us – that give us our sense of security, it is by surrendering to the underlying movements that we can reinvent ourselves and the world.
Kjetil Røed, Malmøya, 24.10.18
WORKS OF GRIEF
Morgenbladet No 19, May 16-22, 2014
Sigrun Hodne, critic
Elin Melberg, FLOAT, Galleri Opdahl, Stavanger
Showing until May 25, 2014
The onlooker experiences the artist’s grief as her own in Elin Melberg’s combination of personal memory and strict minimalism.
In the middle of the floor of the exhibition “Float” there is a large square vessel. It is 6,5 by 6,5 feet and is six inches tall. The vessel is filled with 53 gallons of silky soft waste oil – it resembles a black mirror.
Had Elin Melberg been a minimalist, we might have interpreted this work as an hommage to Donald Judd or Robert Morris, to the minimalist artists of the sixties who wanted to liberate art from subjective emotional content through the use of geometrical shapes and industrially manufactured materials. But Elin Melberg is anything but minimalist. Her art has been described as “Bollywood meets the Vatican” with a strong element of glam and disco aesthetics. In other words, Melberg is known rather as a maximalist than a minimalist.
More than anything, she is known for her large, sensuous spatial sculptures filled with silk, plush and glitter. I wish, I wish, I wish in vain (2009-11), recently acquired by Stavanger Art Museum, and the three-partite work What’s mine is yours to borrow (2012), which has been showed at venues such as the University of Oslo and in Gamlebyen Church in Oslo, are among her major works.
So, how are we to understand the simple black mirror – Float/Black fluid – around which her most recent exhibition is centred?
All of the works in this exhibition are made after the passing of Melberg’s father in August 2013. In light of this it seems reasonable to interpret the exhibition as an expression of loss. Two wall-based works engage in a direct dialogue with the man who is gone. In 34 shirts Melberg has framed and mounted her father’s shirts in a huge display case. The shirts are closely packed: Gant, Melka, Boss and Van Heusen – still far from worn, shirts ready for more days at the office.
In the exhibition’s most beautiful work, Elove, Melberg has embroidered the last text message her father wrote her in pink stitches on a big, pastel green fabric, as though she has been sewing on hospital sheets. The fabric is hung vertically on the wall and folds neatly at the bottom, as though the texting between father and daughter could go on forever. What is strange is that the words in the message are completely indecipherable. The writing is more than legible, but the letters are combined in ways that seem totally random – at least to those of us on the outside. It is as if the two people in question have developed a new and secret language. On the wall next to Elove three doors made from latex hang. These are representations of reality, copies of actual life-size door blades, old doors, worn wood, made from thin, skin-coloured rubber. The dry wood has acquired a repulsive, damp quality. Doors, but no passage – perhaps these doors might take us closer to an interpretation of the minimalist oil vessel?
The artist’s grief is omnipresent in this exhibition and it rubs off, it is as though we are situated on the edge of an endless black void. The simplicity of Melberg’s exhibition does not express a turn towards the minimalist, but rather a seriousness that concentrates the artist’s energy in a simpler artistic idiom.
The black mirror is a magic mirror, a black hole of infinite attraction, a point of no return. We check our reflections in it, making sure we are still alive; the reflection it provides is silent and dark. The fear of falling, the dread of letting go. St. Augustine said: If you do not ask me what time is, I know it. When death enters the picture, time slips away beneath our very feet.
Grief is a theme that is hard to put into words; feeling the other’s grief as if it were your own is almost impossible. Melberg’s great strength, and what makes her exhibition truly strong, is that she, by taking the onlooker with her to a place beyond language, makes us feel her pain in our own body. Through a combination of deeply personal memories, like her father’s shirts and text messages, and an almost mathematical minimalism, a form of abstracted subjectivity occurs. In the silky soft mirror – the nave of the exhibition – or its maelstrom – Melberg’s grief also becomes mine.
Left behind: Her father’s shirts ready for more days at the office
A language of their own: The last text messages embroidered onto hospital linen
Elin Melberg 9th - 25th of May 2013
Elin Melberg’s new exhibition Float, on view at Galleri Opdahl from May 9-25, presents a new body of monumental work that both materially and metaphorically deals with fragments and reflections. Created entirely in the six months following the death of her father, the works in the installation carve out a serene space for remembrance against the onslaught of the everyday. Utilizing a wide array of materials such as white cement, antique windows, wooden doors, latex, textiles, and foam, Melberg grapples with her personal experience as well as touching on universal human issues of vulnerability, loss of control, and the fragility of both life and memory. Deeply sensual, Float portrays the infinitely beautiful and incomprehensible human experience. But it’s not just about memories. There’s a palpable tension inherent in the works, as materials are pushed to the extreme. Sharp fragments of glass sit in velvet folds. Delicate mirrored shards are inserted into concrete. Chiffon frays. Glass cracks. All gesture towards the precarious nature of life. Melberg expertly manipulates material to call forth memory while simultaneously questioning the line between control and chaos.
On one wall hangs a large canvas draped with men’s dress shirts, once full of life, now hanging loose and ghostly; a tactile reminder of absence. A nonsensical, hand-embroidered text articulates, in an unintelligible language, the sudden loss of communication and self-awareness. A sculptural well filled with rich, black oil, creates a fluid, darkly-reflective surface. Moldings of doors, broken windows, spectre-like architectural details seem to grow out of or be subsumed by organic forms of foam and concrete, creating a true construction of interiority.
Different from her previous work, but no less experiential, Float is no longer about hiding, but rather suggests a desire for presence. Rough, raw, and transitional, the works here evoke a liminal space, an aftermath, and a gathering of the self. Rather than a memento mori - the looming threat of an end and the futility of resistance - this new work seems to pause, and remember life, before looking onwards.
ARTIST OF THE MONTH, Galleri Opdahl – Elin Melberg INGER VIK I & II
Galleri Opdahl: Can you briefly describe the works for us?
Elin Melberg: It is two photographs on matt paper.
GO: Textile as an artistic medium is often associated with feminine qualities and craftsmanship. Textile is also a very tactile, changeable material. This is contrasted in the Inger Vik images where the fabric has been photographed and posted in large format as surface. What are your thoughts about this contrast? What lies behind this choice of medium?
EM: I focus on surface and content in my work. My presence in a detailed work process is central, and I seek to control, mark and distort both the use of materials and the result of the process. In relation to this, I work with contrasts on several levels, whether it is the contrast between the material's original meaning set in a new context, or contrasts in form of a shiny surface contra shadow etc.
Inger Vik # 1 and # 2 have been reworked through a longer process. First a painting was meticulously re-embroidered with bright beads and white cotton, before I subtly marked the white fabric with grime, paint and chlorine. This resulted in two independent works. After this I have temporarily mounted my great grandma’s white petticoat into these works and reproduced them through photography. The large format and the matt paper enhance the fabric’s texture. You almost have to touch the paper to make sure that it’s not textile. This kind of distortion of our perception interests me. The two formats are unframed, hanging freely from the wall – a mounting that exacerbates the vulnerability in both the material and the themes I work with.
GO: Why the titles Inger Vik? Who is she?
EM: Inger Vik was my great grandmother, and the petticoat in the works belonged to her. Her name was embroidered with red thread in her garments, and this is the only clear element of colour in the works. Inger Vik as title for the artworks represent something that has been, but is not anymore. The life or the moment you never get back. I like the idea of the thin, fine garment that has been close to a naked body, so present in the moment but now gone. This is a theme that recurs in all my work: the presence (in life and in the act of creation), vulnerability, decay and memory.
GO: You often work with bright colours, mirrors and glittering surfaces in your installations. The works shown in the gallery now are much more downplayed and silent, but have however a strong presence. Can you say something about the background for the works, how they have developed from idea to finished work?
EM: I like to work with contrasts, and I therefore emphasize both big, maximalist installations and more downplayed works. I like this way of working and I have a growing need for this variation. I find great joy in the materials I work with and am very curious by nature. This is reflected in the way I simultaneously work with several techniques and mediums, but with recurring themes as a common denominator.
GO: The use of feminine everyday objects is also a recurrent element in your artworks. How do you work with these objects / what is your access point for using them in your art?
EM: I’m part of my works while working on them, meaning that I am literally sitting in the work and let the use of materials grow in more and more detail around me. In the Inger Vik works the undergarment drowns in an existing work, it partly disappear into the work at the same time as a new work is formed. Heritage and memory are central in my working process and I have a burning wish for keeping the moment. By using inherited objects or elements from my own childhood in my art I give them the value I think they deserve. They get their own space in the present and are immortalized. I keep the moment that never comes back. Even though the objects often are very personal, the use and the result are open, inhabiting both an intimate and distanced dimension.
Interview by Marte Danielsen Jølbo / 2013
The following text by curator Benedikte Holen is in Norwegian only, please scroll down for more texts in English...
I remember you eyes were on me er Elin Melbergs (f.1976) første separatutstilling i Ålesund. Vi presenterer en kunstner med en dedikert holdning til kunstens materialitet og den kunstneriske prosessen. Utstillingen viser sanselige arbeider i en enhetlig stil, og med en stor variasjon i formater og uttrykk.
Melberg benytter ofte hverdagslige materialer som perler, glansbilder, tekstiler og speil i produksjonen av sine arbeider, og inntar en granskende rolle overfor materialene hun anvender. Disse gjenkjennelige materialene bearbeides og fremstilles i nye sammenhenger, og slik utfordres våre vante oppfatninger av gjenstandenes betydninger og bruksområder. Den kunstneriske bearbeidelsen gir materialene et nytt og dypere innhold, og fremhever en sårbarhet og inderlighet. Materialene hun benytter forbindes gjerne med kvinners håndverkstradisjoner og småjenters lek. Dette feminine uttrykket brukes som et aktivt virkemiddel for å åpne verkene for ulike assosiasjoner og betydninger. Melberg veksler mellom det overdådige og det mer nedtonede, og slik innbyr hennes kunstnerskap til en forførende tvetydighet og spenning.
Erfaring og tap av kontroll
Den amerikanske filosofen John Dewey definerte i boken Art as experience (1934) kunstopplevelsens natur som tett knyttet til hverdagslige hendelser. I følge hans tenkning er kunst og liv sammenkoblet, og dermed kan ikke opplevelsen av kunst forstås som atskilt fra menneskets øvrige liv. Ideen om en tett relasjon mellom kunst og liv kan fungere som en inngang til Elin Melbergs kunstnerskap. Både fordi hennes arbeider tematisk kretser rundt eksistensielle spørsmålom liv og død, kontroll og kaos, fortid og nåtid, og fordi selve erfaringen står sentralt både i hennes egen kunstneriske prosess og i betrakterens møte med verkene.
Dewey mener erfaringen av kunst kan sidestilles med andre erfaringer i hverdagen. Til en viss grad kan vi styre våre erfaringer - også våre kunstopplevelser. Som oftest velger vi selv om vi ønsker å oppsøke kunsten, og videre kan vi velge hvorvidt vi vil være passive betraktere, eller om vi ønsker å møte kunsten for aktivt sanse, fortolke og forsøke å forstå.Felles for de fleste erfaringer er likevel at vi aldri helt makter å beholde den fulle kontrollen. Mange kunstverk krever vår deltakelse for å oppnå sitt fulle potensial, enten gjennom fysisk interaksjon eller aktiv refleksjon og komplentasjon. Dermed frembringer gjerne møtet med kunsten øyeblikk der vi som betraktere veksler mellom å ha og å miste kontroll. Kontrollen beholder vi så lenge vi forholder oss passive overfor kunsten. miste den kan vi gjøre når vi velger å gå inn i en aktiv dialog med kunsten, uten å vite på forhånd hvilke erfaringer vi vil gjøre oss.
I flere av Elin Melbergs arbeider tematiseres nettopp denne vekslingen mellom å ha og miste kontroll, og sårbarheten som ligger i dette. Det gjør hun ved å invitere betrakteren til interaksjon både fysisk og gjennom en mer mentalt reflekterende deltakelse. I verket I wish I wish I wish in vain (2011) oppfordres betrakteren til å gå inn i en boks som fra utsiden fremstår rå og ubehandlet. Inne i boksen avdekkes en komposisjon som står i sterk kontrast til boksens rå ytre, med fargerik mosaikk av over 60 000 håndlimte biter i ulike mønstre og materialer. Det taktile, sammen med den møysommelige prosessen, er en viktig del av Melbergs arbeidsmetode, og gjenspeiler hennes tilnærming til kunstens materialitet.
Det personlige og allmenngyldige
Vi instrueres til å gå inn i boksen, og i verkets struktur legges rammene for den videre interaksjonen. Vår opplevelse og eventuelle forståelse av verket er imidlertid ikke fastlagt. Kunstneren kan styre oss inn i boksen og på den måten ha en kontroll over betrakteren, men hvilken effekt det har på oss kan hun ikke kontrollere. Hver enkelt betrakter vil ha sitt eget personlige utgangspunkt, og våre historier og referanser virker inn på vår opplevelse av verket. I det øyeblikket man lukker døren til boksen, og lar seg omslutte av gulv, vegger og tak, har man et rom kun for seg selv - et rom for egne betraktninger, refleksjoner og tanker. I de mange speilmosaikkene ser vi fragmenterte og fordreide refleksjoner av oss selv, og slik fremheves vår rolle som betrakter samtidig som bevisstheten om vår fysiske tilstedeværelse forsterkes ytterligere. Bruken av speilmosaikk peker også tilbake til kunsthistoriske og allmenne problemstillinger som kretser rundt blikkets makt og funksjoner, samt blikket som utgangspunkt for oppfatningen av egen og andres identitet. På denne måten vil vår erfaring innlemmes som en viktig del av selve verket, og slik veksler kunstner og betrakter mellom å ha og miste kontrollen.
Minner og traumer
Neon-bokstavene på veggen staver den samme setningen som boksens tittel; I wish I wish I wish in vain (2013). Frasen handler om å ønske seg noe, men forgjeves. Sett i lys av utstillingstittelen, I remember your eyes were on me, peker setningen tilbake til noe som har eller kunne vært, og til noe som man ikke kan komme tilbake til. Verket med samme tittel som utstillingen består av en gammel silkekjole med tydelige tegn på bruk. Den har mistet sin opprinnelige funksjon, og fremstår nå som et tegn på noe som har vært - en historie, et minne og en fortid.
Flere av Melbergs arbeider handler om nostalgi, om å se seg tilbake, og om å ønske seg en følelse av trygghet og kontroll. I Rejected Memorabilia I & II (2012) vises små samleobjekter og gamle magasiner lakkert med sølvspray. Objektene har også en historie, men ikke lenger sin opprinnelige funksjon. Som deler av kunstverk blir de avviste objektene og de glansede magasinene likevel ivaretatt. Tumour (2012) og I wish I wish I wish in vain (2011) overlesses med perler og farger. Andre verk har et mer subtilt uttrykk, som for eksempel Covered up (2012), med draperte tekstiler og håndsydde hvite perler over lerret.Bak det draperte tekstilet skjules kunstnerens gamle, brukte lerret. Slik dekker hun til noe, samtidig som hun åpner opp for nye betydninger og tolkninger.
Utgangspunktet for Elin Melbergs kunst er personlig, men den eksistensielle klangbunnen i hennes arbeider er samtidig inkluderende og inviterende. Hennes kunstverk kan leses fra ulike ståsted med ulike perspektiver. Utover den sanselige effekten verkene har på oss kan arbeidene tolkes politisk i lys av kritisk feminisme, som en visuell terapi eller som en tilbakevending til ideen om det totale pikeunivers. Uansett innfallsvinkel omhandler hennes arbeider ikke bare kunstnerens egne erfaringer. De bearbeider også mer allmenne erfaringer, som det å leve i en felles verden, og om å dele gleder, frykt, traumer og sorg.
Benedikte Holen, kurator
20.04 - 16.06.2013
A ROOM FOR REFLECTION
Oslo Cathedral: Elin Melberg - installation
By Kjetil Roed, Aftenposten 25.03.13
Walking into the Oslo Cathedral to see Elin Melberg's sculpture Mandorla, I had to make my way through a group of shivering Roma on the steps up to the church entrance. During the sermon, I kept asking myself why these beggars remained standing outside. The weather was freezing and there was more than enough room inside. The priest soon addressed the issue in her sermon. «The Romani people have never had a home and are seldom welcome anywhere. We have to show them hospitality.»
This is an interesting situation to keep in mind while viewing Melberg’s sculpture. The piece is about the meaning we assign to different types of rooms and spaces – and how important it is to be able to access them.
The grand questions
Mandorla looks like a giant egg covered with small mirrors and an entrance on one side.The inside of the «egg» is covered in white linen, in places bunched up into little roses.The interior leads us to think about the most essential of all rooms in a human life: the uterus we originate from and the casket we end up in. Grand questions are broached, the beginning and end of life. But no answers or explanations are given.
More precisely, we might say that Mandorla creates a frame for our thoughts by bringing together associations of life and death. The work draws meaning from the church containing it. Life and death are both concepts naturally associated with churches. Regardless of faith, it is hard to deny that churches are constructed to create an experience of the sacred. This context affects the work and the situation occurring on the inside of the «egg».
As a room designed for reflection, the work is related to other rooms for soul-searching, such as confessionals. This effect had probably not appeared – at least not with the same force – outside of a church. Melberg indirectly also points out the importance of finding sacred rooms by ourselves – places where we are able to reflect. Churches, temples, synagogues and mosques all contain such institutionalized rooms, but they can be found anywhere, also outside such official rooms for thought. Children may find room like this under the bed or inside a closet, while adults may find it in a cabin or in the den after the children have gone to sleep. Perhaps even inside a gallery. The important question is not the location of these rooms where we find solitude, but that we find them and use them. This is Mandorla’s most important reminder. Far from insignificant.
A room of one's own
In her extended essay A Room of One's Own, author Virginia Wolf claims that a woman needs a room for herself, free from disturbance and demands, if she will be able to write. But everybody needs a room where we are free from duties and impositions in order to find out who we are and how we should live our lives. But what if we have no access to such rooms? Again, the beggars come to mind. I stay a bit after the sermon to observe the art piece with less people around, but also to see if there are other visitors here when calm descends. As the church empties, I see drug addicts, Roma and other destitutes filling up the benches. They come in after the regular churchgoers have left. I hope they make this room theirs. That they feel that both the church and Melberg’s room-within-a-room are just as much theirs as it is mine.
Elin Melberg, installation, Oslo University, Gamlebyen Church, Galleri Maria Veie
By Anne Silje Kolseth – KunstForum 18.10.2012
In her almond-shaped installations, Elin Melberg lets the beholder borrow her secret rooms to reflect on existential questions and choices yet to be made. The use of Christian symbolism and non-neutral buildings gives me time to ponder change, transition and new opportunities.
What’s mine is yours to borrow is a three-part exhibition of works located in Gamlebyen Church in Oslo, in Gallery Maria Veie , and in the University Library in Georg Sverdrup’s House at Blindern (the University of Oslo). The exhibition steps out of the gallery in order to meet the world and people outside of the realm of art. But how many people actually get to meet it?
In my case, the exhibition began at the gallery. When viewed from the darkness outside, Elin Melberg’s almond-shaped sculpture lights up. A spotlight draws attention to a large “egg” and its reflective steel material. The shadows form a halo on the back wall.
I enter the installation and someone helps me close the door. Inside What’s mine is yours to borrow, mirrored tiles twinkle, aided by the ribbons of light on the bottom. As if inside a huge revelation of the insides of a disco ball, I turn around to watch everything. But all I see are numerous little versions of myself, which is somewhat uncanny. I do not merely borrow Melberg’s room, but am forced to see myself in her rooms and insert sensation and meaning into it.
The almond shape connotes the Christian symbol of the mandorla; an almond-shaped circle that surrounds the body. In Christian iconography, this is a symbol of the transition between heaven and earth. As you enter Melberg’s sculpture, you find yourself in a version of the mandorla – the meeting point between man and God. The circles represent interaction and complementary oppositions; that overlapping area where you move from one sphere to another.
Flowers and angels
The three sculptures located in three different places that together make up the exhibition share the same shape and construction, but are made from different materials and have different expressions.
In Gamlebyen Church, What’s mine is yours to borrow #2 is covered in red flowers and placed by the altar. The door is open, but this one cannot be entered. Melberg’s room is filled with glued-on printed scrap angels. They seem to be falling out of the room. The simple church space provides a soft contrast to the demanding installation and balances it out. The feminine materials are at once sensitive and traditional. The flowers have been placed and stapled on one by one in a slow process – a meditative workmanship.
Flowers and angels are familiar symbols in church, mostly connected to major events regarding life and death. This is also the case here. In Melberg’s mandorlas we are on the threshold of different spheres, but we do not know where things go from here. We see contrasts as well as dependence between worlds and forces, but stay put in the in-between waiting area.
In the basement
The third installation is placed in the furthest corner at the very bottom of the basement of the Oslo University Library at Blindern. Here it rests alongside old journals and illuminated by Kjell Torriset’s monumental wall of 836 painted eyes. The library is quiet and people are focused. The students are locked inside their own rooms. What’s mine is yours to borrow #3 is covered in golden mirror tiles. The entrance door is covered in handles.
I enter, close the door, look around, sit down and try to find peace. It is quiet and soft and I succeed for a while. Inside, the installation is covered in a white, draped fabric with roses tied at the ends. Because of its use of materials, the installation at the gallery provoked curiosity and excitement, but eventually also discomfort. It does not take long for the room in the library to provoke a claustrophobic feeling. With the door closed, it feels coffin-like. It is quiet, soft, tight and confined.
No random locations
The choice of locations is far from random. A gallery, a church and a library – all three are locations for reflection and thought and provide a serious backdrop to the thematic structure of the works. They are sites of change, of knowledge, of answers, and of questions – locations where contemplation is possible, but where large questions and existential unrest are also potential effects. Melberg’s installations support this feeling. By entering her rooms you have to sense, see and feel. She provides the surroundings and asks the questions, but the answers and choices are up to you.
I entered Melberg’s room at the University Library and exited with new questions and a sense of change. Unfortunately, I saw no one else enter during the several hours that I spent nearby. The location is somewhat too secluded. But if only you find your way there, What’s mine is yours to borrow provides the entrance to a different sphere, another room, albeit a borrowed one. You might exit as a transformed person.
Elin Melberg What’s mine is yours to borrow is shown in Gallery Maria Veie, in the University Library in Georg Sverdrup’s House at Blindern (the University of Oslo) and in Gamlebyen Church in Oslo until 21. October 2012.
ELIN MELBERG: STAY.
”I cannot stop living and yet I cannot escape from death”
- Yayoi Kusama
Damien Hirst once asked the japanese artist Kusama if she was afraid of death, if she was afraid of living? She denied. I don´t know if I believe her. Elin Melberg is maybe a little more honest when she admits that her fear of death almost stops her from living. Nontheless her fears are a driving force for her work as an artist. Not always the subject matter – but more often than not. The exhibition STAY. presents Melberg´s interpretation of vulnerability.
Melberg insists on a genuinely personal approach, focusing on the process of making, constantly challenging herself. She is not in the middle of a narrative, but in an ongoing process of experiencing.
As a consequence, she has not been actively searching for inspiration among other artists, and was surprised to discover her close affinity with Kusama. INFINITE KUSAMA at Tate Modern made it clear that they are not only sharing choice of materials, but a conceptual approach as well.
Neither makes art that is easily placed in to given categories, isms or contemporaries. Both of them indulge in bold, repetitive patterns, invitingly tactile, using mirrors or textiles; so bold that they move visitors into another dimension when entering. The immediate, overwhelming beauty of seducing shapes might appear superficial at first glance, but what really strikes me is their aim: they are forcing us to be present. Maybe even making us aware of what we left, and where we are going?
“Similar with other artists who explored the re-presentation of trauma, Melberg takes her art as a transport-station of trauma. The repulsive and banal activity of collecting objects and arranging them to impose a false structure and stability is the artist’s most accessible method of cultivating a space that allows certain occasions of occurrence and encounter with her trauma.”
What Melberg does is to confront us with our fears. Entering her world-travelling installation, the box of seventy-thousand hand-glued mirror mosaic tiles, you´re being watched from every corner, your own face reflected and pixelized. I wish I wish I wish in vain (2011) has been challenging people on three continents, from Oslo to New York, Hong Kong and Copenhagen, winning her the competition Artists Wanted in New York, Public Space Project at ARTHK11, and shortlisted in London International Creative CompetitionTM.
I remember the first e-mail from Elin Melberg. It was December 2009, winter solstice, and I was about to open the third exhibition at the rural branch of Veie Østre. Melberg wrote a few words, kept it short, and the attachments presented mirror mosaics. On used shoes. And a text work: You´re a Dream, Dream of Me. What a bold thing to say! How can someone dare to utter such simple cliches? How could I justify exhibiting such explicit works?
Most people may associate mirror mosaics with disco balls, but for a nerdy iconologist like me it is strikingly conceptual. I have spent years analyzing how byzantine emperors used mosaics to convince illiteral congregations about religious and political truths. Mosaics were time-consuming, expensive and made for eternity, and I was excited to discover the use of this material by a contemporary artist. Not only appropriation and text works, but in addition the reflective material of mirrors which make interaction impossible for her audience. I was hooked.
Melberg indulges in new ways of making collage and sculpture. She uses textiles, pearls, beads, glossy photos and mirror mosaic tiles as integrated parts of her works. Exploiting the materials´ capacity as carriers of content. Not only referring to the long tradition of womens handcraft, but also interpreting contemporary topics, or older iconography like the Mandorla, featured in her latest works What´s mine is yours to borrow (2012). The Mandorla is an ancient symbol of two circles coming together, overlapping one another. The space within the overlap is the place in which we are called to "remain", a space where we´re living on the threshold, where she invites us to stay.
When facing serious illness a few years ago I was not afraid of dying, I must agree with Kusama, but living, risking, loving: that is seriously scary. Most of us beat existential issues at some point in our lives. Melberg is not only confronting us with our existential fears, but posing the question; What does it mean to be present? When is our body and mind sharing the same “space”? Is our facebook-persona so vivid that we log on whenever we feel like pushing serious thoughts away? I have to confess, that writing this text demands being somewhere off-line. Otherwise I loose focus, I escape into url-oblivion; e-mails, chats, updates… What if someone asks of us just to stay? Not to let go, to hold on? Ah, it is so hard, sometimes wondering if I have I lost the ability to just stay. Stay. Stay-stay-stay. Stay.
Maria Veie SandvikCand. Philol Art HistoryDirector, Galleri Maria Veie
CUTTING, SLICING, PASTING, CUTTING...
Her fingers run through the edges of paper. Her eyes scan the pages laboriously – the right takes a snapshot and the left uncomfortably reconstructs the images. Like a fragile butterfly, she cautiously creates indelible badges on every page that remotely or closely brings back memories. Paper cut! Cutting like a five-year old, she allows her uncontrollable obsession and unpredictable episodes of compulsion to take her to the next page. Her motor skills are impeccable, but she refuses to use the scissors or cutter to tear the paper. Paper cut! She slices her finger, following the vein that forms tributaries on her palm. She tries to squeeze the blood out of it, but it harbors pain instead.
This is just the embryonic stage of Elin Melberg’s tedious and lengthy process of art making. Coming out as a conjoined art (twins) piece, Rejected Memorabilia I and II are two separate pieces that almost talk incestuously. Intimate and disturbing, the assemblage of found objects and sheets of magazine paper resembles glamorized craft projects probably made by a Marilyn or a Paris Hilton. Bathed in unapologetic and shimmering silver, which cries – no, demands – for attention, the Norwegian artist reconstructs pieces from her closet on a flattened ‘disco ball’. Commanding as a surgeon at the last stage of the operation, Melberg treats the mirror- filled canvas as an eviscerated body. She meticulously arranges old, dysfunctional, and misplaced pieces in a cavity that seems everyone has abandoned. But, there is no method; there is no procedure. She takes her whim as her rhythm.
As the artist introduces the discourse of reconstructing articles of memory, the viewer is taken to another level, a paradigm which has initially obstructed by the novelty of the color and the fake-ness of the sculpture. That was a detour. Melberg, despite her successful juxtaposition of structure and disorder, can hardly articulate and represent her thoughts and emotions. She scavenges for tangible objects that could possibly replicate the slightest recognizable feeling she remembers. She resorts to her past, rummaging through the stacks, poking the files or confronting closed yet unresolved issues again.
The 35-year old Melberg does not invite viewers to witness the grandeur of her aesthetics or the significance of her techniques. She is not in the middle of a narrative, but in an ongoing process of experiencing. Veering away from the template that Tracey Emin provided on representing memories, she is taking us to the exhausting and unending quest itself that would appropriate and reconcile her feelings and memories – an endeavor that does not promise to host that passage of trauma or anxiety (Pollock, 2009). Similar with other artists who explored the re-presentation of trauma, Melberg takes her art as a transport-station of trauma. The repulsive and banal activity of collecting objects and arranging them to impose a false structure and stability is the artist’s most accessible method of cultivating ‘a space that allows certain occasions of occurrence and encounter (Pollock, 2005 as cited in Datuin, 2008)’ with her trauma.
Rejected Memorabilia I and II might not be as complicated as her other works that transport people into another sensory paradigm, one which Huxley’s mescalin experience could only verify. But these pieces are honest and genuine – a breath from the parade of artworks that could hardly chew the intellectualism they attempted to swallow.
The second stage of the art making commences and the artist journey continues. Elin takes the glue and assemble the forlorn objects on the canvas.
- Renan Laruan, BA History of Art with Material Studies UCL 2015 for ART FUTURES, ARTHK 2012
THE SECRET PLACE
Tou Scene, Oelhallene: Elin Melberg, installation
By Trond Borgen, Stavanger Aftenblad 24.04.12
Perhaps we never did hear the rush of the ocean; perhaps what we heard when we held our childhood conches to our ears was nothing but our own inner ripples. It is hard to tell, because we can never go back there.
Now, however, I find myself listening to the ripples from within once again, but this time I am inside the conch, inside the secret room where I can hear nothing but myself. This place is dark – and safe, perhaps. But also frightening, for the door is steel, and it is heavy.
I am inside one of Elin Melberg’s three large works of art, which are given their form and identity somewhere between sculpture and installation. Her showing of them at Tou Scene, by way of Gallery Maria Veie, is theatrical. She stages these big objects at the very ends of three separate beer halls, with tinsel and ornaments, with sparkling and moving lights, and with too much of everything, as if to show that it is only through its visual and material total saturation that this art finds its meaning.
This is a fabulously wonderful exhibition; it hits the spot for three reasons. First, because Melberg is superbly in control of her effects; second, because her content is strong and touches everyone; and third, because she invites the audience to enter an art that becomes the scene of emotional explorations and tactile and sensuous experiences. Distance is suspended, because we are standing right in the middle of this art.
The gallery draws attention to the way Melberg’s work utilises the mandorla shape in these sculptures; two semi-circles that form the contour of an almond. We are familiar with this shape from Christian iconography, where it encloses Christ and the Virgin Mary in Early Christian illuminated manuscripts and altarpieces. She uses this to create objects that pull the mandorla out into three dimensions, sculpturally, while at the same time creating closed rooms. Symbolically, the mandorla can be seen to represent the womb of the Virgin Mary; divine purity. In a broader sense, it is a symbol of the boundaries of the light that encloses holy persons.
Thus, Melberg activates associations from our cultural history; she stages them, while simultaneously twisting them into something completely different. There is no religious dimension of redemption here. Rather, it is easy to see these open and closed rooms as a continuation of the themes from Melberg’s previous closed rooms, “I wish I wish I wish in vain”: the yearning for our safe, innocent and pure origin, and the impossibility of ever returning to the warm protection of the womb. Inside her new rooms, which she calls “What’s mine is yours to borrow” – as if to emphasise that my innermost, most secret room you will never possess – very little light is let in, whereas the minute you exit, you are surrounded by a peculiar radiance. The mandorla is like a line of distinction between two realities: your inner, quiet, private reality, and the outer, crowded, violent one. Thus, it represents a transition, almost a limbo, but also a shelter, an escape from life on the outside.
Still, danger lurks; insecurity, because one room has a door covered in handles, almost an invitation for eager hands to tear and pull the door open; kept from harm, from the great, violent flock. I am reminded of that medieval torture chamber, the Iron Maiden, which nobody escaped unscathed, if at all alive.
One of the objects cannot be penetrated. It is an egg-like shape strewn with red silken flowers, and with an open crack through which we can insert our heads; that is as far as we get. A womb, perhaps, the concrete object as well as an abstraction. It faces me ambiguously – am I performing a kind of gynaecological examination here, or am I merely eager to get back whence I once came? It is not white, which is the symbolic colour of the Virgin Mary, but as bloody and as flourishingly red as possible. And it casts a large, ominous shadow on the wall.
The time of innocence is gone; there is no turning back.
A MIRACLE ARTWORK, A ROOOM FOR YEARNING FOR INNOCENCE
SKUR 2: Into the body, away from the world, Elin Melberg, installation, sound
Until May 8th 2011
By Trond Borgen, Stavanger Aftenblad, 29.05.11
Elin Melberg has just enough time for a quick stop in Stavanger with her most recent work of art, which has brought her great international attention and artistic success in New York, before travelling on to show the same installation in Hong Kong. These few days in Skur 2, then, provide the local art audience with its only opportunity to experience a unique room in which to enter. Here, one enters and shuts the world out, completely alone, in one’s own company. Nothing like this has ever been seen in this city before – seize the opportunity!
From the outside: a plain box, a cubic shape with walls, roof and a door. On the inside: a magical red room with revolving lights on the ceiling. This creates changing effects of light and shadow: we catch glimpses of parts of the walls, decorated in a horror vacui. Every millimetre is filled with printed scraps, pearls, pieces of glass; so many tens of thousands that it is mind-staggering. A red chair has a dark hole in its seat, a bag inside. At the bottom there are more pearls, and you have to feel your way to them in the semi-darkness.
Everything is reflected in the glass mosaics on the walls and ceiling. This is a room filled with tinsel and sparkle – extremely kitschy on one level; an overkill of banal elements of kitsch. But this is something we have seen in the last couple of years, the way Melberg in surprising ways twists her banal elements into something completely different, into unique experiences that draw completely new boundaries between childhood and grown-up life, between innocence and grief-stricken knowledge of the world.
A sound installation pumps its rhythm into the exhibition room – an ultrasound recording of Melberg’s own heart. When you enter the chamber, some of the sound is shut off. It becomes more distant, but it is still there. I look around and realise that a couple of the corners of this chamber have unmistakeably vaginal shapes, like an entrance or exit, and I am all of a sudden back in the womb, while listening to the heartbeat of the maternal body. On the inside, I am protected from the dangerous outside world, and I am kept alive by the heart rhythm, which is both a part of me, yet external.
I see this as a room of yearning, an expression of the longing for a return to something secure and uncontaminated that we all experience, to the time before we developed the knowledge of the world that we always have to carry with us after birth, and which we may never escape.
Melberg calls this room “I wish I wish I wish in vain”, referencing both Irish and English folk songs, as well as Bob Dylan, while also pointing to the obvious: that such a retreat back into the room of innocence is impossible. It is a dream world that can never become a reality; it is a yearning for safe womb of the mother; for the total protection that we can only remember unconsciously.
Thus, this red-room-experience becomes a paradox in and of itself. Melberg also toys with our concept of the white cube – the ideal of purity that is embedded in modern art. There is no room for clinical purity in Melberg’s artistic world. Instead, there is a red room filled with the naïve printed scraps of childhood and with so many fragmented mirrors that I can no longer see myself as a whole as I watch the reflections of a jigsaw puzzle that might, after all, still be me. Can I pick up the pieces and go out into the light, back into the world, after this?
I wish I wish I wish in vain
Skur 2, Skansekaien, Stavanger
Åpningstider: 29. april - 1. mai 6. - 8. mai 2011
Galleri Maria Veie ønsker velkommen til Elin Melbergs utstilling I wish I wish I wish in vain på Skur 2. Utstillingen (Jeg ønsker, jeg ønsker, jeg ønsker, men til ingen nytte?) består av tre verk, foruten "I wish I wish I wish in vain" lydverket "Aortic Mitral Valve" og installasjonen "7.4416365 m3". I arbeidet med Aortic Mitral Valve har Melberg gjort opptak av sin egen hjertelyd på Stavanger Universitetssykehus, og disse lydopptakene har blitt redigert av Arild Østin Ommundsen.
"I skapelsen av dette verket hadde jeg et inderlig ønske om å kontrollere fremtiden. Gjennom en inderlig, nitidig, detaljfokusert prosess limte jeg sekstifemtusen speilmosaikkfliser i et forsøk på å skape det "trygge rommet". Dette rommet som likevel blir et usikkert sted og setter en på prøve. Alle ønsker det trygge rommet, men det finns jo ikke."
Melberg har skapt et verk som man skal gå inn i. Ikke bare mentalt, men fysisk, ved å ta av seg skoene, ikle seg verket, og åpne døra alene, og lukke den bak seg. I wish I wish I wish in vain er en boks av tre med et interiør fullstendig dekket av perler, glansbilder og mosaikkfliser. Fire metallamper i taket utgjør den eneste lyskilden, og disse reflekteres i en roterende sylinder av speilmosaikk. Både gulv og tak er utsmykket med sekstitusen små speil, som sammen med de roterende lysrefleksjonene faktisk skaper en følelse av uendelig dybde. Verkets tilskuer blir dermed en deltager. En deltager med en sentral rolle i verket ved å se seg selv oppbrudt i tusenvis av speil. For noen er dette en meditativ og behagelig opplevelse, mens andre snarere kan føle ubehag. I møte med lydverket Aortic Mitral Valve vil du også kunne oppleve at Melbergs hjerterytme forstyrrer din egen. Dette er ikke bare lyden av en muskel, men en pumpende maskin som presterer med en overraskende kraft. Hvordan har det seg at vi tenker på hjertet som noe mykt og rosa?
"Jeg vil at verkets tilskuere skal føle spenningen mellom det å ha kontroll, og det å miste kontrollen, og hvor sårbar den grensen kan være."
I det første rommet møter man et monumentalt stilleben av fraktkasser som utgjør installasjonen 7.4416365 m3. Fra å være kun kofferter har disse kassene gjennom hovedverkets reise fra Stavanger til Oslo og New York, med en mye omtalt stopp i Memphis, mens de egentlig var i Paris, og tilbake til Oslo, for så å ende opp i Stavanger, blitt et verk i seg selv. Tekst skrevet med sprittusj i tyve minus mens de iset fast til bakken i påvente av henting bevitner Melbergs inderlige ønske om kontroll. Gjennom jakten på kassene ble kontrollbehovet en faktisk kvalitet ved verket. Som tilslutt dukket opp, og kunne vises i New York, og endelig, inderlig her hjemme i Stavanger.
- Maria Veie Sandvik, kurator