There was a tension in the exhibition ‘Awaiting Immanence’ between a stubborn insistence on physical presence – on a muted, gestural and precise formal practice – and a dedication to something a great deal messier. Throughout the show, housed at Isbrytaren, a large warehouse transformed into an exhibition space for the occasion by dealer and collector Carl Kostyál, the works returned to a fascination with stripped-down Conceptualism coupled with a set of irreverent gestures, drawing on alienation and awkwardness. In the works by Gardar Eide Einarsson, Matias Faldbakken, Hanna Lidén, Klara Lidén, Adam McEwen and Fredrik Værslev, there was a sense of the object being simultaneously potent and doomed: a striving to make abstractions concrete coupled with a suspicion that this, in turn, produces more abstractions to pursue.
The show’s opening statement was Faldbakken’s newly commissioned Mailbox (2013), a unit of mailboxes slashed with an angle grinder. The work is at once a conceptual play with content and container, but it also invokes a deeper sense of agitated idleness and frustration – a nod to both the formal language of Minimalism and vandalism, whilst undercutting both. This ‘unhappy readymade’ found an unexpected kinship in Hanna Lidén’s To Be Titled (folding chair and umbrella sculpture) (2013), a group of plastic folding chairs penetrated by umbrellas in grey concrete – two foldable objects locked together in an object-joke and frustrated state of general ‘stuckness’. This challenge to the authority of the po-faced formal exercise was also present in Einarsson’s Black Flag With Hole (2010), a series of black banners with round cutouts that punctuated the space, reminiscent at once of a Black Bloc demo and Ad Reinhardt’s paintings. These seemingly familiar symbols left a lingering sense of vertigo, evoking associations with transgression but also canonical Modernist forms, advertisements and civic symbols. Such works involve a process of appropriation and displacement, hinting towards the circulation of symbols, and their potential exhaustion.
There were moments in ‘Awaiting Immanence’ when this manipulation and displacement of reference became frustrating: when the pointing towards resistance and subtle undercurrents of violence became the objects of aesthetic contemplation. This was palpable in Klara Lidén’s series of framed black and white photographic prints, including Untitled (Down) (2011) and Untitled (Monkey) (2010). In these images, a distant person traces alternative routes through the city, up concrete pillars and down manholes. These works did not merely speak of an aesthetic of revolt, but also of the fetishization of resistance. What happens when a visual vocabulary of negation or vandalism is formalized into an aesthetic, and what wider set of political issues does this appropriation and displacement raise? It is a question of the counter-gesture that becomes all the more charged by the recent turn in Sweden’s cultural life and public sphere toward privatization. The status of the exhibition within a private collection made the question of political potential, appropriation and not to mention value, all the more present.
The most successful works in ‘Awaiting Immanence’ found a level of urgency via a more abstract route – hinting at latent and subversive relationships to representation – such as Klara Lidén’s other contribution, Untitled (2013), a blank triangular billboard towering in the space and radiating warmth from a small portable radiator. A newly commissioned series of paintings by Værslev continued his dialogue with the language of graffiti, yet one that speaks of an aesthetic removed from street art per se. His mark-making is related to painting but also to a number of materials and surfaces – concrete, stained sneakers, gravel. Here, his all-over paintings slightly protruded from the walls, stretching out in space while playfully undercutting any assumed sculpture-painting divide. Like a series of canopies, there was something strangely suburban about them – a quiet presence that thrived in the silence of the show.
This stillness was heightened by the fact there were no time-based works in the exhibition – no projections, no soundtracks, no flickering lights. However, the combination of individual works created a nervous, restless set of tensions. The show was most successful when a sense of inwardness met frustration, a border where the works were affirmative and subversive, where they confirmed and negated. It was within this double gesture, where both an immanence and transcendence were allowed to overlap, that the notion of ‘awaiting’ was felt. It left me with a slight puzzlement about who should be anticipating – is it the viewers or the works themselves that are awaiting immanence? This was a show that revealed less about immanence and more about the troubles of it: of the desire to allow the work the space to ‘just be’, and that equally stubborn question – to just be what?