The ghosts of Christmas past made a late-season appearance in Klara Lidén’s solo exhibition ‘Pretty Vacant’ at Reena Spaulings Fine Art. For her installation S.A.D. (2012), which was in many ways the show’s highlight – if not the work with the most floor space – she gathered vanloads of pathetic, unwanted Christmas trees from Manhattan curbsides during the first week of January. These consumer sentinels were then reborn at the gallery as a sickly forest reeking of rotting pine. They were hidden, like Narnia, behind an imposing wall, painted construction-site blue. Massed claustrophobically, they were watered and kept barely alive, in a kind of coma, and left naked save for scant traces of tinsel still clinging to their branches. In its Christmas-time perversity, it would’ve been unsurprising, perhaps, to find in their midst one of Paul McCarthy’s chocolate Santa butt-plugs, or a father and son copulating with one of the tree trunks, a highlight of McCarthy’s mechanized installation The Garden (1991–92).
In lieu of such Christmasy psychosexual abjections, there was Reena Spaulings’ chicly shitty couch, hidden behind a particularly dense thicket of trees. It was a great spot to ponder how Lidén détourned this very happy holiday by simply letting it be very, very
sad. Her forest was way past its fetish prime. No longer shiny signifiers for collective consumer fantasies, the trees’ skeletal remains instead represented the brutal end of one brutally restless cycle of consumption. Walter Benjamin could be speaking of today’s New York when he spoke of ‘Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century’; he lamented that ‘the last journey of the flâneur is death. Its destination: the new.’ With S.A.D., Lidén stunted the cycle, offering the old for protracted display.
For the past eight or so years, Lidén has made a successful career of repurposing found junk and radically bypassing given modes of exchange, including a short-lived underground postal service in Stockholm and a temporary dwelling of discarded materials on the banks of the Spree River in Berlin, which she offered to anyone. Her democratic aims might recall Rirkrit Tiravanija’s free Thai food dinners, which in theory were for everyone, though in practice for a relative few. In Lidén’s case, her specific efforts bypassed esoteric art settings entirely, preferring instead a wider egalitarian net. Later venturing into the gallery system, she would build a makeshift, elevated shelter out of found cardboard and pipes at Reena Spaulings in 2004. In 2008, for her exhibition ‘Heating for Crows’, she walled-off large sections of the gallery leaving little but a long hallway and a small unadorned sitting room. Utilizing the same black couch in S.A.D., there was little to look at but lots to hear; with so much avant-garde rhetoric about bringing the ‘outside’ ‘inside’, Lidén played with that dialectic literally by opening up a window for pigeons to colonize large swaths of the gallery. Proving that a wall is a very porous thing, birds audibly walked on top of, and around, seated viewers.
‘Pretty Vacant’ also included a trio of framed inkjet prints featuring Lidén posing in decrepit city locales. With Down (2011) she’s descending into a Berlin manhole. In Monkey (2010) she climbs, somewhat precariously, far up on an empty parking lot lamppost in San Antonio, and in Pier (2012) she stands, surrounded by water, on a rotting pylon in the Hudson River. In tandem with the blue plywood wall and Lamp (2012), a traffic-cone-cum-lampshade hovering over an office table, such works, by articulating urban support systems, cast a humorous if critical eye on how, what, and why our city spaces are regulated. Capital is, of course, key to such striations, and part of the fun is seeing the novel ways Lidén transgresses them without resorting to anarchy – not that she hasn’t come close in the past. With ‘Pretty Vacant’, though, she proved the power of empathetic heartstrings, which she tugged, indulgently.