In her solo show, MOTION DAZZLE: At The Turn of the River, curated by Mette Woller, Merete Vyff Slyngborg combines a multitude of seemingly random aesthetic references – from cubism to decorative handicrafts to graffiti. In her paintings, sculptures, and digital prints, she juxtaposes these visual allusions without forcing them to coalesce. Yet any assumption of total arbitrariness is offset by the title of the show, which suggests a river-like continuity – a fluidity that becomes noticeable precisely at moments of change.
For the central room’s Mutations and New Material (2013), Slyngborg and a graffiti artist covered an entire wall with monochrome grey spray paint. The mural is comprised of giant, vaguely cubist shapes extrapolated from paintings by Juan Gris. One shape, an elongated, wavy rectangular form, is replicated as a three-dimensional bench on the floor a few feet in front of the painting. The shape recurs in other works, setting up a central theme: the formal container or vessel through which cultural meaning is transmitted.
In the second room a curved bench is turned on its short end to act as a shelf (Exhibition Furniture – Shelving Unit and Ceramic Object, 2013). A small ceramic vase rests across two of its displaced legs. One considers trends in exhibition design, the evolution of functional objects like the museum bench and the pedestal. Another standout piece in that room, Monet’s Missing Sun (2013), is a digital print showing several T-shirts that have been hand-printed in China with classic paintings (Van Gogh’s Starry Night, 1889; Dalí’s Persistence of Memory, 1932). Here, art historical trends have been mass-produced to the point of banality. Through fixation and commodification, they become functionless kitsch.
The traditional Turkish paper marbling technique ebru involves swirling pigments in a viscous fluid and then imprinting their shape on paper. For Extracts from Lost Shape and Meaning (2013), Slyngborg imprinted a vase shape on paper using this method. The paper is displayed on a wall adjacent to the floor-tray of ox gall in which it was made – a container for the process of depicting a container. By placing customary handicraft on a level playing field international art movements and trends, Slyngborg contrasts the lifespans of fleeting trends with those of lasting artistic practices entrenched in cultural traditions.
Trends, tendencies and currents are words often used to dismiss particular aesthetics as transient, shallow phenomena. In MOTION DAZZLE, changes in taste and its containers are neither belittled nor reified. Moreover, Slyngborg’s tactic of combining disparate historical references could itself be interpreted as a self-reflexive contemporary trend. Like ‘trendy’, the word ‘ambitious’ isn’t always the nicest description for an exhibition. But there is no backhand to this compliment. The scope of Slyngborg’s exhibition is massive and its narrative is non-literal and unfixed. One isn’t hit over the head with a punch line, instead meaning stays in constant motion.