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Art’s Present Signifiers

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As art history’s methods and mediums unsurprisingly continue to crucially influence the art crafted today, so too does the cultural – be it popular culture with its movie stars and footballers, or of its differences from that treasured by remote people living in equally exotic places or in divergent social pockets in each society.

What then do these immense variations signify in our attempts at creating meanings of our existence, especially in the face of terrorism, geopolitics and global markets post-Brexit and in the era of Trump-ism? Consequently, what is real, and for whom? And what are the consequences of embracing this new ‘reality’?

As history has the persistent propensity to repeat itself, art in turn turns to the past in all its subtle but significant shades of optimism and pessimism for inspiration and re-imaginations for the near and the distant, the present and future.

 

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Artist & Exhibition: Ulla Ohlson
Where: Galleri Eklund, Karlavagen 15
When: Till 6 May

Ulla Ohlson’s exhibition is on unique glass and watercolours where feelings linger and memories stop as fragrances are felt in light and its movement stirred by the breeze; setting this well-known and respected Swedish artist aflame with renewed longing to unceasingly imbue her paintings and glass sculptures with more moments of light ever radiant in spring, autumn and the hours that bestow a softness and glow.

These artworks proffer us glimpses of what makes Ohlson not just a much collected glass sculptress, but of the ongoing development of her increasingly forceful, dark and hard abstract imagery running through her glass, paintings, graphics and metals; as well as the inspiration behind her medal designs for the 2006 European Athletics Championships.

 

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Artist: Assa Kauppi
Exhibition: Frozen Fright
Where: Galleri Andersson/Sandström, Hudiksvallsgatan 6
When: Till 13 May

Assa Kauppi’s breakthrough came in 2011, when her enduring sculptures, “The Race is Over” and “In Search of A Winner”, with their contemporary issues concerning competitiveness and the pressure to perform, won over viewers and critics. In “Frozen Fright”, she once again calls attention to tendencies in today’s society with its eleven characters, each with unique individual faiths, but sharing universal angst and seriousness.

Placed on the floor, the bronze figures – diverging in ethnicity, age, and segmentation of the world population – invoke an aerial snapshot feel of people laying down, glassily gazing up towards the sky. Yet hanging from the ceiling are glass-like nearly one meter in diameter hand-stitched synthetic silk parachutes with temporary resting jellyfish tentacles-like cords conveying an increasing sense of ambivalence: is there a potential danger or is help on the way?

Catalyzed over two years ago by the alarming intensification of uncertainties faced by the world as reported in the news, they convey Kauppi’s overwhelmed and threatened feelings as a response to the general public’s powerlessness, desensitization and fear turning either into anger that gets turned on others or into paralyzed passive spectators glued to the television witnessing the unfolding horrors from a safe distance: what is it we should fear most; wars, natural disasters or the fact that humanity watches while the unthinkable atrocities take place in plain sight?

 

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Artist: Linnea Rygaard
Exhibition: Retox
Where: Cecilia Hillström Gallery, Hälsingegatan 43
When: Till 13 May

Invented in the Early Renaissance as a method to creating illusionary spaces in religious art, it is Linnea Rygaard’s key to the process of painting on a large scale an almost overwhelming experience of breathtaking depth starkly contrasting roughly cutout symbols or shapes lingering on the surface of the canvas; creating an imbalance of juxtaposed macro and micro perspectives and symbols in an ambivalent scale that highlights the dissolution between various dimensions to demand our attention and concentration and imprint into our consciousness – in itself a balancing act between manipulation and communication.

 

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Artist: Rose Wylie
Exhibition: Drawings
Where: Christian Larsen, Hudiksvallsgatan 8
When: Till 13 May

With a much appreciated breakthrough on the international art scene in recent years, Brit Rose Wylie’s drawings and collages reference popular culture in a fearlessly confident artistic style concurrently playful, sensitive and filled with madcap energy and a delightful sense of anarchy; combining an eclectic array of precisely cut, seemingly childish snapshots and notifications that on closer examination turn into the volatile, outrageous, and exhilarating.

Following 2010 – when then 76 year-old Wylie was the only non-American in Women to Watch at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC – her art has been widely displayed internationally; showcasing a direct and unpretentious expression on subject matters in magazines, films and television; like movie stars and footballers – all characters we can relate to visually as part of our shared culture.

 

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Artist: Mariko Mori
Exhibition: Renew
Where: Galerie Forsblom, Karlavägen 9
When: Till 29 April

Tokyo-born and US- and UK-trained Mariko Mori is internationally acclaimed for her explorations of life, death, technology and ecology through a variety of media including photography, video, installations, performance art, sculpture and paintings.

Deeply influenced by Japanese tradition and history and often calling them into question, Mori’s early work featured herself as an actor, and like Cindy Sherman, she took on culture and the female body by staging various scenes that placed cultural expectations under a magnifying glass. At the same time, her early multimedia and new technology take us on illusory journeys and stories.

Futuristic and spiritual elements have increasingly taken center stage in Mori’s work in recent years. The dissolution of time, the past, the present and the future are recurring characteristics, and the search for continuity and unity comprises a thematic thread connecting the sculptures shown in the present exhibition; one on the renewal of life by spiritual freedom with the meeting of matter and space through infinitely beautiful and sensual acrylic sculptures.

 

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Artist: Anna Boghiguian
Exhibition: Woven Winds
Where: The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, Kungsbro Strand 19
When: Till 21 May

Cairo-based Armenian Anna Boghiguian’s “Woven Winds” is a large-scale installation using drawing, sculptural elements and wall-texts to trace the long history of global cotton trade; interweaving histories, facts and everyday observations to describe a geopolitical condition where goods and people circulate globally, in a complex narrative of power, equality struggles and migration.

Cotton has been grown and traded since antiquity, and is one of the world’s earliest mass-consumer commodities. While spice and tobacco established earlier trading routes, the nineteenth century cotton economy was the first large-scale manufacturing industry with workshops that can be seen as precursors of modern day sweatshop production. The massive growth of America’s early economy was largely based on cotton and depended heavily on exploitation of human labour and land, and the commodification of people as slaves.

Cotton is nowadays an ubiquitous material, having played an important role in the modernization of cities such as Cairo, Mumbai and Shanghai. Current estimates for world production are about 25 million tons annually, accounting for approximately 2.5% of the world’s arable land.

“Woven Winds” maps the beginnings of the global markets that are today a defining structure of capitalism and global politics; to be read in relation to contemporary political issues, such as global trade and international trade agreements post-Brexit and the election in the US, as well as the continuing exploitation of cotton-based industries, with large companies like Hennes & Mauritz and its subsidiaries Monki, Weekday, Cheap Monday, COS, & Other Stories producing consumer goods with a short life-span while overlooking harsh working conditions to maximize profit.

 

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Exhibition: A fabulous school – Public School 175 years
Where: Prince Eugens Waldemarsudde, Prince Eugens väg 6, Djurgården
When: Till 21 May

With the Swedish elementary school system into its 175th year, the Teachers’ Foundation is celebrated with this touring exhibition kicking off at Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde. A playful exposé of the school and the teaching profession, along with its role in Swedish society from the 1800s to today, it includes original works from some of Sweden’s most beloved artists.

With sights set on the future and the challenges schooling faces, the exhibition emphasizes that elementary schooling is one of the country’s most important democratic project of all time; accentuating the school, its teachers and the school situation for children through the course of history; showing an art treasure trove of narrative works and original illustrations from the Children’s Library Saga – one of the largest lässatsningar ever launched at the turn of the century – that were by commissioned prominent writers and artists, like Jenny Nyström, Elsa Beskow, Carl Larsson, Ottilia Adelborg and Einar Nerman.

“With children, education and the arts in focus, we want to show how many of our established artists have contributed to the school through pictures and illustrations,” says Eva-Lis Sirén, President of the Teachers Foundation.

“[By] highlight[ing] the arts’ important role in the school and children’s learning… [the arts museum has] the opportunity to contribute to strengthening the arts, images and videos [as] important for school children’s learning and creativity in our own time,” adds Karin Sidén, museum director at Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde.

 

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Exhibition: Artistic Prosperity: Art Nouveau Rörstrand, 1895-1920
Where: Thiel Gallery, Sjötullsbacken 8
When: Till 4 June

Sinuous shapes inspired by nature characterize the arts and crafts of Art Nouveau or Art Nouveau style in 1900. As the pottery is full of birds hovering in the air, crawling crustaceans, fish and algae from the underwater world; with trees and vegetation from the forest and land meet with insects, weeds and flowerbeds; the design is inspired by the Swedish countryside, Japanese imagery and European decorative arts.

As one of the porcelain factories that welcomed artists in the industry, Rörstrand’s pottery was successfully shown at exhibitions and sold in international stores; with its glistening glaze and elegant forms that grew out of the creative and experimental environment still a great source of inspiration to this day.

With many of the exhibition’s pottery drawn from an important private collection and lushly staged by Gunnar Kaj, nature’s splendor adorns currently rarely seen vases, bowls, dishes and urns that were in the forefront of industrial art exhibitions

 

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Artist: Loulou Cherinet
Exhibition: Who Learns My Lesson Complete?
Where: Moderna Museet, Skeppsholmen
When: Till 18 June

Loulou Cherinet’s exhibition is an understanding of the world based on difference, as in the stranger in contrast to the confidante, here as opposed to there, modern versus historic, sense rather than sensibility, as well as inside diverging from outside.

Its five video works are centrally concerned with how we create meaning in our existence, where simplifications and generalizations are tools crucial to understanding and order, while setting limits to what is possible and establishing conventions and social patterns; ever mindful that the capacity to affect which thought-patterns and language are used gives influence over how people organize, interpret, act and live together.

Loulou Cherinet’s exhibition is important in a time when the question of what is real is more than ever a topic on the political battlefield. She says she is interested in ‘what it tastes like, looks like, and sounds like; when a nation materializes in our bodies, conversations and behaviours’,” says Fredrik Liew, the exhibition’s curator.

Hence “White Women” (2002) has eight black men at a staged dinner talking about encounters and relationships with white women, while “Minor Field Study” (2006) is a selection of sequences of the research footage shot by anthropologist Billy Marius along the border between Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon shown alongside clips shot by Cherinet in Orminge outside Stockholm.

“Big Data” (2014) is a growing film archive where Cherinet documents places and buildings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as representations of the layers of modernist ruins, historical memorials and contemporary socio-economic change of the urban space. In contrast, “Magical Transformations of the World” (2009) shows five actresses improvising on ordinary emotional reactions to political scenarios: sorrow, humour, distress, indifference and anger. And groups that are labelled as ‘outsidership’ are filmed having round table discussions of ‘insidership’ in politically motivated statistics or debates in “Statecraft” (2017).

 

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Artist: Cooper & Gorfer
Exhibition: I Know Not These My Hands
Where: Fotografiska, Stadsgårdshamnen 22
When: Till 11 June

The world of Swedish- and German-based American/Austrian duo Cooper & Gorfer is as much fiction as it is reality. With intricate photography collages resembling dreamlike paintings, they document remote places and people by reshaping them to capture poetic stories with pictures you will never forget.

Classical photographer Sarah Cooper and architecture-trained Nina Gorfer’s exhibition presents unique photographs that have shades of Renaissance paintings or Byzantine art through visual expression and storytelling, along with narrative structures, stemming from their different backgrounds.

Their collages are an assembling, reassembling through a combination of stitching, scratching, drawing in and onto the image to express the multi-layering and dynamism of life. So despite photography being the main medium in their work, they have always seen it as only a part of the artistic process. The result: projects that are very easy to fall in love with, carrying both mystic and explicit stories tinted by the duo’s fascination of clothes and their impact as a carrier of culture, along with how culturally different influences are determined by where people come from.

 

Photo and information credits: The respective galleries and artists.

 

About Wai Lin Coultas

Wai Lin Coultas
Wai Lin is a Singaporean married to an Australian. Besides being mad about putting her own twists and fusions into recipes from diverse continents, she spends her time writing and subbing for an Aussie newspaper as well as covering the contemporary arts scene in Singapore as a gallery docent and online reviewer. She and her hubby love Stockholm's exciting arts and culture, along with the food and wine it offers.

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