Beauty and meaning
Stara, nr 9, 2 issue
Margrét Elísabet Ólafsdóttir, Lector at the University of Akureyri
Can an exhibition be too beautiful? This question assails the mind while walking through the exhibition Variables (Breytur) held at the gallery Berg Contemporary. Variables is the gallery’s first exhibition of the works of Dodda Maggý and displays the evolution in her art over these past years. At the same time, the exhibition highlights the gallery’s emphases when it comes to their selection of artists. Berg Contemporary started its operation a year and a half ago with the opening of an exhibition of the works of Finnbogi Pétursson, and has since mounted works by Steina and Woody Vasulka, and Sigurður Guðjónsson, artists who, like Dodda Maggý, work with the connection of picture and sound.
Can an artwork be too beautiful? Without answering the first question, the focus is diverted to the exhibition’s prints. The prints are connected to the video works Étude Op. 88, No. 1, Coil (from the C series) and the DeCore series which is also part of the exhibition. All of these works are abstract, well-formed, and appeal to the spontaneous appreciation generated by works based on known laws of proportion and their influence on the aesthetic sense. This is not the first time Dodda Maggý has exhibited with abstract videos, her first work of this kind hails back from 2012. DeCore (Aurae) is a silent video composed of quick and saturated patterns, reworked into a desaturated tone, and then printed onto a black background. In these prints and others in black and white, also from the DeCore series which Dodda Maggý exhibits here for the first time, a subtle pattern can be detected and the beauty of repetition is toyed with.
The prints are the only intrinsic items in the exhibition as well as a released album of the opus C-series. Without doubting the artistic merit of the prints, they seem to serve the main function of reaching out to those clients in the gallery who have no interest in the video works. The prints are no doubt meant to create demand for a new type of work, free of the equipment unavoidably associated with displaying video. One can wonder about the influence of the gallery and the market on the artist in preparation for the exhibition and how these factors intertwine. The combined influence of supply and demand is nothing new. It has been in play since galleries started selling impressionist paintings in the 19th century. During that time, the demand for similar works by the same artist had a hand in creating the series, where the same subject is repeated in a variety of ways. The demand served both the commercial and artistic goals which seemed to go hand in hand.
In the Variables exhibition, each print is presented as an independent work while being a part of a series of works based on a particular video work. This means that each print cannot be completely separated from the video work to which it belongs to in a certain way. In an artistic context, the marketplace prints and videos draw support from one another. The same goes for the position of works in art theory and an analysis of their creation and meaning. Artistic discourse tends to separate the independence of the work from its commercial position and view these as two separate things. The artwork as a commercial product is not Beauty and meaning up for discussion since the product is perceived to be of a different nature than the art work in and of itself. Most of the time, galleries look past this relationship in their promotional material for their exhibitions. Having said that, commercial galleries are a different type of exhibition space than public galleries and artist run spaces. The gallery’s objective is to promote the works of a specific artist to a certain type of buyer, without debasing their artistic merit. In the interest of objectivity, the works are displayed in a white gallery space which, like the museums, aims to present objectivity, but without labels, and information, even without a sales person present. In this manner, it is possible to look past the gallery’s main purpose with the exhibition and look at it solely from an artistic point of view. The interests of the gallery and the artist in looking past the commercial purpose of an exhibition like Variables is that the monetary value of the art work is not completely separated from its artistic value. The exhibition Variables allows you to look past the prints as commercial products and only think about their artistic merit. The beauty of the prints cannot be understood unless they are put into context with the video works, which possess the same haunting beauty. At first glance, their perfection seems to be the product of self-created patterns made by a computer. In that way, the works point to the computer art of the last three decades, while the connection between picture and music in the works refers to the avant garde films of the early 20th century and the history of experiments with synchronization of picture and sound with electrical and digital technology. It is not until you peek behind the creation of the works, and the illusion that they are self-generated, that Dodda Maggý’s works become really interesting. The riveting and effortless patterns are not based on a program but a complex interplay between visual forms, tones, picture, and sound that Dodda Maggý splices together like a filmmaker during early years of cinematic experiences – but with new technology. In works that alternately appeal to sight, hearing, or sometimes both, the sound and visual creations exist in a complicated interaction of visualized tones and tonal visuals. In this context, the prints take on meaning as objectified music, without music necessarily coming into play as anything other than a conceptual, abstract foundation of the works, shaped by rules the artist set herself in the tradition of conceptual art.
By building the pictures on tone and displaying every item like a note with an interval as a relative space between notes, and connecting it to visual things, a form based on harmony can be created. That is the tonal harmony which evokes the visual beauty that Dodda Maggý presents to challenge the age-old demand of the avant garde about its opposite, ugliness. Such pretty works seem politically neutral, even harmless. First and foremost, they appear to self-contained and turn the attention toward their own existence. However, one can ask what other meaning they may possess, when the fact is taken into consideration that “pretty” pieces, based on classic harmony, tend to be produced at times of political upheaval and uncertainty.
Every Vibration, Every Sound, Hangs in the Air:
The Sound and Video Works of Dodda Maggý
Tina Rigby Hanssen, PhD in Art History and Media Theory
In the Icelandic composer and artist Dodda Maggý’s ten-minute video and sound installation DeCore (venus) (2015), we are immersed in flickering, undulating patterns as they build up from a single element to a cluster of overlapping elements which looks like a parallelogram. The elements then slowly dissolve, and new ones appear in a perpetual process of transformation. The intricate designs, which are digitally animated, evoke natural elements and processes such as the fractal or repetitive patterns associated with foliage, mountains ranges, raindrops, snowflakes or coastlines. It is evident, however, that despite the apparent repetitiveness of, for example, a snowflake’s hexagonal symmetry, there is a variety and depth to Maggý’s projection. Both the images and the soundtrack consist of certain small elements which together form and regroup into shifting entities. There is something fragile and organic about the whole installation, as it pulses and circulates its patterns. This flow is rendered as both audible and visible signals, creating an ambience from these raw materials for us to experience as part of the unfathomable mystery of life.
As we enter this exhibition space, our bodies become part of Maggý’s ubiquitous play with shadow and light, introducing an additional ‘pattern’ to the constantly shifting structure of the artwork. We become part of this ‘living’ organism and its pulsating, flickering images. Standing in the beam of the projector, we can even cast a purposeful shadow onto the projected image and in this way become part of the narrative. Maggý has installed a transparent curtain in front of the projected images, so that the visitor can move between it and the projection. Using our senses in the room is, in other words, a crucial element of this work. In the accompanying soundtrack, Maggý explores the multiple layers of a single sampled cello sound, converting the frequency spectrum of the pitch into a host of subtle overtones through a strictly controlled reverberating drone. This sound gives us little to work with, but it lodges itself in our ears and minds nevertheless.
The ambient use of the frequency spectrum of a single note rather than a more complex or varied soundscape forces us inward. Maggý’s soundtrack shares qualities with the genre of electronic music known as drone music, which is often discussed in terms of its physical effects. As Joanna Demers notes:
In drones, dub techno, and noise, the use of stasis and noise runs counter to habitual expectations for how elements of musical syntax interact with one another. These elements last too long and are too loud, and they disrupt the sense that music functions as a language by calling attention to physical aspects that music usually asks us to ignore. The liminal quality of this music – the stresses it places on the body and the attention span – all wrest music out of a reasoned, ordered plane and thrust it back into the world of objects and raw materials.1
Maggý’s use of extended durations and loud volumes not only impacts the work’s environment but also tests the limits of our concentration and tolerance. Drones, after all, affect our bodies in unique ways, transmitting ‘sound’ not only through the ears but also through the whole body. The assumption is that hearing and touch are closely connected, and that they ‘meet where the lower frequencies of audible sound pass over to tactile vibrations (at about 20 Hertz)’.2 We listen with our ears as well as with our bodies – our skin and bones function as excellent sound conductors, to ensure that our bodies respond more effectively to sound stimuli. This is why even deaf people can sense sound, and Maggý draws upon these associations via the sustained drones in her work.
The repetitive qualities of these sounds not only challenge our conception of listening to music but also engage us on their own terms.
Maggý’s use of sustained sounds and repetitive animated patterns recalls the avant-garde music and experimental psychedelic scene of the 1960s – think of artists such as the American minimalist composer La Monte Young, best known for pioneering the concept of extended time durations in contemporary music, and in Tony Conrad’s flickering films, as well as Terry Riley, Phill Niblock, Marian Zazeela, Meredith Monk, all from the USA, and Bridget Riley UK, known for the optical illusions of her famous op-art paintings of psychedelic patterns.3 The artists of this era all sought to explore various perceptual effects, and Maggý’s use of the multiple layers within a single sampled cello sound recalls, in particular, Niblock’s manipulation of recordings of long tones played on acoustic instruments to create dense compositions of sound.
While Maggý’s soundtrack does not feature much noticeable variation in intensity, it is not static but rather subtly variegated. It begins with the fading in of the single sustained but undulating pitch; then, after a short time, we hear another sustained tone entering above the initial one, and this process of aggregation continues over the course of the work. Still, these changes are only perceivable if we listen very carefully, thus introducing a pointed ambiguity to the experience of Maggý’s work: was there a change in the tone we heard just now? Did we imagine that sound or was it real? Can we trust our ears?
Whereas images have a tendency to keep the viewer at a distance from what is going on, sound pulls us in, positioning us at the centre of it all. We engage in a continuous process of filtering and absorbing sound as we attempt to distinguish between different sounds and assign respective meanings to them. We experience the world as much through our ears as through our eyes, and the two sources of information do not always cohere – listening can even challenge the way we see and participate in the world. But it is, at the same time, as Salomé Voegelin observes,
[…] an experiential fact full of playful illusions, purposeful errors and contingent idiosyncrasies. Listening is not about the physical constitution of sound; as little as seeing is about the physical constitution of the seen, it is the perception of those physical constitutions, fraught with the uncertainty of an erroneous, unreliable ear.4
Listening is always tinged with uncertainty and unreliability, thanks to what we cannot hear or are afraid that we might have misheard or misunderstood. Nor does it harbour any physical evidence, because it is always in the process of becoming. Maggý’s work prepares for us, with these qualities and characteristics, a new audio-visual environment, which enables us to sink into our inner associations and memories. It even allows us to reflect on the ways in which the human perceptual system functions as it acts to enlighten, betray or seduce our minds.
The suggestive qualities of Maggý’s sound open her work to alternative interpretations, as opposed to specific associations or motives. When there are few sonic cues with which to connect certain associations or sources, one’s auditory imagination tends to kick in, which opens up a new set of questions related to sensory and perceptual processes and subjectivity. This kind of exploration of drone music and repetitive sounds, of course, again recalls the sound art pioneers mentioned above, as well as the various Fluxus artists from the 1960s, who experimented with sound processing and recording.
Lucy and Rainbow: the Murmur of Voices In the short video and sound installation Lucy (2009), we encounter a captivating female singing voice before we see any images. The voice has been recorded close up in order to capture its physicality, and we hear breathing noises and register even very small changes in tone and pitch, which ranges from very low to very high.5 Every tone is sustained for several seconds before changing. Suddenly, a silhouette emerges fleetingly from the darkness, and then we experience brief flashes of a female figure in a shimmering gold dress, her dark hair and pale skin surrounded by a black field. The identity of this woman is never revealed although the work’s title indicates that her name is Lucy. At first, the voice seems to align with the appearances of the character on the screen, as though to represent her as a person. When the soundtrack changes from a single voice to a choir, however, the character’s behaviour promptly changes as well. This sudden shift in the installation’s aural and visual elements disrupts the relationship between the voice we hear and the figure we see. The character now appears to be desperately struggling to control and embody the voice which, in contrast, effortlessly sustains its quality of sound, breath, volume, pitch, and tone. The character’s erratic behaviour adds a sense of strangeness to the work, and, in tandem with images now reminiscent of a movie by David Lynch – that is, mysterious, weird, and hard to grasp – seems to suggest that we are witnessing a dream sequence, or even the collapse of the character’s mind. At first, then, it may seem that nothing much is happening, given the simplicity of the narrative but, beneath the surface, very deliberate attention is being paid to the psychological shift or transformation in the protagonist. The emotionally intense images ex- press something of the vulnerability and frustration that characterises the female character’s imprisonment in her own mind, and the sound adds a particularly unsettling quality to the installation, especially as its layering becomes more complex.
In Performing Rites, Simon Frith presents four characteristic ways of listening to the human voice: as an instrument, as a body, as a person and as a role or character. In other words, we can listen to the abstract qualities of the voice – its materiality – or we can connect the voice with a particular person or character. Either way, of course, the voice sustains its link to the world that surrounds it, and we hear it within the context of established cultural rules and norms.6 Frith even concludes that its authenticity is typically constructed – that is, it derives from a staging of expected norms within which the voice is understood as a ‘real’ expression of one’s personality. In short, your voice comes from your body and tells the story of who you are. Steven Connor describes its essential paradox:
My voice defines me because it draws me into coincidence with myself, accomplishes me in a way which goes beyond mere belonging, association, or instrumental use. And yet my voice is also most essentially itself and my own in the ways in which it parts or passes from me. Nothing about me defines me so intimately as my voice, precisely because there is no other feature of my self whose nature it is thus to move from me to the world, and to move me into the world.7
Indeed, we tend to take the voice for granted and make an issue of it only when it fails us. Think, for example, of an opera singer whose voice suddenly disappears during a performance or a news announcer interrupted by a coughing fit. In Lucy, the character seems to be confronted by a voice which takes on a character or identity of its own separately from her. In discussing the not (yet) visualised voice in film, film theorist Michel Chion (and Pierre Schaeffer before him) relies upon the term acousmêtre – that is, a voice which is able to ‘be everywhere, to see all, to know all, and to have complete power’.8 He also connects the power of voice to a form of panoptic fantasy, or total mastery of space through vision and concludes that the intervention of an acousmatic voice, or a voice heard in the absence of a physical body visible on screen, often makes the story into a quest of anchoring this voice there.
When the voice is not localised but separated from the body, then re- turned as an acousmêtre, it often speaks from an ‘I-voice’ position, in particularly close proximity to the spectator’s ear.9
Lucy raises questions related to situations where there appears to be a struggle or psychological interruption between one’s understanding of one’s self and the voice which is expressing it. People recovering from a stroke that causes aphasia often experience a change in the language centres of the brain – they may find, perhaps, that they are unable to articulate or pronounce the words they want to say. This inability leads to a sudden collapse of linguistic structures, so that words become meaningless and may block communication. Other voice-related situations can be even more complicated. What if one does not recognise one’s own voice while one is speaking? This condition, known as an auditory hallucination, is one of the many disabling symptoms experienced by people diagnosed with schizophrenia, who are believed to have a defect in the circuit which allows one to recognise one’s own voice.10 This failure can also happen to non-schizophrenic people, during spiritual experiences or times of trauma, sensory deprivation or emotional dis- tress. The voice one hears at these moments is immediately recognisable, but it may not be one’s own.11 It could be that of a family member, a friend or someone from one’s past. These voices can be as real as hearing a person speaking in the same room, or they can be a constant mumbling in the background. They come from inside us and engage with our whole psyche – our fears, strengths and weaknesses.
In this sound installation, the materiality of the voice, that is, its repetitive qualities, sustained overtones, duration, and pitch – combined with the layered recordings to contribute to the presentation of fragility and vulnerability in the singing voice, or something between a scream and a moan, a cry and a sigh. At the same time, this work obscures the pas- sage of time, because we are unable to situate this voice in any particular place. As such, the recording and processing of the voice contribute to a deprivation of the senses. While the voice in Lucy is always clearly human in nature, the voice in Rainbow (2011) dissolves into an unrecognisable mass of sound. Maggý created this installation from more than one thousand recordings of a single voice, producing a monotone hum which spans a range of pitch levels. The initially fragile voice gains strength as it is layered, and both volume and tension increase as the work progresses. Presented via two 5.1 surround-sound systems, this mass of sound circles around an al- most completely darkened space until it becomes a drone of singing voices, a thick blanket of sound which ends in a crescendo of voices at a high volume and with great intensity.
The sound designs of Dodda Maggý demand a visceral engagement with her works through enhanced vibrations not only in the eardrums but also in the resonant chambers of the body. With the help of specific drone frequencies and digitally animated flickering images, she creates new ways for us to interact with both her art and our own inner spaces. We are forced to fall back on the human perceptual system and the continuous processing activity of our brains – a network of connections which sometimes gets lost in a fluid zone between reality and hallucinations. Maggý enables us to face the intangible, including what might otherwise exceed our limited sensory experience in the world, by presenting installations whose content we can think both with and through as it unfolds.
1 Joanna Demers, Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010: p. 91.
2 R. Murray Schafer, The Tuning of the World, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977: p. 11.
3 See Brandon LaBelle, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art, New York: Continuum, 2006; Alan Licht, Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories, New York: Rizzoli international Publications, 2007.
4 Salomé Voegelin, Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010: p. 54.
5 For more on the physicality of the recorded (whispering) voice, see my article, ‘Whispering voice: materiality, aural qualities and the reconstruction of memories in the works of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’, in Music, Sound and the Moving Image, 4 (1), 2010: pp. 39-54.
6 Simon Frith, Performing Rites: Evaluating Popular Music, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1998: pp. 191-8.
7 Steven Connor, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000: p. 7.
8 Michel Chion, The Voice in Cinema, trans. Claudia Gorbman, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999: p. 24.
9 Ibid.: p. 49.
10 Eliezer Sternberg, NeuroLogic: The Brain’s Hidden Rationale behind our Irrational Behaviour, New York: Pantheon Books, 2005.
11 Simon McCarthy- Jones, Hearing Voices: The Histories, Causes and Meanings of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
ARoS FOCUS // NEW NORDIC: The Sound and Video Works of Dodda Maggý
Interview with Dodda Maggý
Lise Pennington, Chief Curator at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum
LP Where do you find inspiration for your works?
DM I think that I find my inspiration in film and music. And literature, actually. Music is sort of my background. I first studied music and then when I started working with visual arts, I sort of found ways to create my own language using a musical sensibility combined with films. Some of it comes from my interest in phenomenology, especially from reading Gaston Bachelard and Jean-Paul Sartre. But also lyrical filmmakers such as Maya Deren and Sergei Parajanov. Even though I studied art and, of course, look at art and follow what’s happening in the art world, I’m more inspired by cinema and music. When it comes to what I read and research, it’s mostly connected to cinema or film theory and music or sound design rather than visual arts.
LP The animations you compose, do they create a base for the music to grow or is it the other way around?
DM Well, it’s a bit funny because it’s both ways at this point. I find it hard to say whether it’s more the music or more the visual arts. For example, first I studied music and then I started working in visual arts and, in particular, video. There’s a connection between video and music, as they’re both time-based, so you’re constructing something on a timeline and, to put it very simply, it deals with build-up and tension.
When I started working with the visual arts, it was sort of the combination between film and music and how the two mediums combined created a new space, somehow. When I was in art school studying visual arts, I was working with both music and video and then, after my master’s degree, I went back to study- ing musical composition. After returning to the musical department, I felt my musical language had been ruined, somehow. I could feel that my brain had changed after studying visual arts. When I talked to my fellow classmates, I realised that I saw mu- sic from another perspective. I’ve been wondering if I’m more of a visual artist than a composer. Sometimes I feel that I don’t belong to either. I feel I’m really somewhere in between in my creative thinking and how I process ideas.
LP So your work isn’t a visualisation of music? It’s much tighter than that?
DM Yes, it really is. In my recent works, I’m working much more formally with these animations and, in a way, I’m exploring compo- sition and music visually. But I’m still composing when I create images; they’re made with a musical sensibility. And, actually, in some of my older works, I was using music as a narrative tool to drive the underlying ‘story’ of the piece, as the music was paired with video. I’m composing a visual language of music appealing to all senses, somehow.
LP So when you say that you’re also very inspired by films, how does that relationship work, then? Is it from well known classical films or is it more from film theory that you get your inspiration?
DM I use a lot of technical elements from film theory in the way I work with video. There are some technical devices in the cinema that are quite underestimated. Like the power of audio. We sort of forget about it, we forget about the sound design, and we forget about the music; we take it for granted that the sound is just a natural component of the image when, in fact, it’s constructed and added after filming. If you remove the music and sound de- sign, the film would collapse.
As a viewer, you become familiar with the language of moving images through popular media. For example, it wasn’t until I was in art school that I really started to study video art and, even at that time, in the early days of YouTube, you could only see video art in museums and galleries. I could only read descriptions and see stills of a lot of the pieces that I was learning about. Today, you can find almost anything online. So I use these structural devices that viewers understand to create my work, but I don’t necessarily use them conventionally. I’m not a tradition- al filmmaker. I play with the devices, sometimes skewing and twisting them.
LP So, it’s more on a technical level than on a story line level?
DM Well, I think it’s both. I think that a significant part of the story is portrayed through sound. It’s just not always obvious to the viewer. Through sound, the viewer experiences another level of the narrative, and the sound contributes a lot when creating the energy of a film. I’d say that we, as viewers, underestimate the power of sound design. My earliest influence was David Lynch and particularly the old Twin Peaks series. I’d go so far as to say that a lot of his work really is the sound design, the way he uses music. The sound is really what creates the energy in his visuals. For example, he sometimes uses a very low bass, almost so low that you cannot hear it, but it moves the air, it sort of creates another dimension of something you can’t see, which, I think, is a theme he often works with.
LP I recently heard a documentary about how David Lynch collaborated with the composer on creating the theme tune for Twin Peaks. How they did it as a mix of everyday recognisable sounds, which fill our daily lives without us noticing it, but still carry a huge part of the meaning.
DM Yeah, totally. Even in the new series, I really do think that David Lynch is very much working like a sound artist. David Lynch and Angelo Badalenti used the music technique called leitmotif, which comes from opera (Wagner) and denotes a short, musical phrase associated with a particular person, place, or idea. Now it’s standard use in the cinema. But in the old Twin Peaks, Lynch gave each individual main character their own theme song and he then wove these themes, these leitmotifs, together with the overall music. He used leitmotifs to indicate something that’s happening ‘below the surface’. For example, when we hear a theme of a character not appearing on the screen, the viewer can’t see him, but his presence is looming.
LP Let’s move on to your kaleidoscopic works. In some of your works, the symmetrical visual patterns are constantly transforming into ‘kaleidoscopic’ compositions. What do you intend to show your audience by using this approach?
DM Well, I’d like to start with the first one I did entitled DeCore (aurae). That piece represents a new way of working. I was really interested in sound art – I feel that I’m always working with music even if it’s in videos. It started with me filming plants and then I began manipulating and sampling the images into new organic shapes and putting these back together in a new structure. It took me four years to work out this piece, since it was so tricky to turn it into something interesting. There’s a fine line when working with something that you want the eye to engage with, something that could be viewed as merely decorative. It’s really tricky because it’s so easy to label it decorative and thus redundant. I’m playing with this line and poking fun at it, hence the title DeCore, a play of words for something that’s perhaps decorative and something that’s hard core. I’m pushing this idea of constant rapid movement; the eye is almost always unable to catch the image as it is forever changing.
What I found was that proportions are the key. They are the key elements in our experience of something as being visually pleasing or displeasing. With DeCore (aurae), I’m transferring the way I work with sound art and field recordings into visuals. I’m recording images and sampling/manipulating/changing the recordings and layering them whilst creating new structures. When I did this piece, I was thinking of music. I really approached it as if I were making a sound piece – even if it was silent. I was working with the proportions of the shapes in the image, structuring them proportionally as you do when composing notes; creating intervals which are basically just notes structured in certain proportions. I’m making harmonies, structuring the rhythm of the movement and creating colour combinations. But there’s another level, too; usually when I am working, there’s a personal approach and a formal approach. So you can often enter my work from different perspectives. In this instance, the personal connection to the visuals that I started creating really resembles an experience of migraine where I lose my sight. I gradually go completely blind and, as I lose my normal sight, I start to see these colourful organic shapes. A lot of people experience this and it’s called an aura. Each individual experiences it differently but, in my case, it’s like these flashes of lights and colours and shapes that sort of take over my field of vision.
LP Like looking through a prism?
DM Yeah. Exactly. But it’s never the same shape; the shape of the image or the hallucination changes each time.
LP Could you please try and explain to me how, technically, you compose the visuals?
DM Like with DeCore (aurae), it starts with recordings of plants and flowers. Then I take this material and I manipulate the images with filters and effects to create new organic shapes. And then I do it again, and again, and again. This is often how I work. It goes through many different stages of change until I achieve the final shapes. I actually created, like, two hundred new visual flowers that I then used as a base to create new shapes by layering them into new combinations. In DeCore (aurae), you can see the visual flowers as both really big and really small. I manipulated the video so many times, layering it, that I was able create the final structure from a sort of patchwork of video fragments.
LP So you create this composition as you would a piece of music and then there’s a personal level that refers to a health condition that you have: the migraines. The formal element that you mentioned is the rules or the rhythm that you’re incorporating into the repetitions, so to speak?
DM So there’s a structure of forms and colours, of movement and rhythm. There are different things and ideas behind it. One is that I formalise the structure of the visuals in the way I would compose sound on a timeline. For example, the structure of elements moving in a repetitive motion is the same that I might use when constructing a sequence of musical themes or melodies in a musical composition. Another is that, with the continual rapid movement, my idea was to represent the idea of ‘energy’, something that’s never still, constantly moving and changing. Also, the movement is reminiscent of the way I experience the visuals in the migraine hallucinations, the shapes flashing and moving.
LP Yes, but the rhythm is also in the repetition of the gesture that you copy over and over again?
DM Totally. And that’s actually sort of a recurring theme for me, this repetition of patterns.
LP So when you’re fascinated by something that looks like a kaleidoscope, does that refer to your migraines or does that fascination stem from somewhere else?
DM DeCore (aurae) comes from these kinds of hallucinations or what you’d call it. That sort of led me on to exploring geometry and sacred geometry that goes even further, to these alchemist graphs where you have forms or shapes which, when puzzled together, all fit into different combinations. Sacred geometry led me to explore alchemist graphs, which go into a sort of mystical space. The graphs are used as symbols for hidden knowledge in the occult or mystical groups and my fascination with hallucinations comes from the shapes I see, these fractured shapes which are somehow everywhere in nature. This fascination led me on to exploring fractals and from there on to geometry.
In DeCore (rosen), which is the silver piece, I’m really exploring sacred geometry and the main visual motif is actually created from an alchemist graph. This is the first piece that I created from something else that is not conceived within my own self, but from an image that I found. I’ve actually been collecting images of alchemist graphs for a long time. I didn’t really want to, you know, understand them or try to find a meaning in them, but I still wanted to access them and make them my own. I wanted to absorb the images and then create my own output from those images – and in that way try to understand them. Not by reading exactly what it was supposed to mean, but by assimilating it into my own work. My own process of working with this material.
LP And in what way does Curlicue (spectra) relate to DeCore (aurae) and DeCore (rosen)?
DM They all connect. They all sort of paddle along some road that I’m exploring. In DeCore (aurae), I’m working with these images of plants which exist in the real world. In both DeCore (rosen) and in the Curlicue (spectra), I’m working with an idea of artificial material, material that doesn’t exist in the real world. While in DeCore (aurae), the base material is images of plants, the base material in DeCore (venus) are pearls. In DeCore (rosen) and Curlicue (spectra), the base material is created in a 3D software where I created 3D circular shapes that I used as the material for new constructed shapes used in a more traditional animation technique developed by myself. So the source material is computer-generated, one might call it a non-existing material, but the way I work with it is by using an animation technique. As in the other works, the images and shapes are created through multiple processes.
Curlicue (spectra) is a reference to the migraine hallucinations. This is, so far, my closest attempt at portraying these hallucinations. They are so colourful, almost like bright neon lights. Like if you compare it to the resolution in a video, it’s like 1000K. The resolution is so fine that it’s utterly impossible to portray. Last time I had one I was thinking, “Okay, I’m going to grab a pen and paper and I’m going to draw it.” But when I was actually about to do it, I looked at my pencil and it was like I was drawing with a crayon compared to what I was seeing. It was just impossible to try to capture the colours and the speed of it – as it moves very quickly – it’s almost neurological. It’s very colourful, the whole colour spectrum. There’s also a meditative element to Curlicue (spectra), both in the image and visually. The spiral grows continuously but still contains its shape. There’s movement but still nothing changes. It’s slightly similar to Minerva in terms of dealing with ideas of time and space.
I think we all have an internal visual world that it would be fascinating to shape out in materials, so that we could see each other’s inner visions, which is what I’m really fascinated with. I actually very rarely talk about these hallucinations, because it’s so personal and somehow it’s easier to talk about the formal aspect.
LP I would like to ask you about the women in your films. They look like archetypes in Hollywood productions and you’ve chosen to work with a certain kind of female figure in your films. Could you tell me more about the kind of woman or kind of female figure that appears in your films? For instance, what fascinates you with the crying woman in Madeleine?
DM That’s a very direct Hollywood reference. In Madeleine, I was re- ally, as a performer, taking on the role of the actress. The idea comes from a split desire within myself – as with everybody – to be desired. Women have been portrayed in certain ways in the media and we have an idea of what it is to be desirable. And this stereotype of the desirable woman is something I both want to embody, but it’s also a stereotype that I despise and want to reject. And I despise this desire in myself. As a performer, I’m confronted with this issue and I’m often dealing with my own desire of wanting to be presented in a certain way.
So, in Madeleine the character is quite ironic, I think. She is glitzed up with the lights, this Hollywood lighting, and make-up, and this pink glittering dress, and then she’s crying. It’s almost like a fetishist kind of crying. It’s almost like she’s enjoying it.
LP Fetishist crying, you call it?
DM Yeah, you know. It’s so over-sentimental that, to me, it’s totally ironic. It’s a character that we know, especially in old Hollywood films – the helpless woman that needs to be rescued.
For example, in the film Notorious by Hitchcock, Ingrid Berg- man starts out as this strong rebellious female character hunted by the secret service, and then at the end of the movie, she’s giving away all her power and needs to be saved by the male hero. This is the scene where she’s the most beautiful and one experiences the ending as romantic, it’s like the perfect movie ending. It’s quite disturbing to me that we’re so used to these female characters.
LP Does that relate to the female person in Lucy, too?
DM Lucy is a bit different, actually. But they’re still connected, because in there I’m portraying an opera singer. In Madeleine, I’m taking on the role as an actress and, in Lucy, I’m taking on the role as opera singer. In both, there’s this very embarrassing desire that I want to be the actress, and that I want to be the opera singer. It’s really role-play, and it almost goes back to this sort of playing, you know, when you were a kid taking on all these roles. Well, I was just sort of role-playing in my studio, and I just thought, “Okay, I’m not an opera singer. But I want to be an opera singer, so I’m going to make it happen. I’m going to create the space for myself. I’m going to create this world. Nobody else is going to hire me as an opera singer.”
LP But what’s this fascination with opera singers about?
DM I’m really fascinated with tragic heroines and Maria Callas, especially. She’s such an extremely tragic figure. I’m fascinated with these really strong females, like Maria Callas and Jacqueline du Pré, the cellist. I can’t really say why, but I’m just sort of fascinated. Actually, I love Maria Callas so there’s a basic desire in me; I want to put myself in the shoes of Maria Callas and, at the same time as I did that piece, I was really exploring the voice as a phenomenon.
And now it goes into film theory; in the cinema, the voice is often used as a character. Especially when it’s a voice that doesn’t have a body, like a narrator, or you hear a voice, but you never see the person. This sort of voice almost becomes supernatural. It has the same qualities as a being that is otherworldly, because it doesn’t have a body. It comes from a writer called Michel Chion. He’s one of my favourite writers. He has a name for this bodyless voice. He calls it the acousmêtre. It’s French and doesn’t translate.
LP What does it mean?
DM The word comes from acousmatic and it actually goes way back to Pythagoras, who used to teach his pupils behind a curtain. So his pupils weren’t allowed to speak, and he used to stand behind the curtain and teach, so that they wouldn’t see him. They could only hear his voice. So it refers to this ancient way of teaching. The followers of Pythagoras were called acousmatics and this bodyless voice is called the acousmêtre. I was really exploring the voice and, at the same time, I created a musical composition. I was working with the voice as a material and as this ‘semi’ being’. When I was developing the piece, I really had to find this voice. The way I’m singing in Lucy is not my usual voice. It was, like, a voice that I had to find or create within myself. I had to look for it and I found this voice within my body, an entity that wasn’t really mine. I’m focusing on the voice as a material; so when I recorded the voice, I did it in close to try and find the grain – the physicality. The physicality is sort of the structure. And then the way that I composed the piece in terms of chords, the way I layered the voices together, I was really trying to create a feeling of light. I don’t know if it makes sense? When I was composing it, the chords and the sonic affect, that I was trying to portray, was light. It’s mastered in surround sound. It’s the experience of a voice floating in space. It’s the voice, it’s like this bodyless entity that moves around the speakers and, as a viewer in space, you’ll feel the voice flying around you.
The story of the opera is really about this character that has a voice, a voice that seems to be always escaping from the character – or possibly embodying the character. And we can only see the character when the voice, the sound source, is actually coming from the image. It can feel as if you can only see the character when the voice is where the body is, and then it escapes. It’s the drama about this character trying to embody and hold on to this voice. But it’s all disappearing in darkness somehow.
LP Now we’ve been talking a lot about sound and the underestimation of sound in visuals, but you have a film in the exhibition that is soundless, Minerva. Could you please tell me a bit about it and why it’s without sound?
DM I think that silence is as important as sound. I also use silence as a device. I never put sound to an image ‘just because’. Or an image to sound ‘just because’. There always has to be a reason. So if there wasn’t like a purpose for it, then I would rather have it silent – or the other way around.
LP So why is it silent with the owl in Minerva?
DM First of all, I don’t think that sound adds anything to it. But the thing about Minerva is that there’s this owl that’s sort of continually flying, but it’s not going anywhere. It’s in this sort of dark space. Or not even space. It’s out of time and out of space. There’s no sound. It’s this other dimension which is outside of out of time and out of space. Minerva is really about time and space. Or the absence of time and space. The way I approached Minerva, actually, is how I would approach drawing.
LP How is that?
DM Often when you draw, it comes straight as an idea and you draw it down. The drawing is a bit more spontaneous. I think it took me 2-3 months to create Minerva, working day and night, which is like the fastest piece I’ve ever done. Timewise, if you compare, like, a drawing with a painting, to me, Minerva is like a drawing, even though it took, like, 2-3 months. Like a quick sketch.
Variations at BERG Contemporary
Dr. Valentino Catricalà
From painting to moving image, from sound to painting, from cinema to sound, and from past to present—these are the traditions on which Stephen Herbert’s definition of “time- based visual media” is based. We find these transitions in precinematic media such as the phenakistoscope or the zoetrope: early examples of animated images, often mixed with sound, creating a loop and formal structure. This time-based visual media also belongs to the tradition of avant-garde artists such as Walter Ruttmann or Hans Richter, exemplified in their sound moving paintings that form a loop and an ongoing formal arrangement. The avant-garde tradition then continues with the emergence of structural filmmakers such as Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, and Tony Conrad, who utilize a fixed camera and the aforementioned repeated loop structure. Dodda Maggý re-exemplifies this tradition, using it as a key for understanding the role of image and sound in today’s contemporary art.
Dodda Maggý is an Icelandic artist and composer who employs the methodologies of musical composition and filmmaking within her unique work that is strongly influenced by a cross-disciplinary approach. It is difficult to affix her work within one field or artistic genre. It can best be described as lingering on the verge of cinema, sound art, video art, and music composition, belonging in between them all.
In addition to her visual arts background, she has studied music and cinema. She carries a strong passion for narrative cinema and experimental documentary filmmaking into her artworks that bear strong references to both disciplines. Dodda Maggý’s work emerges from the observation of the relationship between an internal and an external image. The artist analyzes the development of internal images that are born from personal dreams and imagination, putting those experiences forth as the fundamental basis of the work. Dreams, fantasies, and memories become the core subject matter of an audiovisual composition that gives the audience the possibility of becoming part of new perceptual experiences.
Exploiting the potential of digital technology, Dodda Maggý divides the image into different elements, each encompassing a specific structure. As within a soundscape, the motion of each element creates a self-organized organism. This is a structure we would find in a cultural context, such as music, as well as in nature, such as the growth of a human being’s mental images or the developmental processes of plants. It is therefore safe to state that the connection between cultural and natural processes is important in Dodda Maggý’s work. The artist’s work develops a new way of understanding mental and physical evolutionary phenomena through a visual music narration.
The notion of narrative is important for understanding Dodda Maggý’s work. If we look at the videos in this exhibition we don’t see a conventional cinema-like example of narration or a linear story, but an unorthodox unveiling of an evolving process, a playful constellation of creative elements. The formalistic narrative work that bears striking methodological evidence of musical and cinematic influences is evident in Étude Op. 88, No. 1, one of the three main pieces in the exhibition. The work is composed of 88 opal stones, each stone representing a note of a piano, creating a direct correlation between the image and the sound of the stones. The work encompasses seven prints materializing possible harmonic combinations. The structure of Étude is based on a concept of “visual music” that harks back to the 1910s and ‘20s, inspired by the John Whitney method of composing, creating musical compositions with visual imagery.
Dodda Maggý’s formalistic approach to image and sound is evident in her work entitled C Series, this time using video as a tool to compose music. The series relates to Étude in that it examines a single instrument, in this instance the flute, choosing fifteen notes from the instruments range that correspond to fifteen circular images that are animated into fifteen video loops, where each form represents a note and the forms create a complex visual layout. The sound is made to stand independently, with the video removed. This is the foundation for further musical composition within the piece, starting through the process of structured visuals, sourced from the carefully chosen initial fifteen notes. When the musical composition was complete she created a new video animation, titled Coil (C series). It is made from the same source material as the 15 animated forms, but presented in a new structure that is intended as a visual focus point accompanying the sound. It was later also detached from the audio as the working process progressed. The videos are therefore evidence of an artistic process—not a direct visualization of the sound heard in real time, but simply a material suggestion of what sounds might look like. Each note is presented in a wide range of tuning, interacting with one another in endless ways, each revealing the many temporal layers of the artwork’s creation. Dodda Maggý focuses on the relationship between mental and actual phenomena. Transforming mental images into audiovisual ones, the work of the artist produces the perceptual experience of the audience. In that way, the exhibition space becomes an organism in which the audience faces new cognitive realities.
Such is the case in DeCore, a series started in 2008 that reflects on mental phenomena such as hallucination and synaesthesia, as well as concrete objects. The artist creates new organic forms by recording flowering plants, applying recording and the methods of sound design to video. The flowers are detached from the background and resampled. The concrete objects in this case are the flowering plants: phenomena in motion. The work is an ongoing organism composed of many different little elements (or frames). Every single frame is in constant motion creating a fractal structure.
The exhibition is therefore composed of three main pieces, not conceived separately and, just as in Dodda Maggý’s artworks, the exhibition combines different self-contained elements. All together these elements create a complex organism that can be perceived from different points of view. The three pieces are designed to allow the audience to move freely in the exhibition space, to navigate within a myriad of cognitive possibilities, without any obligation to follow a fixed trajectory.
Variations by Dodda Maggý at BERG Contemporary
Dodda Maggý’s exhibition Variations is on view at BERG Contemporary from August 18th to October 21st. The artist was recently awarded the ARoS – Aarhus Art Museum’s Young Talent Award. Using sound and music as departure points, the artist further compounds their intertwining by using rhythm and narrative to engage the senses. Her animated symmetrical compositions explore the experimental possibilities of translating sound into visual form with a technical mastery of the formalities of harmonics and how these form the basic formations of the universe. With a dynamic interplay between the parts and the whole in the image, the patterns appear as though in perpetual evolution, like a kaleidoscope. In an in-depth interview, the artist explains her complex working methods as we walked amongst her work.
Erin: Can you tell me about this piece (DeCore (etude))?
Dodda: So this is an ongoing series called DeCore that started in 2008. When it started as a video I was working with methods of applying field recordings and sounds to video. I basically went around with my video camera and filmed flowering plants and trees and then started to manipulate that material to create new organic forms. The first version, which was called DeCore (aurae), took me three years to figure out the right form. I was thinking a lot about visual music as well as synesthesia, the state of having your senses crossed that causes people to see music or experience forms as colors. I was applying these methods and sounds to video and also thinking about how to represent music. DeCore was then installed as a large silent installation, followed by another version, and now I’m showing two of the newest versions here, DeCore (etude), and DeCore (loom). It’s the same source material of trees and flowering plants, actually.
I’m continuing to resample in this exhibition. However, I’m not re-sampling the works themselves but going back into the source material and making new manipulations- almost a remix of the original recordings. With this piece, I actually wanted to take the source material and create print stills. It’s another thing to really create the image rather than take a still, so I created the video in order to take the still image.
There is a lot of crossing of mediums in the show. I wanted to create a technique in order to create prints as this is my first show exhibiting prints. Usually, I’m only working with video, music, and sounds so I had to create a technique that I could relate to in order to create still images. When you’re used to working with time-based art, which is always moving, you have to recalibrate how to translate this movement into a still image.
Erin: It’s going from 3D to 2D, so of course, it’s a huge recalibration.
Dodda: You have to think about it differently. So this is like the DeCore series but evolved. I’m still thinking about music here and I think music is still the understory of everything I do. I start with music before visual arts.
Erin: You studied both right visual art and composition, right?
Dodda: I studied both. Before I went to university I felt like I had to make a decision between going further into music or visual art and I chose visual art because I felt there was space for both. Later, I finished studies in composition as well. I think as a visual artist, I really connected with video and this time-based medium because I understand it as it relates to music.
Erin: It’s as though your process of making videos is an image of harmonics itself, so your work is both in the medium and the resulting image.
Dodda: That’s my aim, but we can debate whether it comes forth. In this piece with these small sorts of flowers, each flower is made out of many recordings of flowers, so there are many details combined. In just one little flower there are multiple processes happening at once. I like the size of it because you can see the details.
Erin: You’re making your own language, it seems, by working with each note in itself and making them work together to become its own vocabulary. What programs are you using?
Dodda: I use a lot of programs of all kinds and am mixing all of them. It’s my own method of layering that I developed with many variations.
Erin: The last exhibition here at BERG was of Steina and Woody Vasulka, the video art pioneers. They were some of the first to make tools that would manipulate audio into visual and vice versa.
Dodda: There is definitely this link. Steina actually was also trained as a violinist first. Having a background in music seems to be the case with a lot of video artists, especially in Iceland.
Erin: Narrative and rhythm seem to be two intertwining themes in the exhibition, each carrying the other forward.
Dodda: That is definitely the case with the videos, especially this one that I’m making to create prints from. I’m making the videos with this musical application and thinking about proportions. Just like with different chord combinations and sounds that make major and minor chords, we also have these proportions visually which create tension or harmony in the image so there is also geometry involved. I’m applying a set of movements to this, as well as colors obviously. This is much more monotone, I would say, but maybe baroque monotone. The first DeCore had each frame changing and was more chaotic but this is more still. It holds the shape but it still changes in color. This looks a lot like rhythms, almost like beats.
Erin: I was reading another an early article about your work about how your work engages the viewer visually but the rhythm engages your body, so it somehow traps you between these two states of being when you’re watching it. Perhaps this was more the DeCore installation when the viewer could be part of the projection and be very physical, but I think it still has a very mesmerizing effect on both body and mind.
Dodda: I’m very interested in these sensorial effects. My earlier work was more portraying these different states while now I’m more interested in creating this effect for the viewer. I know I can never estimate how the effect will be on the viewer, but I can stimulate some senses, definitely.
Erin: Where does the name DeCore come from?
Dodda: DeCore comes from something on the verge of being decorative, which is a total taboo. When I starting working on DeCore in 2008, to do something decorative or visually appealing was almost like porn. So I’m playing with crossing that line and questioning if it being visually appealing makes it less interesting. I’m playing with these aesthetics about how the proportions and harmonies bring affects. It’s also on a fine line to do something flowery so there is also a play on that. There is so much information in each frame, really, so I’m just pumping information out.
Erin: Isn’t it like that with music? Why is music allowed to be harmonious but not visual art?
Dodda: It goes in circles. After the Second World War, Romantic music was just not allowed. So, really serious, atonal music came into fashion because this Romantic music was connected to nationalism and it was totally out. It really just goes in circles depending on what is accepted at the time, beautiful music or atonal music. I think there’s been a shift in the last ten years, although it’s almost hard to say this out loud. I feel a shift from a focus on very theoretical to a slightly more Romantic, or more spiritual aesthetic. I think the themes I have been flirting with are actually being more accepted whereas before they were a little bit ‘outsider’.
Erin: I think it is definitely a noticeable shift.
Dodda: I don’t know if it is a trend, but it is definitely more accepted. Even before, to talk about energy, was a bit out there. It wasn’t really what my teachers were going for when I was in school, either. I can’t generalize it but I can definitely feel a shift in the atmosphere of what is going on and what is accepted.
Erin: The new age needs a new age, it seems. Is all of the work in the exhibition a variation of DeCore?
Dodda: No, there are three variations. We have three main pieces: DeCore, C Series, and Étude. Moving from DeCore to C Series, I am really continuing to investigate this relationship between the visual and the aural. I was interested in making a technique of composing using video and music but here I am much more in composition mode. I’m studying the flute as an instrument. I picked fifteen notes to work with and composed them in this one composition that is part of the exhibition, a nearly 18-minute long piece.
I made these video forms, a circular form with different proportions, for each of the 15 musical notes. Then, I connected each note to this form and I created a video animation with the music corresponding to what is happening in the video. With each composition, I pair a note to a form, which creates the musical composition. Later, I decided to remove the video and compose on the base of sound. I have one video from this process, but I’m only going to show the notes. When I was making the composition, I made another video from the same source material which became Coil, a part of C Series.
C Series is the focal point for the composition and so the accompaniment for the music, but then in the working process, I realized I didn’t need it. I’m just showing the music, like a work in progress, that shows how I composed this piece. If we go into the purely musical side of it, it appears as though I’m working in music. However, I’m not that interested in just composing. I’m interested in detuning.
We have this modern way of tuning instruments at 440 hertz. All instruments are tuned after that, but there is an older tuning at 432 hertz. When we tune after that the harmonics are a little more balanced. There are a lot of different theories about why we changed it, mostly conspiracy theories, but no one is really sure. So the tuning today is a little bit harder. You can see in visuals of chords how the frequencies make different forms.
I was thinking about how interesting this conflict is and wanted to start to detune my notes. I’m working from the range of 440 down to 432 up to 448 hertz so my instrument is mistuned. What happens when you have these fine misattunements is you get these frequencies that meet and give off all these vibrations, overtones, and new frequencies that erupt. Even if it is fifty notes, and three octaves, they are all in a different tuning and when they meet they create this friction. I also took the notes I created and manipulated into each of these movable forms. I changed the speed of the vibration, so it was shaped by how quickly the note reverberated.
As you can see, I’m really going into the material and treating musical notes as material. Each note is carefully created and then manipulated. Afterwards, I layer them and compose them together. You can hear this piece on the record and you can also see these two projections in these two projections on the wall. They are still part of the piece and part of them will be in the daylight, so they kind of disappear into the light in a mystical way.
Erin: Can you explain this visual (the animated projection in C Series) a bit and how it correlates to your vertical investigations?
Dodda: So the music is a vertical investigation and that’s the translation from lyrical film where I’ve been working in video with this vertical investigation with video that I’ve been applying to music as well. This piece is the one I made after the composition was finished and is actually a result from starting DeCore and investigating proportions, going into geometry, and alchemist’s graphs. This is actually created from an alchemist’s graph and shows an Egyptian energy key. I don’t make my work after other images, though, I have three works where I’m working with alchemists’ graphs. Usually, I never use outside material but I was just interested in these geometric images that have this visual energy to them. There is some message being told and I’m not exactly interested in finding out what it is supposed to tell me but I’m interested in the energy of them. That is why I wanted to assimilate it into my own process.
Erin: The name of it even, ‘alchemist’s graph’, sounds like a parallel investigation to the work you’re doing. What an alchemist does is tries to transmute gold out of these chemical elements.
Dodda: But it’s all symbolic in the end. When they’re talking about gold they’re actually trying to find spiritual gold. It’s spiritual, not material. Alchemist’s search for gold was sacred knowledge.
Erin: Even that transition between material and spiritual knowledge and matter is like a parallel investigation to what you’re doing.
Dodda: Especially in this one because I’m working with the base material in C Series which is actually these 3D computer generated spheres. I basically took snapshots of 3d images and took them through a very 2d way of working, almost to this old school level of animation. So I’m working with this artificial form to create this alchemist’s key. To me, it feels like energy plugged into this loop. It also reminds me of the music symbol where you have an F key or G key and you ascribe a key to your composition.
I’m also breaking a lot of musicology rules here by playing with terminology and using it inaccurately on purpose. The tradition is such a long one and can be quite fixed, so it is perhaps good to playfully skew it a little. I also did this with Études by really playing with the terminology. We’ll be releasing a record on the opening, a limited edition vinyl of 30 editions that will also be on Spotify. I’ve been working with music for such a long time and it has been such a nice experience, materializing these prints, so releasing the prints and materials and music as materials is quite exciting.
Erin: You’re working in such an immaterial realm, so I can imagine it is exciting to have such a material outcome in an exhibition.
Dodda: It’s a new development in my work for sure. Here are the different forms of the notes for C Series, screened as just a small projection in the exhibition. I find the musical compositions much more interesting than the visuals actually. The original animation I made doesn’t add anything to the composition so when I’m working with video and music together there always has to be a purpose. If there is no reason I usually take it out as I would rather have silent videos or stand alone sound pieces. You can see this is just how a material note might materialize. I’m just opening up ideas of what music might be. This almost could be presented as a sound piece as I’m working with sound ideas even though it is silent.
Erin: This is a similar shape to the Mandelbrot set, a fractal named after the mathematician. Anytime you zoom in or out into one specific part you come out eventually into the same shape for infinity.
Dodda: You can find it in nature and in the cosmos. The environment is just the basic building block of everything around this fractal relationship. Even in these snapshots of planets of stars, it’s always fractals. Even the path Venus moves around the sun is a fractal. It makes one wonder how everything is connected to these forms.
Erin: You can look at your work very formally. You don’t have to go there, but it’s laid out for you if you want to, however you can also just recognize the mathematical and musical harmony in the formalities.
Dodda: If people are interested in certain subject matters they pick it up or they don’t. There are different perspectives of looking at my work- very formal, very sensorial, and sometimes working with more mystical ideas. I’m always questioning and never offering answers.
Erin: You’re still very technical in your mystical notions, which is a beautiful combination.
Dodda: The last part of the exhibition is called Étude for which the basic building blocks are these Opal forms. There are different investigations into visual music which started in the 1910s and 20s by visual artists trying to find ways of composing music visually. It’s hard to define as a genre because it crosses all these styles between animation and structural film, but the umbrella term is ‘visual music’ which began in Europe and was developed later in California. One experimental filmmaker, in particular, was intriguing for me, John Whitney. He regarded himself as a composer but his instrument was the camera. He spent his career trying to develop ways of translating visuals into music. So I was quite inspired by his technique and wanted to experiment with his technique to apply it to my own experimentation. So I’m not duplicating but I am interested in how he structures entities together in a visual. I think there is definitely a visual reference to his work in Étude. Étude pays a little bit of an homage to him in the name Étude, which is usually a musical composition that a skilled composer creates for his student to practice. I’m using it as an exercise for practicing visual music.
I want to make a visual music piece in this tradition and so I regard this as my practice piece in visual music with a certain methodology. I’m also making a wordplay between the use of “Opus” in music which stands for the “work number” and is written as Op. In Étude, Op. stands for the number of opal stones, so the first piece is actually 88 Op. I’m also examining the piano in particular by working with 88 stones which represent the 88 notes of the piano.
In the Étude series of prints, you can see the full 88 notes, as well as compositions with 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, and 77. So I’m making up these rules, imagining how to materialize chords into a visual. I created these seven structures that are in the composition and I these as my elements in the installation. So this is a very formal piece but the idea actually came from a dream. In the dream, somebody took me up to the cosmos into black space and showed me opals growing in the darkness. I was being told that they have energy and frequency. So I was quite intrigued by these stones mined from the earth that have a measurable frequency. So even if it was a dream, it is still quite formal, personal, yet very formal. I was also interested in working with the relationship between the visual and the sonic/aural/musical in this piece and exploring perceptual experiences involved in translating internal experiences into the external to represent different states of consciousness.
Erin: This cultural critic named Gene Youngblood wrote a book in the 70’s called Expanded Cinema about how all of these expansive techniques in film have been parallel with the expansion of consciousness.
Dodda: Compared to where video was in 2000, you had to have a video camera and know how to use it, but today it’s totally part of our daily life. It’s so interesting how video is the same material as our memory, like our current state of consciousness.
SOUND AND VISION – DON’T YOU WONDER SOMETIMES?
Anette Lindbøg Karlsen
Som det sidste led i udstillingsrækken ARoS FOCUS // NEW NORDIC slog ARoS i september dørene op for en udstilling med den islandske kunstner Dodda Maggý. Magasinet Kunst har talt med hende om drømmeuniverser, bevægelsesidéer og om følelsen af, at der bag overfladen gemmer sig andet og mere end dét, som øjet umiddelbart kan se, og øret kan høre.
”Skal vi tage interviewet på dansk eller engelsk”? er mit første spørgsmål til Dodda Maggý. Jeg ved ikke meget om hende, udover at hun er født og opvokset i Island og er uddannet fra Kunstakademiet i København. ”Lad os tage det på engelsk”, svarer hun og tilføjer, at hun på dansk er bedre til det skrevne ord end det talte.
Det er da heller ikke talte eller skrevne ord, der præger Maggýs kunstneriske arbejde. Hun beskæftiger sig nemlig med audiovisuelle værker og installationer i et felt mellem kunst og musik. Stillestående såvel som bevægelige billeder med og uden lyd, drømmende og sanselige billedsprog, visuelle virkemidler og kompositoriske processer er centrale omdrejningspunkter i Maggýs værker, hvilke bl.a. kan ses på hendes hjemmeside og videotjenesten Vimeo – og i øjeblikket i ARoS’ mørke udstillingsrum.
Når billede og lyd smelter sammen
Tilbage i 2016 blev Maggý inviteret til at deltage i ARoS FOCUS // NEW NORDIC sammen med otte andre yngre kunstnere fra norden. Maggý var med det samme begejstret for udstillingskonceptet og den danske interesse.
”Udgangspunktet for udstillingen har været at præsentere de mange facetter i mit arbejde. Derfor afspejler de udstillede værker på forskellig vis min praksis, der beror på at undersøge det sprog, der knytter sig til billeder og musik,” fortæller Maggý og uddyber: ”Mine performative værker belyser ofte forskellige mentale og psykologiske tilstande eller erfaringer, der f.eks. knytter sig til minder og drømme. Dem forsøger jeg at give en form, således de kan blive oplevet som levende billeder. I det formelle arbejde interesserer jeg mig for at skabe sansemæssige oplevelser, bl.a. ved at udforske de strukturer og fortællende kvaliteter, der knytter sig til video og lyd – ofte i en kombination eller sammenstilling.”
Beskueren for øje
I værket ”There, there” ses et udsnit af et landskab, der fastholdes som et statisk billede. Nøgne træer med spinkle grene indrammer et bagvedliggende bjerg, der sløres af en røg, der over de 4:30 min., som videoen varer, skiftevis tiltager og aftager i styrke. Ligeledes gør lyset i billedet – snart er det stærkt, dramatisk og farvestrålende, snart svagt og dystert. Billedet ledsages af lyde, der som fare- eller advarselssignaler skaber en fornemmelse af, at der foregår noget under overfladen. Hvad holdes skjult? Forløsningen udebliver og som i mange andre værker af Maggý står man tilbage med en følelse af, at det handler om andet og mere end dét, vi umiddelbart kan se eller høre. Derfor bliver man nødt til at sætte sig selv i spil.
”Jeg stiller spørgsmål uden at have svar. Derfor er beskueren vigtig for mig. Man kan sige, at mine værker afhænger af ham; hvad han føler og relaterer til, og hvordan han ønsker at ’være i’ værket,” siger Maggý og påpeger, at hendes mål med sin kunst er skabe en oplevelse.
Beriget af oplevelser bliver man da også i mødet med Maggýs værker, der ikke kun beror på mystificering eller suspense, men som også påkalder sig beskuerens ubetingede opmærksomhed og tilstedeværelse i særegene universer, som man ikke kan undgå at blive fanget ind i – fysisk såvel som psykisk.
Et indre liv i mange farver
Et af udstillingens iøjnefaldende værker er installationen ”DeCore (aurae)”, som består af en projicering af funklende psykedeliske farver, der spredes som kalejdoskopiske formationer i et mørkt rum, hvor beskueren enten kan stå stille eller bevæge sig frit rundt.
”Værket handler om mine egne oplevelser af migræneanfald, hvor jeg går rundt i blinde. Her oplever jeg neurologiske forstyrrelser, og jeg ser kun blinkende farver og former,” forklarer Maggý. ”Værket er således et eksempel på, hvordan jeg søger at materialisere indre, immaterielle oplevelser i mit arbejde.”
Om værkets tilblivelse fortæller Maggý, at hun har filmet blomstrende planter og samplet billederne. Derefter har hun fjernet blomsterne fra baggrunden, reorganiseret dem og skabt nye organiske former ved brug af spejleffekter. Denne omdannelse er blevet gentaget igen og igen og på den måde tager de levende ”blomsterbilleder” nu form som en art hallucinationer.
”Værket er en struktureret form for visuel sammensætning, der er redigeret på samme måde, som var det en sang, hvor man tager hensyn til timing og flow,” siger Maggý og uddyber: ”Med værket ønskede jeg at skabe en energi, hvor hver ramme var i konstant bevægelse – hvor billeder skifter hvert sekund. Selvom der ingen lyd er, er den ikke på ingen måde fraværende, idet den tager musikalsk form af farve, bevægelse og rytme. På den måde kan man sige, at værket handler om at gøre lyd visuel og at få en synæstesi mellem lys, farver og lyd til at opstå.”
Når lyd bliver visuel
Lignende tanker kommer også til udtryk i værket ”Lucy”, hvor en ung kvinde står i et mørkt rum iført en kort pailletkjole. Vi ser hende kun glimtvis, men hendes stemme er konstant i en ren og klar toneklang. Efter ca. halvandet minut støder flere stemmer til, høje som dybe. Men stemmernes ejermænd er fraværende – den unge kvinde er helt alene. Gradvis akkumulerer stemmerne, og efter fire minutter slutter de i en samlet røst.
Hvad man som beskuer måske ikke lægger mærke til ved første øjekast er, at lydens styrke og intensitet er bestemmende for, hvordan billedet lyser op og toner ud i det mørklagte udstillingsrum.
Maggý fortæller, at med ”Lucy” har hun arbejdet med tanken om, at stemmen er egenrådig og bruger blot kroppen som et instrument.
Kendetegnende for ”Lucy” såvel udstillingens andre værker er, at de beror på en gennemarbejdet billed- og lydside, et filmisk eller teatralsk formsprog samt at de indgyder umiddelbare sanseligt øjeblikke, hvormed Maggý understreger, at hendes arbejde beror på en fænomenologisk tilgang til sin omverden – altså til en tanke om, at vores oplevelse i kraft af sansemæssige erfaringer.
Kunsten at udvide ørerne og øjnene
Maggýs værker er tidsbaserede og bygger altid på idéer om bevægelse. Og så har de en stærk reference til musik, der på mange måder er det centrale virkemiddel i hendes praksis.
”Fordi jeg er en kunstner, som har en musikalsk baggrund, er det naturligt for mig at bruge musikken til at få mine idéer til at komme til udtryk. På den måde har jeg skabt mit eget kunstneriske sprog” siger Maggý og fortsætter: ”Nogle ville måske kalde det, jeg laver for musik eller lydkunst. Nogle gange synes jeg selv, at det klart defineret, andre gange falder det imellem begreber.”
Det er tydeligt, at det for Maggý ikke handler om faste begreber eller principper. Det handler mere om at kredse om, at betone lydens strukturelle lag og lade dens former og potentialer som materiale og betydningsskaber komme til udtryk.
”Som komponist har jeg altid været fascineret af at udforske lyde og åbne op for idéer om, hvad musik kan være, hvorfor den kan få os til at blive følelsesmæssigt overvældet og give os fornemmelser af at være i en anden tid eller på et andet sted end vi faktisk er,” siger Maggý og forklarer, at hun er interesseret i at materialisere lyd ved at udforske, hvordan den bliver til og kan fremtræde foruden udforske, hvordan musik kan blive oversat til samme visuelle kvaliteter, som bevægelige billeder har.
”Man kan sige, at jeg gerne vil udvide ørerne og øjnene lidt” siger hun og smiler.
I sit arbejde bruger Maggý forskellige metoder og teknikker. Processerne er vigtige, fordi det er hér, at lyde eller billeder arrangeres, transformeres og manipuleres inden et værk kan nå sin endelige form.
”Det hele starter med en idé eller følelse, som kan være visuel eller auditiv. Den forsøger jeg så at materialisere ved at gøre den til en struktur eller form, der opstår eller udvikler sig i selve processen. På den måde kan jeg nogle gange føle mig som en videnskabsmand eller en opfinder i laboratoriet,” siger Maggý og forklarer, at hun hele tiden udvider sine arbejdsmetoder for bedre at kunne skabe, hvad hun kalder for sine ”lyriske universer”, som er meget personlige. Blandt andet arbejder hun med en animationsteknik, som hun selv har udviklet, og som kun hun kan bruge.
”Mine videoer er ret ’håndlavede’, selvom jeg arbejder ved en computer. Mange tror fejlagtigt, at videoerne er computergenererede. Det er faktisk animationer, der tager måneder at lave.”
Det er også en af grundene til, at Maggý foretrækker at arbejde i sit studie. Hendes arbejdsprocesser strækker sig over lang tid, og det er ikke usædvanligt, at nogle værker tager op til et år at lave – måske endda længere. Derfor arbejder hun også med flere værker på samme tid. Det giver en god variation, samtidig med, at det også kan berige processerne. Det er et langsommeligt arbejde, men altid spændende, da det også bringer overraskelser: ”Når man arbejder længe med et værk, hvor man er fokuseret på de mindste detaljer, fjerner man ofte fokus fra helheden. Derfor kan man også pludselig opleve eller se en effekt i sit arbejde, som man ikke havde forudset. På den måde er det en rejse – fra idé til det endelige værk.”
Til mit spørgsmål om, hvordan det er at arbejde med digitale eller elektroniske medier som grundlag for sin praksis, svarer Maggý: ”Vi lever i en verden, hvor medier spiller en stor rolle i vores daglige liv. Vi overbelastes med billeder og lyde, og vi kan alle skabe videoer og musik, f.eks. via apps i telefoner og computere. Men for mig handler det om, hvad man ønsker at sige med disse medier, og hvordan man som kunstner skaber noget meningsfuldt og engagerende.”
”For mig handler om at være nytænkende og om at tænke over, hvordan man præsenterer noget visuelt for beskueren, som er andet og mere end blot mere information. Dét, jeg gerne vil er at skabe et rum – en pause fra omverdenen – hvor vi kan opleve og reflektere på egen hånd.”
Dodda Maggý er født i 1981. Hun har uddannet sig inden for musik og kunst og har studeret på The Iceland Academy of the Arts og Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi. Siden midten af 00’erne har Maggý været aktiv på den internationale lyd- og kunstscene og har med sine værker bidraget til udstillinger, events, messer og festivaller. I dag bor og arbejder hun i Reykjavik.
I marts 2015 slog ARoS dørene op for en ny udstillingsrække ved navn ARoS FOCUS//NEW NORDIC. Fokus blev rettet mod den nordiske samtidskunst og havde som udgangspunkt at vise en række yngre nordiske kunstnere med meget forskelligartede produktioner. Dodda Maggý er den niende og sidste kunstner i udstillingsrækken. Hun modtager i den forbindelse legatet Young Talent, som gives med støtte fra Det Obelske Familiefond.
‘Nordic Outbreak’: Curator Tanya Toft On How Nordic Art Extends Far Beyond Bjork
HuffPost Arts & Culture
Interview with Tanya Toft co-curator of Nordic Outbreak
What do you know about Nordic art? If your knowledge begins and ends with Bjork we suggest checking out “Nordic Outbreak,” an exhibition illuminating the Northern region’s influences and aesthetics. The Streaming Museum exhibition features over 30 moving image works from Nordic artists that will be projected on screens in public spaces throughout New York City – including a “Midnight Moment” with Bjork in Times Square. Many of the works on display that were selected by co-curators Nina Colosi and Tanya Toft respond to the clashing identities in our new digital age. We reached out to Toft to learn more.
HP: The press release for the show mentions the stereotypical Nordic aesthetic as “minimal, melancholic and naturalist”… something this exhibition aims to change. Which artists were influential in casting Nordic art this way?
TT: An artist like Olafur Eliasson is a contemporary Nordic artist whose work with light, space, fog and sensitive play with colors of nature’s elements, reveal an aura of something Nordic. It conveys certain aesthetic ideas that reveal symptoms of romanticism and a seeking after the sublime rather than the beautiful. There is a melancholic feel to that meeting between man and nature, which we also find in the works of Jesper Just for example, who is in the Nordic Outbreak program with his work “Llano” (2012). In selecting the works for Nordic Outbreak, we were also interested in renegotiations of nature and landscape, which artists like Dodda Maggy, QNQ/AUJIK, Jette Ellgaard and Magnus Sigurdarson enact.
HP: Do you think there is a more accurate driving aesthetic of Nordic culture today? If so, what is it?
TT: I don’t think there is one driving aesthetic, but the artworks in Nordic Oubreak show symptoms of improvisation and play, which is somewhat “new” in a Nordic art context that might have been characterized more by control and high quality. Some of the artworks express aesthetic cultures that were not “born” out of a Nordic context. There is a struggle between introspection and extroversion – following a right wing and nationalist political period in some of Nordic countries up through the 2000s, financial crisis, and in response to the digital age. There seems to be a clash between looking in and looking out, guarding and departing. In quite a few of these works, existential questions are brought beyond the invidividual and psyche – which has been a tendency, perhaps – and pointed toward one’s role in a greater context. It is also characteristic that these artists express and awareness of the medium they are working with, and in many of the works the audience is addressed as individual viewers whose optics are shaped in a contemporary world. That we find in the works by for example Marit Følstad, Mogens Jacobsen, and Iselin Linstad Hauge.
HP: What was one of the greatest challenges of putting the exhibition together?
TT: Asking questions like: What does it mean to take ‘the digital’ as a curatorial premise – and wrapping your head and decisions around that. I don’t think there is one model. We wanted to instigate logic to the exhibition that would open up for questions concerning materiality, originality, network, and questions relating to the role of moving image in an urban context. Also, working around the partnerships we established along the way has been an interesting challenge – conceptually and practically. We lost some venues in New York that were ruined by Hurricane Sandy, which was challenging but which eventually let to exciting partnerships that we had not anticipated, for example with Dumbo Improvement District and the Manhattan Bridge Archway.
HP: What is the age range of the 30 artists represented?
Were you specifically looking for a selection of younger artists?
TT: Age was not a parameter. In fact, quite a few of the artists are quite well established. We were looking for artists that experiment with moving image, as a medium and thematic frame of expression. This is why the collection includes very ambitious animation works as well as classic, documentary-style video works. The show is not just about “new” aesthetics – it is very much about the issues put forward as societal critiques, as voices of “the happiest people” that are rarely expressed in an international context.
HP: For those of us who are huge Bjork fans, which artist do you think is following in her footsteps?
TT: I think there is a tendency of artists to become accepted for their multimedia talents, of which Bjork is a pioneering example. We selected her for the Midnight Moment in Times Square because she is a performance and visual artist who completely brakes with the barriers of art, technology, music and digital structure, which she demonstrated with her Biophilia album. There is no “next Bjork”. But there is a generation of young artists who cross over music and media art (e.g. Oh Land and Lucy Love, to name a few from the Danish music scene), not just by hiring good stage designers but by expressing their music visually as well. That is really interesting – a new kid in the school of fine art, I am sure.
The Music of Vision
ARTnord Magazine no. 11
Sound and music are the departure points in the work of Icelandic artist Dodda Maggý (b. 1981). Besides creating installations, she veers towards video as the medium for her work. A recurrent theme in her works is the gaze and the act of seeing. The theme is brought to presence by a staging of characters who are almost always named. Female names entitle many of her works. The works often establish a charged interplay between the gaze of the character and the audience, where the character is the object under the gaze of the audience. It is also the case in the video DE-CORE (Aurae), where vision is the central motif, albeit in a more abstract way.
The silent video-projection DE-CORE is an animation of symmetric compositions that unfold to reveal an extraordinarily complex living and organic structure composed of constantly changing small mobile elements. From a purely stylistic point of view, we are reminded of the “visual music” tradition originating in experimental films and animation. However, as we will see, it is more a case of a mise-en-scene of the “music of vision.”
The concept of a visual music figures frequently in the history of art. The idea of a “visible” music usually takes the form of a sound-image that visually reflects features that we associate with sound or music. Take the symmetrical patterns of grains of sand from Chladni’s experiments, Klee’s movement schemas or Kandinsky’s experiments with sound-color relations. The introduction, in the twentieth century, of different image-producing technologies, such as color-organs and color projections, created new possibilities for the concept of a sound-image as a dynamic phenomenon. A moving sound-image can be found in the films of many artists such as James and John Whitney, Mary Ellen Bute, Len Lye and above all Oskar Fischinger (who has also experimented with optic sounds, the transformation of graphic forms into sound). Under the idea of a visual music an extraordinary series of works were developed involving animation of light and colors in relation to music.
With the arrival of the digital image, new experimental possibilities in translating sound forms into visual forms occurred, leading to the presence of color “visualizers” in multimedia players, among others.
The animation presented in DE-CORE shares common features with these historical examples of visual music. Although music as an audible element is absent, the animated, dynamic forms presented in the work, invite a “musical” reading of the visual pattern with its prominent pulse and rhythm. The pattern’s various concentric circles give a graphic impression of harmonic and structural relations.
Nonetheless, the work’s main emphasis is on the visual, with its established dynamic interplay between parts and the whole as a key element. The emerging animated pattern appears as an ever-changing complex graphical perpetual mobile. The image’s global composition is organized around a fixed center with multiple, crossing lines of reflection, much like a kaleidoscope, but with more dynamic. The overall pattern emerges and is changed by the movement and change in the individual small elements. The movement of these multiple particles attracts one’s attention and makes it difficult to focus on the macro-level of the image. At the same time, numerous reflections prevent one from maintaining attention on specific details. Attention is once again drawn towards the global form. Visual attention fluctuates between these levels without finding a state of rest or resolution. There is something undeniably baroque in this fractal principle of pattern formation.
The visual particle-elements in the pattern are all extracted from hundreds of video recordings of flowers. Each of them were individually processed, isolated and transformed through a special mirroring process. The resulting, more or less abstract forms were then reflected again and animated in order to create the elementary level of the image, in which the original flower images tend to disappear.
Dodda Maggý acknowledges the parallel that exists between the minute animation work with video recordings and her musical work with sound recordings. In this approach one finds an echo of the idea of a music composed from recorded sounds, as conceived by the French composer and radio technician Pierre Schaeffer in the 1950s -1960s. Schaeffer imagined a new music that could, in principle, contain all types of sounds, not limited to the timbre of instruments in a traditional orchestra. As an analogy, it is tempting to think of DE-CORE as a kind of concrete visual music. Like the recording of sounds in concrete music, the recognizable flower-images in the video-recordings is transformed. What remains is a video material that is detached from reality.
In DE-CORE, the question of the status of the “musical” is submitted to yet another alteration, as suggested by the parenthesis (Aurae) in the title. Aurae refers to a pathological state that appears just before a migraine attack, in which flickering perturbs vision. This reference opens for a possible interpretation of the visual pattern as a visible music, which at the same time disturbs our vision of reality. Following this line of thought, the visual music presented in DE-CORE is not something that appears when one sees the world in a certain way⎯which according to Schaeffer was a condition for the perception of the concrete music in everyday sounds⎯but something that comes from an interior vision. In this case, what is “musical” would be something inherent to sight. The work thus moves the idea of the music of reality to the eye itself, and makes it part of the logic of vision. Thus it is no longer the music of the visual that is thematized in the work, but rather a music specific to vision. Thus DE-CORE suggests a possible difference between music of the visible and music of vision.
Rune Søchting, an artist, works on his doctoral thesis at the Royal Academy of Arts in Denmark.
From 2007 to 2009, he was the coordinator of the study program Nordic Sound Art.
Visuellt om och med ljud
Review on Horizonic in Ystads Art Museum
Sweden, 28 September 2012
”Horizonic – unfolding space through sound art”.
Efter ett missförstått konstprojekt sparkades han från lärartjänsten på Århus konservatorium, dömdes för stöld och fick passet konfiskerat. Men den färöiske kompositören Goodiepal lät sig inte begränsas av det.
Istället cyklade han från Köpenhamn till Moskva och sprider numera sin radikala datormusik via nätet och föreläsningar, som gränsar till performanceverk.
Nu står hans hembyggda liggcykel, i vilken han vanligen arbetar, sover och genererar ström till sin dator med, parkerad på Ystads konstmuseum. Fast jag saknar möjligheten att lyssna på hans musik. Istället presenterar han sitt arbete och liv som kulturell hacker med anarkistiska skriftrullar och personliga ägodelar.
Om Goodiepals bidrag är det mest galna och roliga, rymmer vandringsutställningen ”Horizonic” en rad verk tillkomna under rätt extrema förhållanden. Temat är smalt, men fungerar genom sin tydliga profilering: konst som på olika sätt förhåller sig till ljud samt till det nordligaste Norden. Alla tio konstnärer har någon anknytning till Färöarna, Svalbard, Nordnorge, Island eller Grönland.
Så blir också naturen, med sin stränga kyla, istäckta vidder och kärva förutsättningar, en utgångspunkt för flertalet konstnärer. Grönländska Jessie Kleemann och Iben Mondrup iscensätter en schamanistisk performance i vattenbrynet där rytm och kropp, nutid och urtid smälter samman.
Avsevärt mer intressant, med oroande politisk kraft, är svenska Åsa Stjernas bidrag. I samarbete med forskare vid Internationella Meteorologiska institutet vid Stockholms universitet har hon skapat ett ljudverk som i realtid baserar sig på mätningar av hur Nordpolens is smälter. En klirrande, gnistrande, dovt pulserande upplevelse av den globala uppvärmningens konsekvenser.
Allt på utställningen är nu inte natur – eller ljud – vilket bidrar till helhetens styrka. Ljudkonst, som lagom till hundraårsjubileet av pionjären John Cages födelse uppmärksammas med satsningar i både Stockholm och Köpenhamn, kan annars ibland bli en rätt torftig visuell historia.
Men här agerar bland andra isländska Dodda Maggý motvikt, med sin ljudlösa, psykedeliska videoprojektion baserad på kalejdoskopiska speglingar av blomsternärbilder. Genom mönstrets växlingar, transformationer och glimrande explosioner förmedlar hon känslan av att se ljud, istället för att höra det. Ett av de mer spännande verken på ”Horizonic”, som lyckas ganska bra med konststycket att vara en visuell utställning – med och om ljud.
Catalog for the Graduation Exhibition from the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts
Copenhagen, 1 May – 20 June 2009
The experience of fainting, waking up and realizing that one has been in a parallel state has influenced Dodda Maggý’s artistic practice. As a child she often fainted, and it became an occurrence to be caught between different states of consciousness. The unbound connection between the physical residence of the body and the mental universe of the psyche has created an interest for the increased receptiveness and emotional experiences of the situation.
To be confronted with an out-of-body experience paradoxically reminds one that one is actually present in a sensing body. Dodda Maggý’s work emphasizes this element and her works primarily materialize in video and sound. Both the audio and visual components are lyrical and simple structures, which compose a non-verbal emotional language. In her videos she herself plays the female performer, who draped in colorful costumes enacts dreamy and seductive scenes, enacted in imaginary spaces outside time and space. Female figures with names such as Lucy, Iris and Stella connote an element of inexplicable mystery like characters from a David Lynch film.
Dodda Maggý’s works materialize trance-like states, and she works with passing on and opening the experience to her audience. Via her performative act she tempts the viewer to surrender to the same state. The performer’s seductive gaze looks directly out of the video at the viewer in the room. There is a hypnotic relation: To return the gaze is simultaneously to try to see oneself see. The intimacy created by being locked into the gaze of the artist is overwhelming, even though the situation is staged and strongly theatrical. A tune is played and created a sense of progression in the otherwise anti-developmental narrative in the video and suggestive state of daydreaming. The premise, to reach this female figure trapped in this displaced state of reality, to lose control and look within.
Oplevelsen af at besvime, vågne op bagefter og indse man har været i en paralleltilstand, har sat sit præg på Dodda Maggýs kunstneriske virke. Som barn besvimede hun tit og det blev til en begivenhed at være fanget mellem forskellige bevidsthedstilstande. Den løsrevne forbindelse mellem kroppens fysiske forankring og sindets mentale univers har skabt en interesse for situationens skærpede sanselighed og følelsesmæssige erfaringer.
At konfronteres med en ud-af-kroppen oplevelse gør paradoksalt nok samtidig én opmærksom på, at man faktisk befinder sig i en sansende krop. Dodda Maggý arbejder med at fremhæve dette element, og hendes værker udfolder sig primært performativt i video og lyd. Både de auditive og visuelle komponenter er lyriske og simple strukturer som udgør kompositioner over et nonverbalt følelsesmæssigt sprog. I sine videoværker spiller hun selv den kvindelige performer, der iført farverige kostymer udfolder drømmende og forførende seancer, udspillet i imaginære rum udenfor tid og sted. Kvindefigurerne med navne som Lucy, Iris og Stella emmer af uforklarlig mystik som karakterer fra en David Lynch film.
Dodda Maggýs værker materialiserer trancelignende stadier, og hun arbejder med at videregive og åbne oplevelsen for sit publikum. Via sin performative optræden frister hun beskueren til at overgive sig til samme tilstand. Performerens fængslende blik kigger direkte ud af videoen på beskueren i rummet. Det er en hypnotiserende relation: At gengælde dét blik er samtidig et forsøg på at se sig selv se. Intimiteten ved at blive låst fast i kunstnerens blik er overvældende, selvom situationen er iscenesat og stærkt teatralsk. En melodi spiller og skaber forløb i den ellers udviklingstomme fortælling i videoen og den suggestive tilstand af dagdrømmeri. Præmissen for at nå denne kvindeskikkelse, der befinder sig i en forskudt realitet, er at slippe kontrollen og kigge indad.
Jeg ser dig, og jeg ser mig
Downtown Magazine 04 Vol. 2
Ida Marie Fich
Copenhagen, May 2009
Der er de mennesker, der taler til én med det samme. I hele deres væsen, deres blik, ja, ned til den måde de går og taler på, fanges man ind af dem. En virkning, der minder om den, kunst kan have på én. Sådan var det at møde den 27-årige islandske kunstner Dodda Maggý. Hun er lige så eventyrlig som sit navn, kan snart kalde sig færdiguddannet kunstner og er dermed aktuel på udstillingen EXIT på Kunstforeningen Gl. Strand. I mere end 250 år har Det Kongelige Kunstakademis Billedkunstskoler dannet rammen for udviklingen af nyt kunstnerisk talent, og hvert år udklækkes unge kunstnere med dugfriske versioner og udtryk indenfor video-, billed- og installationskunst. Det markerer Kunstforeningen Gl. Strand med den årligt tilbagevendende og fremadskuende udstilling EXIT, som i år præsenterer 16 afgangselevers vidt forskellige værker. En af dem hedder Dodda Maggý, og hun er i fuld gang med at lægge sidste hånd på sit bidrag til udstillingen, da Downtown lukkes ind i hendes poetiske univers af blide toner og flygtige eksistenser.
Toner og glimt
Charlottenborgs imponerende renæssancemure skærmer for Kongens Nytorvs trafik- og menneskemylder. Her har Akademiet, som det i folkemunde er kendt som, haft til huse siden 1753. Mangen en kunstnerspire har betrådt den brostensbelagte gård, som nu også en lille kvinde i lyserøde strømpebukser skrår smilende over. Doddas mørke hår blæser let i forårsvinden, som i dag er utilregnelig nok til, at jeg inviteres op ad de tunge trapper og ind i hendes lydstudie. Det er her hun sammensætter de melodier, der tit akkompagnerer hendes små videoværker, som hun næsten altid selv optræder i. Med en baggrund i klassisk musik og som (snart afgående) studerende ved masteruddannelsen Nordic Sound Art har det altid faldet hende naturligt at arbejde med lyd- ,video- og performanceformer. Hendes pande får en lille tænksom fold, da jeg spørger ind til hendes kunst: ”Mine værker er meget poetiske,” fortæller hun på sit knasende islandskklingende engelsk. ”Det er svært at beskrive, hvad de består af, fordi de ofte handler om at udtrykke en følelse eller stemning non-verbalt, noget som man ikke ville behøve at i-tale-sætte, fordi man forstår det rent intuitivt eller kropsligt. Jeg er meget interesseret i det her følelsesmæssige sprog. Jeg tror, det er knyttet til den måde, jeg fungerer på som kunstner. Det er nemmere for mig at udtrykke mig gennem musik og billeder end ord.”
Musikken, Dodda komponerer i det lille, mørke lydstudie, er for det meste klassisk klavermusik i flere lag tilsat kor, og den udvikles sideløbende med den visuelle del. ”På mange måder arbejder jeg som en maler i min måde at have kontrol over billedet på,” siger Dodda om sin arbejdsproces. De første ideer får hun altid som ”glimt, der popper op i hovedet ”, og er altså af visuel art, men herfra følges de og musikken ad i en improvisations- og redigeringsproces. Musik og billede er altså ligeværdige og ikke adskilte dele, der komplimenterer eller bevidst står i kontrast til hinanden for at opbygge en særlig atmosfære.
Den stemning eller følelse, Dodda gerne vil have frem i sine videoer, bliver typisk repræsenteret af en karakter eller stemme i en bestemt situation. Det er den æstetiske og poetiske værdi af det situative, der optager Dodda på flere planer. Hendes videoer fungerer som meditationer over små øjeblikke som fx i hendes Iris (2006), hvor den enkle handling at hoppe i en sofa og lade sig falde ned på en madras bliver undersøgt fra alle leder og kanter. Man ser den hoppende Dodda fra neden og med ansigtet i front og følger til sidst faldet i et loop, der gentages flere gange. Det er dermed ikke deciderede historier, der udfoldes hos Dodda. Karaktererne skal snarere forstås som billeder på identitet og bevidsthed, forklarer hun: ”Jeg vil ikke kalde mine værker narrative, men lyriske med en foreslået historie. Jeg er fascineret af den måde, hvorpå mennesket oplever, hvem de er og af, hvad det vil sige at eksistere. Mine karakterer har ikke en fast forståelse af sig selv, forståelsen flyder tit ind og ud mellem en imaginær og reel forestilling om identitet. Men selvet har stadig en base et sted, det er situeret i kroppen. Og den fysiske handling, situationen i videoerne, bliver et billede på det mentale rum, jeg gerne vil skabe for tilskueren.”
Som led i sin interesse for sammensætningen af identitet beskæftiger Dodda sig også med, hvordan vi iagttager hinanden og os selv, og hvordan vi eksisterer i kraft af at blive iagttaget. Gennemgående for videoerne er tilstedeværelsen af det, Dodda kalder gaze: blikket. Det kan give sig til kende i videoerne ved, at der bevidst leges med roller, identitet og performance og altså med en bevidsthed omkring det at blive iagttaget. I videoen Stella (2004) fx afslører to maskeklædte piger på skift, at de ligner hinanden til forveksling. Det er da guf for eksistentialister – ikke mindst når begge roller spilles af Dodda. Selvet og kroppen bliver fremstillet som foranderlige og flygtige størrelser, hvilket også er gældende for hendes nyeste værk, som vil være at opleve på EXIT på Kunstforeningen Gl. Strand.
Now you see me…
Udover at markere akademielevernes afgang er EXIT særlig som udstilling, fordi den ikke er ensrettet i sit udtryk. Den består af 16 vidt forskellige værker, der peger i alle mulige kunstneriske retninger og bliver sat op på kryds og tværs. Dodda lægger vægt på, at den version af hendes afgangsværk, som jeg får lov at se, er en ufærdig skitse og fortæller, at den i forhold til hendes andre værker er meget skrabet og minimalistisk i sin udformning. Den består ganske enkelt af ét gentaget loop uden progression: Man ser Dodda i hvidt tøj mod en hvid baggrund. Når hun tager hænderne op for øjnene, forsvinder hun foran tilskuerens øjne og viser sig igen, når hænderne lidt efter tages til side. Som videoens arbejdstitel, I’m not here, antyder, er det også her den menneskelige som kunstneriske eksistens og spændet mellem illusion og virkelighed, der reflekteres over. Denne gang især ved at bringe kameraet i spil:
”Jeg udforsker konfrontationen med kameraet og det rum, der skabes mellem kameraet, mig selv og tilskueren,” fortæller Dodda. ”På videoen er jeg meget bevidst om mig selv som billede og om mit publikum på den anden side af kameraet. Når jeg kigger ind i kameraet, kigger jeg tilskueren i øjnene, hvorved blikket og selvbevidstheden bliver iscenesat. Videoen handler om, hvordan man som menneske kan opleve sig selv i forskellige bevidsthedsniveauer. Alle kender fx til følelsen af at forsvinde ind i sig selv, og det leger videoen med.”
I stedet for at frygte at blive overset mellem de andre værker på udstillingen har Dodda tænkt dens form ind i sit værk. Det er hendes hensigt, at hendes video skal projekteres op på en hvid væg blandt de andre udstillede værker, så museumsgæsterne ikke nødvendigvis opdager den med det samme, men kan blive overraskede, når den pludselig dukker op på væggen.
Åben og på egne ben
Samtidig med EXIT-projektet arbejder Dodda på afslutningen af sit studie på Nordic Sound Art-linjen, et samarbejde mellem kunstakademierne i Trondheim, Malmö, Oslo og København, som har fokus på udviklingen af lydkunst. Afgangsprojekterne herfra kan opleves på udstillingen Soundings på Museum for Samtidskunst i Roskilde kun to uger før EXIT åbner, så blodet pumper hurtigt rundt i de islandske årer disse dage. Hvilket dog ikke kan mærkes på det rolige gemyt, der ikke et øjeblik panikker over fremtiden som finanskriseramt kunstner. ”Lige nu er det bare crazy busy,” smiler Dodda. ”Jeg er i kapløb med tiden. Men jeg er glad for at være færdig, jeg føler mig fyldt, klar og tilfreds med det, jeg har præsteret under min uddannelse og synes, jeg har fået rigtig meget ud af den. Og jeg glæder mig til at få ro på til at arbejde mere selvstændigt. Jeg er ikke nervøs for at stå på egne ben” Selvom det at være kunstner ikke er en beskyttet titel, ville Dodda ikke være for uden sin uddannelse. Hun mener det er vigtigt at engagere sig, være kritisk overfor og udvikle sig med sin kunst, hvis man vil være en del af en verden, der kan være krævende både personligt og professionelt. Og det kan en uddannelse hjælpe til. ”Men det er jo hårdt,” fortæller hun. ”Det kræver en stor del selvransagelse, og man går igennem en masse følelser, når man får kritik. Men jeg tror den proces er vigtig, og jeg ville anbefale folk at gøre det. Det er vigtigt at være kritisk og udadvendt og interesseret i at vide, hvad der foregår i kunstverdenen, hvis det er det man vil vel at mærke. Der er jo nogen, der laver kunst kun for dem selv. Men hvis man ønsker at være en del af samtidskunsten, bliver man nødt til at have øjnene åbne og vise man vil det.” Om kunst produceres med et politisk, æstetisk eller personligt øjemed går Dodda ikke så højt op i. Men at kunst må være ærlig og ikke lukke sig om sig selv for at nå ud til verden, og at kunst er en væsentlig del af samfundet, har hun bestemt en mening om. På EXIT vil man med sikkerhed kunne opleve den alsidighed og åbenhed overfor kunst, som Dodda står for. ”Ligesom musik kan kunst give mennesker meget og gøre livet rigere. Nogle kunstnere ønsker måske at bruge deres kunst politisk, og det synes jeg er vigtigt. Politisk kunst kan være en stemme, som ellers ikke ville blive hørt. Men jeg mener ikke, man kan tvinge alle til at være politiske, det bliver det ikke nødvendigvis interessant af. Kunstnere må finde ind til, hvad deres stærke side er. Kun når man arbejder med sig selv, og det man tror på og er, kommer der noget godt ud af det. Hvis det er ærligt kan andre mennesker mærke det stærkere.”
Dodda Maggý, født 1981 i Keflavik, Island. Har gået på musikskoler til hun var 19 år og siden studeret ved Kunstakademiet i Reykjavik og København. De sidste to år af sin overbygning har hun desuden fulgt det tværkulturelle og -faglige studie Nordic Sound Art, som er et samarbejde mellem kunstakademierne i København, Malmö, Oslo og Trondheim, der har fokus på udviklingen af lydkunst. Hendes afgangsværker kan opleves på Kunstforeningen Gl. Strand og Museet for Samtidskunst i maj.
Feminism Now?! – A two-part exhibition at Babel and Galleri Blunk
Translated by Kjetil Myskja and Birgit Kvamme Lundheim
Trondheim, March 5 – 11 2007
We define temperatures in terms of differences and oppositions; warmth is seen in opposition to cold. Our conception of the world around us is to a large extent structured by oppositions or dichotomies. The relationship between two contrasts can be described by pointing out the presence or absence of something. We are often not conscious of the value judgements inherent in the oppositions. Almost always, a hierarchy will be created, where one side is assigned positive characteristics, while the other one tends to be described through negative or less positively charged adjectives.
Both naturally and culturally, the Man/Woman dichotomy is a central one in the basic structure upon which our western society is founded. Along with post-structuralism, feminism has tried to unsettle and make us aware of the hierarchical thinking which to a very strong degree has permeated our ideas of the sexes. The art exhibition “Feminism Now?!” intends to find the bearings of feminism’s present position. What is feminism today, and where is it heading? How hot is the topic today? Have things cooled down? How will 18 young, Nordic artists comment on feminism in today’s situation?
“To me, feminism is a room, in which I am allowed to bring to light problems, systems, structures, constructions, habits and norms. Where I can criticize them, try to remake them, change them, cancel them.” Thus says Thea Veronica von der Maase, one of the exhibitors. She wants to “bring to light, criticize, cancel”; she wants to show us the disparities between the sexes, and she wants to deconstruct our habitual perceptions. Just as the slash in the opposition Man/Woman, her artwork is a barrier, the kind used to enclose an area and mark divisions. However, von der Maase’s barrier is soft and limp; it is made from felt and wadding and lies collapsed and useless on the floor. It no longer works the way it is supposed to, and we can easily step across it. It is far from virile. Should we perhaps lower the slash: Man_Woman?
Male artists were encouraged to submit works for “Feminism Now?!” (Are there others beside me that find the term “male artist” irritatingly unfamiliar? “Artist” is traditionally perceived to be a male, and we still haven’t got rid of this expectation. It is never mentioned specifically that an artist is male. “Female artist”, however, is commonly used to point to the fact that, “Hey, this time the artist is a woman!” As an exception from the rule.) However, it may not be unexpected that the great majority of the submissions come from women. One of the relatively few male contributors is Klas Hallerstrand, who shows a baseball bat. Masculine – yes, certainly, a bat may stand for something virile, sporty, active, and even for something violent. On the other side of the slash stands the feminine and passive, and the position of a victim. But Hallerstrand has decorated the bat with silk yarn in soft colours. Thus,he has stepped across von der Maase’s barrier. The bat gains a new dimension; it has been repositioned from the masculine to the feminine sphere, and thus becomes a strange and ambivalent element in the exhibition. A similar crossover between spheres is made in Yvonne Normanseth’s works, which consist of embroidered graffiti. It is hard to think of a greater contrast to embroidery than tagging and street art. The rough, quick and dangerous against the well behaved, painstaking and safe. Trend versus tradition. And the masculine versus the feminine. Such associations lie just below the surface, whether we want it or not, and it is difficult for us to rid ourselves of our accustomed thought-patterns. Such art can, if nothing else, make us conscious of our straitjackets.
The artists Naja Lundstrøm and Troels Lundstrøm make an interesting and sly comment on the exhibition concept. They have both submitted photographs of themselves. Their applications are almost identical. Troels writes, “Hi! I am interested in seeing what my chances are as a male artist to be included in the exhibition “Feminism Now”… Naja wants to see what her chances to be included are as a female artist. Their pictures are conspicuously similar… you choose for yourself what you want to believe. We can let this be a comment on the topical question of quotas. What if 10% of all artworks in all exhibitions had to be made by men? In this case, the 10% male representation is safeguarded by Klas Hallerstrand and Troels Lundstrom.
We have so far focused on stereotypical feminine qualities like passivity, innocence, frugality and on women’s role as bearers of traditions. However, the Femme fatale is another version of the feminine. She is someone over whom man has no control, and she is both frightening and destructive (we will here disregard the fact that this female stereotype has also been also sexualized and objectified.) We meet her in Hanna Paulin’s video works. An outdoorswoman aims her gun straight at us and fires. And it is not at all Cupid’s arrows that strike us. Here, we are drawn into the work of art, and into a dangerous world in which girls shoot – watch out all men! The femme fatale is also extremely flirtatious. In her video, Camilla L. Haukedal flirts with Joseph Beuys himself. Beuys is the prototype of a mysterious, masculine artist genius – active and avant garde. Haukedal consults him on how to become a better artist. The encounter moves in a slightly comical direction by and by, and it is Beuys who becomes the comic figure: he is demystified and becomes almost cute. Simultaneously, the artist plays so heavily on her feminine charm that she limits herself, and thus questions how imbalanced patterns are maintained by both camps.
Is it possible to escape prejudices and culturally determined standards for how to relate to members of the opposite sex? One of Lise Stålspets’ videos chooses as a point of departure the Greek myth about Apollo and Daphne. Apollo is head over heels in love with fair Daphne, but she does not reciprocate his love. He chases her, and she implores the gods to save her from being caught. They grant her prayers by transforming her into a tree. She has to pay an unreasonably high price for being left in peace. In her video, Stålspets allows Dapne to escape both Apollo and the passive existence of a tree.
For many it is difficult to avoid the cultural standards of femininity when our popular culture is permeated by feminine ideals that only a few may live up to. Listen carefully to ridiculous lyrics and see the vulgarly wiggling bottoms in music videos. Maria Meinild Nielsen has focused on Britney Spears’ lyrics. She transforms the pop lyrics to texts dealing with serious existential questions by having real, mature girls present them as if though they were their own thoughts. The acting in this video is impressive, and the texts have gained a vulnerable, solemn quality that the originals never possessed. The same sense of vulnerability is found in Dodda Maggy’s powerful video. Here the vulnerability is not anything weak or “feminine” in a negative sense, it is rather something more forceful than the most macho action painting. Iris jumps up and down in a bed, in slow motion. Maggy has also made the accompanying music, music that underlines the power of this poetical video. In the middle of the video there is a black pause, giving emphasis to what follows: Iris falls sideways into the bed, over and over again. She is virtually thrown into it. The overall impression is that of playfulness. Or of violence. By and by, it becomes impossible not to think of violence. The offender is not seen, but his or her presence can still be perceived. Iris keeps her mouth shut. We are never told about what goes on. Too often violence and abuse continue without being discovered by the surroundings.
As the exhibition demonstrates, feminism is still a hot topic. And if art related to feminism, as Dodda Maggy’s video, can have an influence on gender- related social problems, feminism should absolutely continue to be a hot issue. We’ll see if the temperature will rise to boiling hot in the course of the festival week. It’s a pleasure to record the quality of the contemporary art presented in “Feminism Now?!” So let us overcome the fear that women often harbour, the fear of expressing ourselves squarely and plainly; let us remove the hesitant question mark and shout “Feminism Now!”
2 March – 1 April 2006
Dodda Maggý creates a series of female characters based on personal experiences, which are then enacted in front of a video camera, accompanied by piano music composed and played by herself, sometimes re-worked using a simple recording technique, building layers as if sculpting. She creates audiovisual narratives that objectify the female body without degrading it to the status of a mere object. Digitally manipulated in post-production the characters are eerily illuminated and set within a void space, adding to the theatrical nature of the work. She edits the video in the same manner as one composes music; with highs and lows and a certain rhythm designed to create tension and heightened emotions. This method allows the work to communicate self and body as experienced in a context where existence is challenged or threatened.
Both video and music have the ability to construct narrative. Maggý uses both to attract her audience’s attention and then hold it until the end of the piece. She deliberately stretches the limit of how far she can take a certain emotion, sometimes to the point of being over-dramatic, leaving the viewer unclear as to her exact intentions – is she being serious or joking? This ambiguity gives the audience space to draw their own conclusions as to what the work is about.
‘Video/Music’ brings together two video works by the artist. Stella (2004) consists of two projections, back to back. In the first projection, a female character is shown walking, aware of being watched. Initially, she appears to enjoy the attention and flirts with the viewer. However, she gradually becomes uncomfortable with the gaze and frantically tries to escape it. In the second projection, two girls hop up and down in slow motion. As they take their bunny hoods off it transpires they are identical. They continue to jump euphorically and end up on the ground, touching and flirting with each other.
In Margret (2005), a small monitor shows a girl dancing in circles against a black background. She is reminiscent of a figurine in a music box, a ballerina on stage, or a woman dancing in a peepshow. In between advancing and retreating, she falls down repeatedly. Close-ups are evocative of melodramatic scenes from the black and white silent days of early cinema. The process is both enchanting and slightly disturbing to watch. One might think of it as a metaphor for the process of experimental creation: you begin somewhere, fall and stand up again, fall, stand up and so on.
The dramas and dilemmas of the desiring gaze emerge as a main theme of Dodda Maggy’s two video installations in this exhibition.
Stella (2004) comes in two parts. Part one begins with two girls bouncing up and down against a black background on what is probably a trampoline. Slow motion and a Debussy-ish piano score of tumbling scales and arpeggios (specially composed and performed by the artist) combine to suggest the intoxicating fun they are having. However, we soon discover this is not just the Billy Elliot-ish fun of bouncing up and down; it’s also the joy of simply being together. They clearly find each other irresistible. And this is confirmed by the closing scene where the two of them are shown sitting on the ground, gazing into each other’s eyes.
So what is their relationship? Are they lovers? Are they identical sisters? Is one of them the doppelgänger of the other – the kind of perfect imaginary friend that some children like to invent? Certainly, although they wear different coloured T-shirts and leggings, in many ways they seem uncannily alike. Before we can get any answers, however, the second part of the piece on the wall opposite starts up.
The lack of a sound track in part two seems to confirm that the young woman whose face we watch has a very different mood. Like the ‘girls’ in part one this character is also played by the artist. However, this is not immediately apparent. On the contrary, initially she seems happy enough to be the object of another’s (the viewer’s) gaze as she walks along. Her jewellery, hair and make-up suggest she is at an event of some kind, a film premiere perhaps, and she’s confident she’s looking good. Gradually though we realize she finds the viewer’s attentions intrusive, even threatening and the second part of the work ends with her in obvious distress walking faster and faster, and finally breaking into a run,
in a desperate attempt to escape.
It might seem therefore from this description that Stella is a pretty straightforward exercise in fetishistic scopophilia, albeit the narrative in each part remains unresolved. Indeed, the moment when terrified and tearful the young woman tries to hide from view might be seen as distinctly Hitchcockian in character. However, it does not come across like that. This is mostly because of the way the two parts are projected: not in a conventional manner but one after another, on opposite walls of the gallery. For what this does is ensure that at a certain moment we are obliged to turn and face in a new direction: a simple device but one that means that we feel estranged from the narrative; we have to engage with it in a way which is active rather than passive.
A similar Brechtian device occurs in the other work in the exhibition, Margret (2005). Here what prevents us from becoming immersed in the narrative is the fact that we have to listen to the accompanying soundtrack through headphones and have to view the image on a monitor that is just a few centimeters across. Because it’s so tiny all we are able to make out is a tiny white speck in the dark. However, when, rather clumsily, the camera moves in closer it becomes clear what this is. It is a young woman in slightly childish clothes (the infantilized woman again) spinning round and round, playing that game beloved of small children where you spin round until you make yourself dizzy and cannot stand up anymore.
I say ‘game’ because initially, as we watch her spin round, fall to the ground, get up, and start spinning again that is how it seems. Indeed, for a while it is possible to imagine a smile playing on her lips. However, as the sequence repeats itself not just once, but two, three times, this hardly seems appropriate. It is evident she has lost control and is continuing more or less against her will.
But why? What drives her on? At one level it could be the music we hear on the headphones for the impression is that this is being played by some invisible piano-playing authority figure. It is melodious but the way it is repeated over and over has a relentless, domineering quality. However, perhaps it is not so much this as we ourselves who are responsible for her ordeal. How come? Well, there is something about the business of viewing her ‘game’ on a tiny screen that makes one feel like a scientist in charge of an animal experiment or a pleasure-seeker operating an end-of-the-pier peepshow or one of those pirouetting ballerinas in a wind-up music box that you play with as a child.
Is Margret therefore in some way a feminist reflection on the role cinema plays in the construction of the image of woman? Interestingly, the fact that the woman wears starkly black and white clothes coupled with the slightly hammy, theatrical way she throws up her hands every time she falls to the ground and the clumsy camera movement gives the piece a decidedly archaic, early-cinema feel. It does seem therefore as if we are being asked to consider the way in which during its history cinema as an apparatus has served to manage pleasure for its viewers in accordance with the psychic formations of masculine sexuality positioning woman as image and man as the bearer of the look, as Laura Mulvey’s famous essay puts it. Indeed, in common with Stella, Margret might be read as an illustration of Mulvey’s thesis that in patriarchal culture the image of woman is “bound by the symbolic in which man can live out his fantasies and obsession through linguistic command imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer and not maker of meanings”.