Presence of the Past, group show, 15 November–20 December 2012

As the opening exhibition of the gallery, Cecilia Hillström is pleased to present a group show, Presence of the past, with Johan Bergström Hyldahl, Tonje Bøe Birkeland, Martin Karlsson and Märta Mattsson. Each artist maps an individual territory within the contemporary art scene by exploring the landscape of past narratives in various media and perspectives. The uniting structure in their approaches is their way of revisiting aesthetic concepts present in 18th and 19th century art.

In the project Color Testing by  Johan Bergström Hyldahl, the viewer confronts a twofold Sturm und Drang drama in which Goetheʼs color circle plays a significant role as intermediate for the different parts of the project. A self-portrait paraphrasing artists such as Arnold Böcklin, Caspar David Friedrich and Philipp Otto Runge further enhances the 19th century allusions, giving the project a defined romantic framing by revealing the intellectual as well as the inner existential self of the artist. The aspect of investigating the position of the artist is present in the series of photographs by Tonje Bøe Birkeland. The work depicts a fictional female adventurer, Tuva Tengel, embarking on a project to journey through Mongolia. The starting point appears to be the tradition of periegesis – travelling in order to explore foreign and ancient cultures – which was nearly obligatory among artists and authors during the 18th and 19th centuries. Bøe Birkeland puts herself in the role of intermediate between the viewer and the action. There is a strong link to the sublime landscape settings of the 19th century, in which the emotional condition – often balancing on the border of horror and delight – is being reflected through the gaze of the viewer.

The tension that lies between horror and delight is also highly present in the art jewelry of Märta Mattsson, Rebirth. By exposing plants and dead animals in her artwork, she references the 18th century tradition of cabinets of curiosities and at the same time places her works in a highly contemporary philosophical discourse concerning the relationship between animals and human beings. Mattsonʼs work evokes a sense of discomfort, and perception gets lost in the ambiguous landscape of repulsion and beauty. On focusing on the picturesque garden,  Martin Karlsson in his series Arcadia – Model, Museum and Playground, captures the essence of the 18th century aesthetics. Karlssonʼs photographs are characterized by a longing for ancient times and the mystification of nature that took place during the Enlightenment. At the same time he confirms the link to contemporary “Arcadias” and our persistent need of storytelling, fantasies and dreams.

The artists journey through a cultural past, as well as in the footsteps of previous artists. They all have in common their double identities as reporters and actors, acting as representations and representatives within the same depiction. It is a sign of the longing for times past inwhich the fantasy of experiences flourishes, and it is connected to this past by its very existence in artistic form.

Text: Felicia Tolentino
art historian
Images: Jean-Baptiste Beranger

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