Abstract short story

On the work Painting Site by Ingunn Fjóla  Ingþórsdóttir

Involved in every experience there is a process, some kind of a narrative or a short story. The story is based on the time and the method that each person uses to register what he or she experiences. Language can be a tool of use during the process of recognition, but also something more intangible, which can be described as an aesthetic notion or a subtle feeling. The simple act of viewing an artwork can be seen as having a storyline, as one goes from perception to analysis, frequently concluding with some kind of a judgment. This well known process, unconsciously used by people when taking in different experiences, is for many artists the subject of investigation in means of finding new ways of thinking of art. This has for example fruited numbers of works involving a shock effect, trying to catch the viewer unguarded. Artist often work with the subject of experience, aspiring to leave the viewers with altered points of view. Art can in that way be political without being about politics or the topics of today. When changing the traditional way of perceiving one can say that art is radical.

Ingunn Fjóla Ingþórsdóttir (b. 1976) uses a simple, but effective way of shifting the viewers’ perception from the visual to the physical. By inviting the viewers to move around while observing they not only perceive with their eyes and thoughts, but with their whole body.  Her work “Painting Site”, from 2008, is made of painted chipboards mounted together in an upright position so they make small groups of partition walls that one can walk between. The construction of plates moves sinuously between two rooms, the former is bright while the other is dark. Each plate makes an individual painting, some are hard edge fully or partly covering the plate while others are more painterly. Ingunn plays with the idea of the two-dimensional surface painting of modernism by creating an abstract world that people are able to enter. In the history of abstract painting, two installations come to mind that can be seen as having paved the way for works like the one in question here. One thinks of the groundbreaking Rothko Chapel (inaugurated in 1971), a meditative space filled with paintings by Mark Rothko. It is a holistic work, created as such from scratch, merging painting and architecture into one site-specific experience. Such a scheme also grounds the calculated work of Blinky Palermo, To the People of New York City (1976–77). A set of thirty-nine paintings, it is composed of three color variations displayed in a line across a space in separate groupings, where the distance between the units of each grouping is equal to their respective width. This method, a kind of rhythmical repetition, can be described as a means to activate the space and that certainly is a mutual position for Palermo and Ingunn Fjóla. Her painted sheets come off the walls of the exhibition space and create a new environment. The plates are higher than an average person, enclosing the spectator in a labyrinth of colors that vary as he or she moves around. Each position gives a view to a new angle, a composition of lines, forms and colors where also light and shadow have a role to play. The piece is not all what it seems as the viewer sometimes is tricked into an angle that cannot be entered. Ingunn Fjóla bends the persistent idea about art that it should be an object to look at or walk around. Here the spectators are enclosed by the piece itself. This reverse set of roles provides an interesting resemblance to architecture and design. Looking at contemporary art in a larger context one can often find original ideas based on that kind of crossover between disciplines.

It is interesting to think of the work of Ingunn Fjóla in relation to performance, i.e. the viewer as an actor performing in a stage-set designed by her. One can think of these subtle implications in light of the writing of the American critic, Michael Fried, and his articulation of theatricality in his landmark criticism on minimalism. In his view, “Art degenerates as it approaches the condition of theatre.”[1] Theater positions the viewer as subject, and the work as object in relation to time and place. On the contrary, Fried argues, modernist painting and sculpture aspired to suspend this kind of objecthood and theatricality. His critique was that the minimalist objects highlighted the space in which they were displayed and the duration of the viewer’s visit. Ingunn Fjóla takes him at his word and positively engages the spectator. The experience of an exhibition of a work becomes as important as the work itself, its presence and that of the viewer are paramount. The phenomenological effect of her work is based on its presence and the viewer’s recognition as he or she moves within it. The sheets of chipboard are thoughtfully installed for the viewer to have a particular experience. Ingunn Fjóla maneuvers the viewer to walk back and forth; in a way performing with the object and the space. The narrative or the miniature historical sequence is based on how the viewer approaches the work, following a pattern of beginning, middle and end. The work’s duration is based on the viewer’s endurance. This performative role of the viewer is manifested in the fact that the work of art is fundamentally only composed of surface, based on thin sheets of wood and paint. However, the reality of it, its subjectivity or its identity, is at the mercy of who is looking. The Swiss curator, Dieter Schwartz, wrote: “Identity and difference calls for a third party. They involve the spectator spatially, in measuring with his glance the distance from one form to the other, and temporally, in experiencing in this way a historical sequence.”[2] This is something that Ingunn Fjóla is addressing in her installation. She creates a set of different surfaces for the viewers to engage with, creating their own little narrative, an abstract short story in which they play the leading role. 

Markús Þór Andrésson

[1] Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood” in Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 164.

[2] Dieter Schwarz ,“Just Doubles This The Distant Doubles Must As & Others,” in Rare spellings: selected drawings = zeichnungen, 1985-1992 (Düsseldorf: Richter, 1993), 116.