Martin Wickström, “Not Dark Yet” (2012)

The “vacation” from art that was advertised in 2009 by Martin Wickström has come to an end. He is back with an exhibition at Angelika Knäpper Gallery where paintings, models, ready mades, even the fat electric cables on the floor, sway to a silent yet present music. As often in Wickström’s art, there is a literal surface free from phony abashment; a meaning, a designation, that is what it is. The exhibition is called “Not Dark Yet”. The inspiration is obviously the song by the same name from Bob Dylan’s album “Time Out of Mind” (1997), a melancholy not to say hopeless lyric about aging, falling shadows, a soul gone numb, scars that never healed, lost humanity, deception, emptiness and the devastating silence when not even a mumbled prayer can be heard.

Wickström has wandered around in the world of New York and painted photorealistic facades. Here enters a slight break between the significant and the denoted. Dylan’s art is borrowed once again, but possibly disguised and reserved for the dylanologists. “Elizabeth Street” from the song “Where Are You Tonight” (1978)? “St James Hotel” a pass to Blind Willie McTell (1983)? “Bleecker Street” after the artery that ran through Dylan’s Greenwich Village? Or Wickström simply wants to wake up the impulse of wanting to understand to later put an angle on the trail of thoughts. In seven series of paintings with varied motives, verses from “Not Dark Yet” reflect a confusingly visual undergrowth where both content and form are allowed to flow toward the cinematic and the dreamy in a way that the strictly held details of the facades are not.

The paintings on the walls have a direct dialogue with nine glass showcases in a row in three of the four gallery rooms. The showcases hold a synthesizing retrospective of models, reductions and representatives of objects that take us from the beginning of Wickström’s career, then through the peculiar world that the artist has managed to create up until his vacation. The last showcase contains his father’s camera and the note with thirty-six (a number that has given name to the piece) camera settings, written by the father. As with many things in the showcases, this object speaks to one of the works on the wall. In one painting (part of “I’ve Been Here All Day”) Wickström himself as a three year old is depicted from a photography taken by the father with his camera.

But the playfulness and intertextuality is held back. It’s not only a fleeting as well as present darkness that creates dissonance, but also an escape that constantly evens out into new and unanticipated levels. Like the predecessors Öyvind Fahlström and Dick Bengtsson, Wickström represents a deeply semiotic art which self consciously takes on the sign. The winding corridors of the psyche for the sign to wander just seem a lot longer and more complicated with Wickström. The idea about semiotics not only being a science of signs is reflected in his work; it could also be a way to picture how our unconscious works. Multiple images on top of each other create metaphors and a relationship to an object that is only expressed when it shifted to another becomes metonymies. This is poetry of the mind, a fictional order which when disrupted reveals and exposes the constructed and artificial relationship between our signs and what they mean. Wickström plays  with both the connections and with the process that is about to disrupt the order to expose it. In that way he is able to avoid an overly simple post modern metonymical feedback and overly aestheticizing cinematic metaphors in the expression of kitsch and pop that belongs to our time. The complicated has a purpose.

Wickström’s tickling reprimands of associations sway back and forth to the tones of Dylan. It’s suggestive, but sometimes the affect disappears in an art that leans toward the cerebral. Maybe it’s the form of the exhibition as well where the showcases, sometimes put in order in a way that makes you think of dioramas, become overly static and archaic. Undeniably the electric cable, that ties some of the together, is there on the floor gleaming, black and fat. The room is also held together thanks to the many gloomy facades on the walls.

It is the pieces that dare to abrade that finally creates affect, energy and presence. The facade of the apartment building in Finspång cries out in frenzied anxiety over the fact that Bob Dylan never will write a verse about Södra Storängsvägen. All of the objects gain their value and meaning through their relation to other objects. Finspång and “the Village” tell a story about a crucial difference where it constantly has to exist something greater, something better. Wickström has been to New York. Maybe Finspång and the lost folkhem is what is now unattainable. At the same time there is a liberating twinkle in Wickström’s eye as he presents the facade from Finspång next to those from New York. In communication and art all this is possible. Sometimes the complex question of representation is reduced to every man’s magic.

Another noticeable piece is the painting “August 3, 1970″ that has no connotations to Dylan, or anything else whatsoever. The painting is parted into two fields. In one you can see a shallow brook, some pebbles and grass. In the other there is a photographically painted detail of a woman who leads a small boy ahead of a man with a name tag. Neither the woman’s nor the man’s face is visible in the image and the boy’s head is angled toward the grass they walk over, so the face is hidden. There is a feeling of Jan Stenmark in the scene; light but at the same time as if a sorrow has taken root in the landscape. The combination with the brook is also abrupt and gives an immediate dissonance. Wickström has not created a classical diptych where the motives reflect each other, instead he has accomplished one of the violent split screens of television.

The parted piece speaks louder and louder after a while. Finally it’s like it’s owning the entire exhibition with its being and everything else is just preparatory work. Wickström captures the language and the duality of the subject; not to dissect it but to transform it to artistic affect. He also shows how the most intimate and quiet can become universal and illustrate how patterns of thought work practically. An idiom from a cultural industry can be reused and directed toward new immaterial reflections rather than an excess of objects or the conventions of cinema. When Dylan wrote that it wasn’t dark yet the nightfall came to a halt and became a state. There will always be enough light. Time enough for vacation and work; to create things and to create disruptions that become thoughts.

Axel Anderson

The text appeared first in Swedish in Konsten.net, 26/1-2012
Translation: Fanny Wickström, originally published here

 

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