CAG Façade and offsite at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first Canadian solo presentation of work by Swedish artist Gunilla Klingberg: two new interrelated large-scale commissions across the gallery façade and offsite, both challenging and exploiting the opportunities presented at each location.
Klingberg’s practice is characterized by the intersection of received knowledge, folk beliefs, popular culture, and divergent cultural activities. Her work draws our attention to how complicated the connections between these systems are, but it also plays with the things that arise in this encounter, a pivotal feature being an interest in what is produced by the hybridization of distinct cultures, traditions and geographies. The disparate and heterogeneous are interwoven creating meanings that mutate to form a new context.
At the gallery and Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, two patterned murals appear to evoke cosmic mandalas, transforming the individual spaces and enveloping the viewer in light and colour, shifting patterns and reflections. Klingberg’s work surrounds us. We are seduced, made part of a special atmosphere, immersed within the work rather than just looking at it. Her interest in using patterns and movement to manipulate our seeing, to influence our state of consciousness and our sensory impressions, has links with Op Art and the psychedelic movement of the late sixties, appropriate touchstones in the recent history of the counterculture in this part of the world.
However, what at first glance appears to recall a certain set of values and moments in time has another dimension, a different shared experience. If we look more closely we see that the intricate ornamentation, the symmetrically repeated symbols of these murals, is made up of something much more mainstream: corporate logos from Canadian low-cost and high-street stores. Concepts are intertwined: while science might appropriate metaphors from mythologies or New-Age ideas borrow from the language of the natural sciences, here spirituality merges with everyday consumer culture. Klingberg suggests that they are analogous, that both seem to promise the same thing: a state in which nothing is uncomfortable or threatening—the possibility of total, rapid satisfaction of our needs and desires, accessible to everyone. The images are so familiar that we no longer think about them, yet they present a subconscious influence uniting us in a no-man’s land between the public and the private. She evokes a spirit of community, or of commonality, and poses questions regarding what it would be to have something in common.
Amid the proliferation of progressively similar goods it is the small, meaningful differences that count. The world around us is increasingly transformed into a surface filled with signs — computer screens, urban space, advertisements, the pages of newspapers — the most tangible properties being disposability and change. It is these surfaces that concern Klingberg. Our urban environment, its dwindling public places increasingly invaded by homogenous architecture and development, the objects we own, all constitute an intricate system of codes, messages and ideologies, our choices and participation tantamount to consuming. The boundary between art and design is often drawn along the line of utility and usefulness. But the edge becomes increasingly elastic when the difference between the values of these forms depends not so much on their functionality as on their seductiveness or power of rhetorical persuasion. Thus Klingberg’s work moves further than a mere critique of brand fetishism, the lure of contemporary global labels, beyond just pointing things out and rejecting them. It poses the awkward question of whether being alternative to a mainstream or on the “outside” is any longer possible. Might a more critical and appropriate assessment lie in revealing and acknowledging the subtle and insidious way in which we are all drawn into a sense of fascination with the things that surround us. Through her work we find ourselves in a situation in which we feel the power of images and beliefs being examined. We are all complicit.
The exhibition is supported by Iaspis, the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s International Programme for Visual Artists. At Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, work is presented in partnership with the Canada Line Public Art Program – InTransit BC.
Gunilla Klingberg lives and works in Stockholm and Berlin. Solo exhibitions include Malmö Konsthall; Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin; Rice Gallery, Houston; Eastside Projects, Birmingham, UK; Kulturhuset, Stockholm; Skellefteå Konsthall, Sweden; Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm; Zeppelin University, Germany; KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki; and Index, Stockholm. She also has participated in several group exhibitions including A Modern Panarion: Glimpses of Occultism in Dublin, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, Ireland (2014); Sense and Sustainability, the first biennial of art, nature and urbanism, Urdaibai Natural Reserve, Bermeo, Spain; Abstract Possible, Museo Tamayo Mexico City; Currency, The Visual Arts Gallery, University of Alabama, Birmingham, USA (2011); Hypocrisy: The Sitespecificity of Morality, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo (2009); Far West, Turner Contemporary, Margate and Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (2008); 10th Istanbul Biennial (2007); Altered, Stitched and Gathered, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center/MoMA, New York; Busan Biennial, Busan (2006); What Business Are You In, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, USA (2005); ReShape! (with Peter Geschwind), Venice Biennale (2003); Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, Tate Liverpool; Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2002); New Delhi Triennale, India (2001); All you can eat, Galerie für Zeitgenössische kunst Leipzig, Germany; Personal Brandscape, Migros Museum, Zürich; What If – Art on the verge of architecture and design, Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2000). She is represented Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm and Berlin.