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Potential Exceeds the Demand

text by Eleanor Clare. Written in context of art critic-workshop by VISP/TagTeam Studio, May 2019. Published in ``8 tekster 1 utstilling`` by Portmanteau Books.

At the point of entry, there is a small watercolour painting depicting what looks like early aircraft, dipping and diving in a sky of swirling blue brush marks. The image conveys a sense of light and elegant movement, almost as though the aircraft are dancing a ballet.

The room is filled with light and colour. Three large textile squares are hung from the ceiling at corresponding angles. I move immediately towards the closest, a series of concentric circles surrounded by a wash of lilac blue paint. The circles are painted in a rainbow of colour in hasty strokes that convey a buzz of kinetic energy. The textiles are Dacron, painted with acrylic. As in the first image, the brush marks indicate a sense of fluidity – the acrylic wash could almost be watercolour, as the paint is allowed to form pools of pigment that subtly bleed into the fabric.

In the booklet that accompanies the show, I read that the artist has used the colour palette of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals’ branding. This is the framework that Margrethe Kolstad Brekke sets for herself: colour-bound rules and painted textiles made of paragliding fabric, relating to the subject of establishing sustainable solutions to the use of fossil fuels, advocating that this should be done through structural changes rather than individual. The introductory booklet states: We are on the brink of completely radical new changes in the way we produce energy, the question just seems to be: what are we waiting for? There is the possibility; why the stasis?

I am prone to taking a cynical distance to work that claims to grapple with current theoretical or social discourse, or that is sold to me as ‘political’ – when I might rather call it ‘topical’. I roll my eyes and sigh each time I walk into an exhibition where the bulk of the idea is laid out in the accompanying text, rather than evident in the work itself. Here, perhaps, the disparity between theoretical framework and work produced becomes a strength. For this is an artist who clearly gets lost in the flow of working, who has a sensate and tactile relationship to her materials, and whose creative output is driven by a strong need to communicate the issues she is passionate about. As an artist, I am constantly questioning why we have the urge to create, where the creative drive stems from, and what purpose it serves: this exhibition faces me with all these questions. Here I am, with this booklet that accompanies the exhibition, orientating me towards Kolstad Brekke’s concerns, and the physical encounter with this vibrant work of hers, trying to pin down what it communicates.

I approach the next sail, always cycling between moving in and then viewing from afar. Up close and personal with the sail, my eye follows the brushwork. I imagine the feel of the material; I become intimate with the hand and eye of the artist – then back away to take in the whole vision. I use the word vision in all its senses, for the composition of triangles floating above a circle, with a series of ever decreasing squares in the middle, is mesmerising. It immediately reminds me of the paintings of Hildegard von Bingen, then by association, of psychologist C.G. Jung’s interpretation of the circle as a symbol of the Self. The wash of acrylic colours lets light shine through the fabric, leaving visible hand written notes underneath. I have the sense of something esoteric, of an almost spiritual endeavour to create compositional harmony out of geometric form and colour relations. It’s as though the artist feels herself driven to illustrate something universal, something that might reveal the mysteries of life itself.

And then I am back to the earthly and somewhat heavy question of how to introduce alternative forms of energy.

In the book Man & His Symbols (1964), the circle, square and triangle are all given interpretation relating to Jung’s concept of the psyche and the Self. The circle is interpreted as expressing ‘the totality of the psyche in all its aspects, including the relationship between man and the whole of nature;’i the square ‘is a symbol of earthbound matter, of body and reality.’ii Taking this interpretation, we could understand Kolstad Brekke’s work as symbolically illustrating our relationship to our selves and the Earth. With regard to the triangle, the book leads us to the eastern meditation motif of the yantra, ‘formed by two interpenetrating triangles [...] In terms of psychological symbolism, [this shape] expresses the union of opposites – the union of the personal, temporal world of the ego with the non-personal, timeless world of the non-ego.’iii In Kolstad Brekke’s work, the triangles are not interpenetrating – the two worlds (one could surmise in relation to this, that of the individual versus the global) are separated. Jung’s theories are somewhat outdated and have been disputed over the years. Yet they were expounded between and directly after the two world wars, a period when it could be argued that the western world felt itself to be on the brink of annihilation, especially after the detonation of the atomic bomb. I find the writings of Jung strangely pertinent today, and wonder if it is pure coincidence that the work on display in this exhibition seems to relate so closely to Jung’s interpretation of the symbolic world.

I look down at the five month old baby I brought with me to this exhibition, eagerly gazing around and soaking up all the colours and forms before him. I have moments when the pleasure of this is clouded over by a shadow of horror about what the future holds. This is exactly the position that this exhibition puts me in; for the work is full of the joy and optimism of life. It is full of potential; amongst other things, the potential that new technologies could bring. At the same time, it almost feels as though it is asking too much: so much that the work alone cannot bear the weight of technical information that the artist would like to bring to our attention. To convey the message, the booklet and the two accompanying videos – shown on tablets – are required. How could Kolstad Brekke ever hope to encompass all this into three hand painted paragliders? It is too much! The potential really does exceed the demand.

I fail every single day. I wanted to use cloth nappies, but of course I ended up with disposable ones. I don’t have the time. I don’t even have my own washing machine. I’m too tired. I live with my own lack of integrity every single day. I am reminded of it multiple times a day, every time I change a nappy, every time I put the rubbish out, every time I sneak the heating up another notch. I try to push the thought to the back of my head. But I know that I’ve failed myself. It is too much.

I wasn’t able to engage with all the information in this show, not even in the quiet sanctuary of the exhibition space. I skim read the booklet. It was too much. I didn’t listen properly to the videos. They were too much. I didn’t go to the talk. It was one thing too many. The exhibition literature talks about making structural changes – changes put in place by governments, by global coalitions such as the UN, not the individual. Yet as individuals, we do still have a responsibility to use our voices and let these organisations know our wishes. Why aren’t more of us shouting louder? Why do I count myself in amongst the seemingly apathetic masses? Perhaps we simply cannot conceive of it. In a session with a psychologist, I was once told that I was comfortable with failure. It was like a familiar friend. She asked me if I could imagine succeeding – and that if not, perhaps the reason was that I was afraid of the unknown – of success.

Margrethe, can you imagine success?

I think you can!

Colours shimmer and dance before me, whilst geometric shapes float serenely above the surface, but as I look back down at the booklet, I am pulled down to earth. With this information set before me in black and white, juxtaposed with the work on display, I am forced to negotiate the uncomfortable juncture between the sensory joys of living and the ticking clock of global warming, coupled with the fact that changes for the better are within our grasp as a world community – and that we are very close to blowing it, even though success is possible.

So permit me, if you will, to imagine the artist working herself into an ecstatic, meditative trance, coordinating hand and eye to compose these free spirited visual mantras, now hanging silently in the exhibition space. Yes! This is the artist as I now conceive of her: paganically drumming up a material vision from the depths of her creative drive. Allow me this, for Margrethe’s seemingly naïf and colourful communion, with the ungraspable complexities of science and new technology, is the only portal through which I can begin to visualise a future encompassing these things. It is the only way that I could begin to contemplate that the demand is only what we can conceive of, but the potential will always exceed this.

i Jung, C.G. & Von Franz, M. (eds.) Man & His Symbols, Anchor Press, New York, 1964, p.236

ii ibid., p.249

iii ibid., p.237

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