Catalogue text by Sara Arrhenius
Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm 2009

A visit to the other
side of the Moon

From the moment that humankind landed on the
Moon, people began to feel an uncertainty about
who it belonged to: Whose Moon was it, and who
should be able to use it? We were no longer satisfied
with looking at the Moon from the Earth, but
asked ourselves whether a celestial body could be
owned. The Moon soon became the object of various
treaties under international law intended to
regulate the possibility of various states making the
Moon their own territory. Consequently, in 1967,
the Outer Space Treaty was drawn up, stating that
the whole of humanity had a shared interest in the
Moon and that space is to be used for peaceful purposes.
A little over a decade later, the Moon Treaty
was drafted, in many respects in response to concerns
about the exploitation of the Moon’s natural
resources. The Treaty establishes that the Moon is
humanity’s shared heritage, and says that no individual
state can claim right of ownership of space,
but that celestial bodies can be explored and utilised.
The fact that these agreements are not taken as self-
evident is reflected in the discussions that have
arisen in recent years about private companies’ attempts
to profit from our longing to go into space.

Gunilla Klingberg’s Cosmic Matter is specifically
about such issues. In the main space at Bonniers
Konsthall she has set up a tall system of scaffolding,
and had the tubes wound with plastic tape to form
volumes, patterns, walls and spaces. As a viewer you
can barely take in the work with your gaze, rather,
you have to move through it in order to experience
it. Like many of Klingberg’s works, it is not all clear
where it belongs. It is both sculpture and architecture,
a body and a translucence, a readymade and
something shaped by the human hand. The plastic
strips have designs printed on them, with symbols
that carry our thoughts to various conceptions of the
Moon: an attractive celestial body both for science
and for old and new folk conceptions and commercial
forces. Set against dreamcatchers and the words
“Global Exploration Strategy” engraved into metal,
the work creates an image of the way our conceptions
of the Moon are an equal amalgam of ancient
mysticism and of a science powered by dreams of
territorial expansion into space. In Cosmic Matter
these apparently incompatible realms come together
and show how intertwined our conceptions
are. Science often borrows metaphors from our mythologies.
New-Age notions acquire seriousness by
borrowing from the language of the natural sciences.
Even if it is clad in the language of science, for
the modern human individual, our yearning to go
into space, to potential new settlements, has deeper,
more archaic roots than we might want to admit.

It is specifically at this point of intersection between
accepted knowledge, folk beliefs, popular
culture and divergent cultural spheres, that Klingberg’s
art emerges. Her works draw our attention
to how complicated and how extensively ramified
the connections between these thought systems are,
but they also play with the new ideas, images and
contexts that can arise in this encounter. A pivotal
feature of Klingberg’s art is an interest in what is
produced in the hybridization of distinct cultures,
images, forms of expression, traditions and geographies.
She brings together the disparate and heterogeneous,
and interweaves it into new meanings that,
in the next instant, mutate and form a new context.
Another thing that is striking about her works, however,
is the way this process of transformation never
ends, but is in constant motion and transformation.
No moment or place is an obvious centre, beginning
or endpoint. The different works also have this same
mobile quality. They can be recreated and related
to the space for each new exhibition and, as works,
take on a more fluid character in time and space. One
idea underlying the Bonniers Konsthall exhibition
was to have each of the works take on a form that
specifically responded to the Konsthall’s architecture,
but also to have the various works engage with
each other so as to constitute an atmospheric whole,
rather than being a series of distinct objects. The
Non Stop Unfold installation, whose various parts
fill the Konsthall’s front space, has had added to it
new mirror-doored bathroom cabinets from IKEA
in Split Vision. Klingberg has piled them on top of
each other, with the angles of the mirrors creating a
variable surface of reflections. The exhibition space
is divided by a projection screen showing a film shot
during a 24-hour shopping day at IKEA. The picture
surface is split up by a kaleidoscopic filter that divides
the image into a constantly changing pattern.
Together with the audio work Feedback Soundtrack,
in which the sound goes in an endless loop, the work
creates a total experience, with the different materials,
techniques and sensory impressions influencing
each other. Like the designs on an oriental textile,
her works change constantly, depending on where
the viewer is looking from, and reveal previously
hidden contexts and patterns.

Gunilla Klingberg is interested in the way space can
be created and transformed with the aid of surfaces,
the angle of the light, colour and pattern. Her art has
viewers surrounded, hypnotized, seduced, making
them part of a special atmosphere, a state. One recurrent
idea is breaking down the distance between
the viewer and the work, letting the viewer spend
time in the work rather than looking at it. This 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 psychedelia movement of the late sixties.
In the exhibition at Bonniers Konsthall the Brand
New View mural covers the whole of the Konsthall’s
northern glass façade. A quasi-oriental pattern
engraved in orange on self-adhesive plastic film
alters the transparency of the glass and transforms
the light in the space. On the opposite wall a similar
pattern has been printed on orange plastic. From the
ceiling hang spherical mirrors – actually intended to
be used for surveillance in stores – which reflect the
designs made brighter by the neon tubes arranged
in patterns on the floor. Together, the works transform
the space and envelop the viewer in light, patterns
and reflections in different strata and layers.
If we look more closely at the patterns, we see that
the almost hypnotic arabesques are made up of the
logos of various low-price store chains. In mirrorsurfaced
Plexiglas Klingberg has engraved a quotation
from that doctor of Ayurvedic medicine much
loved by celebrities, Deepak Chopra. Thus, New
Age spirituality’s promise of corporal and spiritual
wellbeing merges with everyday consumer culture.
They both seem to be quite agreed about what they
are promising: a state in which nothing rubs or is
uncomfortable – the possibility of total, rapid satisfaction
of needs, accessible to everyone, all in
one go. Whether it be with a new therapy or a new,
more-effective washing-up liquid.

If modernism dreamed of the stripped-down, functional
object and saw ornamentation as a crime,
then we can sum up the current view by saying
that, now, ornamentation is the only thing that has
meaning. Amid an array of increasingly many, increasingly
similar goods it is the small, meaningful
differences that count. The world around us is
being increasingly transformed into a surface filled
with signs – computer screens, the urban space, the
pages of newspapers – whose most tangible properties
are disposability and change. It is these surfaces
that concern Klingberg. The new urban space, its
dwindling public places that are being increasingly
invaded by trademark architecture, participating
in which is tantamount to consuming. The growing
array of designed objects and today’s humancreated
environments constitute an intricate system
of codes, messages and ideologies, of which art is
a part, existing in dialogue with it. The boundary
between art and design is often drawn along the line
of utility value and usefulness. But the boundary
becomes increasingly elastic when the difference
between the values of the different objects depends
not so much on their usefulness as on their brightness,
seductiveness or power of rhetorical persuasion.
Design, like art, becomes part of an increasingly
sophisticated economy of signs, in which new
forms of interchange between previously distinct
disciplines – art, design and fashion – are created.
It is, thus, not enough to describe Klingberg’s works
as a critique of today’s label fetishism. If we take
a closer look at the working methods and attitudes
used in contemporary art, we are compelled to ask
ourselves whether art is on the way to abandoning
the outsider status that has clung to it since the days
of early modernism. Or more correctly: it poses the
awkward question of whether that outside is any
longer possible. The critical aspect of Klingberg’s
art does not lie in pointing things out and repudiating
them. In a much more devious way she draws
the viewer into a sense of fascination. We find ourselves
in a situation in which we get to feel the power
of the images and thoughts that she is testing out
and exploring. She makes it very obvious that it is
difficult, nowadays, to talk about an outside and an
alternative, we are all accomplices in the consumer
culture that constitutes the raw material for her art,
whether we like it or not.

Even if Gunilla Klingberg’s art often adopts a large
format, it is to the little things, to the details of the
constituent parts that make up the whole, that we
must look in order to completely grasp her work.
We have to give ourselves time and look from close
to, in order to capture a meaningful detail that, in the
next instant, is hidden within the visually attractive
whole. In the new star-shaped sculpture, Supernova
– Interior Collapse, which she made especially for
Bonniers Konsthall, and which stands in the Konsthall’s
entrance hall like a cosmic sign from another
universe, it is the surfaces that are significant. The
surface of this celestial body is covered with a variety
of everyday furnishing materials: rugs, flooring,
cupboard doors and ceiling stucco intended for
do-it-yourself. Materials that all actually pretend
to be more expensive and unique than they really
are, by imitating wooden flooring, an authentic rug
and hand-made stucco. Again, it is what this surface
communicates that interests Klingberg, and the
relationship between the surface and the underlying
properties. A recurrent strategy in Klingberg’s
works is to take both her material and her subject
matter – symptomatically enough it is hard to distinguish
between them – from her everyday life. She
looks around her and sees what we no longer see.
Low-price store logos, easily available objects from
furnishing chains, their designs recognisable and
banal. These familiar forms are recast and made lyrical.
Klingberg’s art is characterised by recycling. It
is a part of a culture of sampling, which, rather than
imagining something absolutely new, combines and
recasts already existing forms and expressions. An
act of resistance to the cult – and myth – of the eternally
new, via recycling and reformulating what is
already available.

She has particularly worked with quotations of
forms from an oriental cultural tradition, in which
repetition, copying and reproduction have been important.
Here we can sense a move away from, and
critique of, western modernity’s demand for innovation
and constant progress. It is also interesting to
see where she gets her influences from. This is the
Orient more as it has been filtered through popular
culture in general. It can hardly have escaped anyone’s
notice that there is currently a newly awoken
fascination with a number of different schools of
wisdom, philosophies of life, and general health advice
of more or less explicitly eastern origin. Even
those who have not been very deeply involved in
the various forms and expressions of New Age spirituality
are sure to have bought a little relaxing incense
or been given an introduction to yoga at their
workplace. Oriental influences are something that
has come, gone, and left a powerful impression on
our culture. Every time we have turned our gazes
eastwards, the encounter between East and West has
had different motivations, subject matters and outcomes.
Today’s eastward gaze manifests itself primarily
in broad popular culture in the media, is focussed
on lifestyles, and generates an entire market
of products and services. It is on this world, with its
peculiar mixture of unconstrained consumerism and
spirituality, cures for the ills of the soul, and entrepreneurship,
true seeking and trend-consciousness,
that Gunilla Klingberg touches in most of the works
in the exhibition. With the slightly surprised familiarity
and playfulness that has become her hallmark,
she engages with various echoes of the oriental in
our visual culture, tracks them down, takes them to
pieces, so as to reconstruct and re-use them. These
works ask us how our longing for spirituality could
so easily have been reformulated into a packet of incense
from a clothes shop, or a best-selling lifestyle
guide bought at an airport on the way home from a
long-haul holiday trip.

Sara Arrhenius