Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre
28 November 2015 – 14 February 2016
by CHRISTIANA SPENS
Finnish duo IC-98, in their largest exhibition to date, have filled the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre space with four large-scale projections of melancholic, intricately detailed works, which move subtly and even menacingly to an aptly threatening soundtrack of organ music.
Made up of Visa Suonpää (b1968) and Patrik Söderlund (b1974), IC-98 have been together since 1998. They were originally named Iconoclast, an allusion to their fascination with the principled destruction of images. Based in Turku, Finland (they represented Finland at the Venice Biennale 2015), their work is clearly influenced by their Nordic surroundings and culture, and to enter one of the rooms of the exhibition space feels much like entering another, but familiar world of waves, ruins and woodland. The matching of IC-98 to Dundee, Scotland, is a clever move: their work is especially uncanny and sharp in the setting of this northern town that possesses its own Nordic spirit and history, meaning visitors can understand the subtleties and moods of IC-98 particularly well.
The waves on the left of the room – in Arkhipelagos (Navigating the Tides of Time) – provide a tense pulse that the other moving images seem sometimes to harmonise with, before gradually building a subtle, almost imperceptible dissonance. The rafts that bob on the waves, ambiguously between drowning and travelling, also give a sense of danger to the work, a feeling almost of claustrophobia, as the viewer becomes mesmerised by the relentless, rhythmic waves. As with the other works, these waves are steely grey, since they combine detailed hand drawings animated with digital technology. The effect is a vision that is timeless and classical at first. A View from the Other Side, in particular, seems in its detail, as well as its subject matter – a 19th-century portico in Turku – as if it could have been created by a northern Gothic draughtsman. Indeed, IC-98 are particularly interested in time and change, showing the gradual effects of age and seasonal shifts through these nearly hour-long animations. The vision may allude to art history and even use historical subjects as its subject matter, but the perspective is modern.
IC-98 seem to be concerned, especially, with humanity’s place in a much wider time-frame, and within that, the idea of modern humans when viewed from a distanced perspective. They bring into focus the greater powers – brutal nature, drowning seas, and time that is relentless in its slow, definite changes on manmade and natural structures alike. Trees fade into lakes, and flowers grow in darkness amid the weeds. The world is eerie and powerful and calmly triumphant. The humans are not in these works, and that perhaps explains some of the strangeness: where have we gone? Has time eroded us, too?
To walk through the exhibition is to feel like a ghost in a world that has forgotten us. The waves continue, the rafts balance precariously, looking like empty crucifixes in the ocean; the portico seems too still for its ever-rippling moat; and the flowers in Abendland (Hours, Years, Aeons) look out of place in a dark, dank forest. The rest of the space is heavily quiet, punctuated by organs and shadowy structures. Even leaving the room, the feelings aroused by the Underworld meditation of Drawn into Tomorrow linger and haunt.
This meditation is a worthwhile exercise, for all its eeriness. On the day that I visited, the waves beneath the Tay Bridge had been so wild that the bridge had been closed at one point, for buses swaying in the gales and windows blowing open to terrify passengers. The ominous atmosphere that IC-98 created mere yards away is a chance to meditate on the quotidian powers that be, in a far safer setting than the bridge or the sea. The ever-present danger of nature, as well as its sublime beauty; the mysteriousness of its unpredictability; the communal fearfulness of bad weather: these are timeless concerns for people everywhere. And yet, it seems rare to meditate on them, to see them thought about with the depth and sharpness that IC-98 possess. They provide that aesthetic distance with which to consider the treachery of life and nature, and our tiny place in it.
The result is a sense of claustrophobia, combined with the suspicion of personal insignificance. Viewers may indeed experience an existential crisis for up to an hour. It is, however, a strangely compelling show. For all the melancholy and darkness, it is illuminating, and the silver rays of light and change quite mesmerising. I am reminded of my own roots, our roots, really, in a natural and strange world, where the rhythm of waves may or may not have meaning, where emotions are changed by the moon, and where, for all our grand efforts and innovations, it takes but a few seasons for nature to erode them to insignificance. As Shakespeare wrote in Scene IV of King Lear, as the King laments to the Fool upon the heath:
Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.
The ‘tyranny of the open night,’ as Kent would describe the elements earlier in the scene, and which prove too great for King Lear to endure, is a phrase that would use to describe the scenes captured by IC-98. Although far more subdued and meditative than King Lear’s experience of the storm, there is a feeling of existential dread in this exhibition nevertheless. Perhaps we are all King Lear; IC-98, in their intricate darkness, remind us of that here.
To the Finland Station and Back: RUSSIA!
The same may be true of Russian art, as anyone who was lucky enough to see the recent exhibition, 'RUSSIA!', in New York from 16 September 2005 to 11 January 2006 might attest. The exclamation point says it all. It is a tough task to occupy that vast parking garage on Fifth Avenue known as the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Only an exhibition of the size and ambition of 'RUSSIA!' fills and fulfills it.
Axel Antas: Nature of Things/Marijke van Warmerdam: First Drop
During September it has been interesting to find two exhibitions, one in London and a second in Edinburgh, in which the artists individually focus on aspects of landscape art. At the Rokeby Gallery in Store Street, Finnish-born artist Axel Antas, who now lives and works in London, has revealed an oeuvre that is inherently multidisciplinary, ranging from drawing and photography through to video.
West Meets East in a DADAdventure
Just as the extensive exhibit, 'DADA', which revisited the movement, closed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, a small but appealing coda is being presented by the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York. According to Corina Suteu, director of the Institute, 'DADA ... born Romania' is a direct response to 'DADA', which premiered in February 2006 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and closed on 11 September at MoMA. 'DADA' proposed both Zurich and New York as the birthplaces of a phenomenon that claimed to have no boundaries or limitations and was, in fact, a truly international movement.
Nordic Dawn: Modernism's Awakening in Finland 1890-1920
This timely exhibition and catalogue can be accessed in Europe until 26 January 2006. It is timely because it appropriately adjusts the balance of influences upon Finland at this crucial period and thoroughly and effectively reviews the special influence that Finnish art gave to the wider European spectrum. Stephan Koja, an expert on Gustav Klimt, is currently a curator at the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere Vienna and co-ordinates important contributory essays from a wide range of Finnish scholars.
Book review: Pallasmaa phenomenon
Juhani Pallasmaa, the Finnish architect and theorist, has in the current period entering the twenty-first century become a major protagonist in the revision of modernism, and hence of postmodernism. To many architects today he has, through his lectures in China, Europe and the United States, provided a template for thought hitherto in urgent need.