Mattias Härenstam

Review by Marit Paasche, Billedkunst no. 4, 2000

"Blue Light District

Many of Mattias Härenstams' works since his diploma show in 1996 has been built up around a semi-biographic narration. In the later installations, this narrative subjective doesn't possess a clear identity but rater a token - cigarette butts. In the exhibition "Der Akt der Befreiung im Akt der Vernichtung" at Fotogalleriet Härenstam takes this narrative I further by putting it into a larger social context.

The exhibition is built up around the subjective and an urban landscape. It is organised as an installation in three parts, where each room tries to view the relationship between this I and the city from different angles. The city has been given a major part in the exhibition. It seems that Härenstam, like Hamsun in "Hunger", tries to give the city of Oslo in itself, a leading part on an equal footing.

In the first room the audience meet the result of this I-person's pastimes in a version of Vigelands' Monolith in "Drawn to the light". The pride of Oslo, the high tower of throughout healthy, cold and curving bodies, has been replaced with neatly piled cigarette butts. The cigarette butts are strong images of boredom and self-destructive time (it takes approx. 7 minutes to smoke a cigarette). He has placed a blinking blue lamp, the kind that you find on emergency vehicles, on top of the monument. This use of materials returns in "Cold Wind", a portrait of Che Guevara in glued together cigarette butts on a blue plexi-glass surface. The socialistic superman has become a dead icon and a cold lamp.

In the next room the viewer enters the head of this "I-person". Härenstam has built a narrow passage where the end wall is filled by a video-projection. On each of the sides, loudspeakers in the shape of a pair of gigantic headphones are mounted. The viewer, standing between them and with help of the subjective camera use, becomes one with the main characters' purposeless walks along the streets of Oslo at night. The video installation "The Frozen River" [pic] [stills] recreates the experience you do walking around with a Discman, this state of being partly shut off to the world. Reality becomes unstable. An American Indian on horseback suddenly appears and disappears again as sudden, a UFO flies by and the infamous German terrorist Ulrike Meinhof easily blows up another of the city's monuments, the Oslo Plaza.

In the inner room of the Fotogalleriet the main character's world is viewed at distance. The twelve photographs of Oslo that Härenstam has painted on with watercolours show the same dream world as the video. Titles like Nangiala, Garden of Atlantis and Emerald City point to the imaginary realities of story telling. Some of the photos are very precise and strangely beautiful, for instance one that shows a bar transformed to an aquarium through painting. What was supposed to be a social and joyous gathering becomes quiet solitude on exhibition. At their best the images can remind of surrealistic versions of Atgets' photos of Paris, at their worst the lose focus and become rather banal. The idea is good, but it could seem like Härenstam has gone bored with after a while.

The exhibition is an intelligent comment to a pronounced collective disease, a destructive narcissism. It has striking parallels to Karl Ove Knausgårds' novel "Ute av verden " ("Out of the world"). Knausgård and Härenstam describe a notion of reality where we no longer take part in the world through action, but through intellectual practise. We do no longer have a clear understanding of the nature of action, something that makes us lose perspective on our lives and our surroundings. The title of the exhibition Der Akt der Befreiung im Akt der Vernichtung ("Liberation through destruction") is a quote from Ulrike Meinhof, leader of the terrorist group Rote Armee Fraktion in the 70s. The quote is supposedly uttered as a tribute to the terrorist group Black September, who claimed responsibility for the Munich massacre in 1972 where 16 people were killed. Terrorism is the ultimate ability to act. It is action where all means are aloud to reach the goals. Hence "Liberation through destruction" becomes an ironic comment to the "I-persons'" passive existence. The exhibitions' "I" daydreams of destruction and revolutionary change of a sad reality, but ends up with a filthy and impotent monument over his own inability to act. There is a blue light burning for us that dream us out of this world."

Marit Paasche, in Billedkunst no. 4, 2000. This review is also available as a pdf-download (in Norwegian).