by Manu SharmaApr 25, 2021
Since May, entwined amidst and into the clutter of sculpted white bodies now inhabiting the space that was once home and studio to the late Swedish sculptor Carl Eldh were several linear geometric constructions, composed primarily of brightly coloured thread. Installed around the premises of the Carl Eldh Ateljémuseum - as it has been called since its doors were opened to the public in 1963 - by Bella Rune as part of her recently concluded exhibition titled Suspended Animation, these sculptures are part of the latest in a series of annual site-specific engagements by female artists initiated in 2013 by the museum’s director, Åsa Cavalli-Björkman. Noticeably of a polemically distinct tradition from that which Eldh worked within, Rune’s interventions to the studio-museum, as the institution’s name translates to in English, inadvertently creates a contextual contrast between the two bodies of work, which is divided by time, material and gender consciousness.
Despite their sensitive sensuality, Eldh’s sculptures emanate in the 21st century as clear manifestations of the male gaze and the myth of artistic genius, and against its resultant aura, Rune’s practice, and the practices of the women who have inhabited his studio-museum, segues into a dialectical enquiry into all that has changed, in modes of social and creative thinking, since the late artist’s heyday. These become only more apparent within the juxtaposition as Rune explains her intellectual and artistic concerns, “I am interested in what is not visible or that which is neglected or considered of lesser value. The things we see in the periphery. A lot of the time it has been the work, or knowledge produced by women which has gotten me excited and made me consider how to add my own experience to the collective investigations of what it means to be human. Textile traditions trigger me both because it is something all humans have a relationship to, a language we all speak, a rich language with possibilities to have conversations about how history have unravelled, class, colonialism power struggles, it is all in there”.
Yet beneath this veneer of difference, affinities, such the two artists shared interest in folk and indigenous tradition, can also be unearthed. But even on the surface, the museum’s annual contemporary art exhibition consistently featuring only female artists can be read as being a footnote to Eldh’s own efforts in promoting emergent woman’s art of his time.
In describing the experience of working at Eldh’s studio-museum and how she interacted with the space, Rune says, “When you first enter the beautiful museum of the studio of Carl Eldh, it is almost provokingly romantic. The perfect romantic studio of the artist. All the white gypsum and the patina of wood and the light. I tried to get pasted this by trying to decode the working condition surrounding Carl Eldh’s work. How the different formats, from monumental to miniature, talked of different economies and an awareness of how his art could reach audiences in different ways. Looking at the framework Carl Eldh set for himself as an artist, the sculptures could be seen, rather than depicting humans, as artistic framework within which he expressed emotions, conditions and struggles. I practice an empathic relationship to history and I tried to decode the place and find what could be relevant for me today to engage in a conversation with”.
A conceptual prompt for the installation eponymous to Suspended Animation was the arm of “The Titan”, a statue among the many Eldh created of the artist and writer, August Strindberg, that is now installed in a park in Stockholm, which Rune describes as “a naked man with tense bulging muscles, like a Prometheus figure”. Alongside this multimedia project are three sculptures previously exhibited at “XYZ” at Gallery Magnus Karlsson in 2019. “They are made of dyed silk mohair yarn and I thought them to be a good starting point in finding dialogue with the space. When I put them up, I was aware of how they affected the space and not only created a contrast between my work and Carl Eldh’s, but also brought out different traits in both. I think my work emphasised a sensitivity in Carl Eldh’s and my sculptures, albeit abstract became other kind of entities, bringing their agency more to the front of their being. This triggered me to look for the barely, or just, human in my work. The materials I use want to recall human bodies”.
Suspended Animation concluded at the Carl Eldh Ateljémuseum in Stockholm, Sweden, on September 27, 2020.