Monday, 21 January 2008

Klara Liden at the Hayward Project Space

Klara Liden at the Hayward Project Space
22 November 2007 – 17 January 2008

Valentina Ravaglia

Swedish artist Klara Liden is a space hacker. Her formal training in architecture must have proved her that the spaces we inhabit have an enormous potential that is repressed by their customary, socially regulated use. They are supposed to be spaces for living, but end up being reduced to physical constrictions, marketable boundaries, boxes or containers from which our deepest insticts are rigidly kept out or neutralized as “inappropriate” or “futile”. In the four videos shown at the Hayward Project Space, Liden gets rid of all cultural constructions on how our habitat is supposed to be used and unleashes her creative energies into the spaces of our everyday life. Her performances are politically charged gestures of reappropriation that could easily be labelled by local authorities as antisocial, while it is precisely a well-regulated social sterility that they address.

Paralysed (2003) was conceived as an experimental project in rethinking urban planning, consisting in a frenetic dance performed inside the trains of Stockholm’s underground. Halfway between classical ballet and punkrock slamdancing (the soundtrack is in fact a track by the seminal “rock’n’roll performer”, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy), her choreography is as inarticulated as it harmonizes with the space it explores through its ab-solutus, unconstrained movements. All this in front of the perplexed eyes of other passengers, who are so blocked in their status of surveilled social bodies that do not even attempt to express their reactions, being them of amusement, annoyance or disapproval, both hidden behind and confined by the self-constructed barriers of privacy.

550 Jamaica Avenue (2004) is quite different in its intimate atmosphere, but no less libertarian in its content and proposition. In the short video we see the artist in an old apartment she used to illegally occupy in New York, mysteriously abandoned by its inhabitant with all their personal belongings. It is a mess of everyday objects, pieces of furniture, books, pictures, cloths, handwritten notes, a dusty collection of lost memories that the lens of the camera explores as in an archeological inspection. The lo-fi aspect of the footage gives it a spy-cam quality that subtly amplifies the tension. Showing her naked back, as in a negation of her own (sexual?) identity, we see Liden perform a series of acts that result quite incongruous in this melancholic mess, like working out on a training bike or playing a dissonant melody on a piano, while singing in an indiscernible mix of languages about memory and materialism. She seems to be squatting someone else’s life, embodied in a mass of things once necessary and meaningful, and now transformed into mere rubbish waiting for clearance and the consequent oblivion.

Her latest work on display, Bodies of Society (2006), depicts another way to misuse an enclosed indoor space, this time an empty room in a common-looking apartment, with familiar, reassuring features as a wooden floor and a white curtain. What is not familiar in this setting is the raw, destructive action the artist performs on a bike the artist had made out of found pieces, now torn into pieces as she beats it with a crow bar. With the excuse of giving vent to her anger and frustration after her own bike was stolen, this violent impulse is actually directed towards the general social and cultural situation in her native Sweden, in particular towards homophobia and religious bigotry. This last piece, the first the visitor encounters in the Project Space, seems to be the less convincing in the show, with its quite didascalic, naive symbolism, and even as a direct expression of anger its tension seems to be weakened by the calculated dance-like quality of Liden movements.

On a final negative note, experiencing these videos in a total acoustic chaos really doesn’t do them justice. Each of them has a calculatedly noisy, cacophonic soundtrack, but the role of sound in the individual pieces gets lost as the three projection rooms are not insulated and let the sounds leak in the adjacent spaces. Especially 550 Jamaica Avenue would have benefited from a quieter atmosphere. By dismissing Linden’s well calibrated choices as just indistinct noise, the installation numbs at least half of the strength of her videos, reduced to little more than the amateurish clips of an arty anarchist’s weird adventures.

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