Mattias Härenstam

Der Akt der Befreiung im Akt der Vernichtung

Exhibition at Fotogalleriet, Oslo 2000. The title is a quote from a text by Ulrike Meinhof and translates "The act of liberation in the act of destruction".

In the first room of the exhibition was a sculpture called "Drawn to the light", a kind of "lighthouse" of cigarette butts. On the wall behind the counter hung "Cold Wind", a light box with cigarette butts as the famous portrait of Che Guevara. Up the stairs one would find "The Frozen River" (Video installation - Glass floor, wall objects with built-in loudspeakers and light and projected video - 11 min 46 s.). The video takes us along a nightly walk through the streets of Oslo, the sound coming out of the speakers recreating the experience of wearing a set of headphones. Imagination and reality cross paths - and suddenly we fly off over the rooftops, meet an Indian Chief on horseback and Ulrike Meinhof who blows up the Oslo Plaza etc. Further beyond was a separate room with a series of painted on photos. They were all of a shapshot quality and had "hallucinations" painted in watercolor over them.

(...)"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" 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 it 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."

  Extract from review by Marit Paasche, published in Billedkunst no. 4, 2000. Full review is available as pdf-download at the bottom of this page (in Norwegian only).


This exhibition (in a different form) was also shown at Rogaland Arts Center, Stavanger in 2000, and parts of it (the video installation The Frozen River and the painted-on photos were included in a solo show at Norrtälje Konsthall in 1999 - review by Bo Madestrand available at the bottom of this page). The Frozen River was also part of an exhibition called "Flakk- or that extraordinary feeling of being abroad even at home", at Nordens Hus, Reykavik in 2000 curated by Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk and Andrea Kroksnes.