Text for exhibition at Shugoarts, Japan
|Ylva Ogland is an artist who doesn’t flinch from the abject matters, from “sticky subjects”, or from what might be seen as abnormal. On the contrary, Ogland guides her viewer to things that are quite uncomfortable. Her paintings often include references to old masters and the history of art in general, and on more than one occasion her paintings have been compared to those of Renaissance painters such as Caravaggio. The paintings may at first look documentary, but her approach is more complicated than this, since she interprets a situation and tries to convey her own experience rather than being interested in any truth, if there ever was one. Since her subject matter is often her own experiences, one could say she is re-staging herself in a somewhat intuitive way, where the border between fiction and reality becomes blurred.
Previous motifs from her production include portraits of people after taking drugs (Ängeln and Anders, 2003), as well as whole-figure portraits of three men indulging in a complex group-sex act with one another (Rapture and Silence, 2002). Ogland does not, as one could perhaps at first be misled to believe, have a moralistic approach; neither is she endeavouring to shock the spectator. It would in any case probably take an eremite or a time-traveller from a distant past to be shocked by Ogland’s motifs.
Instead it proves far more fruitful and interesting to regard her works as revelations of some of the “blind-spots” in society, for instance the silent treatment the bourgeoisie give something that doesn’t quite belong on a polished surface. Ogland once said: I am interested in things, events or behaviour that get overlooked, deliberately or not; stuff that generally is considered as something not altogether ‘normal’ and perhaps a bit frightening. For instance, many of us tend to look the other way when faced with a turned-on junkie, even though this is a part of everyday society.
In the series of paintings named Loka, she turns her focus to something that can easily be captured with those words. The naturalistic paintings in the series Loka are monochrome and quite large (200x133 cm), with a thick layer of gold foil placed directly on the canvas that frames the motifs. Stones and crystals like amethyst, rock crystal, rose quartz lie on top of the canvases, objects that in some belief systems (such as New Age) have special powers. The golden “frames” suggests a relation to paintings and high society salons of centuries past.
The motifs, however, derive from the surroundings of something quite different from the posh salons. They are all taken from the surroundings of a housing complex, which includes an Oshi centre and serves also as a collective home and sanctuary for a group of friends with “alternative” and slightly utopian ideals that hark back to the ’70s. The “alternative” lifestyle is reflected in the decoration of the farm. Where “normal people” place garden decorations like sundials, gnomes or small fountains within their picket fences, here one finds a mixture of different symbols and decorations such as sculptures of Indian gods, a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, African facemasks, toys, metal scrap, etc. in intricate installations. Ogland makes it impossible to shy away from the images portraying what in some eyes could only be described as “junk in a yard”. But the different objects, loaded with symbolism, carefully put together by the house’s inhabitants, along with the “mishmash”, comes together in an aesthetic of its own, and proves to be a rather exotic anomaly in the Swedish landscape. In a way, Ogland is dismantling its “ugliness” by taking it inside both the golden frame and the gallery’s white walls, thereby validating and reclaiming it.
The use of objects like amethysts and/or silk ribbons in relation to the paintings is something that recurs in Ogland’s work. The objects add not only add symbolic value, but also a very tactile sense of the materials. In addition, it is a way to turn a painting into just another object in the piece itself. In the series “Ylva -85”, the silk ribbons and bows also seem to have a recuperative significance, in addition to conveying a hint of romanticism.
The canvases are shaped and cut just like the pieces of the torn photographs depicting a study of a stunning young girl. The enlarged paintings are naturalistically portrayed, and the torn edges with their rugged finish supply the natural format of the different shapes the paintings have. The self-referential title, “Ylva -85”, helps the viewer to understand that it is a series of self portraits. Indeed, the pictures of Ogland were originally taken in 1985 when she was merely eleven years old. The fact that the young adolescent girl, whose upper body, face and torso is all we see, does not wear clothes in the pictures, might give us a clue to the significance of the pictures having been torn apart into small pieces – puberty is definitely not easy. To be naked is one thing – to be naked in front of someone is another thing entirely, and to have proof of one’s nakedness is yet another – especially if one’s breasts are in the developmental phase.
In one of the images Ylva/the girl lies on a bed with her eyes shut like sleeping beauty. In another picture, she sits on a chair laughing in a very relaxed manner, although perhaps slightly shy, seemingly at ease, bathing in the Vermeeresque sunlight coming in through a nearby window. Her laughter and relaxed position banish notions about possible abuse or pornography. Still, there is something undoubtedly fragile and vulnerable embedded in the very process of depicting of a young girl without a covering shield of clothes. As multi-layered as the paintings already are, the psychological plot thickens indeed with the knowledge that the photographs were taken by Ylva Ogland’s father, who was trained as an artist. It is certainly not an unproblematic situation, to which the act of tearing apart the images testifies.
The anger in this action somehow becomes redeemed not only by the use of the photographs as studies for her own self portraits twenty years after the pictures were taken (and more than ten years after they were torn apart), but also by the decision to exhibit the series of the enlarged portraits publicly. She is taking control of the gaze, the outside focus, decisively, and is interpreting it coolly. The items she attaches to the photographs – silk ribbons, silk bows, small stones, along with a red heart, with all its romantic and naïve connotations – serve as tokens of a loving orientation and a strategy to mend the torn-apart pieces. The tokens might even be interpreted as slightly religious, maybe even as offerings. The act of tearing apart cannot, and will not, be undone, but the images involve an act of reclamation, and of consolation, via a distinct switch of power.
Ylva -06 is undoubtedly confidently in control. She’s not only in control of her own past when she interprets and re-stages it, but, precisely because of this, she also gains control over how the spectator may interpret it.
Ogland’s approach is quite remarkable in its directness and gutsiness. She moves ahead straight to the point without further ado. Her language, although spoken directly, is multi-layered and quite complex, using not only references to naturalistic, realistic and documentary painting with the attendant heavy history, but also charged objects of rich symbolic value. Put together, it is what makes her work disarming.