Vibeke Slyngstad’s new paintings, in her most recent exhibition Nine Lines, appear as existential studies of concrete objects and environments. Fragments of nature, ropes and interiors are painted in Slyngstad’s, by now characteristic technique, where photographs are reworked digitally according to fundamental principles of composition, and then transferred to the canvas by soft brush strokes of thin oil paint. With the exception of a landscape, a portrait of a young man, and a large scale portrait of the painter Vanessa Baird in front of one of her works, the paintings in Nine Lines take the interior scene, as well as still life painting, as their point of departure. Careful arrangements of objects, mirrors and mountaineering ropes, suspended from hooks and carabiners, as well as plants and piles of books placed directly on the floor, are depicted within the framework of a brightly lit modernist architectural space.
The painterly approach is realistic, but the motifs are presented without emphasizing the plastic reproduction of each object. The sense of linear perspective is primarily conditioned by the object’s arrangement and the subdued appearance of perspective lines in the all but erased architectural setting. Slyngstad’s light and delicate use of colours layer a thin gauze of poetic distance over her otherwise matter-of-fact scenes. The same effect is created by the objects’ appearance and internal dynamic in relation to the pictorial space; from a knocked over chair to opened books showing illustrations of flora, as well as smaller paintings-within-the-painting and young children hanging from the ropes which cut across the picture plane like vertical slashes. Where they hit the floor, the ropes flow and curl in organic wavelike patterns, like ornamentation across the pictorial surface. As such, they are simultaneously objects with a practical purpose, as well as elements of a painterly composition which seemingly treats all elements with equal weight: stasis and passivity versus potential drama, domestic plants versus mountaineering ropes, illustrations –and mirror reflections– of nature versus actual nature seen through the windows in the architectural setting.
The titles also reflect this equilibrium of illusion and reality, which ultimately seems to give equal weight to both the meaningful and the meaningless. They are taken from well-known rock climbing routes in the Yosemite valley in California – a Mecca for rock climbers from across the world – but Slyngstad’s use of the titles does not refer to, any more than the ropes or the fragments of nature do, to places, events or activities in any concrete sense. Expressions such as Changing Corners, Serenity Crack or Lost Arrow Spire belong in the basic vocabulary of any rock climber, but to most other people, they will perhaps arouse more poetic and open-ended connotations.
The sum of the various parts in Slyngstad’s works seems, first and foremost, to be the recognition that representation can only be partial and subjective. This ambivalence is something the artist has also pursued in earlier works, such as the series Modern Classics, where icons of modernist architecture and people in ambiguous postures give rise to reflections over the relationship between rational enlightenment and the more mystical dimensions of our human lives.
The portrait of Vanessa Baird can be understood in the continuation of Slyngstad’s practice of re-creating other artists’ works in her own paintings, such as in her collaboration with Elmgreen & Dragset for the 2009 Venice Biennial. These shifts in the separation between illusion and reality also form the base for Nine Lives, where a search for meaning in a terrain of both recognition and alienation creates an interplay between the object’s multiplicity and the painting’s spatial and ornamental potential.
Vibeke Slyngstad (born 1968) lives and works in Oslo. She studied at Oslo National Academy of the Arts. Slyngstad has exhibited extensively in Norwegian and Scandinavian institiutions. In 2009 she was represented at the Venice Biennial in the exhibition The Collectors, curated by Elmgreen & Dragset, and in 2014 she was part of the show Inside Outside Architecture at the the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo. Slyngstad is represented in several private and public collections, amongst these The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Statoil Art Collection, Nordea Art Collection, Storebrand and Telenor Art Collection.