Meta Isæus-Berlin på Skissernas museum / Meta Isæus-Berlin at Skissernas museum

Torsten Weimarck

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Meta Isæus-Berlin at Skissernas museum

Many visitors will surely remember Ett vattenhem (A Water Home), five strikingly ambiguous furnished rooms set out on a low podium in the middle of the main walkway at the Bo01 Housing Fair in Malmö in 2001. The Hall and the Bathroom, at opposite ends of the long and narrow, windowless pavilion, were open to the world and visible from outside.

The Bathroom was probably the part of the installation that received most attention; an open room like a life-size doll’s house. The tiled but roofless room contained all the usual bathroom fittings including a mirror, hooks, toilet-paper holder, lamps. There was water here too, far too much of it in fact, though it did not come just from the taps but seemed to be pushed up from below, from the drains, and to run in all directions from the overflowing vessels: the toilet, the basin and the bathtub. It fizzed and foamed and bubbled up as though from a volcanic spring and heaved itself, indeed it poured itself over everything, just as thick and wet as when one spills a bucket of water onto the floor. Like a torrential flood it hurried across the tiled floor and down over a gently rounded step out into a channel that ended in an opening leading to the depths of the earth. The viewers’smiles of recognition assumed a lingering undertone: what was it that one was really witnessing?

The Dining Room, a windowless space in the depths of the installation, was a singularly chilly and dismal room with a lean and lonely, dimly illuminated chandelier above a dreary, oval dining table veneered in some dark wood with a cold chair at each end of the table and the ceiling as oppressively low as in a caravan. The tabletop was covered with something that might have been a sunken sheet of glass but was, in fact, ice. Two dinner settings were frozen solidly into the tabletop. The dark, heavy and wet carpet gave off puffs of frozen breath, a white fuzz that swept slowly across the floor down there in the darkness. There was a tall, fateful looking cupboard in the background, broody with aggression and guilt like a Kienholz tableau. Here there is a painful contrast, depicted in the state of the furniture, between the concept of the Swedish word 'hem' (home) as a metaphor for security and the total negation of this security expressed in the substantivized adjective of this word, 'hemsk' (terrific). Like looking into a hellish relationship where everything is reflected in the state of the furniture.

In the Living Room the velvet upholstery was seething. Above the soft pile of the velvet, little clouds of cold steam sailed through the atmosphere like an elfish dance at dawn. Perhaps the furniture was giving off this cold, humid mist because it was so replete; a mist that was like old tobacco smoke in a smoking carriage on a train, or some sort of foam from a fire extinguisher that covered everything like a psychoactive drug, threatening to suffocate or drown it. Perhaps it was merely an abandoned summer room in a garden cottage where the furniture was sweating cold humidity as the snow melted outside. And a rug that was as saturated as only a Wilton rug can be.


Characteristic of several of Meta Isæus-Berlin’s installations is the fact that it is sometimes only after a while that one becomes aware that they are not a part of the room’s ‘normal’ furnishings. It appears as though she has taken something that already exists; which is not the case at all. She has produced a highly conscious stage set but a stage set that seems ‘real’. As public art this has a particularly powerful effect.

In Meta Isæus-Berlin’s installations the mental expression of everyday objects – something often overlooked – and the social masque that they form part of emerge clearly alongside their trivial and more practically oriented existence. These intense emotional characteristics can seem like the visual, intricate remains of diffuse memories or else they are the heralds of dark experiences: the items were present themselves, they have been shaped, permeated and animated by a social and mental cosmos (or chaos) which, in due course, has sunk into these things where they continue their lives. Whatever it is, henceforth, that they express and hand on can consist of an entire instrumentarium of items that, quite simply, is experienced as the present, physical ‘reality’. Meta Isæus-Berlin employs these objects as a rich, artistic language with deep roots accumulated in many layers down in our consciousness and our memory. The visual language of the objects is recognizable in our own bodily experiences and it immediately strikes us since the objects speak the same wordless language as that of our bodies.

The objects in the installations are, like so-called ‘ordinary’ objects, simultaneously active on a number of different levels. This may be a matter of furnishing items that, in everyday life, are often enslaved by being required to be practical or serviceable aids that are subservient to the arbitrariness of the commissioner and constructor. Such objects can have become fully incorporated into their task and have become deformed accordingly and can, over time, almost completely have lost their memory, that is, other memories. What is specific to her artistic use is that these levels can be presented as simultaneous, indistinguishable. They express, illuminate and reinforce each other. In an everyday context our consciousness of the technical functions often displaces the object’s visual expression so that, on many occasions, we are not conscious of the enormous, latent, visual, expressive force that the objects, as materialized language, can have in our day-dreaming memory and consciousness.

The exhibition includes a number of sketches and models for Ett vattenhem and for Återblickens transparens (2004), an installation of delicately transparent furniture made of the thinnest organza; hardly materialized at all. The furniture is suspended on thin wires and it moves in slow motion like gentle sounds, diaphanous clouds; yet with slightly threatening unpredictability. The solidity of the furniture has been dissolved. The items are transparent and weightless like certain very old people whose bodies consist mainly of memories and traces of experience. Meta Isæus-Berlin’s sketches, in their intense simplicity, are as expressive as comic strips. The furniture exhibits a forceful integrity and is animated to such an extent that it becomes almost like pictures of people, of human individuals.

Some of these characteristics are also apparent in the large paintings that Meta Isæus-Berlin has produced in the last few years. In several ways they would seem to mark a turning point in her art. A characteristic difference is that while the installations work in the public sphere, the paintings inescapably refer to more private contexts. There is often an obvious narrative and dramatic aspect with human figures that interact very expressively; which may well remind one of Munch’s figures though viewed, perhaps, through the freer composition and use of colour typical of the sixties. I find myself most strongly moved by those aspects of the paintings that have most in common with the installations. Where people, temporarily or permanently, have gone from the room but have left behind them a forceful impression in the objects; these human casts for charged memories that then continue to act out human distress on their own. Consider, for example, the painting Implosion with a room whose narrow set has been taken over by so-called "white goods" to such an extent that there is no floor left. Or the hotel beds all pushed together in some petit-bourgeois logistics in front of an overwhelming arrangement of curtains in Varför gjorde de så? [Why did they do that?] Or the row of furniture covered with cloth like an anaesthetic mask in Förberedelse [Preparations] while the walls and the carpet are drowned by slow trickles of diluted paint.
Original languageSwedish
Title of host publicationDrömdiken
PublisherSkissernas museum, Lund
ISBN (Print)91-7856-065-9
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Art History

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