Critics’ Picks

View of “Inga Svala Thórsdóttir and Maria Tobiassen,” 2009. Foreground: Maria Tobiassen, The Connector Machine, 2009. Background: Inga Svala Thórsdóttir, The Thing’s Right(s)—Thirty Watercolors, 2008.


Inga Svala Thórsdóttir and Maria Tobiassen

Ferdinandstraße 47
February 6–March 19

This two-person show includes the debut of Inga Svala Thórsdóttir’s The Thing’s Right(s)—Thirty Watercolors, 2008, a work that alters the text of each of the thirty articles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that they apply instead to objects, and Maria Tobiassen’s The Connector Machine, 2009, an installation that revolves around fantasies of living beings turning into things and vice versa. Both artists’ work entails an exchange between the sphere of the living and the sphere of the object. Nonetheless, each artist is so rooted in a formal language that their independence is never compromised.

The Connector Machine seems like a feminine relative to Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, 1915–23: A dark green blouse on a hanger looms above a wooden skirt that has been partially covered with green paint. Attached to the skirt, a green ribbon leads to the wall, where it ends in what appears to be a display cabinet; the fabric swirls along the wall before disappearing around the corner. A surrogate for a person or idea, the incorporeal Connector Machine acts as a figure of reflection and imaginary substitution.

Thórsdóttir’s watercolors are visual manifestations of her artistic collaboration, which began in 1995, with Chinese Fluxus artist Wu Shan Zhuan (The Thing’s Right[s] Declaration, 2007). In each meticulous rendering, they have changed human rights to thing’s rights. For example, article 1 of the declaration states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” which is modified here to: “All of it is being been at large and identical in matter position and right(s).” The intractable language illustrates how deeply the source text is anchored in the “highly idealistic” idea, as Thórsdóttir describes it, of humanity. Zhuan and Thórsdóttir’s work complements this discursive fiction with subversive and liberating humor and, as the artists meddle in an anarchistic-Dadaist manner, the work seems at least as absurd as it is radical. Employing familiar motifs, including images that recall Thórsdóttir’s work over the past twenty years, the new watercolors offer a poetic retrospective––a glimpse of an individual artistic universe.

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.