Stina Ekman

Moderna Museet | Stockholm

“An intuitive exploration of the number of sculptures contained within the cube 60x60x60 mm”: the slightly humorous tension between form and content in the subtitle of Swedish sculptress Stina Ekman’s installation, Gitter (Lattice), was hardly fortuitous. Swedish-speaking viewers recognized the untranslatable puns that the word “gitter” derived from nuclear physics, inevitably suggests—puns that make science seem akin to farce. The amazing thing was that in spite of its essentially controlled form the installation seemed to open into the viewer’s non-formal associations.

In a square room illuminated by a white, almost shadowless light, 446 small sculptures were arranged in a strict grid pattern along the walls. Despite this systematic order, one’s first impression on entering the room was one of sparkling excitement; the hundreds of forms seemed more like immaterial flicker than solid matter. On the floor lay a jumble of black, slightly crumbling manganese briquettes, like a terrestrial reflection of the crystalline “world of ideas” on the walls. As one tried to focus on the sculptures one by one, tackling their overwhelming multiplicity, one soon would run into a briquette. One’s concentration on the individual object thus broken, the flickering totality asserted itself once more. In a simple and efficient manner—yet maintaining a tactful distance from the authoritarian manipulations of Op art—Ekman directed one’s attention to the interaction of part and whole, which is the basis of all perception.

All the forms were comprised within the imaginary compass of the little cube: heavy monoliths and frail shells of seductively shimmering turquoise bronze; sharpened, geometric, technologically aggressive objects of blasted aluminum; and flamboyant “crowns” and swelling organic bodies of velvety balsa. Leaping and gliding between abstraction and figuration, between restrained formalism and quivering abandon, the installation also became a precisely argued statement against all formal dogma.

At the same time, Ekman left the door open for an existential interpretation: out of the insignificant cube, small enough to be held in the palm of one’s hand, an infinite number of variations and possibilities unfolded. “There are as many possibilities in our lives,” Ekman wrote of the cube, and “you must always choose what you want to see and where you want to go.” From this perspective the fact that a multitude of these possibilities seemed viciously aggressive—especially those springing from a piece of aluminum with points and thorns—should have caused somber afterthoughts. But not so: the aggressiveness was excited and humorous rather than destructive—like the noisemakers in a Chinese New Year celebration. It is not really surprising to learn that Ekman called the smaller variant of Gitter that she showed in the fall of 1983, at the Galerie Nemo in Eckernförde, West Germany, Badezimmer des Fakirs (The fakir’s bathroom). On the contrary, it merely confirms that the results of her “intuitive explorations,” without being flabby, are almost embarrassingly open to the most varying interpretations.

Lars Nittve

Translated from the Swedish by Lars-Håkan Svensson.