Gunilla Wihlborg

Galleri Periscope

Gunilla Wihlborg’s installation, entitled Lusthus, (Pleasure house), combines multileveled symbolism with formal simplicity and precision. Three large houses made of stainless-steel sheets stand in a row in the long, narrow exhibition space. Two similar, but smaller houses—one of beeswax, the other of solid black rubber—rest on sturdy angle irons attached to the wall. In another room, Wihlborg has placed four smaller versions of her “pleasure house.” The shape is the same, but the materials vary, ranging from gold leaf (on a structure of wood), to stainless steel, lead, and concrete.

Pencil sketches mounted on steel plates reveal that Wihlborg has drawn some inspiration from a form resembling an ancient Greek temple, and while temple and pleasure house are opposites, ecstasy—spiritual and sensual respectively—is their common province. Although their size varies, Wihlborg repeats the same form throughout the exhibition. It is a form on the borderline between architecture and sculpture, and she molds it in symbolically charged materials. The house of beeswax, for instance, is placed directly opposite one of black rubber, so that they mirror each other. The house—a metaphor for the subject—is made to embody such conflicting things as immortality and death, virginity and lust, purity and dark passion. In ancient times, bees were thought to be autogenous, and they were therefore, together with honey and beeswax, often associated with purity and chastity. At the same time wax is an old symbol for malleability and falsity. Wihlborg’s sculptural architecture thus incorporates layer upon layer of symbolic meaning.

The three big, shiny houses nearly touch the ceiling and seem about to outgrow the place, and this impression of an expanding formation is enhanced by the fact that the houses are not identical. The first has no apertures; the second has three small, rectangular openings in the gable; the third has a somewhat larger, windowlike perforation. Out of these openings bulge cushionlike forms of pinkish silk; a living softness seems to exude from these angular shells of shining metal. The result is a clash between sensuous desire and harsh reality. Or is it rather an image of the birth of the self? The violence of the Law (the Father’s house)? Imprisoned lust? Fermenting ecstasy? It is, I think, possible to read this rich work in all of these ways. Reflection is the basic figure of repetition, and it belongs neither to the reflecting surface nor to the reflected object. As José Ortega y Gasset has written, it is a specter without substance somewhere between the two. In Wihlborg’s work this feeling is amplified by the semimatte surfaces of the houses, in which reflections become hazy and the fractured self disintegrates.

Lars O. Ericsson