Sissel Tolaas

Galleri Wang

Sissel Tolaas’ orientation toward the spiritual is not rooted in a particular religion or in mysticism; rather, it is based on the artist’s understanding of nature. Tolaas works with a dialectic interplay of paired opposites from nature, for example, the feminine and masculine, light and dark, cold and heat, life and death. She has dealt with these pairs throughout her oeuvre, and here she elaborated upon them again. Tolaas, who has lived in Berlin since 1986, has been making works on paper and recently on silk, outdoor sculptures, and installations, depending on the given space. They knew that they were naked, 1991, was sited in a former factory as well as in the gallery. This work is concerned much less with material than her previous installations, which used natural or organic substances usually left in their original state and sometimes combined with video images of nature. Her installation here consists of visible and invisible parts. A metal grid platform, built on the north-south axis of the darkened room, holds four vertical corridors or columns of light, cold air, dark, and hot air (produced by sources under the platform and in boxes on the ceiling). Only one of the columns is visible—light—and the others must be experienced by visitors walking on the platform. The visible elements of this piece are four photographs—two different images of the surface of the earth, borrowed from an atlas, and shown in light boxes, placed under the roof on the ends of the north-south axis of the room. These photos are part of Tolaas’ recent series, “Plannar Symmetry,” 1990. On the east-west axis, a photo showing the artist’s arm veiled with white silk drapery and an uncovered palm has an iron-plate background. The photo on the opposite end has a white silk background, and shows the naked arm of the artist. Beside the clear play of softness versus hardness, metal versus silk, these two photographs suggest more directly the title of the installation, that citation from the Old Testament (Genesis 3:7). This is not a religious reference; rather, Tolaas uses it skeptically, even ironically. The moment of recognition of nakedness is the instant when the secret or mystery is born. Clothing, as any other covering, implies this secret.

The second part of Tolaas’ exhibition consists of works on paper and silk. This is part of her diary, a 365-piece work she has been making for over one year, each day putting one horizontal or vertical ink line on paper that has been impregnated with motor oil. Paper pieces, separately framed, are placed close to each other on two walls, and the silk pieces, fixed with oil on a lead boxlike support, are installed on the gallery floor. Tolaas’ work acknowledges the importance of time, or, as she states: “the art of waiting.” Change is suggested by the repetition of similar elements—lines in her diary, iron plates or photographs of water taken from the videoscreen in her installations, or geometric shapes in her drawings. The real change in Tolaas’ work is one that occurs in the work itself—in the material that she has been exposing to the process of oxidation (in the case of iron or copper) or impregnation (of paper, silk, and stone). She creates the conditions in which the material continues to change, as in the photochemical works of Sigmar Polke. Tolaas’ work is not yet complete when the artist’s hand leaves it.

Bojana Pejic