Magnus Wallin

“Physical Sightseeing,” the first comprehensive solo museum show of Magnus Wallin’s work, was an extended journey through the Swedish artist’s recent activities. The sightseeing in which spectators were invited to participate took them through a series of dark rooms, each housing a computer-animated DVD projection. Exit, 1997, Physical Paradise, 1998, Limbo, 1999, and Skyline, 2000, have all appeared as individual works and in a variety of contexts but were now, for the first time, brought together to form a whole. Thus the exhibition was an opportunity to appreciate the loosely connected narrative linking the three films, an absurd progression of events that emerged more forcefully as we made our way through the museum’s exhibition spaces, which had been reconfigured to draw us into the artist’s highly charged imagery.

The focus of Wallin’s computer animations is the human body—its vulnerability vis-à-vis its environment and its frustrating limitations. The films challenge our perception of bodies: Ideals of beauty are defined and redefined, along with their implied contrast to aberrations and handicaps. A new physique is being mapped out here. It functions (or malfunctions) quite differently from those seen, for instance, in ’60s performance-oriented body art, the feminist work of the ’70s, or the media-coded battleground of the ’80s. In Wallin’s aesthetic world our thought is directed to the perfected, heroized body, a symmetrical. well-constructed machine. and then to the very stark contrast with a more defective model: a body marked by limitations no one will acknowledge—certainly not in an age of elaborate workouts, obsessive dieting, and plastic surgery.

In Wallin’s work digital techniques are mixed with influences as diverse as medieval painting and advanced computer game aesthetics. In Exit, a group of disabled figures modeled on the drawings of Hieronymus Bosch—a land of prototype from a time when people were categorized according to their appearance—try to flee a raging fire. They stumble down a long corridor whose walls are covered with loudspeakers; each time someone is lost to the flames, the speakers broadcast the ovations of an audience. Physical Paradise evokes Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, while Skyline borrows its aesthetics from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympiad, in conjunction with anatomical drawings from the Renaissance and Olof Rudbeck’s famous Anatomy Theater in Uppsala. Despite this stylistic variety and the artist’s method of juxtaposing sharply contrasting elements and phenomena, one never feels that Wallin’s main interest lies in working with allusions; his films are merely the fruit of a singular eclecticism that insouciantly samples a wide range of sources and pushes them to extremes. Eclecticism becomes a well-functioning idiolect, even though a cursory perusal of Wallin’s reference material would seem to attest, rather, to an activity very much like trying to force together puzzle pieces that don’t fit. The enduring impression is of a distinct visual form, reinforced by the artist’s penchant for narrative and the curious corniness that manifests itself in the absurd and arresting sound and pictorial elements.

Mats Stjernstedt

Translated from Swedish by Susan Dew.