Vibeke Tandberg

Forget the prince. Vibeke Tandberg knows what every princess really wants: a shiny new mountain bike. The Norwegian artist, who settled in Oslo after residencies in London and New York, has produced eight large-scale color photographs that trace the awkward courtship between a modern-day princess and her latest acquisition. They show the artist, decked out in a white bathrobe, running shoes; a cheap blond wig, and a dime-store crown, moving through a sparsely furnished apartment with her unlikely beau, a ten-speed whose brand name remains hidden behind a light armor of silver paint.

Despite the work’s racy title—Princess Goes to Bed with a Mountain Bike, 2001—there’s no need for parental guidance in this girlworld fairy tale, which unfolded like a movie sequence or a comic strip across three walls of the gallery. Princess lounges listlessly at a table, slyly approaches the bike and then, in an obligatory switch of gender roles, lifts it robustly toward the awaiting bed. In the end, both “characters” appear to be snoozing peacefully on a large comforter, probably dreaming of uneven roads and air pumps. An homage to the utopian charms of capitalism, the photographs take commodity fetishism to new heights, showing the seductive power of fresh purchases. As Marx noted, we tend to invest commodities with a magically human, if not superhuman, quality while forgetting the processes of production and exploitation that lurk behind them. A sweatshop swoosh—which appears like an exclamation mark in the last photograph of a lone show hanging off the end of the bed—definitely gives an idea of the dark forces missing from this tale.

Beyond the goods and evils of capitalism, Tandberg is also interested in exaggerating her own failure to live up to the homegrown stereotype of the blonde Norwegian beauty. Her incarnation of the princess recalls the character in “Beautiful,” 1999, a series of fifty-two photographs of Tandberg’s face hidden behind the billowing tentacles of yet another bad blond wig. Before that, Tandberg used the doppelgänger effects of “Living Together,” 1996, a series of photographs that showed the artist as two characters eerily inhabiting the same space. The photographs for Princess originally taken in 1998 during the artist’s residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin—have also been digitally superimposed on each other, but the manipulation here serves to create a sense of continuity and narrative, sometimes verging on obviousness. The princess and the bike may be seen occupying more than one position within the same frame, but they are definitely individual figures, living out their own love story. And the moral of the tale? Tandberg underscores what Marx forgot to mention: We may invest commodities with magical qualities, but the investment often pays off. A mountain bike can become a prince, but it can also transform a plain girl into a princess—and quicker than a kiss.

Jennifer Allen