Monika Nyström

Monika Nyström’s work concerns vision and the power of light. Her recent show “Skymning” (Twilight) took place during the darkest time of the northern year, but no artificial lighting was used in the galleries. “Twilight” used a range of elements—photographs, a laser installation, a rotating stained-glass window, and place-names painted on the walls—to imagine and interpret abstract concepts like time, space, and light. But it also addressed specific places and the ideological constructions associated with them.

The exhibition mutated over the course of the day, along with the changes in the dim natural light. By late afternoon, visitors had to find their way through darkness, guided only by reflections from a green laser beam or the writing on a wall that was illuminated by ultraviolet lamps. This concern with light could perhaps be labeled a Nordic obsession, since strong contrasts of bright and dark are part of the seasonal experience here. For Nyström, however, light is less a matter of meditative introspection than a tool for examining the nature of things and their position in social space.

Within this experience of changing light, Nyström treated the public to a pair of visual tours. One commented on the aesthetics of science as represented in Sweden in the ’60s with a series of found photographs of the experimental nuclear reactor at Studsvik, a symbol of the utopianism of that period. These clean, perfectly constructed pictures of offices and advanced scientific equipment brought to mind hard-edged, Gattaca-style approaches to nature. They evidence a scientific lifestyle that championed experimentation with matter as a way to fuse desire with reality (a position perhaps also once held by artistic creativity in the public consciousness).

“Twilight” took us on a long-distance trip. In 1914, the artist’s grandmother made a journey from Valparaiso, Chile, back to Lund, Sweden. She kept a diary and collected postcards, and the latter were used in the exhibition. Her itinerary was mapped out in fluorescent paint on the walls. As darkness fell and physical space started disappearing into the shadows, ghostly place-names became more and more legible. Some, like Panama and Kingston, remain perfectly recognizable, but others, such as Salaverri or Culebra Cut, may not even exist anymore. In addition to the geographical impact of the passage of time, this part of the exhibition recalled the significance of travel in the process of colonization.

To a great extent, Nyström’s project relied on the viewers’ participation, on their desire and ability to make connections among various elements in the installation. It would have been worth following her suggestion to attend the exhibition more than once, not so much to rekindle an intellectual appreciation, but to experience the changes in natural light and how these create new openings for receiving the different layers of the project. In essence, Nyström is reclaiming art as a primary experience, and that’s something rare these days.

Liutaurus Psibilskis