Klara Lidén

Remember in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. Blonde—played by the unruly Michael Madsen—mutilated the bound and gagged police officer to the beat of Stealers Wheel’s bubblegum hit “Stuck in the Middle with You”? “Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place, clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right; here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” Klara Lidén does her own Mr. Blonde in Bodies of Society, 2006, a video in her exhibition “Unheimlich Manöver.” To an original score Lidén commissioned from the Swedish band Tvillingarna, jingly like carny music, she prances her own âme damnée dance and then, taking a steel pipe in both hands, taunts the object of her ire—a bicycle!—with menacing swipes, followed by a ferocious clobbering of the two-wheeler. Thank goodness it was only a bicycle. Lidén seems to be no more acting here than she was in Paralyzed, 2003, when her impulsive, violent ballet on a Stockholm commuter train scared the bejesus out of passengers. The difference between Tarantino’s scene and Lidén’s? Madsen is playing a part; Lidén seems not to be.

The difference is significant, setting Lidén apart from historical precedent—Chris Burden’s “what if I hit it” shots at the 747, for instance—and positioning her at odds with the reigning relational aesthetics, with its privileging of what Nicolas Bourriaud calls “the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” Just how tightly wound Lidén is inside her own free will was never more apparent than in this exhibition: She emptied her apartment—down to the toilet—amassing her chattels in stacks and bales inside the museum, like the bounty of a scavenger hunt. Her dislodged belongings, together with the exhibition’s title, are a play on the Heimlich maneuver (the violent but lifesaving abdominal thrust that ejects foreign objects from the airway) and Freud’s unheimlich, which can mean “uncanny” and “that which is not home.” Like an alien encampment, her construction occupied the museum’s main thoroughfare; visitors could hardly avoid it, nor could they avoid feeling like trespassers. If I had to pick a precursor for Lidén it might be the Bruce Nauman of works such as Violin Tuned DEAD, 1969, but Lidén, instead of merely rediscovering the phenomenological fundamentals that triggered post-Minimalism, tows them into new depths, making them her own.

And what has Lidén achieved? It is too soon to know for sure—her career has hardly begun—but an early conclusion might be that she is unlacing the traditional principles of morality. These, whether secular or religious, serve to suppress natural instincts toward savagery, and she wants to see what happens when these instincts are unleashed. This desire accounts for the impetuous animalistic turbulence that is already a hallmark of her work. In Ohrya, 2005, a grainy black-and-white video playing on a small TV—easy to overlook stuffed in among her things—traditional values creep in to haunt her. Here we find Lidén in a confessional mood fueled by self-doubt, like one of the fraudulents in Dante’s Eighth Circle. Alone in her kitchen, she mutilates what’s left of her emotional stability; between chugs of milk, she concedes that life has started to take a downward turn, that she is far from an “adapted citizen”—she can’t even pay her rent. And predictable, responsible behavior? That’s for others. Is there no virtue to her life? She slumps on the kitchen floor, no reassuring answers in reach. It’s messy and uncomfortable to watch. You could call it a tragic scene in search of a deus ex machina, except it’s not pretend, and that’s the power of Lidén’s art.

Ronald Jones