New York

Klara Liden, S.A.D., 2012, found Christmas trees, grow lights, buckets, plywood, safety blue paint, dimensions variable.

Klara Liden, S.A.D., 2012, found Christmas trees, grow lights, buckets, plywood, safety blue paint, dimensions variable.

Klara Liden

Klara Liden, S.A.D., 2012, found Christmas trees, grow lights, buckets, plywood, safety blue paint, dimensions variable.

Some eighty Christmas trees made up the centerpiece of Klara Liden’s recent exhibition at Reena Spaulings. Installed behind blue plywood fencing, the trees had been reclaimed from New York City’s sidewalks, where they had been awaiting curbside trash pickup this past January as the show was being installed. For many visitors, the rich, resiny smell inside this dense forest inevitably evoked memories of Christmases past. The seasonal affective disorder invoked in the installation’s title (S.A.D., 2012) underscored the invitation to read the work in terms of metaphor and affect—to consider its reclamation of the subject, the senses, and the body against the previous function of the trees at the meeting point of religion, consumerism, and family rituals. The work came across, exhilaratingly, as a celebration of the possibility of carving out a place (a place to hide, a place to survive) within the circuit of consumption and disposal.

For her previous exhibition at Reena Spaulings, Liden had displaced the viewer for the sake of the city outside with Elda för kråkorna (Heating for Crows), 2008, for which she blocked off a large part of the gallery to make it a habitable refuge for feral pigeons. In S.A.D., by contrast, you were not excluded but invited in, drawn almost instinctually into the woods, where you implicated your own body in the artist’s project of reclamation. The trees were so tightly installed that you brushed against them as you squeezed a path to the center—where you found the gallery’s leather couch, in exactly the same position as in the previous show at the space. Sitting here, you were inside a Romantic pine forest as much as you were surrounded by trash—but inevitably also extremely aware of being in an art gallery. Amplified by the work’s origin in the contingencies of trash collection in New York over a couple of weeks this past January, the friction between these various contexts forestalled reductive readings of the work as, for example, a temporary readymade.

Under Lamp, 2012—a lighting fixture made from a heavily weathered plastic construction barrel—the artist showed a limited-edition flip-book bound in cardboard, handmade untitled book, 2012. Here, we see the artist descending into a series of manholes in Berlin, forcing her own body through hidden openings in the very infrastructure that maintains the smooth functioning of the status quo. Several black pages follow each disappearance, suggesting either that Liden’s goal will (or must) remain in the dark or that the gesture of escaping is itself the locus of the work. (Insofar as the art world is also one such form of infrastructure, you don’t need to have read Ken Johnson, calling, with questionable irony, Liden “a Swedish wild thing” in the New York Times, to sympathize with the desire to run for the woods or duck into a manhole.)

Although we know there’s no beach under the paving stones, we are still compelled to search for whatever we can find there instead. This is what creates the urgency, even desperation, behind the three photographs also in the show, which further illuminate the artist’s investigations of the relationship of her body to the physical and metaphorical structures of its environment. In Down, 2011, Liden is again entering a manhole in Berlin, while in Pier, 2012, she stands on a rotting wooden pylon in the Hudson River. In Monkey, 2010, she is halfway up a lamppost. Liden’s romantic yearning for an alternative often leaves her in just such a place, where the necessity of acting on this desire and the futility of doing so are equally apparent. The poetics of reclamation in these works fluctuates between saying, “This is still possible” and “This is all we have left.”

Alexander Scrimgeour