Sofia Hultén, Ok Ok Ok Ok Ok, 2019, mixed media, 80 3⁄4 × 48 3⁄8 × 48 7⁄8".

Sofia Hultén, Ok Ok Ok Ok Ok, 2019, mixed media, 80 3⁄4 × 48 3⁄8 × 48 7⁄8".

Sofia Hultén

Sofia Hultén’s work oscillates between a critical tradition and the desire for a new cult in the current state of political hopelessness. In the tradition of Walter Benjamin’s ragpicker, she works with found objects and everyday observations in the urban environment, exploring parallel movements and states of mind. The title of her recent exhibition, “Undead, undead,” echoed a refrain from the 1979 single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” by the post-punk group Bauhaus. Undead, undead (all works cited, 2019) was also the name of two polished-steel excavator teeth, hanging from the wall, looking like gods of an alt-religion of industrialization.

A few years ago, Hultén zipped together her own jeans with a pair found on the street to produce the poetic work In the Genes, 2014. For this exhibition, she found another pair of jeans on a street in Berlin (where she lives), but this time she made a sculpture that plays with the iconic scene in Billy Wilder’s 1955 movie The Seven Year Itch, where Marilyn Monroe finds herself on Lexington Avenue in New York with her dress billowing up in the draft from a subway vent while she delivers the classic line: “Do you feel the breeze from the subway? Isn’t it delicious?” In Hultén’s blue jeans, animated from below by a hidden electric fan, there is also the hint of something delicious. Yet there is also something melancholy about how the sculpture moved, pant legs flailing in the air above a nonexistent body. Titled Manly Rainy Moany, it is a monument to a recent past when negating or subverting the Hollywood machine was still a radical gesture.

The kinetic sculpture Ok Ok Ok Ok Ok was also composed of found objects, in this case two battered yellow stepladders coupled into a Ferris wheel–like construction. When I set the wheel spinning by hand, I experienced a sense of satisfaction. In contrast to the industrially made stepladders themselves, this whole design breathes quality, craftsmanship, and power. The aftertaste of Hultén’s rotating fetish object is at the same time dark and scary in a way no Ferris wheel can compete with.

The video work And/Or consisted of two movements, one where a mobile phone accidentally drops from a pocket into a bucket of dirty water, provoking an all-too-familiar aggravation effect, and one where the phone is thrown aggressively and deliberately into the bucket. Read as a metaphor for the possibility of action in the current political climate, the work laconically affirms a feeling of hopelessness. Considering the fact that both movements end in a short circuit, the sequence also seems a comment on social-media addiction, technology-enabled surveillance, and fake news—or maybe just on the urge to buy a new phone. In the post-truth era, Hultén’s response is not a call to correct the order of things. Instead, her work highlights and reflects on this zeitgeist and explores its historical context through sculptures that literally move, as well as through movements between different states, modes, and narratives.

In the late 1950s, on the verge of the computer age, movement became an essential metaphor for freedom and anarchy. In the Stockholm context, this idea was perhaps best illustrated in the 1961 exhibition “Rörelse i konsten” (Movement in Art) at Moderna Museet. Today, when industrial modes of production are no longer hegemonic, movement in art has lost its connection with utopia. Hultén suggests that the old friendship among movement, freedom, and anarchy is nothing but a ghost without a progressive cause.