Excuse me- May I have a Word? Ingrid Eggen
It is often argued that art, in it's current ‘contemporary’ form is inaccessible to many except those already in the supposed know.
More often than not, the reasons for this inaccessibility go hand in hand with the language through which this same art is explained. It is said that in order to even begin 'getting' it, most has to have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the field of art. Now, in my experience, that does not do justice to the breadth of artists in fact working day to day with their projects out there in the ‘real’ art-world. I want to share one artist who makes complex, even iconic works of art, timeless pieces like nothing I have seen before; generous, mysterious and yes, difficult to understand. But, though the meaning is not obvious on their surface, their generosity and openness make them accessible to anyone, if only they give them some attention over time.
Ingrid Eggen’s works are not photographs about photographs, nor are they simply images describing image culture. Reacting to her photographs, videos or sculptures, is more of a physical experience really, than anything else. Eggen’s work attempts the creation of a new language. They are about bodies, about making a new kind of body, they are about signs and about how we communicate symbolically, perhaps without even being aware of it. We can make, and make use of, what appear to be abstract signs in a kind of as yet unknown body language and still make ourselves understood; for as it goes, something looks like something else which looks like something we just might know. A kind of onomatopoeia of the body. In Eggen’s works, bodies become objects and flowers for instance take on human traits. A stem of a flower embraces a vase in one last desperate attempt to hold itself up after its energy has left it, or a woman keeps trying to trip herself repeatedly, getting up and falling down to the floor, up and down again from a different angle this time in an endless game of who holds the power? The artist? the subject? or language perhaps? which in turn begs the question: how far can we as physical entities be bent, stretched and constricted, and still rise again and take on new forms?
Though Ingrid speaks vividly about the reduction of signs, of words being replaced by emoji’s, and images made with our bodies that are not necessarily to be analysed, she also explains that the work is more about biology than psychology. Then, she corrects herself by saying that she is interested in trying to use the biological aspect to explore the psychological one. -And with this of coure, comes neurology! All of it has to be connected.
At first glance Eggen’s work could be seen as referencing the side-show contortionist, but mind you, this is no freak-show. She has had random people reach out to her after having seen her work wanting to know if she would like to make an image of some strange thing or other they are able to do with their body, which speaks more to her signature ‘style’ than to the longer lines in her work. Although she herself might not speak of it like this, there is most certainly an affinity with the movement of contemporary dance.
At 20 Ingrid thought, for a second, that she was on her way to becoming a choreographer, but 4 weeks into the course at the dance-college, she changed her mind. However, with ten years worth of physical studies in classical and modern dance, she has a deep understanding of the body in pain, of its autonomy, flexibility, mobility, and its potential as a kind of language spoken in movements.
Engaging with her work, I think of some of Cunningham’s key ideas such as not using narrative, of having unpredictable changes in rhythm, speed, direction and symmetry coexisting within the frame, in order to challenge perspectives and hierarchies such as front, centre and back. Dancers working with ideas of postmodernism had, in their desire not to conform to any codified dance techniques sought alternative forms of movement through which they could experience the connection between the mind and the body. It occurs to me that the latter resonates clearly within Eggen’s work, that she could be seen as a kind of choreographer by way of the camera, or more recently by way of wax and plaster, materials traditionally associated with the representation of the body in space, through sculpture…
We could go on and on, about her recent show Virvx (a term coined by Eggen herself) at Knipsu in Bergen, about her abovementioned three dimensional works at Tenthaus in Oslo or her show at MELK in 2017, but suffice it to say, that these exhibitions reveal an artist working methodically, meticulously and with an openness towards change. The work centres on a conceptual approach to the body, exploring its functions and dysfunctions in relation to communication, representation, control and awareness. For me, personally, all this comes together into a sort of higher unity in one work, initially a video shown at gallery Holodech in 2013. 5 Folde t, performed by the dancer Ellesiv Selseng and captured by one camera and turned into a six minute long looped video work where the camera is directed towards one specific corner of a room, with white walls and floors painted grey. A young woman walks around the room, at random, then, at every turn, tripping her own foot so that she falls over, onto the hard floor. Gets up, and repeats. Again and again. There is no rhythm to these movements, no rules given her about when to fall. The only constant is that it does not stop for as long as the performance lasts. No breaks, no catching her breath. At times, the woman leaves the frame, disappearing as it were, then appears suddenly again, hastily moving around, hurting her knees, tired, out of breath, but persisting in her horrifying dance. And yet, there is something approaching a kind of harmony. Everything around her is quiet, and she always gets up again with an air of neutrality, as if simply going about this painful business, life, without theatrics. As it were, watching it, the piece is as much about the spectator as it is about ‘her’ because we feel her pain as our own.
I want her to stop. I want to reach in and stop her from hurting herself. Others might very well want to leave the room but knowing full well this is a performance and not some friend or stranger engaged in a highly self-destructive behaviour, we stay put, as if the fact of it being a performance, staged for us, makes the pain more bearable.
So while for Ingrid this is first and foremost about biology and not psychology I tend to think that those two things most definitely go hand in hand here, and is exactly what makes it so strong as a piece of art.. I stand, or sit, whichever, in a room with the dancer and her pain, or at home in front of a screen, her pain distanced in time and space, and confront a whole host of everyday problems relating to issues of control. Of what it means to have it or be subjected to it, of treading the fine line between self-destruction and discipline, of freedom and compulsive repetition… I think of performativity, of how we navigate different roles each day, of our strange relation to our bodies, these clumps of flesh we all inhabit, their resilience but at the same time, their vulnerability, and I think of Ingrid’s generosity. Handing us work that allows for all these musings and at the same time says, in all its simplicity, look, see, watch- THIS. These hands, these legs, these bodies, faces and gestures, see them in all their strangeness, their otherness, and keep in mind, next time you see a friend waving at you, a man touching the small of his partners back or the next time you see a gesture, hear a word, or see a work of art you do not immediately understand, that we live in a world of openness, a world whose meaning is not given once and for all, and keep in mind that this is what most artists, like Ingrid, is working on- of opening up what it is possible to think and mean and feel, by way of making the oh so ordinary, appear suddenly and shockingly strange and Relevant.
WORDS: Elisabeth Aarhus
PHOTOS: no 1-5 The Chromarty in Ingrid’s Studio in Oslo & no 6-12 Ingrid Eggen