It is extraordinary how much actually can be said about the works of Karl Norin in this exhibition. A lot of it is quite evident – for example how decorative and aesthetic they are, and yet this needs to be said nonetheless, as it shows the peculiar dynamics which makes the works menacing, under-mining and destabilizing. It’s not out of pure theoretical interest one asks oneself whether the works are objects, paintings or photography, it’s to know oneself and the works since they have a ghostlike presence in them, another figure in the corner of the eye. They come through as objects in a sleepless nursery during night-time. When Norin have emptied, painted and pressed together stuffed animals a picture emerges that holds serious painting skills, but also a strain of photography, collage, prints and posters. And yet it’s not only the work that is an object, but also the depicted object. Look at the ribbons on the teddy bears! They look as though they were pasted in, but they are really real! The works are permeated of this ghastly fusion of picture and reality, like when one is dreaming that one is dreaming, and no longer knows what is.
Taking a step back to see the whole picture it occurs to me that via these mild soothing colours and the funny fancies, pure terror emerges from the works. I come to think about Michelangelo’s fresco “The Last Judgement”, but in this case without the kingdom of heaven. In the centre a judging teddy bear, from left to right a hinted half circle motion. In Michelangelo’s fresco the damned lay down in the right corner. The emptiness of these teddy bears suddenly hit me, their stuffing all gone. I think of worn out people and how they wander about like fragile shells. In the fresco the artist painted himself as an empty costume of skin. The realization that the teddy bear most likely is not a prize from an amusement park sparks a grim vision of how random reality has become. “One day you’re a CEO, the next day a taxi driver and then a broker”, as someone said in a documentary. The medieval lady Fortuna has been reinstated as an example in society and hence every day is one of judgment. It is not divine justice that’s moulded in this fresco, but the fate of Man in a society where social and economic justice comes from debt companies. Being poor and getting caught in their claws produces penal fees after fees, everlasting suffering and judgment.
Yet it’s the teddy bears I see under a watery surface, and they are beautiful. What must an artist do? Kierkegaard compared the poet with a Greek tool of torture, the brazen bull. Some poor sod was locked inside of it, and they would make a fire beneath it, just to hear the screams of the one trapped in it. For Kierkegaard it was all about the poets’ torment of the soul, for Norin perhaps more about the social and economic interests of the artist; stress, chance, the market turned rollercoaster and the artist as a teddy bear for capital owners and bureaucrats – what do I know? That’s the way I see it. Just like one can marvel before the style of traditional painting, and its colours movement and depth, its way to the surface – it’s still a wonder! Art contains both sides, the beautiful surface, the living depth, and the agonies of the precariat. Ever some form of fundamental ambiguity: one’s’ life is really as a “cry in space” infinitely insignificant, but nonetheless to oneself realties centre and the most important thing there is. Being both a teddy bear and Jesus – fathom that, whoever can……..
Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen