Silent Noise 2017
Erik Friis Reitan
Battle Cry can be translated into Norwegian as "war cry", but can also be read as a compilation of the English verbs "battle" and "Cry." "Battle" indicates active action: to defeat an enemy or fight their way out of a situation, while "cry" draws associations to resignation, passivity and weakness. This double meaning is repeated in Emma Woffendens surreal inspired works, and the way they interact with each other in her exhibition at the glass gallery S12 in Bergen.
As I enter the small, yet airy gallery S12 I'm going straight into a seemingly frozen event. A large, transparent glass bell without hammer standing still in the window. An excavator-like shape flanked by two prominent anthropomorphic figures, which in each their own way is in an aggressive movement toward the center of the room. This applies particularly to the large-scale sculpture The Runner consisting of a sort of torso with arms and legs, all designed in delicate, blown glass items. In the middle of the large torso-piece, a pair of lips and a uvula are placed, formed in a material which resembles the Play Dough like material fimo, which together form an open mouth. The figure is not without humorous tendencies, but at the same time there is something desperate and confrontational over the forward leaning position. The character's feet are stuck in mud, so that which at first glance appeared to be an attack accompanied by a battle cry, suddenly becomes a desperate struggle to get out of the mud.
Woffendens work ranging from objects in clean, clear glass, to the juxtapositions of found material. Several of the glass elements are based on molds from closed down glass factories Woffenden have gained access to, and these become part of a personal archive of shapes which she combines in various objects. Some of the objects also contains polystyrene and plastic bottles.
In the figure Victory the use of materials are particularly complex. The sculpture consists of two figures; one lying on the ground, and another standing victorious with one leg firmly planted in the belly of the underlying. Depending on where you let your gaze fall the standing figure appears to be alternating between a human figure, a duck, and a bowling skittle. This interplay between the various, sometimes conflicting associations is a recurring theme in many of the figures. The hip joint on the standing figure is made of something reminiscent of plaster, and "leg" consists of a plastic tube. The reclining figure is not transparent as the standing, but is rather "mummified" in a matt plaster-like material. From the torso an arm consisting of chopped green bottles are sticking out. Bottles are a reoccurring shape in the works, and forms a connection to the glass practical role in the real world, in a universe that is otherwise characterized by surreal fantasy forms.
In Victory the use of materials thus create a kind of contradiction between form and content. The standing, aggressive figure is largely transparent and perceived almost as fragile. The defeated figure with its opaque finish and dense form far more solid.
Where Victory depicts the culmination of a battle between two parties, Phantom is a more abstract and complex work. This is possibly the piece that works best in this exhibition, because it manifests the exhibitions main tendency through a finely tuned balance between relatively subtle and ambiguous elements. The sculpture can be read on a symbolic level where simple shapes (Norwegian word: ?enkle formgrep?) gives rise to several different interpretations, whilst it provides the basis for dwellings over the glass distinctive formal characteristics.
Laying on a table of stainless steel which is reminiscent of laboratories and operating theaters is a bent bubble of clear, blown glass, with one end of coarser cast glass. Towards the back of the object a square mirror is leaning, thus the glass figure is reflected and meets itself in the mirror. The end piece of the bubble can look like a boxing glove, and the reflection makes it look as if the figure is attacking itself. Yet again the fragile and transparent glass in the object makes this aggressive association contradictory. As object the mirror has fascinated artists throughout history. Seemingly transparent, yet opaque as it casts the space and the viewer back at himself. No wonder it has also been seen as magical, with a rich mythology associated with it. In this work, the mirror helps to reinforce the reflective surfaces and the play of light in both the object and the steel table it is located on.
Battle Cry is an exhibition that rewards the one who gives himself time to dwell on the various objects and how they talk to each other. That which at first glance is clearly definable, recognizable objects and shapes assume a growing ambivalence as the contradictory details steps forward and respectively cancel each other out, and reinforce each other. Thus, it is significant that the object consisting of a stripped chair, plaster elements, plastic pipes and sheets of glass, which I was sure represented an excavator when I came in, now, on the way out, obviously stands out as a chicken-like animal figure, collapsed to the floor in a pose that fits the title: Falling Hard.