Something like seeing in the dark: Leif Elggren, John Duncan
The name of the show, Something like seeing in the dark, refers to the first collaboration between artists John Duncan (b. 1953, Kansas, USA) and Leif Elggren (b. 1951, Linköping, Sweden). Voice, sound and video formed the piece, which was shown as a part of the Netmage live media festival (Bologna, Italy, 2007). With this exhibition at Gallery Niklas Belenius, the collaboration has been taken one step further as a number of new pieces, and a few older ones, now can be experienced in correlation and in contrast, towards and from each other and the space.
The New Immortality is the name of the series of printed works that Leif Elggren has published since 1992. With Elggren’s new piece, The Sudarium of St Veronica, the publication reaches it’s tenth issue. It includes another artist: Frenchman and citizen of Elgaland-Vargaland, Claude Mellan (1598-1688), who contributes with his pioneering in the field of graphic work: A spiraled copper engravery, picturing Jesus Christ in his crown of thorns. As the logical consequence of Elggren’s interdisciplinary work with echoes and sound sampling, he has now by what can be seen as through almost alchemist methods, extracted sound from this semi-millennium old spiral of the Son of God. After a year of brushing on the scanned image in Photoshop, followed by complicated re-engravings, Elggren finally had a spiral clean enough to play with a pick-up needle. Like a re-production of the first vinyl recorder, before there were record players. The piece consists of both Elggren’s carefully re-produced version of Mellan’s Jesus portrait and the sound sample of the image, with a text where Elggren presents the long artistic research that has led up to this milestone.
Shimmering landscapes, like crystals, like light through the fog of morning. Infinite beauty is found in the laboratory images that constitute Elggren’s Virulent Images Virulent Sound. It is difficult to stop looking, to not be overwhelmed by their beauty. They are lethally contagious viral diseases, presented behind black protective curtains, like relics. Can disease infect through perception? Elggren explicitly warns the viewer that the visual structure of a virus can come to affect our immune systems. And refers to convincing research which states that this is the case. What we see can make us ill. Perhaps all of humanity and all our societies have become ill from what is seen, in the same way that we project our collective illness onto the flow of images? The viewer also has the possibility to listen to the viruses. You have the choice to expose both your eyes and your ears – simultaneously if you wish to do so.
Perhaps the explicit images and sounds can work as a form collective vaccination? The line between great danger and infinite beauty is a fine one, microscopic even. To expose ourselves to what is most frightening is not safe but it can set us of on a journey in ourselves that strengthens our immune defense.
John Duncan has a long history of exposing himself; it is through his deeply personal confrontations with what is truly gruesome he reaches a turning point, which forcefully strikes the receiver of his art. In great detail Duncan has taken notes on his dreams for many years. Now, in the Plasma Missives, the public can take part of a selection of these notes, diving into the depths of his (i e humanities) streams of consciousness. The stories are fascinating ones – visits to places that are unknown but yet familiar. Who dreams? Who is the dreamer? Is it you? Is it I? Duncan’s dreams could be your dreams or mine; they exist in a field where symbols, reflections, fears, warnings and insights are mixed up to a collective flow. The dreams of man, carefully and uncensored, written down in blood on first quality paper. They are contracts written in the blood of the dreamer, signed by a person who always takes the lead on walks into the darkest of tunnels, who no longer has to fear, for he has learnt of his own vulnerability. Doesn’t the thumbprint signature resemble the spirals that make up Elggren’s/Mellan’s portrait of Christ? Dreams can be scary because there are no given borders to their reality. They move in and out of the restrictions of other dimensions of existence. The Plasma Missives can be seen as a continuation of Duncan’s earlier work with dreams in the image/text series The Error, shown in Stockholm at Thomas Ehrngren Gallery fall 2002. Internationally Duncan has gained notability for his forceful work with sound, but in this exhibition he has chosen an exclusively visual form for his art.
An exception is the sound generated from the two video pieces, one being a documentation of Duncan/Elggren’s co-operation during Netmage -07 in Bologna, the other from The Garden, a jarring site-specific sound piece for a closed down poison factory in Turin, Italy. Where Duncan, together with a number of other artists was invited in 2006 and where the sound installations came to function as a form of support for the traumatized local citizens in their reclaiming of the old factory area.
In the installation Distractions, Duncan has allowed his blood to flow freely, creating it’s own pattern in between two acrylic glass windows. The blood has found it’s own way of organizing itself uncontrollably. The red blood is transparent through lighting but is starting to dry up, to crack, open up new spaces, like it was still trickling, dissolving, transforming.
Perhaps this visual structure of the blood also has an influence on the viewer’s immune system? What is dangerous can beautiful, and when it is presented as art, we are given a chance to choose how it affects us.
Here, the image of the sacrificed Son of God is keeping watch over the most contagious diseases of our time; in between lay the shadows of Duncan’s flowing blood. Welcome! At own risk and responsibility.
Ingrid Engarås, november 2007