Last year, while Kristina Bength was a bachelor student at The Royal University College of Fine Arts in Stockholm, she showed a suggestive work at the spring exhibition: it was a series of ink- and water colour drawings that had been arranged in the same way as wall paper samples. The installation itself indicated an unusually well developed sense of the theatrical side of all exhibition-making. When Bength now makes her debut solo show at Galleri Flach+Thulin it is obvious that presentation is one of her strong sides as an artist.
Kristina Bength works with detailed water colour painting on paper in a super-realistic tradition where we also find Gunnel Wåhlstrand. She has developed a concept that took form already during her school years that is centred round Amanda Kristina Pedersen, a photographer and actress who was convicted of fraud and forgery in 1904. Pedersen was apparently a person of the right calibre to become a successful swindler, something that was probably connected to her being an actress by profession. This in combination with her work as a photographer makes one sense the contours of double-nature: a person equally skilled to be in character on the stage, as well as being outside, gazing at the surroundings and people hidden behind a camera.
This dual role is not all different from that of the artist, which can explain Bength’s fascination with Pedersen’s destiny. The artist is also an individual who through her work finds herself in two positions simultaneously, on the one hand as originator and sovereign creator of her own world, and on the other hand as an outside spectator of her own work. The fact that Pedersen was no innocent lamb in the world of crime, and being a shrewd and cunning criminal doesn’t make it worse. In Kristina Bength’s interpretation she almost becomes an alter ego that observes what is happening through the eyes of the artist.
In the inner room of the exhibition Bength has built a sort of theatre stage where we can sit in front of a painted set piece and listen to a recorded reading of the court protocol from Pedersen’s trial. A fictitious beam of light is pointed towards the centre of the stage, where no leading character will act. Instead a strange contrast between the notion of Amanda Kristina Pedersen’s “creative” personality and the bureaucratic tone of the court protocol appear. In the end it is unclear what kind of personality we are actually dealing with, and in what way it is connected to the artist and our own time.
The large water colour paintings that dominate the exhibition are hung from wires that run through the gallery, almost in the same way as one hangs newly developed photographs out to dry. The method is of course an allusion on the main characters occupation as a photographer, but also an effective way of making the installation a labyrinth where we can never take in two pictures at a time and it is impossible to know what the next picture will be.
Even so, a distinct theme appears. None of the pictures show people and a large part of the pictures depict an emptiness. The rooms generally consists of chairs waiting to be used – have they recently been abandoned? In one of the pictures the perspective is a theatre stage being looked at from a distance from behind. We can se the back of the stage sets, and can sense what they depict. The illusion is unmasked by a position in the periphery. But the theatre is empty, the applause have faded. What is left is the emptiness felt by the actor when the cheers cease – and when the judge has passed his judgement. By then the harsh reality knocks on the door, and those who only live through their roles perish.
Kristina Bength’s exhibition is made up by small means that doesn’t despise the conventional, but instead gains strength through it. Maybe it is precisely this clarity and unwillingness to judge or honour the exhibitions protégé that makes it an unusually powerful exhibition.
text by Anders Olofson
published at konsten.net
translation by Sara Walker