After an Explosion

Essay for the publication Sigrid Sandström — The Site of Painting, 2016
Katia Miroff

Sigrid Sandström’s recent paintings display a disruption of the relationship between idea, execution and result. The most important aspect of this development is the role played by chance, or rather how material is allowed to work on its own.

Three shapes, one in the middle of the painting, are made by means of a pillowcase which has been soaked in colour and left to dry on the prepared, smooth canvas. Should we call the shapes pillows, even though they have apparently evolved into something else? Something that does not have a name and does not have the characteristics of a pillowcase. These things are hard, crystalline, implacable. From the heavy centre all seems to radiate or is splattered. Thus another shape is created, calling for a new verb in order to be described. The small detonation has a temporal and spatial sovereignty.

Once you plant a seed that can develop in any direction, it is usually thought. But how often is that true? A print made this way has a partially uncertain outcome, is slightly out of control since you never know what will stick. Chance is given a strictly defined scope, here, as often in Sandström’s recent paintings, between the enigmatic lines looking like silver tape. The lines, in fact painted with silver paint, form a foundation together with the geometrical fields of colour. Of course this is composed, but with an area designated for chance to take place.

Behind the pillow-shapes there are two white areas, separate, as well as lines in white and silver. The shapes are, although no less concrete than those lines, hovering. Behind the white lay darker fields that form a room or a frame. There is a depth to the picture, or perhaps a succession.

The painting was part of the exhibition Between Us, which took place at two galleries in Stockholm, Cecilia Hillström Gallery and Olsson Gallery, in 2015. The split exhibition comprised not only paintings but mirrors the same size as the paintings, as well as yellow plastic film on the gallery windows. At the Olsson Gallery three paintings and one mirror were arranged to form a cuboid. The movement of the viewer adds an arbitrary element to the situation, but all within an inescapable atmosphere. The interaction between chance and composition is not confined to the individual paintings.

Francis Bacon once said that he thought abstract expressionism sloppy, and that he wanted his own pictures to be the opposite: inevitable. There is something inevitable about chance as well, except you do not know the outcome in advance. In Sigrid Sandström’s work even the shapes made by chance adhere to an inner logic. Like after an explosion, when the appearance and placement of the shattered objects has a certainty, which would be disturbed if someone started poking around.

Sigrid Sandström wanted the paintings in the exhibition to be quickly made. But compared to the photographic moment, the exact time when the forms took shape (when the paint stopped flowing and dried,) is more difficult to determine. It is a prolonged moment, which at the same time is more definite. The photographic moment always has a series of (unborn) sibling moments, occasions before and after, when the picture could have been taken, but were not. In these paintings, such siblings are in the picture, making the paintings a kind of hyper situation, encompassing what could have been.

In one of the paintings the centre is filled with a dark pool of … blood? No, the colour is greenish blue, one sees at the spots where the paint is thinner. It could also be imagined as a hole. A hole in the ice, troublingly without sharp edges. Moving and possibly expanding, not at all hovering like those pillow-shapes. The light shapes are solid, but swift as the beatings of a wing. A camera would need a fast shutter speed to capture them. Strange, rare and beautiful – supernatural. Here the recurring lines seem to mark a before and an after.

Gilles Deleuze has described art as concerted events involving the material and the perception of artist and viewer:

By means of the material, the aim of art is to wrest the percepts from perceptions of objects and the states of a perceiving subject, to wrest the affect from affections as the transition from one state to another: to extract a bloc of sensations, a pure being of sensations.1

Material is here used in a complex sense, meaning both such concrete substances as paint, but also ideas and images, in their turn composed of percepts and affects.2 There is always an interplay between the images of the mind and those outside, a cycle of images. What is particular for art, however, is the ability to put the percepts and affects together in a composition, something which in Deleuze’s understanding is as an idealization of a material into an expressive material.

Several notions typical to the critical discourse of painting are rejected or complicated through Sigrid Sandström’s work, for instance nature, geometry, sentiment. The paintings are neither expressive in the immediate psychological sense, nor in the sense of action painting, as traces of body and hand. The amorphous figures are in many ways opposed to abstract expressionism as we know it. Through their coolness, they have set themselves at distance from the hand, from colour and from the objects that have left their mark on the surface.

Perhaps detracted materialization is the best way to summarize Between Us. The painted or printed shapes give the viewer’s mind a direction without a destination. Each painting makes a strong impression that is interrupted once confronted by a more language-based reflexion, and even by the other paintings. (Taken one at a time they seem to say: like this; no, like this …) Perhaps this process is at work in all viewing of images, and more distinct in non-figurative art. But in this case the percepts and affects are laid bare, to form a consciousness where articulate concepts are prohibited. A consciousness not blinded, but in a state of ignorance.

The intense complementary neon colours are important to this effect. Chosen by help of Photoshop, they play a role of something breaking through, something alien, while still being an integrated part of the picture, even its most important feature. The paintings bring to mind what you see when you close your eyes. But what you saw before you closed them remains out of reach.

This suggests that these paintings are landscapes. As such they would imply a particular form of subjectivity, a semiology or a phenomenology. You are part of a landscape, and a landscape is within you. Sandström’s works pose a question: when is landscape the background against which signs occur and when is it in itself signifying?

A closer look at one of them shows a complex interplay between atmosphere and spatial imagination. A hazy half-transparent centre sets the tone. It seems like a cloud of a bright, warm pink colour. The imprints surrounding the soft tint seem hard; they are amorphous but flat, mute. They are as if on a stage, framed by space and broken objects. A neon blue colour marks the path towards them, going across two different spheres. A letter formed by two lines protects the picture, at the “front”: marking that this, and only this, belongs to our room. Your gaze will reach this far, but no further.

Such a landscape is composed by affects. I want to go into the picture even though it forms a resistance, making my glance bounce back. The shapeless pillow-shapes sometimes look like plastic, which feels intimidating, but I want to go there even if I will not be received. One of the paintings brings to mind ice in a drinking glass, but also the ice of winter, snowy ice. It acts like a first landscape, a landscape before being watched. The non-existent.

1 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, transl. by Thomlinson & Burchell, New York 1994, p. 167.

2 This aspect of Deleuze thought is discussed at lentgh by Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen in ”Muddling the Void”, in Studio Talks: Thinking Through Painting, ed. by Bength, Habib Engqvist, Rydén & Sandström, Stockholm 2014, pp. 89–100.