An exuberant gate, two expressionistic figures hanging from either side, sits across the entrance of the gallery space at Ida Ekblad’s BALTIC solo exhibition. It’s difficult to say if this is to keep viewers out or simply to prevent any potential overflow from the crowded main room, dominated by a series of trash-people, frozen mid-cavort, each supported by a shopping trolley.
Outside of this, Ekblad exhibits a pleasing fondness for fake flowers and fish, both lending a lightness of touch to the concrete lumps in which they’re embedded. Further fakery follows with a number of faux brick walls leaning up against the edges of the space, adorned with unreadable glyphs repeated on some equally unreadable, but winningly large, paintings. In the far corner this room is bookended by another gate, neatly bracketing the work in between.
The second, smaller room of this show, is in need of no such bracketing. One is confronted by a singular block of concrete, trailing an appropriately battered looking fishing net. Again, fish and fake flowers abound. By contrast with the visual jumble in the first space, the experience is almost shrine-like, meriting tentative steps towards the aforementioned singular entity. Once one is close to it, it looks remarkably like the work one has already seen, though perhaps struggled to appreciate given its chaotic surrounds. The breathing space donated to the piece here does suggest a radically different, contemplative, poetic mood to Ekblad’s work. It’s the visual equivalent of a Pixies song - a lazy reference that seems entirely fitting for an exhibition that opts to shoehorn popular quasi-faith psychogeography into the brief accompanying text, which states that “Since 2008 Ekblad has searched for materials on unplanned journeys, dérives, or drifts”.
Indeed both the briefness of this accompanying text and the lack of title for the show (Ekblad’s first solo presentation in the UK) is frustrating and leaves one with the feeling that the installation was rushed - a possible explanation for the jarring dynamic between the two rooms. This aside there is still much worthy of note, including a trio of suspended circular pieces that rotate in the main room, making use of the pleasingly dramatic lighting. The movement provides a much needed dynamism for work that can, despite its formal energy, feel oddly static. There is a sense here of a kind of joy gone sour, as if the sculptures’ close quarters have unfortunately shut down their ability to function in the manner in which they were designed. That the show is centred on a group of sculptures originally conceived for a stage production perhaps explains the sensation that this work feels more like a backdrop than an encompassing attraction in and of itself.