Jockum Nordström: All I Have Learned and Forgotten Again
Camden Arts Centre, London
26 July - 29 September 2013
Review by Ariane Belisle
Presenting viewers with a portal into the artist’s subconscious mind, Jockum Nordström’s major survey of work at Camden Arts Centre brings together graphite drawings, watercolours, collages and architectural sculptures. Exhibiting the breadth of his creative output from the 1990s, as well as contemporary pieces commissioned for the show, ‘All I Have Learned and Forgotten Again’ oozes ingenuous charm and childlike wonder. Cutout Victorian figures clad in stiff clothes and crinolines, hymenoptera, game, crustacean, harpsichords, schooners, rock formations, and modernist architecture are suspended in animation on the gallery walls, as a form of visual fantasia unfolds within the space.
While at first glance the enchanted scenes appear to emulate a lexicon commonly associated with children’s literature, the ribbons of narrative grow quickly in complexity. The thematic undercurrent that emerges uncovers symbolism of a bizarre, ominous, violent and erotic nature. Hence, the curtain of decorum, propriety and restraint is drawn to expose the seeds of anarchy and improvidence that lurk in the corners of our subconscious mind. Intrinsically linked to psychoanalytic theory, the dichotomy this reveals is a stark one, as depictions of lewd and lascivious acts mourn the loss of innocence through the instinctive impulses of the adult world.
It is easy to mistakenly read Nordström’s body of work as a denouncement of our visceral instincts. Yet the works are, once again, imbued with concealed layers of meaning. Torment and anguish - taught side effects of our primitive predispositions - are substituted with the premonition of unbridled pleasure. Acutely aware of the unsettling forces of love, the artist celebrates our hidden id, primary processes, fleeting indulgences and the desires that manifest themselves when we are no longer shackled to the Victorian grid. Exposing the precarious delights concealed within the transgressive realm, the fictional stories point to a fundamental truth about humanity.
Alluding to folklore and fairytale in its interlacing of veracity and fantasy, Nordström’s surreal landscapes lend the show an enthralling sense of mystery. Often referred to as cinematic ‘stills’, the works on paper read like storyboards. While it is easy to lose oneself in the artist’s imagined world, the beholder is brought back to reality, as the primitive childlike treatment of the material hints at the artificiality of the scenes. This is reiterated in the final room where architectural sculptures built out of combustible matchboxes reveal the fallacy of our constructed reality. We are again confronted by the facture process with the display of a long glass vitrine exhibiting scraps and paper cutouts from the studio floor.
While obviously fabricated, the scenes allow us to peer behind closed doors. There, uncanny trysts and amatory encounters unfold. Distant as these worlds may be, they are anchored within the artist’s subconscious. A physical manifestation of Nordström’s id, as well as our own, ‘All I Have Learned and Forgotten Again’ speaks a truth too often concealed by societal norms, and ultimately points to the fragility of our ephemeral reality.