Matias Faldbakken’s current solo exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, titled ‘EUROPE IS BALDING,’ finds him persistently unearthing and baring the raw, liminal spaces of meaning as aggressively as ever. Employing and shaping forms and materials endemic to domesticity and industry - both critical spheres of activity for contemporary capitalism - and manipulating its standard [mass] medium of communication – audio/video, Faldbakken’s primary target for conceptual de-stabilization in ‘EUROPE IS BALDING’ is the production of narrative by context, and more specifically, the latter’s power and potential for doing so.
Seemingly no aspect of ‘EUROPE IS BALDING’ is left to chance regarding Faldbakken’s objectives for the exhibition. One enters the gallery to find its material contents confined and concentrated to one half of the available space. The largest, individual, multi-media sculptural work has its back turned to the approaching visitor, blocking from view most of the rest of the exhibition. Initially seen from behind, it resembles a portioned ceramic tile wall dislocated from some ordinary bathroom, yet from over and behind it, the audio of heavily distorted dialogue and incomprehensible sounds echo and fill the entire gallery space.
When the visitor finally walks around this mysterious tiled wall, a series of sculptures all covered in ceramic tiles, but each in form vaguely recalling some ‘thing’ or part of something appropriated from one field of industry or other – a dashboard, a wheelbarrow, a shipping platform – is encountered. The other side of the wall is also revealed to resemble the front façade of a sizeable entertainment furniture console, still covered in tiles, but equipped with shelves on both sides, and supporting a large flat-screen television upon its central platform.
The audio-video portion of ‘EUROPE IS BALDING’ is perhaps its centrepiece, as it rhymes thematically with the tangibly materialized contents of the exhibition. The video runs through an assortment of footage taken from old and new cartoons, GIFs, video games, historical scenes of war, labour, industry, and more. The picture ranges from grainy to hi-resolution sharpness, from black and white to colour, and is interspersed with the dark silhouette of an individual seated as if being interviewed, but whose identity is being protected due to privacy or safety concerns. Its audio track, meanwhile, consists of heavily distorted dialogue for the interviewee, which often extends to other footage, sometimes accompanied by sounds and snippets of music.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all of the footage and images played in the video are loaded with rich evocation, but of what exactly, is unclear. One expects the anonymous interviewee to be relaying some kind of narrative, which the footage should be accompanying and supporting, and one wants to ascribe context where there is none, but achieving a cohesive narrative feels out of reach. In effecting this cognitive blockage, the video and audio prepared by Faldbakken subvert what is familiar and expected from both mediums, echoing the ‘disorientation’ induced by the appearance, shape, surface, and shared setting of the sculptures. Nothing ‘adds up,’ so to speak. What purpose does a wheelbarrow covered in bathroom-style ceramic tiles serve anyway?
Faldbakken’s work has been described as being influenced by Situationism and anarchism, sarcasm as a creative inspiration, and his own self-admitted concerns with contemporary Scandinavian life and culture. Moreover, the artist’s interests in the possibilities of language and text led to his writing a series of novels - the ‘Scandinavian Misanthropy Trilogy’ - produced shortly after his studies and released throughout the noughties, thereby leading others to define him as a writer or novelist, as well as, or more so than, an artist. In practice as well as execution, Faldbakken commits – or clings - to thresholds and interstices, and ‘EUROPE IS BALDING’ is no exception. It evades a fixed definition or straight reading, negating the claims we are all ready to naturally, inevitably heap upon it.