Svein Flygari Johansen - ‘Am I making up what really happened’’ Review by Eleanor Shipman
Svein Flygari Johansen, an innovative mid-career Norweigan artist, leaves virtually no trace of his practice in his wake, bar a sparse website barely translated enough to satisfy the desires of UK-based researchers. Thankfully, Flygari Johansen has now appeared in full view, via his first UK show at Beaconsfield: ‘Am I making up what really happened’‘
Flygari Johansen’s technically profound, conceptually thorough and clinically presented works more than make up for their lack of written background. Socio-political tensions surrounding the bureaucracies between man and nature, culture and capitalism and the difficult distinctions between the local, national and global are explored throughout the works, expertly translated across sculpture, film projection and installation.
The visual suggestion of these themes is immediately apparent - such as the underwater river sounds contrasting the speakers they emit from on either side of a campfire in ‘Call of the wild’. However, the specificities and finely tuned, technically astute elements each piece relies on to fully realise its own concept are much more subtle - the campfire is in fact made up of Caledonian boulders with wood from Wimbledon Common, while the sonic depth of the River Alta recordings is controlled by a live feed from the London Stock Exchange. Once realised, these subtle elements conceptually enhance the experience tenfold, but may go unobserved to the unknowing viewer.
In the Arch Gallery, Flygari Johansen and his collaborator and technician Jonny Bradley present new commission ‘Am I making up what really happened’‘. Bradley’s other technical ventures include creating magic tricks for the Magic Circle, unsurprisingly influencing the layers of mystery in his collaborations with Flygari Johansen.
As one part of this commission a polythene sheet is suspended across the arch by its four corners, cradling an illuminated pool of water. In the light projected through the pool, the shadow of a trout ripples softly. As curious viewers step forward to see the fish however, it senses the movement and darts immediately away, leaving the pool empty and still. The usage of Thames water here may never be realised.
The melting initiated by video projection ‘Snowman’ is reflected again in smooth piles of grubby white crystals packed together in a desolate rolling landscape across the concrete floor. Again, all is not what it seems as the salt-like material is actually Ammonium Sulphate, a chemical fertiliser and close cousin to the highly explosive Ammonium Nitrate, leaving the seductive sculpture caught in an existential dilemma of its own.
The rumbling of trains overhead resonate across the brickwork, directly responded to by a piece inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’ 1979. A glass of milk balances on a square table, shaking violently and wobbling towards the edges. Viewers tensely observe, yet just as the glass is about to fall, the table surface corrects itself, allowing the Sisyphean tension to continue indefinitely.
The elusive Flygari Johansen conjures a fascinating show, full of mystery, tension, illusion and the unexpected. The curious viewer must be quick and eagle-eyed to catch a glimpse however, or it will simply slip away.