Picture Marlon Brando in A Street Car Named Desire. The year is 1951, he embodies the new post-war world, and he wears a thin, tight t-shirt. That image generated 180 million dollars worth of sales and transformed what had hitherto been a relatively anonymous item of clothing into an iconic symbol of the dawning American modernism and its distinctive mythological link between rebellious desire and hard work; between the dirty and the clean, dream and reality. Now picture him morphed into the present-day digitised world, the new world 2.0, somewhere between a blue screen on a TV show and a high-tech design factory in the tradition of Andy Warhol. And finally picture in your mind that there, right in this strange intersection of creative processes, with a keen and explorative sense of the tangible and a distinct aesthetic twinkle in his eye, he paraphrases Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus as he asks: “How am I a body without organs in 2013?” If you can imagine that you are well on your way to envisioning Sandra Vaka Olsen’s solo exhibition Body Carrier, which is currently on show as the opening exhibition at Fauna in the Nørrebro region of Copenhagen.
Do not despair if that seems too abstract, for in addition to generating a small explosion of associations with many playful references the works featured at this exhibition also possess very concrete qualities.
The first thing you see is seen through the window of the small exhibition room. Or, to be accurate, on the window of the exhibition venue. For, as will soon become apparent, Vaka Olsen has hung three small photographic works on the windowpanes themselves, their backs to the glass so that we can read the hand-written title. “Suncreamsspill”, it says. The enigma evokes a subtle form of suspense and turns out, upon entering the room, to apply quite literally to a small series of works in which she has, in minimalist Jackson Pollock-fashion, splattered sunscreen lotion out onto photographs depicting a hand (and one showing computer cables) before developing them. The effect is both facile and elegant. Here, the liberated painterly gesture of abstract expressionism has been displaced and distorted to encompass the sun lotion’s cultural logic about protecting the body; all as part of a mixed-bag method which deconstructs, in a very laid-back manner, the notions about the formal authority of media that surrounds the canvases created by the old stalwarts. All this seems at first glance to be simply an ironic approach to art history, but at the same time the images have an enigmatic quality that runs deeper than any post-modern surface acrobatics – even though the deep stuff is right there on the surface. They have some of the aura that also emanates from Man Rays’s rayographs from the early 20th century, but here that aura is cool and sassy rather than spiritual.
The three sculptures on the floor also seem to hold some implicit reference to surrealism. Here we have an unusual encounter between a white t-shirt (or is Marlon Brandon’s ghost masquerading as a modernist monochrome?) and a stylised aluminium bench adorned by prints of a blue computer screen spattered with blobs of sun lotion (here, painting is represented by organic shapes and an awareness of media reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s films Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Videodrome). The encounter is an ambiguous one. For while the sculptures are fascinating as alien objects they are also almost too sleek and appetising in all their stringent splendour; hip fashion as much as they are experimental philosophical studies. However, this is not a problem as such; rather, it represents a successful mutual exchange where the seductive appeal of aesthetics paves the way for reflection while reflection adds substance to the aesthetics.
The pivotal point of it all is the body. The new body. The body without organs. The networked body. It is a body that is not defined by its unity, but by its endless possibilities for technological modification and mediation. Just as in Vaka Olsen’s exhibition at IMO earlier this year the distinction between the analogue and the digital has been utterly transgressed – it is no longer an issue, even though she does not arrive at the dystopian conclusions that Cronenberg reaches – and the body can enter into all sorts of processes and constellations in a kind of expanded phenomenological state. It is a new condition, one that demands new images that expand body and mind, and in this regard Body Carrier is a seriously successful endeavour.