Ebba Matz’s art seems to be characterised by a process of continuous and very sophisticated shifts of perspective. With great intelligence and subtlety the sheer beauty and poetic poignancy of her works engage our perception only to challenge it. These are not rapid relocations but rather the slow release of a recoil inside us – away from the expected, towards renegotiations of the state of things.
Recurrent in Ebba Matz’s work is a fascination with the tense relationship between the constitution of the outer world and our inner world. In various ways, some of her works reference schools and methods that are concerned with the human psychological landscape.
In Divan – Journal of Psychoanalysis and Culture (#1-2, 2008), the reader can study a pictorial suite, Illusion, which is as beautiful as it is fantasy-inducing, a chain of association spread out over 16 pages. The suite is placed in its entirety between two symmetrical, nonfigurative inkblots reminiscent of those used in the Rorschach personality test. In this well-known and controversial test, developed in the early 20th century, a subject interprets an inkblot into something “figurative” and in the process projects material from his or her subconscious onto the image.
Despite great differences in form and expression, Illusion displays an affinity with Ebba Matz’s earliest works. In her highly acclaimed debut exhibition at Galerie Aronowitsch, Stockholm (autumn 1994), she presented a sculpture group, Utan titel (Sirener ) [Untitled, (Sirens)] (1994), comprising large, white funnels. Like silent members of a choir, or, indeed, as sirens, they lend themselves as projection surfaces for the viewer’s associations, experiences and interpretations. In the many texts written on this much-discussed work, references are made to everything from white daylilies and gramophone funnels to sounding alarms and the dangerous song of the sea nymphs. In the installation Loop (2004), the viewer is literally faced with different methods of penetrating the human psyche. We are invited to enter an evocative room in which we encounter a number of rotating objects, including a spiral staircase, a shooting target and a swirling hypnosis disc, that is, symbols, movements and objects with a now dated connection to the revolving door into our inner world. Moreover, the route we take through the exhibition is, in fact, a loop, an eternal retake of a scene where the viewers contribute to the endless circular movement.
The installation Trick (2000) brings some of history’s more spectacular examples of manipulation or maximisation of the individual’s mental capacity in close proximity to our time’s modern equivalents. Photographs of the Indian rope trick and parapsychological levitation lead us through a couple of curtains into a sitting-room and a voice emanating from a loudspeaker. The calm, confidence-inspiring voice belongs to a famous psychologist and mental coach whom the artist has commissioned to record a sound loop intended to improve the creative thinking of the audience.
The exhibition space in itself is another theme in Ebba Matz’s work. In several of her pieces, she assembles material from the site’s history, character and form, which she utilises or resists.
In the permanent public work Här [Here] (2006), she deals with the status of the location. With a greatly enlarged map pin – measuring 4.5 metres and varnished in vivid red – she puts a central but hitherto anonymous place in Gothenburg on the physical and mental map for the passers-by. (Wavrinskys plats [Wavrinsky’s Square], 2006). The following year the map pin received a companion piece on a similar non-site in central Kumla. Här has thus become a public work which could be multiplied in order to highlight and connect the special kind of anonymous places that exist in almost every town.
Another public work, Jazzparken [The Jazz Park] (2003), is a reconfiguration, using equal measures of functionality and poetry, of a park in Söderhamn in memory of the musician Jan Johansson. Resplendent light wells have been installed at ground level in an analogy to the musical light that Jan Johansson shed during his lifetime, while a suitably graded foundation has been created for the audience attending concerts in the park.
In an exhibition at the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C., Ebba Matz’s point of departure is the site as an outlook over a city in which deep social fissures divide the abode of absolute power from many of Washington’s inhabitants. Five dogs – sculptures dressed in faux fur – lamentable and lonely on top of the building’s large and windswept terrace represent the city’s homeless people who seem to have been left to their fate. (Connecting Worlds, 2001)
The dogs, the furry creatures, are objects that the artist has transported to other works which also deal with specific places and the people who populate them. Representing vulnerability and disorientation, the small, ruffled animals appear in different roles in each new context. For example, immediately after the exhibition in Washington they reappeared in an installation at Vikingsbergs Konstmuseum in Helsingborg, followed by an exhibition of public site-specific art in Falkenberg.
The installation in Vikingsberg is a kind of reconstruction of one of the many parties given in the building at the turn of the previous century. At the time Vikingsberg was a private residence and the purpose of the functions was to provide the family’s daughters with an opportunity to find a suitable young man to marry. The artist invites the audience into a dazzling hall of mirrors to listen to a piece of specially commissioned silent-movie music. In here are the guests as well, the young men, in the shape of 35 loose, puppyish dogs in long leashes. Looking lost in the elegant residence, the artist makes them eradiate both wonder and worry, shyness and expectation.
In Falkenberg, Ebba Matz marvels at the families that every summer squeeze into the minute bathing huts on the beach. She transforms one of the huts to a peepshow – without doors and windows but with a spyhole with a wide-angle lens on every outside wall. When the viewer spies in, the hut’s single room turns out to contain an entire, and very urban, landing with rows of apartment doors. On top of it all, there are ten dogs in the enclosed space, perhaps abandoned, waiting for the families to return to the city. Viewers who do not believe their own eyes can watch the scene from four directions. (Äntligen semester! – Åh [Vacation at last - Oh], 2002.)
Ebba Matz displays an obvious interest in, and a desire to explore existent places and spatialities, but she also creates new ones. Like a visionary engineer or a spaceage architect, she has constructed several spherical rooms and shapes.
In her installation Space Camping (2007) at the National Museum of Science and Technology, Stockholm, she constructed a spherical room, based on the American innovator Buckminster Fuller’s (1895-1983) geodesic, self-supporting dome. Once inside the work, which measures six metres in diameter, visitors control the light explosions projected through the wall facets. In the same manner they also affect the especially composed music heard in the dome.
In the slightly earlier work Mellan ruta 3 och 4, nära noll [Between square 3 and 4, close to zero] (2005), a spherical shape is spread out across two rooms whose exposed structure, a loose grid, is based on the geographic coordinates longitude and latitude. Visitors who enter the space are on the outside of the sphere, but if they continue through the opening between the rooms they will end up inside of it.
Ebba Matz’s art comprises a seductive feature, in the sense that it attracts our gaze to that which we perceive as visually enticing and pleasurable, just like a fly is attracted to a piece of sugar. As is its wont, our mind seeks immediate gratification but instead finds itself sucked into the eye of the storm, surrounded by unexpected and contradictory perspectives. In other words, the beauty of the works is conspicuous but not an end in itself. On the contrary, the aesthetic qualities appear to serve a well-defined purpose, that is, to involve us, the viewers, in a series of renegotiations of our perception and our expectations of our surrounding world. In this way, Ebba Matz’s work points to the unique opportunity inherent in the human mind, of subjecting us to tests, and perhaps even change us.
Text: Annika Hansson Wretman
Translation: Hans Olsson