Sofia Hultén’s new exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake Stockholm takes its title from post-punk band Bauhaus’s 1979 track Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Undead, undead evokes sinister forces, dualism and paradoxical states. In the exhibition Hultén continues to work with leftovers and detritus from the urban landscape, using culturally low-value materials to explore philosophical ideas and scientific conjecture while almost surreptitiously grappling with the politically and culturally charged issues of our time.
In the Post-Truth era a shared standard for facts has eroded. Definitions of knowledge, belief and what constitutes truth is revealed to be subjective and elective. In today’s socio-political climate the concept of parallel realities is no longer the stuff of science-fiction - it manifests itself in the most mundane scenarios.
Hultén’s interest in dualities and narrative bifurcation informs her video work And/Or. A mobile phone drops into a bucket of murky water and is stirred around. In one version of events the phone slips out of a pocket accidentally. In the other the phone is thrown into the water deliberately. These unremarkable yet divergent series of events have the same result but the cause is fundamentally different. Depending on one’s vested interest, intention is either definitive or irrelevant.
In the same vein, Deep Fake technology poses a significant threat to fundamental concepts of empirical knowledge and undermines principals of credibility and authenticity. Using Artificial Intelligence, its democratic and political implications should not be understated. And yet understatement is Hultén’s aesthetic vehicle. In her series Pattern Recognition Hultén displays arrangements of repeated items from any standard workshop hanging on two sets of 6 perforated metal sheets. The displays are puzzles which reproduce the principals of Russian computer scientist Mikhail Bongard’s visual conundrums intended to measure and identify Artificial Intelligence by testing cognition and abstract thinking.
In her ongoing series of hanging sculptures Hultén employs her characteristic deadpan strategy to explore complex ideas with equipment from the building site. Lines with Complications uses round slings (high strength yarn loops used for lifting cargo) to manifest examples of Knot Theory - the mathematical study of the topography of knots in joined string. The tangles and knots we struggle with in shoelaces and earphone cables reveal themselves in industrial looped ropes as elegant examples of embedded circles in 3-dimensional Euclidean space - you know, everyday stuff...
In the spirit of the exhibition’s title, some works are (re)animated. A pair of rotating stepladders have been bolted together into a never-ending staircase, disorientating one’s basic sense of solid ground. Take nothing for granted. In the homophonically titled sculpture, Manly Rainy Moany, a pair of found jeans are animated by a jet of air from below in a reappraisal of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic scene from Billy Wilder’s film The Seven Year Itch, while also recalling the frenetic zombie movements of Air Dancers at American car dealerships.
The undead of the title recurs in allusions to liminal places and beings. Two polished metal teeth from an industrial excavator hang side by side, appearing like the extracted incisors of some huge diabolical vampire. The grille in Manly Rainy Moany is revived in a suite of frottages made by the artist wiping and scuffing her feet to reproduce the pattern of street grates. These facsimiles of thresholds become stand-ins for the liminal spaces in our daily environment. In her absurdist arte povera delivery Hultén stealthily examines profound existential questions. Her work has always explored the nature of reality - it is only current affairs that have caught up.