Invitation and Rejection

One of Line Wælgaard's earliest photographs presents the back of a young woman who stands turned facing a concrete wall. The neck is bent and the arms outstretched, thereby creating the contours of an averted Christ figure, as if she were ready to receive the thirty lashes. The role of victim, however, is not without ambiguity; with a mixture of invitation and rejection, the figure also signals seductive elements. The picture belongs among Wælgaard's explorative youthful works, from the time when she relinquished the dream of becoming an actress, before she was admitted to Konstfackskolan

[The College of Art and Crafts] in Stockholm and took part in discussions about post-modernism, before she read Julia Kristeva and saw Cindy Sherman's photographs. With its technical and stylistic clarity and equivocal content, the picture nevertheless has much in common with Wælgaard's later works: an expressive spontaneity through which femininity and gender roles are placed on the agenda.

As a child of her times she has no hesitation in appropriating well-known works from western art history. On the contrary, in a free and unconventional way she makes use of hallowed masterpieces as the springboard to a better understanding of herself and her own times. Without totally abandoning the lost context of meaning, familiar pictures are placed in a new set of circumstances and give rise to new allegorical meanings.

Stabat Mater from 1991 takes its point of departure in Giotto's famous frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua. The scene with the dead Christ surrounded by lamenting women is reproduced on a large scale, but the gathering of angels, apostles and onlookers in the original has been cut off, leaving the focus on the relationship between Christ and the grieving women. In one of the side panels there is a bridal gown and in the other a pile of white sheets against a red background. But these set symbols of feminine innocence and the self-sacrificing housewife are punctured to a certain degree by the phallus-charged connotations of the motifs. The juxtaposition gives immediacy to the gender problem complex that lies buried in Giotto's painting. The horizontal format of the central image and the green, powerful frame create visual replicas of the dead body of Christ, and just as the women form a protective frame around the naked Christ, the powerful frame provides a safeguard around Giotto's picture - and is in itself a kind of halo that is torn asunder by the critical approach of the side panels to the subject material. As a result, it is not only about femininity and stereotype feminine ideals, but also about the story of the Great Men of history.

The spectacular Amor Fati from 1993 also plays on the woman seen as a victim and martyr. The central image is a photographic paraphrase of a baroque painting of Saint Agatha. She was canonized as a result of refusing the unwanted advances of a Roman consul, a heathen who then cut off her breasts in reprisal. Wælgaard's woman holds a bloodstained cloth to her breast, but her expression is of stoical calm and emotional balance. The red stain is picked up by the close-ups of meat and roses in the side panels. Round forms and red colours. At first glance, the work may be perceived as an allegory of woman as the object of masculine desire, but the signs prove to be subversively charged. The aggressive spikes of the frames imply both the crown of thorns and a deadly weapon. Here, the conflict between seductive invitation and flat refusal is further heightened. And with this, the lines of the relationship between executioner and victim cannot be distinctly drawn. A field of uncertainty arises, a dialogue which is, in the end, carried on between the work and its viewer.

If we consider the two works in relation to each other, Stabat Mater plays on the feminine role's white and virginal ideals of chastity, while Amor Fati incorporates some of its blood-red, shadier sides. The immediate pathos of the pictures is held in check, however, by a calculating distance: Not by means of ironic devices or mocking commentary, but as the result of the cool clarity of the surface and the staged codes of the studio photograph. Although the pictures have an immediate expressive level, they do not permit an unequivocal interpretation. Their strength is found in a fundamental ambivalence, in that their effect lies in the borderland between invitation and rejection.

Øystein Ustvedt


Utstilling ”On Trial - Christ 2012” Galleri F-15 2012

Jeg har i lang tid vært opptatt av tidligere tiders maleri, fra middelalder, renessansen og barokken. Ettersom kirken i eldre tider ofte var kunstnernes oppdragsgivere, er også mye av kunsten knyttet til religiøse motiver.

Line Wælgaard

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