Translated by Alex Sjaastad
«For insight into the transience of things and the concern to preserve them for posterity is one of allegory`s strongest motives.» So says Walter Benjamin in his essay on the origins of German tragic drama. One is reminded of these words on seeing Kari Steihaug`s textile-based works, which are statements about just such an insight into the transience of things and the concern to preserve them.
«For insight into the transience of things and the concern to preserve them for posterity is one of allegory`s strongest motives.» So says Walter Benjamin in his essay on the origins of German tragic drama. One is reminded of these words on seeing Kari Steihaug`s textile-based works, which are statements about just such an insight into the transience of things and the concern to preserve them. This is evident even before we get to Steihaug`s installation, as we pass a low bench on which a range of knitted works are spread: works that were never finished, or which are faulty in one way or another. An unfinished sock (complete with a brief text) tells of a love that came to an end. This is one of the public`s own contributions to Steihaug`s archival project; unfinished and unsuccessful items of knitwork.
The installation «Rest» (Remains) is on show in Nøkkelhullet (The Keyhole), the room in the art centre`s basement, which can also be viewed from the hall above througha large keyhole-shaped opening. The hall above is empty and in semi-darkness. But the keyhole is illuminated and the installation below casts a dense shadow on the far wall. From a distance it looks like the shadow of a blossoming poppy field. On looking down through the keyhole, I glimpse a dense, tangled woodland of rampant textile growths. The «floor» of the wood consists of cast off knitted garments, partly unravelled. The body of a sweater here, a woolen glove over there; a scarf and a knitted sock in different stages of decomposition. From among these items, lithe steel poles covered in textile sheaths rise into the air, like stalks, crowned with strange, magnificent flowers of various sizes and at various stages of growth. The knitted garments on the floor and the growths are connected with one another by a chaos of unravelled threads suggestive of matted telephone wires. At one end of the space lies the still recognisable remains of a garment, at the other, the threads have reshaped themselves into a different figur - a bud, a flower, a husk.
The relation between destruction and new creation, and the transition from one form to another, is given concrete visual form. The used textiles that Steihaug takes as her raw material carry secret stories. The unravelling to which they are subjected is a reminder of the garments fragility, both materially speaking and in terms of their meaning. What used to have a recognisable shape and an identity of its own seems almost to dissolve into thin air; what remains is a residue, a tangle of yarn and twisted thread - which in the next instant is transformed into a new shape. This installation could in fact be viewed as an image of how meaning is created, breaks down and is created afresh. And it is this that makes me think of Benjamin`s allegory in which new meaning is read into remains and ruins. Steihaug`s installation seems to cast this process of signification in material form.
Steihaug`s installation was one of the highlights among the exhibitions on offer last year. "Rest" was specially created for Nøkkelhullet, and the relation between the work and the space in this case functioned exceptionally well. Incidentally, Steihaug was the last artist to use this exhibition space in its old form. The day after the exhibition ended, the carpenters arrived to close up the keyhole.