VAN July/August 2013: Critique Supplement | Magnhild Opdøl at Butler Gallery

Magnhild Opdøl ‘point of no return’, installation view, Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, image courtesy the artist

Magnhild Opdøl
‘Point of No Return’
Butler Gallery, Kilkenny
15 June – 28 July 2013

Entry into ‘point of no return’ first brings viewers into contact with four pairs of vintage postcards depicting deer. The pairings, all of which share the title some sort of truth, are striking for their similarities and dissimilarities. For example, one presents two versions of the same picture – in colour and in black and white – but the proportion of the images differ slightly and the names of the locations printed on the postcards do not completely agree. In another set we cannot know which scene is correct. One is obviously right way round; the other has been printed in reverse. A third pairing offers two views of the same animals, but the angles from which they have been photographed are not the same. Looking at them perplexes the viewer.

They operate as visual puzzles, but their exact meaning eludes detection. On one hand these curious and quaintly nostalgic mementos appear meaningless; on the other the array of discrepancies holds my attention. As the eyes dart back and forth absorbed in a comparison of features, the mind attempts to discover the purpose of these works. During this process, I imagine that the images refer to the representation and misrepresentation of animals, or the historical practice of commercialising and romanticising nature, or even the many symbols represented by deer – but none of these ideas seem to capture the gist. Opdøl’s pairings hover in an ambiguous realm. Situated between falseness and verity, these ersatz depictions not only sidestep triteness, they also introduce us to a gnawing tension that pervades the entire exhibition.

What surprised me, though, is how Opdøl explores this sense of unease through vastly divergent themes and materials. She not only expands on the use of deer imagery, but also includes junk food and its packaging, matches and a candle, and scenes of nature and abandoned wooden buildings in works that reference Nordic and North American forests, animated film and the television series Twin Peaks. Her expansive work We’re afraid to go home in the dark features dozens more postcards of deer in which the artist has blacked out all or most of the background. The technique bestows a caught-in-the-headlights kind of look to these animals, which simultaneously proffers feelings of fear and surprise. In the same space, Fawn, a tiny bronze Bambi-like figure imprisoned under a glass dome, seems poised for escape, if only that dome were to be lifted. Its face is oriented not to viewers, but toward the gallery wall.

Further along, 299 stacked pink doughnut boxes evoke hollow sweetness and emotional eating. Titled Invitation to Love, the sculpture borrows its rubric from the fictional soap opera – a show-within-a-show – that appeared in the first season of Twin Peaks. The structure is preceded by Pilot, an unfolded and framed sample box that delineates the product in its original and unassembled state. Themes of light and darkness populate the third gallery. Here Opdøl presents The Silence After, a pencil rendering of a compact and anonymous forest space just after a heavy fall of snow. Illuminated in the weak light of winter, the frosty scene conveys a powerful sense of stillness. This impression is amplified by Being in Darkness, a bronze sculpture of a burnt out candle and two used matches, and the drawing Three days later that represents the same pair of matches. Together they evoke a potential crisis as they intimate a loss of heat and light.

In the fourth and final gallery, the juxtaposition of several old, scratched and faded forest views with a substantial number of bronze doughnuts creates a bittersweet apposition. The dilapidated state of the buildings in the photographs express abandonment, finality and decay, yet the shiny bronze doughnuts offer a powerful distraction to these sombre documents. Calling up cliché jokes about police officers predisposed to consuming empty calorie foods, these objects also immortalise these fluffy, deep fried rings of dough. Their presence not only attracts attention, it also averts it. Unlike Claes Oldenburg’s amusingly soft and oversize hamburgers, which celebrate the everyday, Opdøl’s accurately scaled and weighty trinkets express something more sinister. She has called them The Necessary Lie.

‘point of no return’ is devised of multiple and diverse pairings that consist of likenesses, faint echoes and contrasts, speaking of the richly textured world around us. Presenting examples ranging from the bland to redolent, exact to inexact, and unique to mass produced, Opdøl depicts this world as a place of sudden changes, consequences and risk, obsessive habits and misplaced desires, and where our relationship to and understanding of nature has eroded.

John Gayer is a writer / artist based in Dublin.

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