Gunilla Klingberg


at Nordenhake


Over 13 days in the summer of 2012, when the low tide coincided with the early morning duties of maintenance workers at Laga Beach in Ibarranguelua, Spain, Swedish artist Gunilla Klingberg made A Sign in Space, her vivid, idiosyncratic variation on Land art. The workers’ ordinary tractor towed a specially manufactured steel cylinder fitted with a relief matrix made from truck tires. As the tractor chugged back and forth in successive rows, the beach was transformed, via the relief’s patterns, into a rippling and intricate design, at once earthly and celestial, hinting at cosmic objects and events while connecting with sacred mandalas, Islamic architectural ornamentation and ceremonial sandpainting. Tides and human use gradually erased the design each day, making for an expansive yet ephemeral work that embraced emergence and disappearance, cohesion and entropy, and that linked with the lunar cycle. At the heart of everything was how Klingberg enlisted, and then diverted for her special purposes, routine beach maintenance. That’s her forte: she invests quotidian things with surprising, and often surprisingly spiritual, potential.  

At Nordenhake, a truncated section of this beach work was presented as a sculpture of the same title, perhaps related to Robert Smithson’s famous Non-Sites. At one end of a rectangular swath of sand on the floor was the hefty steel cylinder originally used in Spain, with its patterned rubber surface clearly visible. You deduce what had happened. The cylinder had been pulled across the sand, imprinting multiple star shapes, zigzagging bands, small interlaced squares, diminutive parallelograms and other geometric forms on the surface. Around the swath’s edges, the sand gently dispersed, “fraying” like fringes on a rug. Remarkably, mere sand on the floor became evocative, meditative and mysterious, even though you were able to surmise exactly what was accomplished, and how. This work is quite large, and required considerable force to implement, yet it is also very delicate, even sensual, and suffused with touch. 

Nearby was Repeat Pattern (2002-14), a site-specific, black and white installation made from self-adhesive vinyl wrapping around three walls. It’s a dense, dizzying mesh of circles, arcs, pulsating zigzags and loosely floral shapes and symbols. The piece actually consists of the logos and names of commonplace European companies, like the discount grocery stores Plus, Spar and Aldi (all familiar in Germany), and Sparlivs, from Sweden. Through repetition, patterning, mirroring and inversion, these familiar, resolutely non-spiritual commercial signifiers now form a complex, mind-bending visual field that evokes Tibetan mandalas, LSD hallucinations and artworks by both Hilma af Klint, the Swedish visionary mystic, and the Swiss spiritual seeker Emma Kunz. In front was the tinkling, swaying, altogether delightful Trancentrance (2009-14), made of 61 wind chimes, emblematic of sacred symbols, hanging from an aluminum frame, and The Doors (2010), a freestanding sculpture in which a single door frame, cut into successive diminishing sections receding inward, seems like a portal into heightened consciousness and alternate realities. Rooted in the mundane, Klingberg’s transformational works are rich with a sense of quest and elevated discovery.