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Graduates '22: KKH/Mejan

Graduation MFA Show Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm Vargtimmen

Konstakademien, May 20 – June 11 2022

Astrid Braide Eriksson, installation view

The reviews of this year’s MFA grad exhibition of the Royal Institute of Art (Mejan) in Stockholm at the Royal Academy of Arts have sang praises on another dimension with prominent critics hailing it the best of this school in years. Does it live up to such proclamations? Although the most recent MFA exhibitions were all strapping and flexed art school muscles, showing why Mejan consistently holds up more than just well compared to other European art schools (I'd know who make it a point to know and keep track), this edition indeed often inspires awe and begins right off the bat on a climactic note. Malin Norberg's melting wooden door, exuding supreme crafts(wo)manship literally is impossible to miss and is installed in an otherwise underused hallway, establishing a spatial orientation for a path that is to follow.

Malin Norberg, installation view

You think of artist dialogues and juxtapositions but the epitomy of just that is found here; two artists going all in to seamlessly merge together. This very particular joint stacking install of Gurli Kruber and Elina Eriksson, showing on the image (below), where the individual qualities of their respective works at hand are allowed to be subsidiary in favour of the statement of sidelining what is internationally still common exhibition practice for grad exhibitions (clear individual sections) sets a precedent for the whole exhibition. The very intuitive installing this way based on visual connecting points and common denominators has been to great gain for both. Both shine and accentuate each other; supported by their material singularities.

Elina Eriksson and Gurli Kruber, installation view

Evelina Jonsson, installation view

There are artwise stronger rooms and slightly less (yes,) but it is an exhibition that never feels distracted from a course and it’s surprisingly light to get through even though marked by dense art which will speak to the credit of the producers/curators: Silvia Thomackenstein and professors Lina Selander and Ming Wong, in so far, for instance amplifying kinships. It’s an unusally quiet exhibition (in a pleasing way) and there is evidently art in here that could have run its own marathon for the artists to the detriment of others but instead such art takes space in a way to safeguard harmony or artistic synchronicity. Across various relationships in grad show machinery, people have clearly been generous and receptive to each other.

For a number of years the entrance sculpture hall; Nikesalen, has potently been used for interventions that ring of timely statements on current or universally and invariably poignant conditions. One year such intervention just tanked (no name mentioned) but most recent years this has been a high point. Nikesalen this year with Evelina Jonsson, Sara Ekholm Eriksson and Klara Zetterholm with displays breathing metamorphosis, decay, hybridity and scrutiny of artifice into view stands out as the most idiosyncratic part of the exhibition which ”effortlessly” fluxes with the rest through installing choices of Sara’s works on the flight of stairs. Jonsson's decomposing organic still life arrangements in stacked plastic boxes in this spatial context reeks of sardonic, possibly unintended humour, while Klara’s humanoids bring mind to the sculptural realm of seminal or formerly seminal artists (or posthumously seminal) like Oliver Laric, David Altmejd and Alina Szapocznikow. Sara Ekholm Eriksson notably has made processing and working with hard stone her forte and element at Mejan. Back to ”primal” art of stone cutting feels exciting and paradoxically ”novel” in a contemporary ”updated” context. Her sculptures among the works of some others become key in extracting readings of the exhibition as a whole.

Sara Ekholm Eriksson, installation view

Klara Zetterholm, installation view

Klara Zetterholm definitely radiates later in another section of the exhibition with very exciting and impressive sculptural presentations that allude to archeological excavation and historical and cultural artifacts and ”the sort” of visual ”iconographies” you'd think think of in that context, but with a contemporary twist. The fantastical imagery in parts was humorous to me; I thought at one point of The Exorcist in connection to the reported controversies years back now revolving Lundin Oil. I'd be surprised not seeing her work very soon again. Interestingly a not obvious and yet connection that exists to trace here is that between her and Gurli Kruber despite the apparent visual discrepancies.

The Royal Institute of Art is a school where recently mature (accomplished) artists have rose to evident and due prominence at what for some peers in their own practice is still a ”premature” stage of schooling. Afrang Nordlöf Malekian is duly one of the most coveted emerging Swedish artists and the object of curatorial and institutional admiration. Notably he had two works acquired into the collection of Moderna Museet while still at school and is presenting in three exhibitions beyond this one. Given this stature, Afrang Nordlöf Malekian’s tangible contribution is refreshingly and humbly low-key but clever nevertheless and terrific in form, with his posters appropriating the information stands at all levels. The posters derive from his research archival work relating to the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut. The grad exhibition also ties in as another track; the performance of his MFA solo Keeping Up with the Iranians, seated in the direction of jovial bipoc and queer musical variety show. An outstanding artist, really.

The exhibition does present a number of painters; most strong in their own right. Some I’ve been able to look a bit closer at than others over time. Painting is arguably however not the first or most obvious takeaway in the exhibition, but a painter who solidifies herself as a next generation painter is Sixten Sandra Österberg who already had multiple solo exhibitions in Stockholm last year. She's an artist I’d imagine at a stellar gallery like Pilar Corrias in London or the likes. Thinking back at the 2019 BFA exhibition of this school; Edit Sihlberg and Kasper Nordenström (graduated last year) were two painters in that batch who were crucial for giving that exhibition an identity. Fast-forward to this year’s MFA exhibition and Edit’s visual ”language” as a painter is consistent with her own trajectory in so far as inherently becoming recognizable as her own. Motif-wise she always works with a breadth, and allowing peculiarities to find her work, as to ruffle up and give even such paintings that depart from the mundane a more distinctive edge. In terms of painting in the expanded field Erik Udden’s work stands its ground as a distinctive moment in the context of the exhibition (nota bene: in the context of). His works look great and the installs twisting conventions around appear like a case of substance and chosen form gelling well together in contrast to an unfortunate case you sometimes see in art of form overriding the other (an unforgiving look).

Edit Sihlberg, installation view

Ellen Eurenius Hallgren’s accordion folded montage using stills from Massive Attack’s 1991 video Unfinished Sympathy (shot in one single take) and embellished with thread is an effective catalyst of nostalgia for a ”kid” like me born in the 80’s and who subsequently grew up in the 90s with MTV, starting from the same year as the video. The surprise factor of this work; both considering the imagery and apparent simplicity, is total. The artist has previously stated that the pivotal question when working with recombination of own photographs, family photos, found images, documents and used paper sheets is how stories can be told ”in a time of political exhaustion where different worlds intrude?”. On the note of how stories are told and perceived; conceptual artist Robin Rydenhov work in the same room as Ellen Eurenius Hallgren's rests as a monumental Triumphal Arch around a passage leading out into the next room. His ”institutional critique” of a meta gaze departs from an overlapping grid of snapshots of various exhibition texts and list of artworks from visited exhibitions. It’s fun and humorous, the staging this way, magnifying the accesorizing parts of exhibition machinations that at times appear more paramount for the reading and reception of art than the art itself.

Ellen Eurenius Hallgren, installation view

The ”skinny” on the MFA exhibition at the end of the day is that while a very smooth and non-disruptive exhibition as a whole; there’s so much potent art that some of the art another year or perhaps rather at another school would have ”popped” even more to beneft for the artists on their own end. I analogize this with an American top uni where you are graded on a curve (I remember what that was like; frustrating and cutthroat). There’s perhaps space to shine for all here but if most of the presentations are great; "the threshold" to latch on with the viewer and see your proper individual due gets "higher". Not rocket science to understand this condition.

Sanna Albenius

A honorable "must" mention of a moment of "unruly" elegance which needs to be stressed as particularly succesful is the presentation of Sanna Albenius. It's symptomatic of what sometimes makes an art school grad exhibition interesting for what it is; this certain dual quality of being able to imagine the same art far beyond art actual school premises, while also being liberated enough from hyper-refined form to still actually feel authored at art school. Sanna Albenius's signature mark are her sculptures in shades of grey and an unabashed sense of frisky and wry humour. Her prior MFA solo exhibition was called Casting Couch Amateur Ghost Fuck, where the ”casting couch” presented as an euphemism for the practice of soliciting sexual favors from a job applicant. In the collective exhibition she presents a spatial installation weighing both on sculptures and impeccable set design, alluding to a gaudy outdated teenage room aesthetic with fitting objects on display. I just love how the exterior of this spatial installation with a heart-shaped light speaks oceans about the ”narrational jist” of throbbing teenage hormones. Yesteryear strikes back once again.

Ashik Zaman

Exhibiting grad candidates:

Sanna Albenius, Astrid Braide Eriksson, Christine Dahl Helweg-Larsen, Sara Ekholm Eriksson, Elina Eriksson, Ellen Eurenius Hallgren, Mathias Höglund, Evelina Jonsson, Gurli Kruber, Emil Matsson, Mehregan Meysami, Karon Nilzén, Malin Norberg, Afrang Nordlöf Malekian, Hannah Nyberg, Sixten Sandra Österberg, Robin Rydenhov, Levi Sebton, Edit Sihlberg, Elinor Silow, John Bullfrost, tm, Erik Uddén, Simon Wadsted, Klara Zetterholm

Producers/curators: Ming Wong, Professor in Performance in the Expanded Field, Lina Selander, Artist and former Guest Professor in Fine Arts and Silvia Thomackenstein, Exhibition and Programme Producer


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