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Incoherent Fragments of Intimacy

Nadine Byrne Incoherent Fragments of Intimacy Saskia Neuman Gallery, Stockholm February 16 – March 18, 2023

Nadine Byrne, Incoherent Fragments of Intimacy, Saskia Neuman Gallery, 2023, Stockholm. Photo courtesy of the gallery

On a fragmented transshipment slip, quietly marking one of the collage works of Nadine Byrne’s new solo exhibition, dated this month in 1982 in Baltimore, the compound word “non-negotiable” can be extracted in capitalized form. This random slip as a transactional testimony of something that once happened somewhere might be insubstantial in itself but its inclusion could not be more substantial for Byrne as a basic outline of what she has concerned her practice with since graduating from the Royal Institute of Art in the early 10’s. The by now long-standing physical absence of her late mother, lost in life through too early passing, is that instance of absolute fact you could say, that is constantly being (re)negotiated per Byrne working actively as an artist with the memory of her mother to render her presence. Physical presence through the looking glass of Byrne’s art is subject to metaphysics and brings me back to the title of the midcareer survey at The Royal Art Academy of Arts in 2019 (for which I authored the text); Tokens of Memory – Textile Transcendence. And that is because textiles factor this (re)negotiating equation in so far Byrne’s frequent choice and act of revisiting textiles and fabrics passed on by her mother stems down to the notion of her mother being vested in them, the way the mother invested her time on them, while in life.

Nadine Byrne, Orpheus (A Dialogue), 2023, Incoherent Fragments of Intimacy, Saskia Neuman Gallery, 2023, Stockholm. Photo courtesy of the gallery

These physical tokens or rather any token connected to her is a possible catalyst to bring the mother to the fore by way of what can be assumed chains of interconnected memory. As for the intimacy that finds itself as a component making up the title of the current gallery exhibition, a strength in Byrne’s command in fleshing out her mother’s memory has always been that it never really gets sappy as to get uninvitingly intimate per any oversharing. The collage series in which the mentioned slip is found is a trip down memory lane for some of us, on a more apparent level, towards the visual iconography of everyday Swedish society of yesteryear. By assembling bits and pieces of documents found in her mother’s private record files, some trivial curiosity is prompted I imagine for anyone (no matter how little they might be interested in Byrne’s mother per se) as to, take for instance what the Swedish postal service might have be like in its heyday (we’re all complaining about the current situation) or what some public agencies that are the axis of society used to once and formerly be called. On a subsequent thought, already there’s the small catapults that she carefully places for more universal meditation on changes beyond her own to find traction with her viewer.

Just as she’s fiercely dedicated to the memory of her mother, she would also at once appear protective of it. How else to read, several exhibitions and years later, the condition of our not having any closer idea of who her mother might have been beyond a mother. There’s this poetic distance that keeps the outsider’s sentimentality for the artist’s behalf at bay, as though Byrne ultimately being more interested in making you examine any loss you might have experienced yourself (through hers) more so than her own. That distance brings me to this almost Bergman-like quality of a female figure whose apparition in certain of Byrne’s works presents as the amalgamation of several women in a family lineage, including herself and I’m told; sister(s). It reads beautifully on a symbolic level and is a takeaway for anyone about how the more you process and study someone and become consumed by the image of them, the more you start to merge and become one with them. On a whim for me it calls to mind an actor recently sharing the difficulties of separating himself from the iconic pop cultural actor he portrayed to acclaim on screen. A separation that supposedly took over than a year.

Nadine Byrne, A Past (2023), Incoherent Fragments of Intimacy, Saskia Neuman Gallery, 2023, Stockholm. Photo courtesy of the gallery

Textile-based collage works faithfully make part of the exhibition but what genuinely surprises me visiting Saskia Neuman Gallery is the new formal leaps she takes, making me feel I’m not seeing reiterations of the same but instead advancements of it. My expectations were; different. Byrne has worked with sculptural works in glass before but her five-part installation A Past of aluminium boxes with thick tinted colored glass lids in a formation on a podium stands with its seductive allure in stark contrast to some of her also in this exhibition, understated and demure works, as far as visual tone goes. Surveying the contents of these boxes which are obscured in view brings before the eyes for example such striped, highly recognizable per airmail envelopes that were a fixture during my pre-digital upbringing (I wrote letters to Bangladesh). What exactly is in there undoubtedly is of less importance to the fact that something is, and that all the while traces of it clearly exist, there's just no tangible access to it The view of the installation recalls rippling and flowing water as though an allegory of the course of time that can be recorded but not quite wrangled down. As I saw the formation of the boxes, I was thinking a lot about the inherent “deception” in solidness and “truth” found in archiving, on the account of apparent form and order.

Nadine Byrne, Never historians, always near poets (Statens invandrarverk), 2023, Incoherent Fragments of Intimacy, Saskia Neuman Gallery, 2023, Stockholm. Photo courtesy of the gallery

“This isn’t my home anymore, it’s a storehouse of what happened” reads another bit of text on a textile collage work in the second of two rooms which brings me to the boldest stretch Byrne carries on to here and one I imagine cannot have been entirely easy and required much deliberation. Because it is one that amps up the level of dramatic intensity well beyond the factual melancholia that was seen in her collectively created video piece that made part of her presentation in Bonniers Konsthall’s 2020 The Work of Mourning and offers a more visceral experience than what I’ve come to be used to. The work As if it is still there waiting for me (1987/2005/2023) is an audio-visual installation where the sound part (and its cassette player device) and the video part (with TV monitor) are separated across the room, with an invisible diagonal line in between, while functioning as a "whole". Changes like this can come with some growing pains but the choice certainly feels very exciting to me and it’s sharply executed (Byrne is also a recording music artist). The two parts represent two stages of what used to be the Byrne household; a during and an after. The sounds were recorded by Mr Byrne already back in 1987 with the voices of young children heard audibly and the video it’s juxtaposed with stems from the aftermath of her mother’s passing inside the emptied out flat that used to be the family home. The camera frantically moving around corners of the flat in Dogme 95-style.

Nadine Byrne, As if it is still there waiting for me (1987/2005/2023), detail installation view, video and sound, Incoherent Fragments of Intimacy, Saskia Neuman Gallery, 2023, Stockholm. Photo courtesy of the gallery

This flat and its past fixtures have been mediated in various ways in Byrne’s work before but to my own memory never this explicitly. The connecting of times; with the visitor’s body representing a third time stage; the now and present, as we symbolically enter the void and lend our physicality to the work is the most striking participatory staging of Byrne’s so far. Effortless but effective, or perhaps I should rather phrase it as affective. There’s, as her practice has proven, never really a full closure with mourning but as a full circle this work is probably as close as she has gotten to it with her work just to date.

Ashik Zaman


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