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Pointing from the Inside and Out

Hanna Beling Beroende Candyland, Stockholm

Oct 15 - Nov 14

Hanna Beling, Beroende, Candyland, Stockholm 2021

”I'd like to speak to you about an exhibition project which might possibly come across quite controversial”, writes Hanna Beling in a message, requesting a studio visit. The compass of the zeitgeist clearly has been pointing towards ”cancel culture” for a good while now, as I receive the message, and that in essence means the critical scrutiny that is being directed on artistic expression has reached an absolute peak. One could argue about the threshold about what is proper and improper never having been as precarious. In recent years, lively discourse has been on (cultural) appropriation; the question of who "owns" an interest enough to duly make art about it. There have been widely reported cases in art about profiting from the suffering and miseries of others. In light of the times, I can fully understand Hanna Beling's concern and this is not the first time I'm being asked to consult an artist about whether a supposed good intention might later be perceived differently once reaching an audience.

Hanna Beling, Beroende, Candyland, Stockholm 2021

The project it turns out revolves around something as ridden by stigma as addiction. I belong to those who enjoy contemporary art when it puts a microscope on the realities of present society, and agree with other voices in the art field about the applicability of contemporary art to probe, reveal and educate, as far as such realities go. For Hanna Beling who has often produced for her characteristic sculptures of humans and animal that shift between time and space, this marks a departure into a new direction, beyond outputs of primarily formal and aesthetical qualities. She tells me during my visit about an interest to shine light on the machinations within addiction care and rehab, where patients often see only short and inadequate treatment without any subsequent long-term planning for a sustainable recovery. All the large-scale silicone portrait busts I see in the studio mirror observations Hanna Beling did of actual addicts whom she met when wrestling her own former pill addiction (Sobril) inside an institutional facility. All these people have since consented to being sculpted by her in this project which is important to note.

Like Hanna Beling, I also find it important for the gaze to turn towards the state of the individual's own health and psyche, beyond the big and global traumas that we are suffering from and going through as a larger collective and which have dominated the mediacsape. What everyone ”knows” but is never made visible, in a certain sense does not really ”exist” in today's visual culture which is ridden by such heavy image circulation and alleged short attention span. Hanna Beling goes on to tell me how you can actually sometimes derive from the face of an addict what substance addiction they are battling. That is because there are certain recognizable characteristics. It makes me think of how there is a passive knowledge about this phenomenon which comes in effect as we look at drunks or addicts in the public realm; e.g. in the metro or a park bench. I think about every time I've reacted to faces that have a sunk disposition, emaciated expression or reversely a swollen or puffy air, making them appear prematurely aged.

Hanna Beling, Beroende, Candyland, Stockholm 2021

The sculptural series in the project shows an alcoholic, an amphetamine addict, a pot smoker and in there are also two portraits of Hanna Beling herself. One is a self-portrait from twenty years ago pre-addiction and the other is one of her while trapped in addiction. It could appear generous or self-deprecating to be so vulnerable as to put yourself into the equation. However, this is exactly what needs to happen more often in the ”society of spectacle” where looks really do deceive, for the eye-opening notion of ”one among us” to really hit and effectively strike. And that instead of just passing us by ”unnoticed” as only someone else's shit to clean.

Ashik Zaman


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