Two texts about my work:

1. Suzanna Asp Master of Fine Arts Thesis - Report

It seems to me that Suzanna Asp have used her time as a art student by making vital experiences, freely using the studio and exhibition space as a testing ground and building a stable foundation from where she can now begin to act.

In her student year’s works Asp has been investigating and discussing such fundamental issues as front and back, opacity, transparency, weight, lightness, frame, space, site specificity, fiction and reality. A lot of what is founding ideas for painting in the 20th and 21st centuries. Asp herself makes references to Giotto, Velazquez, Courbet, Manet, Klee, Magritte and Fontana in her thesis. To this list can be added many more artists of course, I am even thinking of non painters such as Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Yvonne Rainer when looking at Asp’s work. Also Fontana’s contemporaries and the successive generation of artists in Italy (i.e Arte povera) springs clearly to mind. More locally we can think of artists such as Margareta Hallek, Miss Universum and Elin Wikström.

Even though Asp herself references as far back as medieval times much of what occupies her work seems to me possible to trace down to the 1960’s. This is not surprising as it is the decade that finally and widely accepts art as an open form of creativity. Main issues for the artists working around this decade was a kind of zero expression and going back to primary structures. Also aspects of time, space and audience participation proved important, not least for Arte povera (Pistoletto’s mirror paintings being only one example). For the Italians their way of working was very much a reaction towards the highly subjective ideas of the previous generation of artists (especially l’arte informel). The new generation cooled down the expression to something which was close to an immediate ”objective” experience. One can also read their actions as a revolt against the very long and impressive history of art that to a large extent has it’s origin in Italy. An art that was meant for eternity – both in materials and subjects. The Arte povera artists, and Manzoni before them, used much less prestigious and durable material in their works. These very fundamental ideas around material, art and space, both real and imagined, transports very well into Asp’s work. It is not difficult to imagine how she is in a similar position as her predecessors trying to navigate in the complex field of art and finding a position that is right for her in the world she lives in.

However, Suzanna’s idea of the setting of her exhibition as a stage also differs to the Italians as well as other voices of the 60’s. The impression I have is that she here brings her work beyond the navigation in and around formalist issues and directly comments on what these forms could tell us about contemporary social and cultural climate. A contemporary climate where identity politics, form and “looks” is at the core of so many issues.

In 2008 our world itself seem to a large extent to reveal itself as somewhat of a theatre, and although this can be said about life as such (no matter what space one occupies in history) the way we act as characters and personas today have never been more blatant – and Asp is very poignantly pointing it out for us. Sympthomes of this is naturally also shining through in the art world and it’s constant search for novelties and new expressions – something we can note that Suzanna also directly comments with her painting ”The emperor’s new clothes”. In relation to what has just been said here it is also interesting to note that Asp also has a devoted interest in and history of performances in public, social spaces. Often dressed out and interacting in existing social spheres.

Taking what has already been said into account and summing up my thoughts goes something like this: by employing a practical (rather than academic) investigation into art and it’s zone of knowledge Asp uses the experiences she gains in that area to create a very accurate thermometer on the times which we are living in. I believe that is her biggest achievement, how she essentially is funnelling so many of the past century’s big questions into a contemporary discussion on life today.

I am very interested to see where these ideas of the stage and performative practices can take her art. These are energetic ideas that already has been developed much further than I think any investigation of the ideas of space, canvas, reduction etc can go today (that seems more important as a foundation or tool for the artist than a complete and fulfilled expression) and I believe that there is much more possibilities inherent in the processes. Maybe all these issues, as to some extent is done in the exhibition, can continue to co-exist, possibly even with performative acts within the environments. Asp could possibly make further developments here. For instance I have noted that at the same time as she advocates the idea of the exhibition as a scene the presentation still consists very much of conventional and individual art works (presented as such). It might be interesting to see this develop further to concepts of ”environments” or something of the kind rather than ”paintings”. In the exhibition it worked great as a way of holding pieces together, almost like a theme, but I think more can be done here.

All in all I believe that Suzanna Asp’s work is really interesting and moving in the right direction. I look very much forward to follow her future developments.

Fredrik Liew
Curator, Swedish & Nordic art

2. To the Study and Research Council
Academy of Fine Arts

Suzanna Asp’s final work consists of two exhibitions (Spring Exhibition at the Tennis Palace 2007 and Scenes, a solo exhibition at the Fafa Gallery in September, 2007) and a text accompanying the paintings shown by her in these exhibitions.

In the solo exhibition at the Fafa Gallery, Suzanna Asp showed two large paintings and a number of smaller paintings and different assemblages. The two large paintings form the conceptual centre of the exhibition; they also define the spatial set up of the show. In her text, Suzanna calls the painting shown in the back room the “core” of the exhibition while the one in the front room is defined as a “trap”. The other works from a kind of stellar constellation around these two works.

Initially, when entering the gallery space from the street the viewer encounters Pink Painting No 2, placed opposite the door slightly to the left from the black curtain separating the dark room from the front space of the gallery. The scene shown in the painting resembles that of the gallery space, and yet, upon closer inspection, the viewer may detect some dissimilarities – the effect of the simultaneous resemblance and dissemblance is rather consternating: the “trap” performs its function well.

I felt enthralled by the mystery and wanted to find out the exact difference between the actual space and the space depicted in the painting. Is it the fact that the curtain has a different, quite bright grey colour in the painting, or that the turquoise block shown in the corner of the painting is different from the actual painting placed in that corner in real space? Or, is the mysterious effect due to the fact that instead of the pink painting that I should be looking at on the wall facing me I see in front of me Pink Painting No 2 depicting the painting in question at its centre?

In actual fact, the nearly monochromatic pink painting portrayed in the large painting has been lost, as Suzanna tells in her text: what is shown in Pink Painting No 2 is a memory image of the lost painting.

There is a playful reference to trompe l’oeil, to the tradition of showing a painting within a painting in the large work facing the person entering the gallery.

Suzanna’s work revolves around notions of real space vs depicted space, architectural reality vs architectural representation of rooms and spatial elements. She pays careful attention to the space where she shows her work. In the spring exhibition, she had researched the history of the Tennis Palace and found out that is was designed by Helge Lundström for the Olympic games of 1940 (which never took place), a fact that I didn’t know.

The painting Block/Model was planned to conform to the proportions of the space, and the slip-over worn by the figure shown in the painting was also a reference to the historical function of the Tennis Palace.

In Suzanna’s attention to architecture there is something much more than just deference to contemporary notions of site-specificity. She is interested in the history of painting and especially in how architectural motifs are depicted in paintings by using the art of perspective. One reference – which she mentions in her text – is Giotto, which is interesting as Giotto is said to have had a binocular perspective instead of the later and better known monocular perspective – the so called “legitimate construction” – and actually based on the technique of mathematically accurate representation of classical architecture by Brunelleschi. The Renaissance artists’ perspective is an application of the method of representing architectural forms on a flat surface. For a modern viewer, there is often something disturbing in Giotto’s frescoes, a sense of something gone awry; there can, for example, be two vanishing points toward which the lines are converging. Art historian Erwin Panofsky, in his Perspective as Symbolic Form, following Ernst Cassirer, draws attention to the fact that the way we perceive the spatial forms surrounding us are historically and culturally variable.

In Pink Painting No 2 the idea of different vanishing points is used to convey a slight sense of unreality to the viewer. (I may be particularly easy to confound, but the sense of unreality did not leave me during my visit to the exhibition.)
The interplay of actual space and depicted space was also something loved by Early Renaissance painters – working with painting installations in actual space, churches, rooms serving different functions in monasteries, palaces, etc. For example, Masaccio’s Trinity in Santa Maria Novella in Florence was conceived as a continuation of the actual space. And, when Bellini placed his late sacra conversazione in San Zaccharia in Venice he made the pilasters similar to the actual ones in the recently refurbished church – in fact, they were not exactly the same: the transformation from the actual space to the depicted space was a gradual one. For a hasty visitor, the effect may be lost, but the exact point where reality changes into representation is very difficult to pinpoint.

The colours of the two large paintings, likewise of the other paintings, are slightly pastellish and subdued in tonal range. Their fresco-like surface quality has been enhanced by the addition of chalk to the priming.

In contrast to the Renaissance frescoes, Suzanna’s large paintings do not convey narratives; they deal with histories of painting. They form a kind of meditation or contemplation on the nature of (Modernist?) painting.

And the smaller works continue this telling of the history of painting.

Naked Emperor brings to mind Clement Greenberg’s musings on the theme of what constitutes the essence of painting, of what is sufficient for something to be seen as a painting: is a canvas on stretchers enough? I think he decided that it was sufficient, but Suzanna has stripped the emperor further: there is no canvas visible here, just the stretchers.

Next to the Naked Emperor is a painting, Hat and Cut, referencing both the tradition of self-portraiture and the “spatial” paintings of Lucio Fontana from the 1950s where the cut refers to the space behind the painting. Touché quotes Manet’s painting of the painter Victorine Meurent dressed as a torero.

Both Touché and Hat and Cut bring together the two central themes of the solo show: illusive/elusive depiction of space on the flat surface and the artist’s role as a kind of illusionist. For Suzanna, these two themes come together in the idea of theatre and stage, and of exhibition as a kind of drama, unravelling as the viewer moves in the gallery space.

References to theatre, stage, drama, scenes, acts, circus, bull-fights abound in the exhibition; back-stages and dressing-rooms are also evoked. In general, it is perhaps suggested that the role of the artist in the contemporary art world may be compared to that of actors and actresses, changing clothes as well as persona according to what the situation demands?

Part of the scenography of the exhibition is constituted by open or thinly veiled references to the history of painting, as if the artist were also imagining herself as an actress on the arena of the history of art. Consequently, upon entering the gallery, the viewer is defined as a spectator to a fragmented play – a play dealing perhaps with the different identities and moods of the artist, ranging from self-assertion as a painter to extreme vulnerability. (To me, Clown speaks of fragility and vulnerability; I cannot help seeing its absurdity as connected to some of Eva Hesse’s objects.)

In the text, Suzanna describes the smaller works as “side-shows”, parades – I’m also reminded of Annette Messager’s retrospective from 1995 Faire Parade (to show off). There is a similar quality of (virtual) autobiography detectable in Suzanna’s solo show as well.

Nevertheless, I feel that the smaller works remain slightly cryptic, and perhaps a bit private as well, irrespective of their generous references. For me the most compelling works were the two large paintings, Pink Painting No 2 and Painting From Behind. I think it’s wonderful how they make use of the tradition of painting but produce something that is entirely fresh and thought provoking at the same time.

As a historical footnote, I’d still like to add that there is a very ancient tradition of combining theatrical illusion with the art of painting: Vitruvius tells us that perspectival painting had its first origin in the theatre in Greece. Skiagraphia – the art of painting light and shadow – served the make the stage illusion believable for the audience. It has also been pointed out by art historians that the historical changes in how space is depicted in painting have all been related to the stage as well.

I recommend that Suzanna Asp’s final work be accepted with honours.

Helsinki, May 6th, 2008

Riikka Stewen