Fredrik Liew
Curator, Swedish & Nordic art

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