Malin Bogholt’s sculpture Contact makes an embracing gesture around an open space at the Lindberg school. This is a school on the outskirts of Varberg, with pupils from the first to ninth year, many of whom live in the surrounding countryside and get there by school bus or car. This is the place where they are dropped off and they pass Contact before moving on to the school buildings. The basic design is simple, two large, very tall trunks by the canteen are joined by a long branch that is propped up. The scale is mighty and articulates the space to those who approach it from afar. The wood is bare and smooth, inviting fingertips. The startling, billowing branch makes us curious, as if faced with some thing implausible. Malin Bogholt’s sculptural articulation of the place, her first work for a school set ting, is an interpretation of the school’s physical and social space.
There is a renewed discussion today about the role of “art in schools”, its ideological sources and how the art form can be developed in the contemporary setting (for instance in the Lekrådet net work or in the book Skolkonstboken, published in 2006 by the National Public Art Council). Where can we look for the historic and artistic genealogy of this particular work? Contact is not a play sculpture. The work is not intended as a climbing frame, although it is enjoyable to touch, which the children also do in their daily encounters with the sculpture. Nevertheless, we can sense a distant kinship with, say, Egon Möller-Nielsen’s Egg (Kungsparken in Gothenburg, and Tessinparken in Stockholm, early 1950s). Both are public works dependent on the goodwill of the user. The children, and also all the adults who are part of the inner life of a school or playground, are given full freedom to create mean ing themselves and to interpret the work without having to say what the work is, art or architecture. In both versions, the Egg lies as if temporarily, on the ground, and seen from a distance its size can be misjudged. The surrounding park area and the urban architecture a bit further off are diminished and become almost manageable. On approaching the sculpture, we grow aware of its weight and its invitation to a tactile and physical examination. Malin Bogholt’s Contact shares this dual capacity with the Egg; the ability to displace the experience of the surrounding space and to invite touch, thereby enhancing the physical link in the social context we have just entered.
There is another trait in Contact, an unexpected projection surface for imaginative notions. The tree shape of Contact is familiar rather than strange, and was even produced nearby. A giant oak from the region was prepared by hand by several assistants, it was stripped all the way in to the heartwood. The surface is untreated but shiny and polished; although it is pale today, it will darken into grey with time. But Malin Bogholt adds the unknown to these familiar shapes. In her way of combining the different parts of the work – the oversized stumps, the remarkable growing, entwining arm, the sturdy props – lies something irrational and enticing. For how can two trees share the same branch? How can a branch grow like a line drawn right out into space? How is the place where I am standing formed, where does it begin and end? These questions are comparable with those relating to school as an institution and a place where human beings develop gradually.
Malin Bogholt has made several large sculptural works over the past ten years exploring the possibility of drawings in space.The origin of Contact can be found in her confrontation with gardens in Japan while studying in Kanazawa in 1997, where she was fascinated by the old trees and how they were cared for. She would often sit drawing the branches of the trees and the props built under them to take some of the weight of the snow, instead of, as in Western parks, cutting off branches to pre vent them from snapping. The drawn picture of how physical weight works in a given space was a fundamental experience that recurs in many of her works in the most recent years. In Contact the pil lars, like the props in Japan, “supporting” the long branch are taller than the trunks, giving a veritably physical sensation of counterweight. In some of her larger, untitled sculptural installations created recently in Gothenburg, Kalmar and Berlin, there is a similar redistribution of weight. The experience, as in Contact, is that the object is so far extended that it risks tipping over.
Several of Malin Bogholt’s early works also incorporate a strong tension, as in Contact, between the familiar and something unknown that is suddenly revealed. In two works with the title Projection, from 1998 Gothenburg University and 2001 in Siri Derkert’s studio on Lidingö outside Stock holm, she assembled constellations of everyday objects that were lit by bright projector lights.The shadows made by the projectors when the light was broken by the objects produced an image on the wall.This was an entirely new image, albeit indexically shaped by the objects, the projection and the shadows, but without sharing their meaning. The result was a poignantly visual representation of the gap that arises constantly between different levels of experience.
The startling gesture in Contact invites the child to perceive itself spatially – in life, in school, in space, in society, in the world, or perhaps simply in the surrounding countryside, among the wind swept trees bending over the cliffs against the ocean storm further off. The work can associate strongly to the familiar, to the bareness, the tree, the countryside, the embrace; and to the unfamiliar, the unknown child and the future that the child carries in its mind. Contact is an interpretation of school as a social space, where there should ideally be room for both manifest skills and inner, subjective experiences and dreams. It refers to qualities that are possible to harbour here – qualities relating to the psychology of development, body, mentality and collectiveness.