Water Sample

Artist: christine ödlund Tags: Permanent art

In the heart of Norrköping, on a building near Visualiseringscenter, a few strange lamps are hidden away. They look almost like stylised protuberances or tumours, a detail from a dream, or possibly the facto­ry insignia from its more productive past. We are in the midst of an industrial land­scape, annexed by the information society, an area that for centuries was Sweden’s number one industrial site. The lamps, an artistic embellishment by Christine Ödlund, harmonise in both design and contents with the spirit and purpose of this place.

According to recent tourist brochures, Norrköping’s industrial landscape is driven by its history to move into the future. The new Visualiseringscenter (Visualization Center C) helps us see things that are not visible to the human eye, or at least make it easier for us to understand complex visual information. Both descriptions are also characteristic of Ödlund’s art, and this is the context in which I would like to think that her work Water Sample operates. On the one hand, she revels in the ever­ captivating cosy horror and fairytale aesthetics that perhaps relate mostly to ancient times, to romanticism and pre­modern scientific mysticism. In subcultural terms, this would be called Gothic Steampunk. It makes me think of writers like H .P. Lovecraft and Jules Verne, and more highbrow artistic scholars such as Ernest Haeckel.

On the other hand, Ödlund strives towards a more functional approach, a “here and now”. She appears to be driven partly by a microbiological quandary as to the level and scale on which life actually takes place. In his case, what actually goes on down there in the waters of Motala Ström, a white blank on the marine bio­logy map. Serenely and unexplored, the river has run through the old factory estate, serving it then as it does today, albeit in different ways. In a purely literal sense, it reflects Ödlund’s wall-mounted work and also serves as a surface for her projections. She seems to show tender consideration for the veritably socio­-realistic fact that the alley-like wooden quay where the work is placed could actually do with some extra lighting. If nothing else, for that charming industrial touch. What could be more congenial than to design evocative streetlights like Ödlund’s? They were inspired by the history and visual style of the place, and even more by the mysteries of the dark waters, by what is hidden, so to speak, beneath its surface. The still-unvisualised, the infinitely complex, that which we cannot yet see.

It is here, in a twisted compact with Visualiseringscenter’s activities and the physical and psychological properties of the place, that Ödlund makes her artistic coup. For the unknown could, in practice, be hiding absolutely anything. Even more so, if we unleash our imagination. With this as her starting point, Ödlund’s version of the industrial landscape is also a fantasy landscape, whose distorted proportions and stylisations can harbour any flora or fauna.

The artist’s design brings it all to life, on every level. Ödlund charges the place, making it the Cthulhu* of Östergötland, a voyage twenty-thousand leagues under Norrköping, and an exhibition site for old industrial ironwork and Art Deco worship. All triggered, enabled and inspired by information from a simple water sample from Motala Ström.

* Cthulhu is a gigantic, god-like monster that features in H.P Lovecraft’s short stories. The name of this creature has also lent its name to the horror fiction role-playing game Call of Cthulhu which is set in Lovecraft’s fictional world.

Martin Karlsson