Over my Dead Body
Such stuff as we are made of
by Professor Whitney Chadwick
It is not style or choice of medium that dictates Nina Östman-Ericsons ́ work, but instead a unique and encompassing personal vision. Working in, and sometimes combining, the genres of photography, video, installation and performance, she has developed an artistic practice that is first and foremost, integrative. From her earliest work, she has stressed the interconnectedness of species, as well as of the human and natural worlds.
While many of her earlier works – those produced in the 1980s and early 1990s – manifested her interest in morality, ethics and environmental issues, her recent work displays an increasingly sophisticated attention to issues of identity, memory, sexuality and bodily communication, and creation.
A volume of photographs of children – both those happened upon in the course of her travels and her own – published by Alfabeta in the Lucida Art Series in 1991 speaks to her ability to empathize with her subjects without sentimentalizing them, while at the same time bringing to the work a formal control and objective vision that infuses the results with a fine critical edge. Indeed, as Ericsons ́ work develops, appropriation and irony, cornerstones of postmodern practices generally, contribute their own subtle layers of meaning to subjects that often originate in social conventions and their representation. Nina returned to the subject of children and childhood in subsequent works, not to document children, or to sentimentalize childhood, but to emphasize the fragility and perilousness of human origins and connections. In Ice Cubes (1997), generic doll-like babies – are molded from silicon and frozen into plaster cubes like the novelty items sold in party stores. In The Blue Baby (1995) and Oh, Babe (1997), they are scattered on the floor or lined up like ancient effigies and then photographed. Ericson frequently works in silicon, perhaps intentionally aligning the mass production and modular nature of contemporary plastics technology and the variability and randomness of life itself. Her recent sculpture includes several works which elaborate the universal themes of sexuality/procreation and nourishment in ways that also blur the distinctions between the human and animal worlds. These include Feeding (1997) a bulbous silicon amalgamation of breasts and swollen teats, and Meeting Balls and Stallion (1997), a wall mounted installation of quasi-abstract testicle-like balls surmounted by a stallion phallus. Nina often moves fluidly between genres: producing objects to be photographed, constructing photographic mis-en nes that suggest theatrical tableaus, fusing video and performance. Her 1990 series Modern Madonnas, which includes The Conception, The Resurrection and The Coronation, combines objects of contemporary middle class culture (like the vacuum cleaner in The Conception) with imagery appropriated from Italian Renaissance sacred art. Here religious icons are reconnected to the world of women´s lived experience in ways that reveal the constructed nature of both. In a photo installation titled Religion: Duck Altar, a young girl, eyes downcast in innocent piety, clutches a large duck to her breast as a box placed on the gallery floor emits duck sounds. Here again, Nina ́s strong connection to the world of nature, and her refusal to perpetuate conventions of belief, produce a work that is both witty and wise. Nina ́s videos, Enfant Terrible and Mating Dance extend her investigations into temporal as well as spatial dimensions. In the former, she returns to an infantile state in order to expose the constructed nature of identity.
Mating Dance, on the other hand, represents an improvisational dance communication through the coming together of two nude bodies. Performed in collaboration with Patrick King, it focuses on an intense exchange of energies between two bodies moving in relation and in response to one another. As the dancers bodies interact and separate, the audience is drawn into an abstract human creation based on memory and synergistic movement produced without script or verbal exchange. Most recently, Nina has returned to the subject of children through an interactive web site created to fuse art and social activism in a program designed to raise money to buy formula for the Pingnan Orphanage in China. The work is a testament to the artist´s longterm commitment to using art as a way of exposing, and finally affecting, social reality is his ?willingness to move fluidly between the worlds of art and life has long characterized Nina ́s practice, uniting all aspects of a diverse body of works under a single, unifying vision.
Professor of Art and Art History, San Francisco State University. B.A. Middlebury College; M.A., Ph.D. The Pennsylvania State University.
Whitney Chadwick works in the areas of surrealism, feminism and contemporary art. She is the author of the widely used text Women, Art, and Society (2020)
and the first full-length study in English of women artists and the surrealist movement; Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (2021).
Her books have been translated into many languages.
Exhibition at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts Stockholm
Infantile from infans.
Actual meaning ”not speaking”.
Indicating the primary,
the gulleless – common denominators
for us all.
Therefore it’s relevance to
nakedness – intimacy
the natural state of being
and total present,
bbbeyond longing, wishful thinking and beautification.
AMONG MY FRIENDS THERE IS A YOUNG CRITIC WHO – with good reason – is confident about most things. She claims to be especially confident in determining whether the art she is looking at is made by a male or a female artist. I maintain that this is impossible – when I think of Boltanski, Kapoor, Ortvedt or Löfdahl – but, at the same time, I must confess that she has often been accurate.
Confronted by Nina Ericson´s art my friend would be undisputed. But she (Ericson) is more direct than most. What is happening here has it’s unmistakable origin in a woman’s experience. Experiences of giving birth, nurturing, collection and preserving. Personal experiences from a repetitive and humdrum everyday existence. From government reports and weekend supplements in the evening papers – two institutions with similar formulas for social adaptability – it is called ”the intimate sphere” or ”the primary” almost on the verge of ”the primitive”. Something uncontrollable and emotionally charged that one never understands until later.
Nina Ericson certainly is a grown-up little girl who wants to understand who remembers and re-examines, looking back and unveiling that which is hidden. She is not in wide-eyed amazement like Alice in Wonderland, she is the Alice that sees right through the looking glass; who instead of being manipulated or taken by surprise, chooses the place and weapon herself.
This is how she manages to arrange such unexpected meetings, why she can perpetuate every happy chance and why she can form something non existent into an unmistakable shape. It is a serious game she so hazardously plays…
IASPIS Director 1997 for IASPIS International Art Studio Program In Sweden. The Swedish Arts Grants Committee.