Milou Allerholm on Markus Åkesson 2010
A friend of mine is always saying that animals in zoos have such a nice and pleasant existence. He once heard a radio program about the stress levels of zebras during night time. To live on the savannah is certainly not an idyllic existence, constant anxiety of being eaten. His statement is of course rhetorical, aimed towards the idealisation that signifies humans and their way of seeing nature as something pure and noble, something wholly and completely natural. Nature and animals as they really are, we say. And we forget that we have learned what is natural from the dramatisations of nature programmes and their display of staged life where animals and plants are given human form.
Our reality and our truths are construed through language, Nietzsche would say. But we don’t see it and we transfer the truths that we have created to somewhere outside of ourselves. To God, to nature. Nature for the Romantic Movement was possessed and inspired by divineness and the artist was cut out by way of his particular sensibility to reveal this in his pictures. In the symbolic landscape paintings of the 19th century the yellowed landscapes in twilight or a cathedral in the middle of a wood bear witness of the presence of truth. Those ideas remain to a large extent. God may have partly disappeared from the picture but our expectations of nature have not changed much.
So, suddenly the rhinoceros lays there on the drawing-room rug, and we don’t really know what to do with it. What does it want? What a beast, huge and repulsive. Markus Åkessons paintings deal with this; the interspaces between ideal and reality. A time related, a spatial and psychological intermediate position where expectations and experience do not always join up. The paintings can be characterized by a compact stillness, as in the series of paintings “On the Night of the Big Freeze.” Or by a sense of frozen movements as in the series “Looking for nature.” A recurring theme is an interest in the driving force behind the city dweller when he or she makes a pilgrimage into nature or, in accordance with this, buys organic milk. And also something else. As a creation where one clearly understands that something has happened, and that something soon will happen. But we cannot see what it is. We are in the interval, the space in between.
One can compare the apocalyptic dream sequences in “On the Night of the Big Freeze” with the attempts by the surrealists to find a productive state where dream and awakeness are partly united, where the dividing lines between the subconscious and what we accept as real and observable are blurred. Where the personal and the existential are woven together with a social unconscious. Markus Åkesson uses the realistic painting style in order to be able to work freely with the finer details of nuance and expression. Look at the man with the worried look on his face holding a stuffed fox in his arms. One wants to agree with the title: Yes, it is time to let go. His works are also characterized by an almost fetishist attitude towards patterns, texture and surface, whether it’s a shoe, an oriental rug or the feathers of a vulture. A strong force that is catching and brings the spectator into the scenes. Patterns are something that repeats itself. They can give a sense of security – or a sense of screening off. The man sits comfortably in his gaudy red and yellow armchair. But he is looking away and does not seem to be aware of what is going on. It is very unclear what the bulls are doing in the picture.
Milou Allerholm is a freelance art critic and Senior lecturer in Art History at the Royal University College of Fine Arts in Stockholm