300 Layers, Galleri Steinsland Berliner, Stockholm, 2018

Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer; by way of a wash technique Ylva Carlgren sets about meticulously transforming light into dark. It is a process of perfection that sees both artist and material pushed beyond all limits and where – with no conceivable end in sight – the artist’s practice becomes an end in and of itself. But the works that make up 300 Layers are much more than mere exercises in technical excellence. While the debt owed to the Light and Space movement is of course undeniable, there is a manifest proclivity for the affective which – when coupled with a conspicuous longing for the infinite – helps awaken distinct intimations of Romanticism. A deft manipulation of the perceptual field takes place which, rather than relying upon advancements in modern technology, is made possible by the reinvigoration of time-honoured techniques. The ultimate result is a collection of works that are somehow able to excite fervent emotions in complete contradistinction to the delicate and controlled process by which they were brought to life. And they are alive.

Standing before these paintings it is impossible to deny the palpability of their presence as one struggles to escape subjugation by an almost unwelcome gaze. The irrefutable power that they possess only attests to the very fact that despite being completely devoid of meaning – as their Malevich-inspired titles suggest – they are absolutely impregnated with sense. By wholeheartedly relinquishing any and all mimetic pretension, Carlgren opens up for the possibility of a painstaking exploration of the limitations of her medium. Not least of which are perhaps the conventional temporal restrictions which 300 Layers seems to flagrantly disregard as the artist succeeds in fashioning works that are almost of a sculptural character. But the specific physicality of these paintings is certainly more visceral than spatial and, as a result, they ought not to be seen but, rather, to be felt.

Text by: Nicholas Lawrence


The Shadows’ Call, Galleri Steinsland Berliner, Stockholm, 2016

In her earlier works Ylva Carlgren explored the imperious subject matter of perfume advertising through precise, time-consuming watercolours. The fetishization of the perfume flask’s sensually alluring facets, curves and colours; light enmeshed in prisms, reflections and refractions. Over and above a purely visual value there was an elucidation of a commercial world that has succeeded in penetrating our desires with fragrances that have become extensions and enhancements of the self. In Carlgren’s carefully considered paintings every brushstroke is a quest for perfection just as much as it is a notion of the unattainable.

In her second exhibition at Gallery Steinsland Berliner, Carlgren leaves the objects from her earlier works behind and allows only their illuminated backgrounds to endure. Immediate narrative has been dispensed with and room made for reduced shades set against elementary geometric forms. Left lingering are the silhouettes of a semblance of objects just outside the paper’s edge. An intimation of that which is not there or that which we do not see. There is an almost unfathomable tactility to the works, as their spatiality is carefully built up by means of subtle gradations.

In the film noir of the 1940’s the Venetian blind serves as a psychological underscoring of the protagonist’s search for hidden truths. Light filters in through the gaps in the blinds and casts a striped shadow across the room’s décor. In Carlgren’s paintings, lines fade from black, implicit objects fade into unpainted surfaces and the veiled is left unspoken. In one series, consisting of three works, there is a circle that can be seen floating like a sphere in a space devoid sound. The gradual shifts in colour move like an eclipse from the white of the paper to grey before finally terminating in darkness.

The title of the exhibition is inspired by Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows. In a defence of Japanese aesthetics, and its consideration for the potential of both sun and candlelight during all phases of the day (dawn, day, dusk and twilight), Tanizaki emphasizes the patent contrast to the Western tradition and its inclination towards the complete illumination of surfaces. In part, thanks to the introduction of electricity and the calculated elimination of shadow. Carlgren’s work encompasses both ideals. Shadows and stark scenes are conjoined through careful preparation and digital pre-studies, the traces of which lay bare an element of artificiality.

Watercolour’s propensity to float outwards, and to create drama in the process, is restrained so that the paper, much like a wall, becomes but a surface for a subdued play of light. The sparse shades seem to lie within the very eye, and mood, of the beholder. Through this investigation of the perfection of fundamental forms and the capabilities of shadow, Carlgren creates a space where silence and serenity defy emphatic narrative.

Text by: Ulrika Pilo
Translation: Nicholas Lawrence