Matias Faldbakken: SHALL I WRITE IT

Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, November 2 – December 22, 2012

The absent question mark and all caps in the title of Matias Faldbakken’s
exhibition, SHALL I WRITE IT, is telling. It’s a bored, sarcastic, rhetorical
statement, and even before we see anything we know as well as he does that
there will no such generous outpouring of words or meaning. But Faldbakken
still goes through the motions of staging a reply, opening his press release with
familiar negatory quotes from Herman Melville’s ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ (1853)
and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (1967): ‘”No” is, generally speaking,
a better answer than “Yes”.’ Hollow metal frames, empty cardboard boxes and
illegible images in a slick palette of black, white, and grey, Faldbakken’s stance
is one of tempered refusal, a game of half-hints filled with mute and resilient
objects that dare us to try and pick at their slick surfaces. The accumulative effect
is like walking through a foreboding, ruined pedestrian underpass, his work
creating a setting usually with the sense of some violence having taken place in
the near past, with the blood and graffiti, for the most part, scrubbed away.

Matias Faldbakken, SHALL I WRITE IT, installation view

Matias Faldbakken, SHALL I WRITE IT, installation view

The violence here is readily apparent: the crushed remains of two new fridges
hover at head height, strapped tightly together from either end of the expanse of
the gallery’s hallway by a long stretch of taut red and green belt, each appliance
crumpled and curled around the wall. Once the visual impact of Fridge Pull (all
works 2012) settles, though, it feels safe, its destruction more brattish than
anything else. Faldbakken’s strength lies more in obtuse threats. Two burlap
bags sit tied up on the floor: one holds, we are told, Neil Strauss’s pickup-artist
exposé The Game (2005), the other, well, it doesn’t matter, suggests the title
Sack of The Game/Sack of Another Book. After a minute, you notice the walls are
dotted regularly with screws. The framed photos they might have held up are
bundled up in two sets of Untitled (Image Sculptures) in the back room, fifteen
of them bound together in each with ratchets that have been tightened to the
point of bursting. The paired works sit dejectedly amid their own shattered
glass and splintered wood. In one, the print of a newspaper clipping gives
a view of a serene Scandinavian town, only two words legible in the cut-off
caption: ‘beautiful’ and ‘outcry’.

This is the most of an explicit narrative we’ll get out of Faldbakken. What’s
interesting is that this method, the solemnly performed ‘no’ of his work,
hasn’t changed or developed much over the past few years, so why does it
continue to feel relevant and alluring? As Greil Marcus put it in Lipstick Traces
(1989), ‘Negation is the act that would make it self-evident to everyone that
the world is not as it seems – but only when the act is so implicitly complete it
leaves open the possibility that the world may be nothing, that nihilism as well
as creation may occupy the suddenly cleared ground.’ SHALL I WRITE IT is an
incomplete negation: the world is exactly as it seems, but Faldbakken is still
trying to burrow his way through it. His work has the sort of frustratingly sleek,
calm swagger that tries to absorb everything and give away nothing. But in its
deliberate (and sellable) self-destructiveness it has the feel of consciously and even coyly trying to finger the dark, seething intestines of the consumerist game that the artist is playing. His sarcasm, at least, is honest.

Originally published in ArtReview issue 66, March 2013

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