The Subject

Eirik Senje
jan. 2016|Article

The subject of Mari Slaattelid's painted-on photographs is a light switch found in the artist's studio. A ubiquitous functional object, made to be easily recognized when fumbling about in the dark for the immutable clarity of electric light: It’s large central surface welcoming palms and fingers with a familiar click. This one is also unique: Covered with smears of artist’s paint, it visibly carries the history of a subconscious action repeatedly taken while performing a more focused task; that of making pictures.

The mind is subject to an endless stream of images, sometimes captured and formed into ideas; mostly forgotten. Traces left by human action on the surface of reality and the ability to recognize them are an essential part of human memory, both individual and cultural; yet they are also distractions, and will easily set the mind adrift when it is not focused on a task. On the series of photographs, the switch that is always either on or off, has been painted over - turned into a small greyish monochrome framed by the random marks around its edge and the wall behind it. In a series of four paintings, the switch itself has been made part of the picture, covered by what could be seen as allegorical darkness, black paint – unknown space, chaos; but also potential. In both, the object and its purpose lingers like an apparition. Powering the light on or off is a choice not given, but one wrested from nature through centuries of human resourcefulness. Now routine, it indicates a profound problem of civilization: Every choice we give ourselves is also an opportunity to choose badly; or not at all - to drift aimlessly. In the smaller scheme of things, there is the artist’s studio – which can be seen a microcosm of individual choice. Action turned to form – smears turned to painting. Sometimes randomly, sometimes with purpose – forgotten, rediscovered, reapplied. If clarity is found within this space, it is not the result of some singular idea suddenly appearing; rather it is meticulously pursued and carefully brought to light, piece by piece. A struggle that begins again and again within this small territory, carved out from the vast and uncaring field of nature, which looms, ever present, in the slowly moving shadows cast by the sun.