No Keys to no Doors
Katrin Plavčak

Translated from German by Heather Allen

Words are not the key to Ulrika Segerberg’s castle. Nor is this castle built of stone, but of colour and textiles. The terrain in which we meet Ulrika Segerberg’s objects, paintings, textile works and the whole-body costumes used in performances, is one that appears - also in our subconscious - simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar.
We see how the artist lets objects migrate from one aggregate state to another. Her personnel of forms that she develops and constructs in her painting, such as the glasses, hole and circle, reappear as objects and are tried out in different media. Then, through their interaction, they undergo a new kind of role attribution.

The artist is interested in the ways the objects relate to the body; her casings and objects want to be utilised, the holes in her textile pictures are meant to be reached through, thus generating a new, performative image.
As with the Bauhaus dances of Oscar Schlemmer, Ulrika Segerberg develops choreographies for herself and her Per-Forms, and in the production, Der umgekehrte See (The inverted Lake), the audience enters a moving image.

The idea of the world as a process and not as a stationary fact is the starting point of this working method in which a continuous evolution of images, forms, words, materials and patterns develop from one medium into the next. The technique of collage is the artist’s instrument, scissors her tool of choice to operate with.

Between her ideas and thoughts about her work, and the used and converted materials, the artist’s visual language arises. On articulating structures of meaning, Jessica Stockholder states that: “(...) we create structures that are difficult to pin down and we accommodate floating kinds of significance."

Particularly in her new work, The Time it takes to whip an Egg, 2014, a whole group of works under one title, her propensity for experimentation and with it, her attempt to cross the boundaries of the classical panel image, reveals itself. Metal brackets are screwed onto the canvas (Indian Ocean, 2014) to hold swaying textile circles in vibrant, cheeky colours at a distance from the image. Punched holes explore the before and the behind of the image.

The collaging of materials is also what underlies the sculpture, Miles and Miles, 2014, an object compiled of a motorbike seat and a skirt-shaped substructure in blue. A chimera both male and female alternating between real and abstract. The ride on the motor-skirt bound for the Highway to Hell leads to a consideration of gender roles and attributions. Akin to Meret Oppenheim, the artist succeeds with wit to point out well-worn gender identities.

In The Mother is a Square (Find the Lady), 2013, the artist once more critically addresses the issues of ascribed roles, the challenge of motherhood and existence as an artist. Reading from a tale, she discovers that in China a rectangular sheet of paper represents the mother because she strives in every cardinal direction. The title also plays, however, on the English expression, ‘being square’ (being boring). This work was performed last Autumn in KW Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin, during which Ulrika Segerberg, within a performance evening organised by ff (a female artists group from Berlin), sewed herself into a scaffolding structure in order to exit this second skin at the end of the performance.

By applying humour as a strategy she is able to draw near to very personal or existential themes.
To quote Segerberg: “The Painter, 2010, was about creating a portrait of an artist who is bored by his same old way of working and has become very frustrated. Yet, he still clings tight to his old stretchers.”
At this point I think of Philip Guston who, in the mid-‘60s, acting upon his frustration, radically abandoned abstract painting and said: “I had simply had enough of this cleanness. Wanted to tell stories again”, and a troop of smoking, hooded men, clocks and shoe soles entered his canvases.

Ulrika Segerberg reaches into the used world and recycles these working materials into new, surprising objects that appear to have been made for creatures around 2.5 m high. She enlarges and exaggerates in order to make specific situations visually tangible. Old, stained, hand-woven sheets that she partially dyes are used to strengthen the painterly aspect. These already-used materials, the clothes that she or her performers wear, bring their own histories with them that are then transformed into objects and transferred from one context into another.

Words are not the key to my castle.
This castle seems to turn away from us just as soon as we wish to enter it, like the living house of Baba Jaga, a mythological figure from Slavic culture.
The wish to enter it grows meanwhile.