Friday, December 30, 2011

The Works

JenniferRural Sweden has its surprises, and one of them is a fantastic art gallery in the small town of Avesta. Verket ("The Works") is a 100+ year old iron smelting factory, a remnant of Sweden's heavily industrialized late 19th century. The metal-working industry became so large and important that it outgrew these old structures, and the factory was abandoned around the middle of the last century, with buildings left intact and large equipment left in place. What do you do with an old smelting factory? You turn it into an art gallery, of course.

Verket makes the most of its past. When you enter the doors you are greeted by a large furnace (left) dominating the gift shop/cafe area. The exhibition spaces have names like Roasting Hall, and Blast Furnace Hall. The place has uneven surfaces, and thick soot on the walls, and open pits that you could fall into. You get dirty walking around in it. Parents are advised not to let children they care about out of their sight. It is Not Safe. It is Super Cool.

The exhibits were fun, often large, and sometimes noisy. Laser-generated maps dance across the floor and walls; 20-minute videos of ghostly women are projected onto a free-standing screen while creepy music plays; blank-faced dolls abound; various metal creatures menace you; a mirror-maze disrupts your sense of direction; upstairs are the colorful blown glass sculptures of among other things women's clothing, and faux-old-fashioned photos of kids with animal heads (not pictured), and more disturbing babies (not pictured, too icky), and some very odd male-dwarves-and-human-women-in-the-woods oil paintings that we dubbed '70s-style elf porn' (not pictured, too tacky).

But Verket's undeniable highlight was an exhibition by French artist Nicolas Cesbron, who uses mostly wood to create fantastic but naturalistic shapes, for both furniture and decoration. To quote the artist:
"In the same way as the ruins of classical temples are covered in luxuriant vegetation and are filled with mythological animal life, the ironworks' void with machine relics encloses a sanctuary dedicated to the industry of the past." So says Nicolas Cesbron and bequeaths a post-industrial jungle on industrialism's cultural heritage. "I want to convey sensualism in form and thought. The interplay between wood and light is vigorous in my works which quite often unite shape and function. A sculpture that is also a piece of furniture can give inspiration for a ritual life in the everyday world."

Yes yes, "An exposé of post industrialism's tragedy" and all that, but don't let it fool you; Cesbron's work is accessible and interactive and you are allowed to touch it, and the polished wood is wonderfully silky and smooth. Many of the table and lamps are on raised platforms, and a swing hung from the ceiling, connected to the platforms by unseen ropes and pulleys, sets the platforms and many of the sculptures into a subtle motion.

As an aside, I would like to note that this exhibit was one of the first things that any Swede (in this case my long-ago office-mate JS, who comes from this region and does the spot-on Swedish chef impersonation) told me I ought to see. He was right. The Cesbron installation was so cool, and public response to it was so positive, that it stayed at Verket for four years, much longer than it was supposed to; sadly (for me and my hopes to try to lure artsy friends here), I have been told that the exhibit has now moved on. Thanks, JS, for the recommendation; thanks also to S. and I. for making it possible for us to see this wonderful installation and fantastic venue.

(This post should have gotten published several months ago, but didn't. In the space-time continuum that I live in, it should go directly after the post about life in small-town Sweden.)


  1. Wow, I'm so glad you wrote about this, how cool to have such a gallery near you. Hopefully the incoming installation will be equally intriguing. Separately, you weren't kidding about the creep factor of those dolls. Glad to see Joe didn't rush his reflection! ;)

  2. Thanks M! It's a really fantastic place. The baby dolls upstairs were even creepier but it would have been hard to capture their glisten-y grossness in a photo anyway. I'm kinda sorry though that we didn't take any pictures of the '70s elf porn' just to document what that looks like. There were a lot more smaller exhibits, one cool one of metal sculptures that moved and clanged, and the requisite 'kids' area that we spent quite a bit of time in as well. It's a place one could happily spend the whole day in, more than once.