S OPHIE TOTTIE SELECTED CATALOGUE EXCERPTS
Sophie Tottie Sophie Tottie was born in 1964 She lives and works in Malmö, Stockholm and Berlin www.sophietottie.net
Sophie Tottie’s permanent work, Roundeye (Cyclops), for the library of the Department of Philosophy at Lund University consists of six ceiling paintings and three carpets. The circular paintings have a matte varnish and are painted on brushed stainless steel. A distinct white drawing is set off by the umber background. The carpets are made of handtufted wool with patterns cut in relief and in the same muted colours as the paintings. The installation has a remarkable beauty, striking yet subtle and well-integrated with the existing environment. Gazing from one station to the next arouses a curiosity about the story the work can tell. The title refers to an optical aid that can be used to look at the world, something that makes things more defined and distinct. This can be an advantage when the subject is the thoughts and ideas that reside in a philosophical library with a long history. One essential aspect of the work is the building itself, Lundagårdshuset, also called Kungshuset (the King’s House), that now houses the Department of Philosophy. It was built in 1578-1584 as a residence for King Fredrik II of Denmark. The house is also referred to as the Old Library, since the university library was located here until 1907. Today it is still a library, but one that specialises in philosophy. Its most poignant architectural feature is the spiral staircase of the tower. The drawings suggest a camera lens, something the artist has utilised when creating the work. The staircase becomes a camera shutter and, as such, the hub of the entire work. The carpets and a couple of ceiling paintings present shifting images of this motif, while the other paintings deal with wide-ranging notions: the cosmos is illustrated with Tycho Brahe’s vision of the universe, civilisation with the circular city plan of ancient Bagdad, the spiritual dimension with the floor labyrinth copied from Chartres, and the corporeal with images of the garden of Venus in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili from 1546. Roundeye (Cyclops) presents shards of thought in images. The ceiling paintings represent intellect and spirit, the carpets add visual emphasis, while the stairwell structure permeates and unites heaven and earth. Both magnificent and astute. Åsa Nacking
Hatje Cantz Verlag | Sophie Tottie - Fiction Is No Joke
Sophie Tottie Fiction Is No Joke
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EXCER P T Sophie Tottie Fiction Is No Joke Edited by Niclas Östlind, Louise Fogelström, foreword by Bo Nilsson, texts by Stefan Jonsson, Jessica Morgan, Margaretha Rossholm Lagerlöf, Sophie Tottie, Niclas Östlind German, English 2007. 184 pp., 196 ills, 148 in color 22,30 x 28,10 cm softcover available ISBN 978-3-7757-1999-5
The seeminglysecretive, ultimately nonrepresentational oeuvre of Swedish artist Sophie Tottie (*1964) eludes any clear interpretation. Working in a variety of media, she presents her paintings, photographs, and installations in different combinations or variations in each exhibition. Tottie works on flags, writing, symbols, and other abstract signs, providing her pieces with multilayered titles that open up a broad field of art historical connotations without conveying a clear meaning. Thus she deliberately keeps the viewer on the material and pictorial plane, emphasizes the application of color or graphic patterns, and attempts to prevent interpretation—the linguistic shift away from the painting itself—from being mixed up in the spontaneous reception of her art. In the best sense of l’art pour l’art, Tottie presents her work as a kind of theatrical play, whose presence and fleeting quality must be experienced through all of the senses. Exhibition schedule: Liljevalchs konsthall, Stockholm, April 14–May 27, 2007
Stefan Jonsson Consciousness within Five perspectives on Sophie Tottie’s Isolario
Linjer allt är linjer här i rummet, ute i det stora hela – Katarina Frostenson Mappa mundi. Art once dreamed of a future outside the institutions. Life in the galleries had tamed it, made it all too concerned with the nature of beauty and the laws of perception. If the gallery walls were to be demolished, art would be able to get close to people and the real world. The fact that this strategy failed is not because there was anything wrong with the idea as such but because it was utopian. Art overestimated its ability to assert itself in the consumer society that, as early as the 1960s, was so saturated with designer images and settings that aesthetics appeared to be a capitalist means of production in its own right. In such a world institutions are essential; not for keeping history out but in order to maintain a distance to society so that the artist can gain a clear view of it. Sophie Tottie uses the walls of Lunds konsthall as cartographic sheets on which she has drawn the contours of virtual continents and the routes that connect them. One can approach her exhibition as though faced with a sensational map that, for the first time in history, shows islands and countries that our culture has long viewed as terra incognita. In Sophie Tottie’s universe, all the possibilities that arise in a world without central perspective intersect. Isolario general. Sophie Tottie’s oblong “Isolario drawings” form an interweave of lines that run across the walls of the gallery. They are reminiscent of a navigational aid that appears on the so-called portolan charts, the maritime charts of the Renaissance. A starshaped array of compass bearings was produced for each port on the map. Sometimes distances to other ports were also included. Every port was, in principle, a focal point round which the other ports could be grouped. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries European adventurers and merchants sailed ever further across the oceans, bringing home with them observations of islands and coasts that were hitherto unknown to them. Mapmakers of the period had the task of trying to create a whole out of these sporadic observations. In this period, mapmakers were known as cosmographers, world-writers. The information provided by mariners caused problems for cosmographers. The new observations did not fit in with the view of the world that they had inherited from classical antiquity. But as they had no method for denoting the position of a particular place on the surface of the globe, they were unable to create a new image of the world.
In order to solve the problem they invented the Isolario. This might be described as an atlas lacking the world map itself. Every island, every port, every place was afforded its own page but there was no general map to clarify the full picture. Famous among such works are Cristoforo Buondelmonti’s Liber insularum cicladorum produced about 1420, Benedetto Bordone’s Isolario from 1534, Alonso de Santa Cruz’s Isolario general de todos las islas del mundo from 1567 and André Thevet’s Le Grand Insulaire from 1586. The Isolario appeared in the gap between two scientific and geopolitical paradigms. Places were discovered, expeditions were despatched and huge quantities of information were brought back to Europe that were to prove of decisive value in the further exploitation of the world; not least for the European states which claimed sovereignty over the newly discovered territories. The Isolario allowed cosmographers to create an appearance of order in this material, thus giving the princes they served the illusion that they had the world under control. Every map showed an island or a place neatly laid out on the page and every page was drawn using its own perspective and its own scale. But there was no central perspective; nothing that could provide an overview or show how the various places were geographically related to each other. When the cosmographers finally succeeded in producing such surveys – a task that required being able to apply a grid of latitudes and longitudes to the image of the world – the Isolario had ceased to be of value. Despite the fact that, early in the 17th century, cartographers were able to draw relatively accurate maps of the world, the Isolario remained a popular book genre. Presenting the world as an infinite number of independent, miniature worlds rather than an entity that was finally and exhaustively explained by a grid of immutable lines showing latitude and longitude tickled the fancy. The Isolario was malleable and accomodating. It was quite possible to add a new map describing a new place on the earth. Many cosmographers charted places that had been described in ancient legends or early travel narratives. Some even depicted places and phenomena that, according to notions of the symmetry of creation simply had to exist. The sixteenth-century Isolario was often an extraordinary mixture of fact and fiction. It might read thus: First engraving: Majorca. Second engraving: Atlantis. Third engraving: Rhodes. Fourth engraving: Island of Giants. Fifth engraving: Babylon. Sixth engraving: England. Seventh engraving: Hell. And so on. Concordia. Even people describing the world today are troubled by events and processes that threaten to explode our inherited understanding of it. The problem today is not geographical but political, legal and ethical. Archives are daily filled with reports of events that our political, legal and cultural institutions lack the capacity to deal with. Sophie Tottie’s Isolario focuses on events of the worst sort: collective crimes and government sanctioned felonies – from genocide in Halabja and the crimes committed by dictators in Eastern Europe, Africa, Argentina and China to the conflicts of the Middle East and the illegal war in Iraq. Events float like bloody islands in Tottie’s atlas. We are confronted with traumas that cannot be inserted into the running narrative of history, crimes that tear holes in the coordinates of justice, behaviour that challenges accepted ethical postulates about the nature of evil. In short, we lack a narrative of the world, an atlas of human history that would relate these events and conflicts to each other using a common scale. Do we really want such a narrative? Sophie Tottie’s Isolario questions the prospect of reconciliation that this proposes. Do we really want reconciliation? Reconciliation with this constant catastrophe that we term the world? The Isolario drawings run on to infinity. The lines challenge the limitations of the room and continue on in all directions; up through the ceiling and down into the underworld. New catastrophes turn up and new islands of suffering rise up out of the sea. And this will enforce further revisions of the world maps. Other islands of suffering will disappear into the flood and will be forgotten. Is this the only imaginable reconciliation? Oblivion. The simple passage of time. But how can we forget what constantly recurs? History is a slaughter- bench, Hegel wrote.
Hegel’s headache. When a headache becomes painful one is sometimes helped by closing one’s eyes and pressing forcefully on the eyelids with one’s thumb and forefinger. Glimmering spots of light appear in the inner darkness. Their forms differ depending upon the intensity of the pain. After a few seconds the movement slows down and the spots form a constellation of black and white lines. At times I have wondered if the intersecting lines are not merely a physiological effect that manifests itself on the retina or the visual centre but that the dynamic structure of lines actually registers something of the inside of one’s consciousness: a sort of cellular structure of the consciousness that precedes every intentional ordering of visual impressions. It is as though someone were sitting there looking out through a net. Two hundred years ago Goethe spoke of the Ur-forms out of which the world’s manifold variety grows. Today we should rather speak of basic codes: traces, differences and contrasts that unavoidably divides into segments whatever appears in the dimensions of time and space. At my first meeting with Sophie Tottie’s work – at the exhibition Welcome to Earth shown at the Arkipelag exhibition in Stockholm in 1998 – I imagined that one of the secrets of her works was their ability to visualize the very conditions that govern all visualization. She lets the viewer experience some of the categories that lend structure to his or her experience of the world. I was particularly struck by the cylindrical work “Colossus”: a treadmill, a vision of eternity, a race track and a comment on the straight-line-speed-society in equal measure. With its successful fusion of various lines of association, “Colossus” gives us a glimpse of the mainline itself into which all the private and political lines feed: nerve-paths as well as pipelines. Like the Isolario, “Colossus” consists of lines that are made up of sequences of images. Many people see them in the context of film-clips. The important point, however, is not just the “content” of the films – the running sequences of small images or letters of the alphabet – but to an even greater degree the form that these chains represent. If one ignores the content they look like a visualization of the fundamental code, the absent structure that controls other structures, the syntax of historical and existential experience. When one has mastered this syntax one can understand the disconcerting mixture of liberation and oppression that are simultaneously signalled by Sophie Tottie’s work. The liberating motion: the infinite extent of the lines, the sense of speed, delight at the purity of the lines, the certainty that there is a goal to this endeavour and that each centimetre forward is, literally, an achievement of progress. Then there is the violence: the compulsive character of the lines, their standardization, the geometrical nightmare, the feeling that life is measured out by totalitarian forces and that history is doomed to follow in the same tracks towards final obliteration. Freedom and violence. Both are visible in the circular works that Sophie Tottie calls “Loxodromes”. Who knows whether it is the hand that binds the band or the band that binds the hand? Eyes of Baghdad. Every element of Sophie Tottie’s exhibition has two forms of appearance and thus appears in two different guises. On the one hand the element is an index that corresponds with something real: an event, a person, an object, a page in a newspaper. On the other hand it is a letter of the alphabet in a global text that includes everything in its narrative. This duality is appropriate to the nature of Isolario in which each place appears uniquely and, at the same time, as part of an absent whole. Sophie Tottie’s Isolario is a mirror image of today’s globalized world. Her exhibition helps us orient our our manner of orienting ourselves. In today’s political discussion, two alternative ways of orienting ourselves are often set against each other, both of them equally unacceptable. We can hardly accept the map of the world that is based on the dominating perspective of empire, regardless of the fact that such a map creates a sense of order and makes the world seem tractable. Nor can we accept the absence of an ordering perspective for this would result in a map on which every person and event meanders about, preoccupied with its own affairs, difficult to understand and impossible to reach agreement with.
But there is a third alternative. The inspiration for “Les Perspecteurs (Bagdad)” one of the works included in Sophie Tottie’s Isolario, is the architectural drawing by Walter Gropius for a sports stadium at the University of Baghdad in the 1950s. The drawing refers to an actual place but it is so abstracted that it also makes visible the structure of numerous other places, events or objects – for example the floor of rooms beneath the dome of the White House, a working-drawing for a control panel for a new weapons system, or a cross-section of Sadam Hussein’s eyes: The image of a concrete place is transformed into a perspective which allows us to observe other places. The leading cosmographers of the Renaissance approached their task in precisely this manner. They depicted every island as an independent unit, thereby showing that each island had a capacity to cast a glance at the entire world. Sophie Tottie presents each phenomenon in such a way that, deep inside it, we become aware of a code with whose help we can interpret other phenomena. Her survey multiplies the interpretations and the perspectives over and over again to the extent that each individual object can form the starting point for a new description of the world. Each such description adds a new thread to the weave of history in a miraculous way that increases its multiplicity and strengthens its unity. And so everything in Sophie Tottie’s Isolario is particular, demarcated, unique; but also bound together and united by the same universal syntax. How, finally, is one to describe this syntax? The slaughter-bench of history and Hegel’s headache give us a clue that it has to do with pain and suffering. For the time being we might call this basic Isolario code a “syntax of pain”. I think of Marcel Proust who, in his À la recherche du temps perdu writes that pain is mediated between people just as rapidly as electricity is conducted in metals. I am also reminded of Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatist guerrilla leader who, it is claimed, measured pain’s orbit of the earth and was able to confirm Proust’s observation. Pain moves through the world faster than light.
Stefan Jonsson is an author, literary scholar and critic on the leading Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. His books include Världens centrum. En essä om globalisering (The Centre of the World. An essay on globalization) (Norstedts 2001) which contains a chapter on Alonso de Santa Cruz and his Isolario general.
An Anomic Archive
A recurrent theme in Sophie Tottie’s works is the relationship between individuality and universal structures -- individual and universal both as aesthetic and political relations. The grid and the network, as architectonic structures aswell as in a more abstract sense, provide a frame for an individual event, which nevertheless becomes detached from it, rebelling against the very frame it requires. Presumably there is no escape from this conflict; there are merely different ways of inhabiting it. Tottie’s drawings indicate one way of exploring this polarity, where the subjective deviation from a set system (repeated horizontal and vertical lines) form atmospheric statments, sudden moments of densification and rarifaction. The geometric matrix is forced to harbor its own deviations, and repeteadly we encounter a subjectivity insisting on being marked in its own erasure. Similar assumptions are also valid for the ribbon motif combined with large spatial installations: the sign for standardisation and repetition itself (the bar code signifying the identity of a commodity by means of typification) transformed into a form subjected to its own internal alterations relating to technique, material, and performance, where the deviations of the work, often coincidental and dependant on the situation, become visible. The formal and the geometric are never, however, sufficient as such; they are not merely formal points of departure, but often refer to political and ideological scenarios, which gradually become abstracted and transformed in the artistic process (which is not restricted to any individual work of art -- themes may be repeated and create resonance and connections). The point of departure for the paintings of the series “Kticic Voyager” is a photograph of the Plaza de Mayo Square in Buenos Aires, the venue of the anti-government protesting of Argentine mothers. In this series, a blown-up detail has been transformed into a form resembling a spacecraft on its way to the future; yet it is still tied to the tragic past that cannot be denied by any technological futurism. The Greek word ktisis (the written form in the name of the work originates from the Byzantine period) means a ”foundation” or ”base,” but also ”property”: something solid has been set into movement, detached from its place to float free in the universe of meanings as a sort of nomadic testimony of a past from which we cannot liberate ourselves. Tottie’s works are multileveled in both content and form. In these works, historical, literary, political, and formal levels coexist, at times in harmony, at times clearly in conflict, as if the aesthetic form were presented as a sublimation -- impossible, and yet unavoidable. The tensions between an art exploring its own media-specific conditions (the relation of abstract painting to the materiality of the support; the late modernist dialectic of illusion and facticity; drawing as a subjective act and as a mechanised process) and the exploration of political and social processes are not relieved, but rather accelerated into a kind of poetics of disjunction. Several of Tottie’s works on video feature another clear and analogous disjunction, as found between the various forms of sound and image, verbal narrative and visual rendering. Dramatic tales of war and violence, nameless horrors and individual tragedies, are juxtaposed with seemingly neutral images, sometimes also infused with other sounds (background noise, traffic), which threaten to overwhelm or engulf the story. Tottie’s question seems to be whether these elements can be brought together in a third space, a more encompassing unity allowing us to grasp and comprehend that which at first sight appears only as unmediated oppositions. What would connect the visible with the narration? Perhaps we should see this as an ”anomic archive,” where the interstitial space between text and image forms the non-place that keeps the archive together. This is exactly how Gilles Deleuze describes the extraordinary quality of Michel Foucault’s historical method: an archive compiled of the visible and that which is narrated (tableaux and architecture, discourses and phrases) which can only be held together by an ”archaeological break” (and he finds similar methods in contemporary cinema, e.g. Marguerite Duras, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg and the Straub couple). We never speak of what we see, we never see what we speak of, yet the visible and that which can be said, light and language, capture one another in strange historical constellations-- the semi-stable strata of knowledge which remain immovable for a long time, only to be swept abruptly into dramatic motion. Sophie Tottie’s anomic archive emphasises this fracture, simultaneously creating a more intensive unity which forever escapes us. Sven Olov Wallenstein
OUT OF THE NORTH W端rtembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart1998
ARKIPELAG; Solohow; WELCOME TO EARTH, Historiska museet, Stockholm 1998 (Text: Carlos Basualdo)
Deposition, Venice Biennale, 1997
Biennale de Paris, Paris, 1998