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Most comprehensive exhibition to date by Berlin-based artist Sofia Hultén opens in Birmingham
Sofia Hulten, Pattern Recognition 2017. Courtesy the artist and VG Bildkunst.

BIRMINGHAM.- Ikon announces the most comprehensive exhibition to date by Berlin-based artist Sofia Hultén (b. 1972 Stockholm): Here’s the Answer, What’s the Question. A judicious selection of sculptures, installations and films, the exhibition conveys an ongoing preoccupation with the nature of the material world and the way we navigate it through time.

With an engaging thoughtfulness, Hultén’s work exemplifies her conviction “to believe that everything is in flux and that change is always possible.” For Hultén, time is a fourth dimension that conflates art objects with their subject matter in a “looping” process. Objects often become material and vice versa, so that readymades become re-made, in a way that not only challenges widely accepted definitions of art but also what we think we know more generally.

Hultén uses objects found on the streets, or discarded and unwanted abject materials - reinforcing the idea of looking twice at what is all-too-often taken for granted. There is humour in a seemingly absurdist arte povera, and political connotation in an assertive resistance to preciousness, but above all, for Hultén, it is a question of communicating “how she sees objects ... as [a] whirling mass of ‘What could I be?’, ‘What have I been?’, ‘What is inherent within me?’. Inside every particle there’s the potential for an incredible amount of energy.”

In this vein, there is atomisation that occurs in much of Hultén’s work, evident in a shuffling and reshuffling of constituent parts of found objects. In 2011 she made Two Hundred to One, in which a one centimetre unit was cut out from each of two hundred found yellow measuring sticks and combined to make one stick measuring over two metres. Other works involve the pulverisation of an object from which a mould has been made and then the resulting granular material is recast to make a replica of what she started with; Artificial Conglomerate (2010) is thus a sculpture of a rock made out of its own rocky material, and Particle Boredom (2017), similarly, are sculptures of pieces of fibreboard – so commonplace - remade from their own fibre.

The emphasis on process in Hultén’s work reminds us that time is a vital factor in the equation of artistic experience. As she shuffles material, literally, in between incarnations of an object, she also alters and rearranges their chronological order. This process lies at the heart of video works such as Nonsequences (2013), in which a succession of events is re-enacted to defy expectations of cause and effect. For example, one sequence sees an apple being polished on jeans, eaten, dropped into dirt then disposed of in a plastic bag. In another, the apple is placed in the bag before being eaten, then dropped in dirt and so on. In the same way Nonsequences IV (2014) involving a laptop and a takeaway, similarly disrupts an assumed linear progression of occurrences and the results are frankly funny, at times reminiscent of Fawlty Towers-style slapstick comedy.

Hultén has made a number of sculptural pieces and installations that likewise pose a challenge to what we think we know through permutation. For example, in Speculative Fiction (2016) the artist presents us with combinations and recombinations of the same objects such as bicycle parts - locks, wheel-like hoops and frame - referring to such a scenario as the simultaneous presentation of different versions “of accidental events […] re-enacted in varying order of causality”. Such works provide us with answers, for which we then have to make up the corresponding questions. The viewer is positioned in the realm of known unknowns, where common sense – with its straightforward assumption of perceived experience as real– no longer holds sway.

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