Since the early 90’s, Charlotte Gyllenhammar developed an artistic language that has become instantly recognizable. Many remember her child characters - silent witnesses, both vulnerable and rebellious in their introversion. Another iconic piece, Die For You from 1993, the renowned tree, hung upside down over a central street in Stockholm. In a single eloquent gesture, Gyllenhammar fused together the site, the history, and the people. Freedom and control, vulnerability and empowerment, personal and political conflicts have been recurring themes in Gyllenhammar’s art, reinforced by its direct and universal appeal.
In her new exhibition Night, Gyllenhammar returns to several of her original motifs. The woman hanging upside down, from previous film- and photographic works, has now taken a step into the three-dimensional world as a new sculptural piece. A character, previously blown apart, or burnt to ashes, or constrained and blindfolded in earlier works, returns this time engulfed in flames, in the meditatively pondering photographic series Night. What do these repetitions and re-uses signify?
The realization of our own mortality against a vast unknowable Being - the distinction that the philosopher Martin Heidegger calls the ”ontological difference” - forces us to relate to our own being, and to become aware of ourselves in the world. To perceive this with our whole being, to emotionally and intellectually place ourselves in the gap between Being and our own finite existence, IS the human condition according to Heidegger. We need to ask questions and try to formulate answers. What is the meaning of being? What is human finitude? Where is the boundary between the physical and mental self, and the world? What is possible? Art, like philosophy, allows us to circulate around the enigmatic core of the truth, and Gyllenhammar has invented her own concepts and ways of approaching this.
The artist employs repetition, and returns to the same motifs as a method for accessing this essence: the hourglass, the pendulum, the hanging tree, the woman and the clock. Perspective is crucial to the way the artist approaches her subject. In Hang and Fall, the woman is hanging with her head toward the camera lens, while her lower body is hidden. Her skirts, from underneath, resemble a flower, an eye, or a star that explodes and then attracts matter again; in the center is the woman’s body with her head like a weight. Through this carefully chosen form, Gyllenhammar reveals something about "being" in this world, about gravity and motion, about energy, and, ultimately, about life and death, that cannot be expressed in words.
Gyllenhammar reveals how violence forces the human body from one state to another, transforming it into something alien. In her new photographic series Night, the body is consumed by flames but remains frozen, in a state between life and death, as if untouched by the flames, like the burning trumpet in Magritte’s The Discovery of Fire. The burning woman seems to portray the eternal dichotomy between the human need to define and delimit the self - and the yearning for annihilation - to lose oneself, to face danger and become absorbed into something else, something greater.
Charlotte Gyllenhammar lives and works in New York. She is currently participating in the installation The Water Event with Yoko Ono, presently on view at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The participating artists are, amongst others, Olafur Eliasson, Robert Gober, Anish Kapoor, Kiki Smith, Jeff Koons and Paul McCarthy. In June 2014, a large public installation by Charlotte Gyllenhammar will be inaugurated in Malmö. The piece is commissioned by Malmö City for Hyllie, which is a new city center in Malmö. In February 2015, a solo exhibition with Gyllenhammar will open at the Gothenburg Museum of Art in conjunction with the Gothenburg International Film Festival. The artist is also working on a new site-specific work in New York City that will be completed in autumn 2015.