Finding one's bearings - on Jonas Dahlberg's intermediary spaces
by Mats Stjernstedt
When Jonas Dahlberg moved to a new apartment in 1995 he soon discovered that from his windows he had an unimpeded view into his neighbour's house on the other side of the street. The wall in there was decorated with quite an awesome arsenal of weaponry: of hunting bows, crossbows and all sorts of guns. Although he was aware of being irrational, this sudden threatening image in his existence prompted the artist, in the best Hitchcock style, to take photographs with a zoom lens of what could turn out to be a cold-blooded murderer's hide-out. On the basis of the developed pictures he later did drawings and built scale models of the parts of the neighbour's apartment that he couldn't see - and thus couldn't check. Parallel with this he constructed a drawing where all the angles of view between the two dwellings were exposed and, in accordance with this drawing, he furnished his own apartment only as far as the zones that the other man in turn could not see. Suddenly his apartment gave the impression of being empty in the face of the surrounding world.
There are many ways and strategies for keeping one's imaginings or deepest fears in check. Building a model is a classic strategy for visualizing a situation, creating an overview so one can later arrive at a better understanding of an issue. The model is typified by a peculiar physical and psychological elasticity, since it is able both to be and to represent, and thus, to function as an intermediary between space, object and image. It enables further shifts into unknown worlds where scales can be freely displaced. As a further proof of this, in 1999 Jonas Dahlberg placed a monitor outside a toilet at the Hannover Kunstverein: the monitor made people imagine that the toilet space was being monitored by a camera, that anyone who intended to pay it a visit had to resign himself to answering the call of nature in a very public convenience. It was not until the visitor made up his mind, despite this, to make use of it and stepped in, that he realized what was really being monitored in there: a minutely detailed model of a toilet, placed in the same space, turning this everyday environment into a small, exquisite Chinese box.
Yet Jonas Dahlberg does not build his models primarily as a kind of manifestation of paranoia. What one rather sees repeated in work after work is his special interest in using models in combination with film and monitoring techniques to manifest spatiality and the varying psychological states inhabiting these spaces. The artist spent two years drawing, building and filming the architectural models in the video installation Untitled (Vertical Sliding/Horizontal Sliding), 1999-2001. At the moment of filming Jonas Dahlberg used a panoptic structure with a 360° rotating camera placed at the centre of two circular models. The carefully constructed models were furthermore asymmetrically built in accordance with camera perspective calculations, so that from the eye of the camera they appeared to be in correct linear perspective. In this work the observer's ambivalent relationship to reality is based partly on the projected image's 1:1 relationship to the exhibition space, partly on the films steady, slow camera movements, successively in a vertical and a horizontal direction.
After finding his or her bearings in the picture plane, the viewer discovers that the film constantly returns to a starting point; that the corridor systems and interiors that pass in fact make up part of a closed system, as if strung out on a necklace of observations. The projection emphasizes the gaze of the observer rather than the knowledge of being observed; in other words the panoptic structure is exploited although the work never really reflects on the panoptic vision as such. Two spaces have been subjected to the same kind of observation here: the turn-of-the-century patrician apartments with their en suite spatial plane, rhythmically opening and closing before the wanderer; and the lurching [hotel]corridor scenography of the horror film. Two kinds of architecture with their latent claustrophobic qualities effectively exposed by the artist's handing: now constructed solely as if for the possibility of being pursued through them.
The fact that nothing happens in Jonas Dahlberg's two films, that there is no sequence of events to witness in any conventional sense, in reality arouses the contradictory feeling that some tremendous event is looming, if only one stays long enough to find out. Space is added to space, one experience to another, but it is a sensory apparatus running on automatic, a consciousness that turns into hypnosis. Instead, the emptiness; instead, a never-ending camera scanning downwards, scanning sideways. The artist plays effectively on the specific feeling of insight that arises in the observing subject, the feeling that Sigmund Freud would have called das Unheimliche: the observer's sense of an awful promise, only half-spoken - but a promise that will never be kept.