Only White Will Remain in the End – Supplemental notes on Ville Andersson

 

In the beginning, there was whiteness

 

In Ville Andersson’s latest works the colour white is clearly taking over. In my mind, I associate these works of his, as well as the whiteness in them, with the artist’s favourite quotation from Hamlet: ‘the rest is silence’. White is a silence that lets all tones sound at once. White resembles the Pythagorean music of the spheres, which is inaudible for us as it is sounding constantly.

 

White, as seen in the world of Ville Andersson, is whiteness with all its grace and all its mercilessness. His kind of white is a whiteness that encompasses both emptiness and plenitude, sorrow and joy. His works are swaddling clothes of innocence, which on closer inspection, however, can turn into shrouds and straitjackets, and again into something else. There was an unabashedly dramatic and constructed quality to Andersson’s earlier works; in his new works, however, we find a whiteness that expresses silence, emptiness and non-existence. A look into his world challenges our assumption of white as being something simply vacant or neutral, whereas, in fact, it is as charged with meaning as is black, yet we tend to associate it with neutrality and the sublime due to our fear. White represents death as well as that blindness that masks the visible realm.

 

Andersson employs staging as one of his artistic methods, meticulously designing his visions and casting his varying dramatic scenes with phenomena and creatures that reveal more about our reality than mundane realism ever could. There is a certain baroque flavour to Andersson’s visual restraint. He is also interested in the way the details relate to the whole. A new expansion to his work, the acrylic glass diodrama, contains cut-outs of his drawings suspended inside. Here, the artist adopts stage-like constructs as part of his method, thereby inviting viewers to enter the scene.

 

For me, white in all its ambivalence is something distinctly Andessonian, both as a material and as subject matter. The sublimated and the un-sublimated seem to merge in whiteness. More and more I have felt the beautiful and the terrible converging in Andersson’s works. It is the terrible element that is hard to bear, as it has the capacity not only to engage us emotionally, but to sting and wound like a dagger.¹ The world of Andersson rings true despite its fictionality because it makes its viewers dream and feel. Andersson uses white to plug the viewer into to his fantasy. White allures and conceals, and this logic is mirrored in those works that show faces emerging from the folds of fabric. Reminiscent of the veil of Saint Veronica, these works offer a fascinating insight into the nature of a fabric that when wrapped around a body, assumes its contours. But a fabric that retains the human shape even after the body has disappeared awakens in us an almost atavistic awe.

 

As we trace the anthropomorphic folds or other combinations of forms from one work to another we begin to see the logic in Andersson’s working process: the figure itself has gone, yet leaving its shape behind. Visions like these suggest the presence of something unheimlich – when a familiar thing becomes unfamiliar, inspiring fear or uneasiness in us. Andersson applies this alienating effect with care and precision. The simultaneous presence of the beautiful and the uncanny may evoke sensations of awe in his audience. Related to this is the artist’s interest in ‘slow rhythm’: “Just now I thought about how very moved I feel by the way slow rhythm is used as a narrative element in some forms of Japanese theatre. A play can go on for several hours, and sitting in the audience, one can slide into that state between wakefulness and light sleep. So it is possible then that viewers’ own dreams may intermingle with the actual events on stage, which in turn feed back into the dreams.”

 

As this quotation splendidly reveals, Andersson is interested in how a reality created by an artist can become entwined with the viewers’ own dreams and fantasies. He repeatedly uses this technique, relying on the powers of the imagination, and prompting us with small hints that trigger our fantasies.

 

The demands of white

 

White is a recurring ingredient in Andersson’s art. He feels drawn to it: “It is a colour that I’ll never get bored of, and I believe that now that I have learned to really see one colour properly, I can see other colours much more keenly too.” White has become a classic reference point for him. While we now know that our idea of antiquity being a world of white actually originates from a misunderstanding by 18th century archaeologists, we still retain a vivid mental image of time-defying ruins in faded marble-white. Andersson’s use of white serves a rather more ghostly purpose than as a hue of ancient ruins, yet the same continuum connecting whiteness with time is present throughout his work.

 

By depicting a marble statue covered in snow, Andersson creates his own version of Kazimir Malevich’s (1879–1935) White on White (1918). The way Andersson uses white demonstrates the visual power of its myriad shades and hues. While Malevich’s black and white squares were intended as statements on the end of art and the beginning of a new era white on white in Andersson’s work signals the vitality and continuing need for art today. For Andersson, the multivocal and contradictory nature of art is key.

 

The French author Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003) wrote as follows: “The work is not the deadened unity of repose. It is the intimacy and the violence of contrary movements which are never reconciled and never appeased – never, at least, as long as the work is a work. The work is the intimate confrontation with itself of an opposition between contraries, neither of which, though they are irreconcilable, has coherence except in the contest that opposes them one to the other. The work is this torn intimacy inasmuch as it is the ‘unfurling’ of that which nevertheless hides and remains closed – a light shining on the dark, a light bright from the clarity of this darkness, which abducts and ravishes the dark in the first light of the unfurling, but also disappears into the absolutely obscure whose essence is to close in upon whatever would reveal it, to attract this disclosure into itself and swallow it up.”³

 

Andersson’s white accentuates the meaning of this restlessness and inner drama in art works, as described by Blanchot. Whiteness is an empty canvas, ready to be filled with the viewers’ own fantasies. Alternatively, however, the setting in Andersson’s work can be filled with tension. Viewers can delve into the tensions together with the artist and reflect on the meanings and motivations behind them. We should, however, take heed of the following remark made by the artist: “In our culture, most information is dished out to us at a frantic fast-forward pace. We have come to accept this extreme speed as the norm. At least for me personally, having time and space is a necessary condition for internalising things or for creating meaning.”

 

On the basis of what Andesson says, we can see that slowness and thoroughness not only are vital for the artist, but they are virtues that benefit us as viewers and other art audiences as well. Whiteness may well serve as an apt metaphor for slowness in the process of viewing. Finnish artist Juhana Blomstedt (1937–2010) has put it this way: “Paintings and colours should have, like us, the right to rise and shine and return to sleep, just as the sun does. This is one of the ways in which black meets white in a painting.” Paintings and other works of art deserve to be given sufficient time; this is also one of Andersson’s guiding principles.

 

Concluding with white

 

White is challenging and demanding, yet its effect on us can also be calming as it creates a field, seemingly empty, where we can let our fantasies be born. Andersson writes: “For me, emptiness does not mean meaninglessness, nor does it negate the existence of something. On the contrary, emptiness is very expressive. I was talking about spaces earlier – emptiness is a space for our imagination to roam freely.” The converse of the visible is the invisible, and the two sides are engaged in an interplay, constantly switching places. Hence, appearance and concealment are fluid properties always interchanging and intercommunicating.

 

In his novel The Folding Star, British author Alan Hollinghurst (b. 1954) describes the complex logic of desire. A story subplot is about the career of a fictional Belgian painter, Edgard Orst, whose late works are paintings in white. A museum dedicated to the artist’s works isolates these paintings, keeping them out of view. Hollinghurst presents the paintings as signifiers for a complex desire as well as for a hidden reality that, if revealed, could bring new insights, although seeing them could also be an anticlimax of sorts. The meaning of the white paintings becomes a meta-level within the narrative on the logic and objects of desire. Whiteness is a mist that confuses our minds and makes the familiar reality suddenly appear strikingly odd.

 

In his book The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing, art historian T.J. Clark (b. 1943) addresses the unhurried experience of appreciating art works, the desire to truly immerse oneself in them. Clark wants to avoid the occupational mishap common to art historians: interpreting art works from a set point of view in order to achieve the result one expects. He sets out to investigate two paintings by Nicolas Poussin, looking at them with an open mind, noting how his understanding of the paintings evolves over the time he spends in dialogue with them. We need to take Clark’s position very seriously, because it is only too often that we look at things imagining we know them, when in fact, we have failed to give any thought to their deeper meaning.

 

The whiteness in Andersson’s works is an invitation to look, to pause and to look again, and to continue this process without immediately assuming a “conclusion” or “meaning”. White is not neutral or pure, it is much more an impenetrable, perpetually shrouding last fog over the face of death and blindness. The artist describes his working process: “Concentration and time are the two vital things I need for my work. Especially certain drawings demand an enormous mental discipline. This is why I include certain concentration exercises in my working process. They help me to channel my ideas onto paper or into images. Since creating the works is a slow process, it feels natural to try and bring slowness as a theme into the works themselves.”

 

For viewing Ville Andersson’s works, taking one’s time is the only strategy needed. His works demand time, they give back time, and they are studies on time. Furthermore, we need slowness as well as openness of the senses to be able to enter the realm of white – white being both an inexhaustible mystery and an everyday attribute. This paradox was our starting point, and it is also where we conclude. To bring silence to its destination. Or to set out, with Nietzsche from the end of The Birth of Tragedy: “Now follow me to the tragedy and sacrifice along with me in the temple of both deities!”

 

Juha-Heikki Tihinen, 2015

 

 

Literature:

 

Blanchot, Maurice 1982 (1955): The Space of Literature. Translated by Ann Smock. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London

 

Blomstedt, Juhana 2007 (1991): Mustasta valkoiseen. In: Juhana Blomstedt. Edited by Timo Valjakka. wsoy, Helsinki.

 

Clark, T.J. 2003: The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

 

Malevich, Kazimir 1988 (1915): From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism.

 

In: Russian Art of the Avant-Garde. Theory and Criticism. Edited and translated by John. E. Bowlt. Thames and Hudson, London.

 

Nietzsche, Friedrich 1999 (1872 /1878 /1886): The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Edited by Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs. Translated by Ronald Speirs. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

 

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1. This, of course, resembles Roland Barthes’s (1915–1980) concept of punctum, although combined with Freud’s (1856 –1939) unheimlich.

 

2. In his 1915 manifest From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism, Malevich writes that contemporary art must renounce the imitation and repetition of conventional forms in favour of new forms and non-representational imagery.

 

3. Blanchot 1982, 226.

 

4. Blomstedt 2007, 70. This quotation refers to the artist’s account of a fellow artist who insists that his paintings be viewed in daylight only.

 

5. Anticlimatic because the late works are significant in their own right: their meaningfulness is built in; they already “contain the final truth”.

 

6. Nietzsche, 1999, 116.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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