Callicoon Fine Arts is please to present DRIFT, an exhibition by Caroline Bergvall, her first in the United States. The installation uses a range of media to trace up historical and literary maritime narratives, linking them to today’s perilous sea migrations of people between nations. In these artworks, language signals its traces across history and geography, moving between arrival and disappearance, and the states of loss and confusion in between.
The exhibition gives material and spatial form to a project that also exists as a performance piece (developed with a percussionist and a visual artist) and as an artist book published last year by Nightboat Books. The hopes and failures of mapping, contact and communicating are evoked in the installation with a wall mural of the Constellation of the Zodiac. The zodiac in this case is a guiding celestial chart and also the outline of the type of small rubber boat used by both refugees and rescue teams. A set of four large text-based prints, FOGS, are strung taunt between the ceiling and floor with nautical rope. Short text sequences are faintly visible against gray backgrounds close in hue. The use of translucent pigments increase the reader-traveller’s perceptual fog. Tied to another rope is a headphone audio piece, a recitation by Bergvall recorded using a combination of microphones including an old Reslo ribbon microphone. The words and consonants drown in its buzz. The title, Hafville, is an Old Norse word meaning “lost at sea”. In a second audio piece Bergvall recites the survivors’ narrative from the “Left-to-Die” boat case of April 2011.
In a series of framed drawings, Bergvall reinscribes a lost letter, the runic “thorn” letter, a symbol that came to light in an examination of her own Nordic roots. Her marks, iterative and intuitive, collapse the temporal and the understood, destabilizing our certainty regarding language and directionality. Concretions of language adrift through history and border politics find yet a different form in a video, a generative loop of electronic texts, which have been recomposed from the performance’s visual material and shift in wave-like forms. Its contents emerge from the Anglo-Saxon quest poem The Seafarer as well as a report on the plight of migrants adrift on a raft in the Mediterranean.
Bergvall’s research into the origins of the English language flow into her own exploration of material, linguistic, and acoustic worlds, creating a project both intimate and political.
Caroline Bergvall would like to thank her collaborators Thomas Köppel, Tom Martin and Matthew Rich/Jealous Print Studio, London.
Caroline Bergvall is an artist and writer of French-Norwegian origins based in London and Geneva. Her projects alternate between books, audio pieces, collaborative performances and installations. Her publications include Drift, Meddle English: New and Selected Texts, and the catalogue Middling English (2010) as well as a DVD of earlier installations Ghost Pieces: five language-based installations (2010). Recent group shows/festivals include: MCA Denver, The Power Plant (Toronto), Fundació Antoni Tàpies (Barcelona), Théâtre du Grütli (Geneva), The Serpentine Galleries (London), The Museum of Modern Art (NY), DIA Arts Foundation (NY), and The Tate Modern (London). She recently completed a performance version of Drift, which toured the UK in the Autumn of 2014. Bergvall is currently Writer-in-Residence, Whitechapel Gallery, London.