Klingberg’s work is made of things that surround us and take up our time and attention. Its basic raw materials are the logos from low-price store chains and mass-produced goods – those mysterious four-letter words that conjure up notions of our needs being met at budget prices: Aldi, IKEA, Spar, Lidl.
Her pieces ask whether it is possible to turn even the most ordinary rituals into something spiritual. We may all be part of consumerist cultures, but we also live with an ever-increasing awareness of its failure to deliver more than a short-term hit of pleasure, if at all. Ever present is the interface of mass-produced lifestyle with spirituality – the bigger picture, the cosmic or the mythological: that which sustains us philosophically, intellectually and emotionally. Those juxtapositions, what might, in musical terms, be called ‘sampling’, are at the heart of her aesthetic and inform all of her pieces. For example, her new work, Supernova, a giant sculpture covered in rugs, flooring and cupboards from IKEA, is in the shape of a star: mass-produced, globalised lifestyle meeting powerful cosmic symbol and mythology.
A defining characteristic of 20th-century Swedish architecture and design is a lack of ornament, sacrificed in a quest for consistency and simplicity, its use in Sweden even acquiring a kind of cultural stigma. Klingberg counters that trend by using ornament everywhere in her work.
‘In some cultures – in India, for instance – ancient symbols and images still play a vital role in the doings of everyday,’ she explains. ‘I experience a lack of essential symbols in my own culture. It is not a romantic urge for pattern or ornament – but I am trying to replace something.’ That lack is something she looks for in other cultures, particularly in the East. Repeat Patterns (2003/04), her seminal work, transforms the modest and mundane logotypes of Sparlivs and Lidl into seductively beautiful oriental patterns that cover 700m2, on surfaces that include tapestry and linoleum flooring. An earlier work, Spar Loop, a video animation interweaving colourful logotypes to form symmetrical patterns resembling flower buds, snowflakes and rose window patterns, is an equally profound illustration of what arises from the meeting of cultures, traditions, geographies, images. The effect is hypnotic.
In his novel White Noise, American author Don DeLillo describes the supermarket as ‘very rich in magic and dread; it’s a kind of church’, and the distorted religious underside of consumerism has been well documented. By attempting to reclaim, in her own words, ‘the ordinary rituals we spend much of our lives doing’, Klingberg reveals herself as an exponent of redemption. And the art world might just have its own high priest.
Gunilla Klingberg’s solo exhibition is showing at the Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm until 12 April