A new exhibition has just opened at the Olivier Cornet Gallery on Great Denmark Street, showcasing the work of Swedish artist, Annika Berglund. Interlocked is a fascinating insight into Berglund’s pandemic experience, with her emotive response clearly implanted within her beautifully crafted wool and paper works. Berglund’s aim was to explore our relationship with Covid-19, in particular the unique tension between constraint and liberation that it provided us. Whilst the pandemic worked to box us into squared-off walls and social bubbles, it also necessitated a new connection with the outside world. This juxtaposition of outside and inside, squares and circles, is what Berglund eloquently articulates in her delicate pieces; the warmth of being within the home radiates from the Irish wool she uses whilst her use of shapes and patterns creates a distinct sense of an open landscape.
On her experience of Covid-19, Berglund writes: “In our minds and in the virtual world, we reached out to connect with a whole new urgency. Creativity and making became more complicated, impossible for some art forms, but bringing forth innovation and change in many instances.” The most obvious response to the pandemic is illustrated in a mobile titled, ‘In Danger? Who?’, which features hanging Covid-19 particles made of wool, recently acquired by the National Museum of Ireland as part of their Covid-19 focused collection. Whilst it stands as a poignant reminder of our last few years, I find Berglund’s more subtle responses to the pandemic far more emotionally resonant, in their articulation of the new patterns and routines we became accustomed to.
Berglund was interested in presenting the sense of a new reality in her work, a new way of moving and operating that came because of the pandemic. Her pieces entitled ‘Everyday patterns’ and ‘Everyday moments’, made from hand-dyed merino, silk and viscose, exemplify this. Her triptych, ‘The circles we walk’, is my personal favourite, a beautiful merino wool piece that stands subdued in its colouring, and strong in its articulation of the tension between freedom and entrapment. On this theme, Berglund writes that “most of us have retreated into the safety of the domestic space except for those whose essential occupations meant they had to risk venturing out into society. The world seemed to shrink to fit inside square walls. It consisted of the circles we walked inside these walls and the bubbles we embraced.”
“Her triptych, ‘The circles we walk’, is my personal favourite, a beautiful merino wool piece that stands subdued in its colouring, and strong in its articulation of the tension between freedom and entrapment.”
Previously using clay, glass and bronze, Berglund has spent the last two years delving into the artistic possibilities of wool. On this, she tells me: “My favourite thing in life is learning new things. I also have a very personal relationship to new materials. Combining these two things means I approach new mediums as a new relationship. You have the lovely feeling of making a friend or falling in love, but you also have to figure out boundaries and what the new person/medium needs to feel appreciated and understood and to blossom.” The care Berglund takes in her approach to new mediums is clearly evident in the two pieces she made using mulberry paper, they are entitled ‘A Time of Bubbles I’ and ‘A Time of Bubbles II’. She used the traditional Korean method of Joomchi to craft these pieces, a technique that involves the aggressive stretching and manipulation of several layers of wet paper until the fibres break down and one single, incredibly strong, sheet is formed. The devotion behind this method makes for a finished work that radiates warmth, with each layer of paper peeping out behind another.
“‘You have the lovely feeling of making a friend or falling in love, but you also have to figure out boundaries and what the new person/medium needs to feel appreciated and understood and to blossom.’”
Berglund seems to have become somewhat of an expert on wool and its uses, as the document attached to the wall of the exhibition entitled, ‘The wool used in this exhibition’, demonstrates. In it, she explains the impressive endurance of the material: “It absorbs and evaporates moisture, making it useful for clothing and insulation. With flame retardancy up to 600 Centigrade, wool has long been the preferred material for firefighters’ uniforms. It doesn’t melt, shrink, or stick to skin when exposed to high temperatures, and has no toxic odours. Wool used in an interior setting is also an excellent sound absorber, reducing noise and clatter.”
With this new interest, Berglund also became interested in the preservation of Irish wool production, and the practice of felt making. She became involved with Feltmakers Ireland and has started a project that aims to connect “local wool providers and artists/artisans… by sharing information about characteristics and felting qualities of these local breeds”. Although much of her work is formed of imported merino wool, Berglund has used wool from Kerry Hill, Dorset, Romney, Hebridean, and Shetland sheep raised in Ireland. The wool is used either in its natural colour or has been hand-dyed by Berglund and Leiko Uchiyama, a Japanese felt artist working and living in Borris, Co. Carlow.
What is next for Berglund? She tells me she might stick to felt for a while longer, and perhaps work on making her art even more three dimensional. “Longer term,” she says, “I would like to combine felt with other materials, such as ceramics, glass and bronze, as I think that would open up all sorts of new possibilities.” I asked Berglund about the impact of the Irish landscape on her work, she replied: “Nature and landscape would influence a lot of my work, but I think this exhibition is much more about an inner landscape.” I think this sentiment works as the manifesto for Interlocked, an exhibition that beautifully rests on the tenuous boundary between the interior and exterior and the paradoxical emotional experience felt by many during the pandemic.
The exhibition is open Tuesdays to Sundays at the gallery from November 16 to December 3 (online booking necessary) or is viewable online in their 3D Virtual Space from Sunday 14th November onwards.