Standing with Éva Mag

By Theodor Ringborg, Artistic Director Bonnier Konsthall

A recurring theme throughout Éva Mag’s work is the question of standing. Quite obviously this is the topic of the performance turned video Stand up, I said stand up! (2014). In it, the artist attempts to get a life-size clay body to stand, which is of course impossible. Its clay legs buckle and fold at each attempt as Mag continues to struggle with the lifeless body-shaped lump. After a while it becomes ludicrous, almost funny, yet also exceedingly painful. For each of Mag’s attempts, the clay body becomes more animated, more “real,” and the failure to stand all the more distressing for a viewer to see.

There is an intriguing variety in the language around standing. While one can “take a stand,” one can also “not stand it.” This is to say that in standing there is something to learn about protest and about bodies and their abilities. One stands up to what one cannot stand. At the same time, one must be able to “stand it”—as in life and the world—to “stand up to it.” Another way to put this is in the form of a question once posed by the Korean- American writer and artist Johanna Hedva, “How do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed?” To “not stand it” would here be not being able to get out of bed. To “stand up to it” would be the brick through the window.

Not being able to “stand it” has a set of causes. We might call it the world. The cause is how it is organized. Standing up to it would then be taking a stand against a system within which we are all meant to align at a point when we feel we don’t align. This is when we can’t, as it were, get out of bed so as to enter and be part of it. It begs the question what Éva Mag is really doing to this body? Is she helping it? Or is she violently forcing it up on its feet? It is the friction between these two positions that runs through Mag’s work, and that has allowed for her to develop an artistic practice that explores collectivity, individuality, labor, and bodies with and against the world.

Éva Mag’s exhibition at Bonniers Konsthall – which is the artist’s first major solo exhibition – presents a continuation of Mag’s inquiries into the workings of the world and how to work in it. In the exhibition we can discern two strands. One strand concerns the potential of the collective, presented in a new film produced out of a performance that took place during Performa 19. In this film we see ten people over the duration of several days creating, toiling with, and partly destroying ten clay bodies.

They work together, somewhat aimlessly, yet the togetherness
of their work gives it a particular direction. The other strand deals with Mag’s father, who over decades has come to amass an indescribable amount of material and scrap on a patch of land outside Stockholm. His solitary work to keep and organize all these things—from plastic chairs, pieces of metal in a variety of sizes, machines, hand-saws, and wood—is the subject of a piece where Mag transports all of these things to Bonniers Konsthall to be further organized and re-organized for the duration of the exhibition. Thus, Bonniers Konsthall becomes a place for work, for sorting these things, alongside the potential of collective thinking and performance.

Fascinated by the question of standing in terms of standing up to the world and not standing it, I ask myself: is there a brick somewhere amongst all the clutter at Bonniers Konsthall?