Introductory catalog text from Sonja Nilsson's exhibition at Färgfabriken in Stockholm in 2013. Writer: Lukas Sålby
A gleaming knife pierces a back. Red stains spread
across white viscose. How did we end up here?
In Färgfabriken’s large hall, Sonja Nilsson stages
a drama in five acts. Stage sets are constructed in
which the characters appear with blurred contours.
Room after room appears and disappears as we proceed through the narrative.
The stage lights up:
It all began with the dream of love.
Ahaaw, love to love you baby. Ahaaw, love to love
We are in the 1970s, in the lingering era of free love.
The record player is playing Donna Summer, round
and round, 45 rpm. Hips swaying in time. Two girls
are getting ready for adventure.
They talk of their yearnings. Of the importance of
having a strategy.
Hairband or hair down?
The whole outcome depends on it.
In a bar, a Folk Singer is sitting with a few friends get-
ting ready for the same kind of adventure. They talk of
their yearnings. Of how they want to lay everything.
Everywhere. But where do you look when your desires
have reached bursting point?
The landscape of lust lies before them. The hunt for
pleasure continues in a taxi. Where the Folk Singer
checks out the territory. Passing prey after prey. Aims
with his groin.
There they are. Two big, dark eyes. They blink at the
headlights. The Folk Singer changes his costume.
Becomes a gentleman with a fumbling hand.
Here is a man who knows how a lady should be
The girls scrutinise him. What is he worth? Their
The game continues in the Folk Singer’s apartment:
Who is chasing whom? The girls bat their eyelids.
They suck their fingers. The Folk Singer strums his
guitar. Lavishes compliments on them. He takes
But the girls are exhausted and have fallen asleep
on his bed. What an opportunity! He calls his friend.
He wants to share his prey. Proud and expectant.
The night moves towards dawn and the drama
towards the end. The girls are fast asleep, with their
hair spilling across the pillow. The Folk Singer fumbles between their legs. Seeking to complete the
adventure. But his hand finds something where he
had expected to find something else.
Meanwhile, his friend arrives and sees everything
– a key witness. The Folk Singer first tries to defend
This is not what you think, I’m not like that.
And then the attack, against the girl. A knife from
the kitchen drawer. The back is stabbed by a blade.
He screams, she bleeds and the scene blacks out.
In Sonja Nilsson’s work at Färgfabriken there is a
tacit certainty that creates uncertainty on several
levels. Is this the 1970s, is this 2013, or is this a
primordial man in disguise we are looking at? The
same humanity, different settings. The same story,
We tell stories for many different reasons. Perhaps to
understand. Or to confirm. Or, perish the thought, to
dictate the terms for how the world is constructed, in
our own eyes. The narrative in Sonja Nilsson’s work
at Färgfabriken is somehow familiar. In some way
we recognise it all. The words, the gazes, the desire.
We’ve seen it all before. And yet, we haven’t.
Or have we? When the knife is thrust into the back it
is both horrific and elusive.
And at the same time so banal and predictable. A
passion; love and hate.
The work plays with our expectations. Just like
the characters in the drama play with each other’s
expectations. Are they archetypes or humans
trying to relate to archetypes? Are they sticking to
their own inner scripts, are they following the script
for this work, or the world’s script? We can only guess
or presume. The Other is somehow always unpredictable to us. In order to work out what another person
will do, we perhaps have to be that person. And not
even then can we be entirely sure.
Our actions follow certain patterns. These are rarely
that unexpected or random. They are repetitive,
more likely. We create systems for most things, even
for love. And yet, we are startled by things, big and
small, almost daily. The relationship between expectation and surprise is a theme Sonja Nilsson pursues
in several of her works. Is the unexpected something we, in fact, look for, or something that comes
looking for us? That creeps up on us from behind?
Sonja Nilsson often constructs scenarios where we
pursue and are pursued by our own expectations.
And by ourselves – as in the Mirror Labyrinth (2006)
– a claustrophobic corridor where I see myself being
seen, by myself. An eternal oscillation between
expectation and realisation, between the experience
and the image of the experience.
An expectation easily becomes a prejudice; a notion
that governs the way we see the world around us.
We have an image of someone, or of ourselves, that
can be demolished at any time. Who can we blame
then? Who is the villain? And who are we to judge,
whom? In the work at Färgfabriken we witness an
atrocity. But exactly when does it become atrocious?
And when is it okay again? Nothing is smoothed out
in the work, nothing is purified. The liberating fuck is
absent. The adventure ends abruptly when someone
sticks a knife into someone else.
What happened then?
The consequences only arise in our speculations.
We are left to ourselves and our memory of what we
have seen. This is a recurring element in several of
Sonja Nilsson’s works; the viewer comes away with a
kind of souvenir. In The Silence of the Lambs (2008)
we see Sonja herself dancing in another familiar environment, the set for the movie thriller with
the same title. A strong light flashes from the work
and the figure of the artist is literally etched on our
retina. Does that make her image ours?
At Färgfabriken we don’t get a souvenir, no tangible transition object between experience and
memory, or between us and them. The characters
arise and dissolve before us, as we move between
the scenes. They are there and in our field of
vision. But where are we? As far from the people
in the story as humanly imaginable? Or are we
there, very close by? Perhaps we are standing in
the doorway or at the window opening looking in.
Our faces are visible from the other direction.
Who are we in the drama?