As one steps into Anna Berglund’s studio one enters another world. Anna’s world is to be found a few floors up beneath the eaves of a building in central Stockholm. This is a world of muted colours, of glittering glass, of forms that seem both familiar and alien. In the studio it is easy to forget the bustle of life outside as one loses oneself in a design, fascinated by the way in which the light is filtered through coloured glass as one’s gaze fastens on an artistically folded sheet of paper.
On tables and shelves there are objects reminiscent of tureens, bonbonières, candlesticks, funnels, urns, censers and bowls; domestic wares intended to be used. But, on closer inspection, it becomes evident that they are not articles for everyday use. The tureens are blown as single pieces and cannot be used for serving soup, while the bonbonières lack a cavity in which to put candy. The candlesticks will not support candles and there is no room for flowers. All these items satisfy a single function: They are beautiful. Anna has used second-hand dictionaries and cookery books to create medallions that catch the eye. One feels an urge to study them more carefully and closer inspection reveals maps, ornithological descriptions, fungi and plants. Medallions made from paper from discarded books no longer serve as descriptions of paths or of plants. Anna’s hands have transformed worn-out and outdated items into something else. The form – the medallion – is familiar, the material unexpected.
The seemingly familiar items transcend from the prosaic to the magical. When objects are robbed of their practical functions they mystify us, torn from their expected context they are given new meanings. Anna Berglund has previously worked with forms borrowed from the porcelain cupboard of the upper classes and their dinners. In the exhibition Acroterion, she leaves the world of artefacts, of objects created by human hand, and she turns her gaze towards nature. The sense of inflatedness, of magnificence and of decadence remains. The shimmering pine cones converse with the tureens and the urns – perhaps because the original forms that nature has produced have always been a source of inspiration for the human element in Anna Berglund’s creative work?
Acroterion is the term used to denote a sculpturally decorative element. They were common in the architecture of classical antiquity but also feature in Gothic architecture. An acroterion was often placed above the pediment to support a statue or other ornamentation. It did not fill any practical function whatsoever. It’s only purpose was to beautify a building or a piece of furniture.
What is beauty? Immanuel Kant, in his Kritik der Urteilskraft, defines beauty as being judged through an aesthetic experience of taste. This means that judgements of taste are not cognitive but are based on a sense of universal wellbeing and therefore subjective. Kant distinguishes two sorts of beauty: free beauty pulchritudo vaga and dependent beauty pulchritudo adhaerens. Flowers, “musical fantasies”, non-figurative ornaments and birds he classes as free beauties. Unlike those things that have a dependent beauty, they are noted for their lack of function. When we see a horse that we consider beautiful, we deem it to be beautiful because it is perfect in relation to its function: that of running swiftly. Accordingly, the horse’s beauty is not free but is a consequence of the horse’s task.
The sculpturally decorative elements that are known as acroteria are examples of what Kant defines as free beauty They are not beautiful on account of their functionality but are beautiful in themselves – just as Anna Berglund’s objects.
Is there room for beauty in our lives? The unnecessary, frivolous things that fulfil no particular function? “God made us frivolous as consolation in this vale of tears” Voltaire writes in his Dictionnaire philosophique and it is easy to support his view. Humans need frivolity in order to be able to cope with life. We live in the knowledge that our lives are transient. What else do we have to enjoy than food, drink, song, dance, art and other futilities? Frivolity may not cure the distress caused by the fact that our lives are and finite and all too brief, but this helps us to keep life’s tedium at bay. And so the seemingly meaningless objects that are not used, are full of meaning. Beauty is a protest against the demands of life for efficiency and practicality, a crime against the idea of common sense. Accordingly, beauty is also a very serious matter.
Doctor of Theology