Water under the bridge

The expression "water under the bridge" refers to how experiences and conflicts from the past are rendered less salient with the passing of time. We decide to forget matters that once were urgent. Memories of them are like water that has long since flowed past: the memories stream under the bridge and out to a more diffuse horizon where they can no longer be grasped. The constant movement of water, washing away dead leaves and debris, can be cleansing and comforting, even though some drops of it remain with us. Giske Sigmundstad's etchings preserve this somewhat melancholy and fluid atmosphere, and sketch small scenes that can appear fragile, even though they retain the formative strength that memory imbues.
Giske Sigmundstad's small formats and figurative style are characterized by a kind of lyrical, low-key naivism. In her work, one can detect delicate existential strings spun around intimate moods. This world has a cinematic quality. The pictures are perceived as tranquil, but their sound is also cushioned. By pressing an ear to the picture's surface one could possibly discern a faint grating sound, similar to that of an old LP record.

The use of subdued colours imbues her work with nostalgia, with indistinct nuances that add warmth, but also a sense of disquietude. The figures, often distinctively sketched, are perceived as enclosed in their own space, like props in fragmented narratives. As a result of the chemical etching process, whereby the motive is etched into the plate using acid, the surfaces tend to have an organic and paint-like texture. Giske Sigmundstad deliberately uses spatial effects and architecture as frames for depictions of bodies. The interplay between internal, mental spaces and external, delimiting constructions is a recurrent theme.

For an extended period, the journey remained a key feature of Giske Sigmundstad's choice of motives, and departures and transfers have been depicted in the form of suitcases. Recently, Sigmundstad has moved away from this theme, which she now considers to have more or less completed. The narratives reflected in the motives, which have never been very explicit, are currently reduced to a minimum. The symbolism as well as the narrative strands are more detached from the motive. Thus, a more abstract quality emerges, which Sigmundstad uses to exploit the formal opportunities of graphic art. The use of colours attracts more attention, not least because of the artist's training as a painter.

In Butterfly a dark and brooding mist surrounds a girl standing at a distance into the pictured space, which is filled with irregular white grains reminiscent of snow or hailstones. We cannot see her face because she is holding an umbrella with its ribs sketched in distinct, white lines. To her right, and out of proportion to her, we see the contours of a butterfly spreading its wings to reveal the lines of its fragile and evanescent body. The graphically nuanced texture of the underlying pattern creates a separate substructure, a supporting construction that finds its parallel in the protective contour of the umbrella. This elegant purity and insistence on contours can be associated with the sophisticated compositional principles of Japanese woodblock prints, for example those made by Hokusai during the 1830s, which included monoprints made by pressing a leaf onto the paper. The fragile presence of the leaf corresponds to another new print made by Sigmundstad, in which the main structure of a leaf hangs like a small, sensual and discreet cloud over a row of young men, their arms interlocking (Plate 1). The black lines contrast with the nerves of the leaf, rendered in rusty red.

Literary allusions are still present in Giske Sigmundstad's work, although very concretely in the form of books – the physical manifestation of literature. A peaceful and warm living-room interior, Bookshelf 1, with a boy and a man, renders this focus on books apparent. One of the figures is seated in an armchair turned away from us, so that we are looking over his shoulder, catching a voyeuristic glimpse of the book (an art book?) that he is holding. The other figure stands further into the room and is facing us, also holding a large book, and to the right we can see the edge of a bookshelf. Again, we are being led into a room that oscillates between strict order on the one hand and something secretive and incomplete on the other. The act of reading and the act of viewing appear to be compressed into one and the same picture, not least because the viewer is rendered aware of his own position vis-à-vis the two reading figures. In addition, two paintings hang on the yellow wall that encloses the depicted space: one shows a person leading a horse, the other is a portrait in profile. As in all literature, these pictures within the picture represent an internal, mental space that opens towards a larger common space.

This interplay between introversion and extroversion, the tightly focused and the all‑encompassing is a key feature also of Bookshelf II. A woman is standing with her back to the viewer, facing a bookshelf. Is she seeking for particular book? Here too, the interior is warm and friendly, illuminated by a table lamp. A mystical animal in the foreground to the right indicates a potential threat to this safety. It casts a shadow and is an ambiguous appearance as we cannot determine whether it is a toy or a living animal, a decorative object or untamed nature. This undetermined relationship between humans and animals recurs frequently in Sigmundstad's work – as in the etching showing a dog standing next to a girl clad in a bright green poncho (Poncho). They stand next to each other, but show no signs of interacting. The tight and sparing composition serves to keep all possible lines of connection and parallels fundamentally open.

Lamps as sources of light have for a long time been a motive for Giske Sigmundstad, and electric light contributes to defining the illuminated persons. Lamplight, as a visual attractor, is occasionally treated in playful manner – as when a female figure and the foot of a lamp merge into one (Forest wallpaper). The atmospheric importance and modelling ability of light is clearly demonstrated in Roller blind, where an isolated figure stands near a roller blind and light pours in from the window. Just as in Edward Hopper's paintings, which explored the loneliness and isolation of modern life, the light here serves to stop movement and creates a condensed and timeless space, outside memories and narratives.

Nevertheless: water still flows under the bridge.