Ida Persson – Docile Bodies
Cooling Walls II
by Florian Zeyfang
When we speak about Ida Persson’s paintings, we speak of power. When we look at these works, we are confronted with ways of controlling our gaze that are at the same time subtle and obvious. Authority is enacted upon us. But we come here without being forced; we give ourselves over deliberately to the calm but prominent language of the painting. We want to sink in. But the sleek surface of the tiles that we see rejects our wish, and we glide down. But then – doesn’t all power rely on the permanent relation between wanting and being rejected? We want to be embraced by the power that we see represented, and this desire and its denial creates the oscillating liaison between the image and us.
When presented, these paintings are often hung decisively higher than usual, surrounding us on this level, underlining the impression of a seductive authority. Then we look up, and the tiles make walls, the walls make buildings, and thus we are placed in an architecture that we cannot really identify, or locate. An architecture that has us in a city that we do not know where it is. And we are not let in. We wander the streets alongside cold but yet attractive surfaces, brightly colored in shining variations. Elevated elements, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller and lined up in a row, throw shadows. Inside the shadow areas, we imagine it might be even colder.
Or – wait! – maybe we are fooled and in fact we are inside, and the walls surround us like a prison cell. We might be reminded of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon penitentiary. In these round-shaped constructions, the prisoners are handed over to permanent self-observation, knowing that the guard is always able to see them, but never knowing when s/he is actually watching. The hundred eyes of Panoptes, or Argos, are hidden yet ubiquitous, and they ask for discipline – the discipline of prisons, schools, hospitals and military barracks, according to Michel Foucault. This discipline creates a whole new form of individuality, which enables mankind to perform within the new forms of economic, political, and military organizations emerging in the age of industrialization, and continuing until today.
In earlier works by Ida Persson, those disciplining Argos eyes were still visible. They look at us as glowing red dots, implemented into instruments with unknown functions. The paintings of this series are called ”Apparat”, consecutively numbered. These devices resemble retro-futuristic machines, maybe hand-held remotes, or early computers, and triggered an impression of control mechanisms, the kind of George Orwell’s 1984 evokes. Such mechanisms would appear in the momentum of transition from the society of sovereignty towards the society of discipline, we may think.
In continuing the series, the apparatuses grew more contemporary, looked more like state-of-the-art digital gadgets of today: Enters the society of control. These devices, our Pads, Books, and telephones, have now become actors within the biggest control system one could imagine, based on the collection of information that we hand in for free. With these instruments, we now permanently control ourselves. We have decided to make an all-time present Panopticon our home. And since that is so, does it make a difference if we are inside or outside the prison wall? Not really, since we give ourselves voluntarily over to power. And we want to. We want to sink in.
Consequently, Ida Persson’s paintings have evolved into even more abstract representations, and the titles are now made up of numbers: of code. These cold, opaque surfaces shape the space of our Panopticon; they could be taken for the cooling walls of server farms, were our information is collected and processed.
In the most recent incarnation, represented in the exhibition Docile Bodies, the walls contain eyes again, and switches, and in addition, they develop something like arms, or moving tile-tentacles, to embrace us, to catch us, to incorporate us even more. These walls are calling us: “Come and joins us! Come home, where everything is tidy and clean and shiny! Relax, sink in!”
But we speak about paintings, one of the oldest cultural techniques of representation, of visual language, of delivering deciphered messages, before there was code as we know it today. We speak about Ida Persson’s paintings that surround us, and the paintings speak about power. The fact that we are in the center of the installation – basically in the guard’s position in the Panopticon – might lead us to the erroneous assumption that we are the ones who enact control, over the paintings, over the space, over our lives. Tranquilized by this assumption, we leave the exhibition, trying to regain our self-assurance. But, while walking out, there is that slight shiver that leaves with us…