"You Go, I Come"
Catalogue essay by Lia Gangitano
Bohusläns Museum - 2002

But then, even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is a creation of the thoughts of other people. […] In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice as if it were no more than a transparent envelope, that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is those notions which we recognize and to which we listen.

Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 1, Swann’s Way

You Go, I Come, an installation of paintings by Martin Gustavsson, comprises a transitional space between abstraction and figuration, signifying absence. This absence is rendered materially, spatially, and psychologically, and borrows from the cinematic frame to heighten the narrative significance of one’s chosen departure.

The central work is a series of portraits painted on transparent paper, with each frame delineated by a blank space—a durational gap composed by the wall behind. The issues of installation that were explored in Gustavsson’s previous arrangements of paintings on canvas and objects such as mirrors are streamlined, as this work spans a corridor space—a threshold between past reflections and a future moment, soon to come.

Works installed in adjacent rooms highlight the increasing absence of the central figure. A painting of an empty bed, Couple, marks the beginning of Gustavsson’s interest in the explicit disappearance, or aftermath, of a couple’s sexual presence, together. The mattress borders on abstraction, and demands a voyeuristic desire to see what is no longer visible. Wishful Thinking, in the opposite room, provides a sensual counterpart, feet touching as if not alone.

An intimate scrutiny is evident in Gustavsson’s earlier paintings of faces, feet, hands, flowers, beds—details impressed on almost imperceptible surfaces and often made more enigmatic by the presence of their painted double. But in its strangeness, the mirror image also reveals familiarity; the uncanny sense of looking closely inward toward an order that does not refer to external relation. These were not really portraits, oriented outward, but proposals that insinuate an unstable interiority. The format of the diptych that preoccupied Gustavsson for some time has given way to a desire to move outside of the closed, self-referential format of the twin canvasses, and to project a separation from one’s double in an elongated process of taking away, slowly parting.

The most recent paintings arrive from an immediate process of painting on resistance-free paper, also a process of taking away, rather than adding. The strip format expands the narrative gesture of a figure, in this case, a partially obscured head turning, as if cruising in the park, or perhaps shaking his head, saying “no,” or looking back one last time. In this corridor space, the viewer must mimic the gesture represented in the painting in order to view both sides of the corridor, a passage between opposing spaces.

The turning of the head is a gesture profoundly rendered in Gerhard Richter’s painting from a photograph, Betty. In his portrayal of this gesture, Gustavsson—whose practice spans abstraction and realism—makes similar demands of painting’s limits. Rather than a poised moment in time, the painting aspires to a movement that incorporates memory, time, and distance—a fragile longing for that which is fleeting.

As I said before, as far as I can remember, which isn’t anywhere, but time as such doesn’t exist anymore. Or is it distance?
Kathy Acker, Don Quixote

Lia Gangitano