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Deep Time: Ingeborg Annie Lindahl

Time and its passage are central to Ingeborg Annie Lindahl’s expansive, monochromatic drawings. Inspired by the rugged landscape of Norway with its jutting, black stone edifices and inky, dark sea, they occupy entire walls and sometimes spill outwards across the gallery floor.

Chalk is Lindahl’s primary medium. Layer upon layer of delicate white line-work encrusts the surface of the works that are either realised on large, unframed sheets of paper or canvas, drawn directly onto the wall, or onto discarded school chalkboards found by the artist. Some of Lindahl’s drawings are undertaken as live performances in which she produces the work in a nominated space (inside or outdoors) over a period of up to seven days. At the conclusion of this arduous, time-consuming process, the finished drawing is then wiped away, rendering it an ephemeral moment of grandeur and exquisite beauty in the face of obsolescence.

The tension inherent in Lindahl’s works – which are palpably present then entirely absent; laboriously marked up and casually wiped away – reflects her interest in the land and our human impact upon it. ‘How do we preserve the Earth and keep it safe’ she asks, ‘when we destroy it’ through all manner of activity, from mining to agriculture to rapidly rising levels of pollution and waste? Drawing is a political gesture in this context: a statement of history and place, as well as its arbitrary destruction.

Destruction is as important to Lindahl’s working process as creation, viewed within this context. ‘I feel that art can influence society, individual by individual’, she says. ‘That is why it’s important to destroy the chalk drawings, as they are not just a pretty drawing but a finite thing. Human beings see nature as a paradox to explore and exploit; they try to keep it, but destroy it everywhere.’ Reactions to the destruction of her work are revealing; sometimes tears are shed, and there is a sense of incomprehension given the enormous labour involved in their creation.

Lindahl’s works are frequently large in scale, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Of the encounter between audience and object, she says, ‘I want the viewer to experience my art with their body, to make it almost impossible to walk by.’ She adds, ‘It’s important to understand that in the north of Norway, you have breathtaking nature. There are few places left with a natural wilderness, but people don’t take care of it. They see it as an unlimited resource to exploit – by building mines, overfishing all the fish... If we don’t have a relationship to nature, we won’t have a reason to keep it, so I make my works at a certain scale to feel especially important for them in this moment.’

Time is at the core of Lindahl’s vast works, from the passage of time it takes to make or perform the drawings, through to their imagery, which speaks of ancient planetary time on an unimaginable scale. This is the kind of time that produces entire mountain ranges; that buckles and shapes hard stone; that conceals and reveals oceans and plateaus, rivers and valleys. Evolution and destruction are dual states in the drawings, which never depict the human presence directly but allude to it through the latter.

Despite their grandeur, there is a personal dimension to Lindahl’s majestic works with their focus on the landscape through time. Memory is indelibly imprinted on these mountains and plateaus, and on the craters and ice floes that puncture them. Ancient craters crush and pierce the earth, flung from galaxies far away; but the asteroids of their making contain seeds of life within.

Time is explored on an intimate human scale in Lindahl’s art through the brief passage of birth, life and death that unites us all. Reflecting on her work, she comments: ‘We turn away from what is natural, from dying; we hold onto life. Technology is taking over and the natural is failing. When we think about the changes we are making in the landscape, to our natural resources, through pollution, I think it’s interesting to think about how we relate to life and death.’

Expanding her chalk drawings, Lindahl has incorporated three-dimensional elements in her works since 2013. They include a human skull enclosed in a glass case in The Game of Adaptability, a work that explores the ethics of representation around death and the body; and small sculpture in marble of 2017, carved with the outline of a tiny human foetus that floats upon the ocean or amniotic sea. Sound represents a further, experiential dimension of the work, realised for her 2016 collaborative project, Shades of Change with Trond Lussius, a 32-meter chalk drawing across four walls with 12-channel surround sound; and performance traces are evident in some works through footprints in chalk. She observes, ‘It’s interesting how a simple medium like chalk is also used as plaster, in schools, [linked to] marble, pigments, bones in the body. It has a lot of symbolic meaning whichever way you use it.’

With its combination of durability and fragility, chalk is a perfect medium through which to express the passage of time. A form of porous limestone made from the mineral calcite, it originated from the skeletons of microscopic plankton on the ocean floor and compressed over millennia into hardened chalk rock. Bone and marble are also made from calcium, the latter forged under intense pressure and heat into a hardened state. In The Game of Adaptability bone is substituted for chalk and almost ‘becomes’ chalk as a marker of geological and human time frames. A former teaching aid, borrowed from the university in Bergen, the skull is also a conundrum: what are the ethics around its display, and how to recognise the life it once was?

Lindahl’s small marble work takes on particularly intimate dimension in its representation of gestational life, and her own experience of the death of a child in 2018. Carved over a three-and-a-half month period in hospital and visible only in certain light, it reflects the transitory nature of all life, and the essential human conditions of love and loss.

Lindahl’s relationship to chalk is deeply personal, as well as artistic. As someone with an autoimmune bone disease, she describes the human body as being in the early stages of ‘becoming mineral’. As a metaphor for time and life, chalk is an

enduring material. It is tactile, strong yet fragile, like marble and bone. Recently she introduced another, more immaterial substance – dry ice – within her practice. A powdery, ephemeral material like chalk, it expands the possibilities of the drawing performances as a multi sensory experience. ‘It’s impossible not to feel it through the body’, she comments: ‘you sense the art through your body in this instance.’

When something is only partially visible, you need to step closer, look harder and longer. Lindahl’s works invite us to slow down and observe things more carefully: details are revealed only through sustained looking and consideration. Chalk and chalkboards themselves imply study and learning about the world around us, from the perspective of a child. In Beyond the Horizon, a vertical, suspended canvas from 2016, Lindahl’s subject matter shifts to the direct encounter of natural and manmade worlds. Tree branches and electricity towers converge in the work as a series of towering, ghostly white structures against a characteristic black backdrop. One can imagine the crackling of energy that is exchanged between them, and the uneasy tension generated.

In this age of unprecedented human growth and environmental destruction, we face a critical choice. Through her art, Lindahl asks us to champion a new, focussed vision for the planet and the life that depends on it.

Rachel Kent
Rachel Kent is the Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Australia

Author note: all quotes by the artist are drawn from interviews with the author between 2017 and 2019

Rachel Kent

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