When we attempt to understand the world in which we live, we seek patterns, especially unambiguous patterns – even if certainty and clarity are something the world around us may be least likely to offer. Nevertheless we continue to sort in terms of good and evil, black and white, success or failure, and we or they.
Karin Ek’s drawings hardly present the unambiguous. We see dual faces gazing in different directions. When one face is looking up the other is looking down. The sharp features of one face converge with the rounded features of another, without giving expression to a singular contradiction. In some ways Karin Ek’s drawings are like optical illusions that can be viewed either as a beautiful woman or an old hag, like a duck lifting its beak or a huddling hare with long ears. In the illusion, images are superimposed upon one another, though only one image is viewed at once; if you see the duck it is difficult to see the hare without renewed effort. Several perspectives coexist alongside one another and join at some points. Extremes converge in a common eye or a middle line. Contradictions do not simply confront one another, but are involved in an interplay that expresses their interdependence, as the source and limit, the call and response, of one another.
For years Karin Ek has worked to depict forms of contradictory expression. By presenting them in the same image, she also expresses their inner relationship. A myriad of conflicting feelings are expressed, for example, in one drawing of an angular face that abruptly rejects, that intentionally looks beyond a subservient, rounder and softer face, hurt and in tears, seeking eye contact. Prompted by the anger and humiliation of having been slighted, the same tearful figure turns its other face away. The haughty, rejecting form also has another face, with cheeks that blush in the shame of its own offensive manner, or at the sight of the other’s grief or anger. A line dividing these two faces forms a third face. This middle line bears witness to a kinship. The wounded and angry shape apparently contains the same self-righteous core and haughty ignorance may well be caused by the same inherent feelings of insecurity and need to be acknowledged.
We have all experienced conflicting feelings. Karin Ek gives form to the ambivalence we often sense, but have such difficulty expressing. She does so by developing the inner relationships of contradiction, by bringing conflicting feelings together in the same face with one eye, by repeating lines and mirroring contours. The multiple perspectives in her drawings become an expression of the way extremes become prerequisites for one another and cannot be entirely understood without admitting their inner mutuality.
Karin Ek calls this a form of dialectic. The concept of dialectics according to Hegel and Marx involves the resolution of the contradiction between a thesis and its antithesis by means of a synthesis. The form of dialectic that Karin Ek applies in her drawings does not promise to resolve any contradictions, but to express and put up with them as well as the tension and ambivalence they generate. To view a drawing by Karin Ek is to regard an image that causes the eye to dart, taking in two or more aspects of the same scene at the same time, and to acknowledge their interdependence. This is a challenge.
With the help of a pair of eyeglasses and 3D technology, our brain is capable of transforming two images captured alongside of one another into a single image with an unambiguous perspective, depth and focus. Karin Ek’s drawings generate the opposite of such an illusion. Perspective in her drawing is obtained over the course of the time, through the depth of the beholders sight. The longer one views the image, the more one sees and the greater the perspectives. More faces appear over time, more expressions of feeling that cause and affect one another.
Karin Ek works with several levels of ambivalence. When she works with text she plays on words and multiple meaning. The expression of multiple perspectives is ubiquitous throughout her work; she is also influenced by Bebop music, which has rules for working with simultaneity. Music makes it easier for us to accept what we find difficult in the visual image and language. We are accustomed to listening to several voices at the same time. They can move in different directions, while generating a whole by resounding simultaneously. It is understandable why other forms of art borrow from polyphony and counterpoint to express a contradictory whole.
We talk a lot about the multi-facetted perspective, but it is more demanding to actually encounter it. It takes time to assimilate. Time and the eye are sometimes integrated in Karin Ek’s drawings as a series of black dots, pupils. Taking the time to look at Karin Ek’s images is worthwhile because the longer we look at them the more clear it becomes that they do not express a simple either-or, but a both to which it is possible to relate.
The challenge of life is not to make the right choice even if new liberalism would like us to believe so. It’s not about choosing an alternative, but about grasping the contradictory nature of the whole.
Beate Schirrmacher, born and raised in Germany, has been living in a commune on Värmdö, outside of Stockholm since 2005. She works as a translator and cultural journalist for German and Swedish media and teaches at the Department of German at Stockholm University. In 2012 she was awarded a doctorate in German literature. Her dissertation Music in the prose of Günter Grass shows how Grass makes use of musical concepts to create his own multi-voiced time, as well as to lend structure to a reciprocal context that seems to consist of contrasts.