Rarely has an exhibition mirrored its times as well as Katja Pettersson’s Welcome Back. After this summer’s shocking heat and lack of rain, it feels as if we are nearing the reality of her fictional future museum faster than we could ever have imagined.
The dry clay that crackles under the visitor’s feet and the sound of rain that must be produced by a machine because it can no longer be experienced in reality make Pettersson’s vision of the future extremely concrete.
Climate anxiety. Guilt. The feeling that whatever one does is wrong – or at least too little. Pettersson wants to turn this feeling around. In her art she experiments with understanding both environmental and climate problems, as well as how we experience them.
The project Welcome Back is concerned with examining the Anthropocene, the epoch in which we find ourselves today, a period defined by human behaviour. Pettersson invites us to enter a post-apocalyptic room as though we are future visitors to a museum. Independent objects and clever machines that she has built herself – inspired by the Swedish scientist and inventor Christopher Polhem’s mechanical alphabet – act as historical capsules that encourage us to test our own thoughts and seek answers within ourselves.
“In my work I am concerned with trying to find our way back to our relationship with nature. By using the elements as intermediaries, I hope that instead of experiencing guilt about what we have destroyed, we can enjoy our planet in a way that changes us and what we do,” Pettersson explains.
The four elements of air, fire, water and wind are examined from a different perspective when Pettersson defuses and disassembles what we know. Drawing upon scientific research, she shows us how new realities can be constructed out of used parts. One such work is her Critical CO2, in which she filmed carbon dioxide in a research laboratory, revealing how this unpopular gas, when exposed to extreme pressure, is transformed into a strikingly beautiful liquid. Making this invisible and essential but dangerous gas visible is one way of establishing a relationship with this environmentally ultra-critical molecule.
Born in 1972, Katja Pettersson works as an independent designer both on her own and with others, as an entrepreneur of equitable design, and as a lecturer at Konstfack, Stockholm’s University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. She is a board member of Konstfack and of Steneby College. She is also one of the founders of the international design group Front, which she left in 2009 to start 50/50, a collaborative firm in which designers and manufacturers work together under the same conditions, sharing their skills and the company’s profits.
Katja Pettersson is presently on a five-year working grant from the Swedish Visual Arts Fund. She is currently leading a design commission for the Stockholm City Museum entrance patio and producing an upcoming solo exhibition at Norrtälje Art Hall.
The exhibition Welcome Back was shown for the first time at Gustavsberg Konsthall in the fall of 2017. The work on it was done during a period when Pettersson was a guest artist at Gustavsberg Konsthall’s project studio. The exhibition has also been shown at Vandalorum in Värnamo.