Winner of the Baloise Art Prize 2012.
The man in the suit is the epitome of professionalism. His body is hidden from sight by his perfectly fitting jacket, white shirt, and tie. Like a figure in uniform, his individuality also recedes into the background. Among male suit-wearers there can be a very fine dividing line between power and powerlessness: a suit can demonstrate a man’s superior status, but it can also turn him into a gray mouse who disappears in the crowd.
In her videos and photographs Swedish artist Annika Larsson meticulously observes the rituals and gestures of masculinity and power. The men in her images are mostly young, smooth, and deindividualized. Their immaculate, over-perfect looks and clothing recall advertising and simulations. Her protagonists often exude a latent erotic tension or aggression.
The surfaces of these three images are similarly smooth and gleaming. They are in fact stills from Larsson’s video “Bend II” (2001), which portrays an uncanny interplay between a human and a computer. A blond, besuited man sits at his laptop using a mouse, but he has a counterpart—a dark-haired, computer-animated man on the screen. Both move slowly. As if transfixed, the blond man stares at the screen where the animated figure is bending down in an ever more bizarrely distorted manner; at one point the latter’s fingers are bent backward at an anatomically impossible angle that is painful to behold.
The video image switches abruptly to and fro between the men—one in front of, the other on, the screen. By definition they appear to be connected and there is more than a passing similarity in their outward appearance. The situation is puzzling: is this a work or a game? Is the blond man controlling the animated figure in the computer, or is it the digital figure that is mysteriously in control of the blond man? Is the computer-generated figure an alter ego of the man at the laptop? Neither seems able to act of his own free will; it appears they are both being manipulated by an invisible, external force or order.
Larsson’s evocative photographs and videos kindle a multitude of associations. They can be read as reflections on alienation and stereotypical masculinity, on the strictures of an anonymous business world, or on the subtle influences exerted by the mass media and digital images—or on the convergence of all three.