Inside the empty Konsthall C I search for any visible signs of artwork by Swedish artist Anna Livia Löwendahl Atomic. However, the only items I can find are twenty-one copies of the same paper press release stuck to the wall. Thoughts that this might be a last minute announcement of the exhibitions closure are quickly dismissed as each sheet of A4 is revealed to be a draft exhibition press release for Great Expectations, written by the artist. Each draft contains cut and pasted computer edits, personal annotations and frantic scribbles which boldly set a confessional tone and ruthlessly uncover the artist’s doubts concerning her artistic ability and motives for creating. Lowendahl Atomic is playing with our ‘expectations’ for this show, ‘great’ or otherwise, and she is not letting anyone, including herself, down gently.
In the first sheet a barely visible “What’s the point?” is pencilled next to the exhibition title. Later on, page 16 bears a roughly written note next to the date of the artists’ last solo show in Sweden “5 YEARS! WHAT HAPPENED? I wanted to be a great artist, instead I’m just a silly girl in love”. These annotated drafts knowingly lay bare the key decisions and thought processes that lead to the final installation. Rather than undermine the final display, each press release cleverly manifests stages 1 to 21 of Great Expectations and physically embodies the exhibitions’ own becoming.
Despite the sparse display there are two distinct artworks to consider here: the 21 edited press releases and a second work that is excluded from the installation. A handwritten scrawl in the 5th edit pinpoints the artists’ decision to abandon the original artwork intended for Great Expectations and replace it instead with the laboured press release: “I’m seeing what I’ve been (trying to) express all along in front of me, these sheets of paper together. The process of trying to writing my press release, my doodles, my thoughts, my fears form a meaning that makes the artwork, the intended artwork, redundant- U turn-becomes the artwork is-(becomes)-Great Expectations in a nutshell”. Whether the original artwork for the exhibition is tucked away in the corner of a studio or never made in the first place, we do not know and we do not need to know.
The concept of this show lies not with the allegedly ‘missing’ second work but within the process of its elimination from the exhibition. Lowendahl Atomic performs the second artwork through the articulation of its exclusion. The erosion of this art object through Great Expectations’ performance of itself makes the show seductively clear and precise. It unravels the story of its’ own display with an honesty that compels one to investigate its inner workings.
What is uncovered beneath the artists’ personal doubts and anxieties is so self-referentially complete that we are caught in a catch-22. Lowendahl Atomics’ thought process is matched in a neat manifestation of her working methods for the exhibition, which in turn embody universal concepts of artistic (over)production, the art world, absence and self-doubt in a satisfying circular motion that is hard to escape. In a further twist Lowendahl Atomics’ display of and submission to her creative processes initiates a chain reaction in Great Expectations that is rigorous enough to do away with the original artwork itself. Once started, the artist is obliged to follow this process, so effective by design that it inevitably becomes the perfect killing machine that eats away the possibility of the original artwork: A potentially subversive notion, both for artists and the art world.
Scratched out and redrawn at numerous intervals, the image that finally makes the grade on the 21st version of the press release is a sketch of a female ballet dancer, drawn by the artist when she was 7 years old. The inclusion of this childlike drawing reads as a cruel pun on Lowendahl Atomics’ expectations for herself as an artist and her career.
Although Lowendahl Atomics’ lightness of touch is indebted to the Conceptual art movement, Great Expectations does not reject the idea of a traditionally crafted art object instead it cuts through the creative process with a mercilessness that strips content down to the bare bones of an idea. With this, Lowendahl Atomics’ work communicates without distraction and displayed on the wall is testament to the winners and losers of those crucial decisions.