When asked to compress the essential, underlying meaning of Nicola’s work into a shorter text, two contradictory approaches to life (perhaps attitudes is a better term) explored by the artist in her creative process come to mind. The first is the revolutionary and aggressive approach, through which the spectator is challenged by to either accept or reject morally ambivalent urges, rejecting the dogmas of society: ‘Scream or shut up’ or ‘Sniff or don’t sniff’. Blunt statements that illustrate the individualþs dilemma when making choices that involve great risk – taking sides in a deeply conformist society marked by an overall fear of rejection; you either do or don’t; the choices you make determine who you are: a bourgeois conformist, or a freethinker who challenges middle-class values. Another statement, possibly stronger because of its semi-sexual, sadomasochistic, self-revealing character, though far less political, alludes to the need to expose our truest nature and to subject ourselves to the mercy of a possible antagonist: ‘Cut me in pieces’. This was written on a major painting, part of Nicola’s 1994-exhibiton “Femmes Fatale”, crowning the silhouette of a human head–a symbol that constantly reappears in Nicola’s imagery–together with sexy underwear, glued to the surface by thick layers of paint. If the words were handwritten, the invitation could be read as personal, characterized by trust and confidentiality. Instead, Nicola uses letter-templates, becoming anonymous, distancing herself from the addressee: the message could be written by a blackmailer. Again, the relationship with the artist, or what she represents, involves the risk of danger. The painting splatters red colours over the surface, like spurts of blood from a severed vein. The underwear spreads across the silhouette of the head, as if violently torn from the body. We become witnesses to a rape, a rape we may have committed ourselves. To complete our act of contempt, we are invited to dismember our victim’s body. Whether or not we choose to accept the invitation, we are made accomplices, led by the artist into a world of uproar, personal crises, trauma, self-destruction–a brutal confrontation that threatens our stability, our safety, by making us feel prudent, dry and conventional. Here lies the challenge, the core of Nicola’s work, which forces us to contemplate our often involuntary battle against rebellious urges and insubordination. An homage to chaos and irresponsibility? Certainly not. It’s a reversed intellectuality, through which political, philosophical and existential contemplation are transformed into short, simplistic, sentences, loaded with provocative implications; inbuilt are the essences of political and philosophical thoughts that have determined the course of Nicola’s work.
The second approach, contradicting the attempt to transform revolutionary ideas into embodiments of personal yearnings, experiences and contemplations, related to a specific topic, dealt with by a radical thinker, turning it in to punk, is the way she deals with metaphysical, religious and existential matters, removed from lifestyle-issues and the thought-process – the verbalisation of thought – that is the result of urban life.
An early, sublime example of this are the ‘Penetrables’, multi-bodied coats with room for up to ten people, a collective skin whose wearers become one, a whole, materializing Nicola’s idea of man as a being with the power and inborn need to transcend his or her mental boundaries by depersonalizing extremities, turning the body into a faceless, anatomically undefined shell or vessel, in which individuals can’t be judged or rejected, but are jointly exposed to each other as vulnerable physical entities, originating from a common source: nature.
Even though the penetrables could be seen as symbols of political radicalism and the socialist idea of equality and unification, viewing of them as such would render them commonplace and deprive them their complexity and beauty – the message they carry, as embodiments of the idea of total freedom, a unisexual existence in which sexuality can’t labeled. Mother and son, father and daughter, are liberated from their restrictive roles as vessels of an unnatural, invented morality that opposes nature.
Taking these important aspects of Nicola’s work into consideration, the different approaches through which she deals with the issue of humanness, with our physical and civilized, urbanized, mental being, we are faced with an intricate rendering of man, recreated in Nicola’s work, in which our duality, the contradicting sides of our being, are presented by shattering the walls that protect our feeble perception of the self, giving us the option to make society’s authoritarian structure subject to our will, so that it may never be confused with who and what we are.
“Insubordination and Transcendence” by Johan Falkman
Stockholm, Sweden April 2006