In December 2000, an exhibition titled Sleeping/Waking was held at the William Traver Gallery in Seattle, USA. Despite the setback, it is probably Vallien's most powerful exhibition.

- It was an attempt at an exhibition unrelated to my earlier work, such as boats and heads. The central theme was "sleeping - waking". Sarcophagi and blocks of ice. The ice blocks were about the desire for immortality and were inspired by Mr. Moro, the Japanese gentleman who allowed himself to be frozen in a block of ice.

There was this company named Cryogenic, whose business concept was the freezing of human organs and corpses, in the hope that Science would one day be able to restore them to life. It cost 1,000 dollars for a whole-body refrigeration (in an ice-block); with a rebate for families. The company went bankrupt.

The visitor to the exhibition steps into a blue room, where some dozen blocks rest on black wooden bases. One can, to a certain extent, understand the cool reaction of the audience. It is a frightening environment, and the blocks can be mistaken for coffins. The American art critic, Matthew Kangas, describes the exhibition in his book "Sleeping/Waking". In Kanga's opinion the contrasts that Vallien works with emphasise the theme of the exhibition very well and the ambiguity enhances the visitors' interest.

One of the chosen subjects is 'the man'. In Mr. Moro1, Provenance and Singular they are naked and vulnerable. To portray the confusions of wounded masculinity is a topical theme (sign of the times). 'Mr. Moro' represents something different: man's desperate struggle for immortality. Both in life and in death. In Kanga's interpretation, the men (and their masculinity) in the pieces are not only victims of social circumstances. The question is far more complex than so. What drives a person's ego? 'Claude Cahun' is a portrait of the French artist who dressed up as a man? Here Vallien takes up a neo-classic* art form: that of sexual ambivalence and a game of gender-roles. This type of expression is fairly common in the world of rock music. The different faces of David Bowie over the decades is one example; another is Kurt Cobain of Nirvana who, during the masculine Grunge trend emphasised his softness by donning a dress and singing introverted texts.

In another block, such as Passage, The Barn, and Horn, Kangas finds traces of the old Swedish agricultural society. He sees Vallien as one of the most challenging artists of our time; he is among those who are not content just to create a beautiful object; but rather an autonomous piece of work imbued with a soul, that we call art.
-A figure cast in glass...is so implacably immortalized, more so than in a painting or a drawing. The transparent material, melted by ferocious heat, and within it a figure. There is a fascination in the block of glass, such as I experience when I look at mummies.

I ask Bertil about the equation of art and saleability. Earlier he has told me that the company name is often toned down in favour of the artist's. Bertil Vallien is a name well-known to connoisseurs of glass the world over, but how great is his freedom when representing a big design company?
-My Cubes/Blocks provoked a variety of reactions. There was a deal of resistance, and I sold very little. I'm constantly trying to get away from the sphere in which glass is seen as decoration. A lot of the art that people (many of us) buy is not just ingratiating; there are other reasons, too, for buying it... Nowadays, I know (how to make) the kind of exhibition that will sell (be successful/profitable). I do my boats and my heads but I also have a duty to show that I am developing. So it can be a little hard for the company to understand that one has an exhibition that doesn't sell. My alibi/excuse is my commercial utility production.

A picture from the exhibition. Photo: Theresa Batty.

 

 

 

 

Mr. Moro, sand - casted, 2000. Photo: G. Örtegren

 

 

 

 

For Claude C, 2000. Photo: G. Örtegren.

 

 

 

 

 

Bird, 2000. Photo: G. Örtegren.

 

 

 

 


The Barn, 2000. Photo: G. Örtegren.









 

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