A wall engulfed in antiquarian books, piled tidily on top of each other. In the centre a body carefully placed in between the books, its face turned to the wall. The man appears to be sleeping peacefully, completely at ease, as if this had always been his place. Only the slight shadow that the books throw around the outline of his body interrupt the orderliness of the image. It is an image which immediately stands out through its beauty and lyricism but which also, because it is so bizarre, creates a remarkable sense of alienation. In this new series of photographs, symbolically entitled “still lives”, Maria Friberg, through employing a strategy customary in her art, presents paradoxical situations with extreme simplicity and levity, thus causing us to reconsider our perception of the image we are gazing upon.
In other words, in Maria Friberg’s images, beauty is the prime means of communication, which leads directly to the interior of the piece without imposing any demands; it is only after a certain time that we perceive the uneasiness and ambiguity which gainsay the apparent perfection and subvert our codes of interpretation. The artist thus contradicts the common concept of language, understood as a pre-arranged relationship between expression and content, liberating the various elements from their destiny as ‘symbols’. An example of this can be seen in the video “blown out”, created by the artist in 1999, in which a lone male, who is completely nude, is immersed in foaming water. Although the image is thoroughly riveting and the man’s face does not allow us to perceive his emotions, we are aware of a sense of uncertainty and danger which breaks with the stereotypes linked to the male form.
In the “still lives” series, the artist’s attention shifts from observation of the universe of the male and his codes to a unique investigation of the concept of identity. In these photographs, Maria Friberg places people and things, men and women, on the same level and reinvents, obviously also in an ironic sense, the traditional beauty of the ‘still life’.
Everything is highly defined and ‘visible’ – the grand scale and the particular printing technique serving to emphasize this characteristic. The atmosphere is calm, almost mystical, although the bizarre and paradoxical equivalence between objects and bodies reveals, insistently and rather disturbingly, a certain instability and fragmentation that is a metaphor for the cultural condition of the western world. In a way, “boys are us” postulates the reverse prospect: it is a reflection on the relationship between the individual and group and, in a particular way, on the difficulty of behaving (but also of portraying oneself) as single individuals, without allowing oneself to assimilate. One of the most obvious problems with our society is that of self-identification in the perception that others hold of us; hence the attempt to find new ways of creating our own individuality that will not allow recognition in images created by others. In the great ideological void in which we find ourselves immersed, the only extraordinary event seems to be affirmation of new and different ways of creating and recreating our existence in the world. Demonstrating the superficial aspect of such creations and emphasising the apparent characteristics, Maria Friberg highlights and mocks the artificiality and the emptiness of the norm and codes by which society is regulated.