Cato Løland - ChestsArtist’s monograph
Can be ordered
at Tekstallmenningen (link)
Contributions by Heather Jones, Nanna Stjernholm Jepsen and Sara Kollstrøm Heilevang.
Design by Petri Henriksson
Printed by TS Trykk.
Cover by Bokbinderiet Johnsen.
Edition of 300
Published in 2022
Av Heather Jones (link)
The artist’s monograph was launched during Paris Internationale. The book includes a new essay by Heather Jones, and newly translated texts by Sara Kollstrøm Heilevang and Nanna Stjernholm Jepsen. The publication is designed by Petri Henriksson (Blank Blank), and published by Entrée. Portraits and details from Cato Løland’s studio at USF Verftet in Bergen is taken by Linn Heidi Stokkedal in May 2022. The publication includes documentation of original mixed material collages first published in Cato Løland, Bølget blikk by Trippelpunkt in 2021.
The Meeting, The Moment
By Heather Jones
Deconstruction of hierarchy
Insistent and intentional abstraction
Presence is all that is needed to understand the essence of Cato Løland’s artistic oeuvre. His works are felt in the body before registering in the mind, and by coming into presence with his creations, we the viewers come into greater presence with ourselves and with the world at large.
I first encountered Løland’s work almost a decade ago at a small yet poignant solo exhibition presented at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York. I had no prior knowledge of his practice, and at first glance all that registered were garment bags hanging on the walls. Curiosity pulled me forward to see that these easily recognizable objects had been altered, manipulated to different affect, while avoiding the complete obfuscation of their original forms.
Collectively titled Vessel(s) (2014), this body of work called to mind the beauty, frailty, and intimacy of the human body and of the human experience as a whole. The semi-translucent bags had been bleached with chlorine, a chemical that both cleanses and destroys the integrity of the textile. Through this process of detraction, the protective quality of the garment bag is weakened as visually engaging patterns are revealed. The garment bags were displayed on the wall, sans hangers, in various states of ‘unzipped’, revealing glimpses of more vibrant interiors. The near-immediate recognition of the shape of the garment bags and knowledge of their original purpose drew immediate connotations to the human body. In their original use-case, garment bags serve a protective and privacy-enhancing function. Despite their altered forms, showing them unzipped and in public while inviting viewers to look inside felt both brazen and tender. The realization dawned that these garment bags naturally function as stand-ins for the human body; for us, and all that we hold inside. Showing them in this way was a small yet radical act of vulnerability. The artworks invited intimacy, albeit shyly, and encouraged viewers to consider the body as a container. They also point to the fragility of the vessel: it’s translucence and degradation over time. Standing among them in the gallery, my thoughts turned to corporeality, to body bags, to decomposition…
I remember shaking my head at this point, wondering why I was standing in front of a collection of colorful garment bags suddenly thinking about mortality and human intimacy. It should seem like an absurd leap, but with Løland’s work, these far-reaching connotations come naturally. However, the playful oranges and indigos included in Vessel(s) balanced the more somber associations that emerged when viewing these works, and the artist’s insistence on abstraction allowed for existential questioning without the works ever becoming cumbersome or morose. It is impressive that objects as mundane as garment bags, given careful attention by the artist, were capable of carrying deep metaphors while also bringing a smile.
Løland’s work has developed by leaps and bounds since then. And yet these early sculptures are in many ways indicative of some of the key components of his artistic practice as a whole. The subtlety, vulnerability, playfulness, and insistent presence evident in Vessel(s) would go on to become hallmarks of his practice, as would the delicate balance between figuration and abstraction that allows for continued interpretation over time. However, the quiet strength of these early works has emboldened over time as both the artist and his works have matured. In tracing the trajectory of Løland’s artistic practice, we can see the strengthening of his creative voice, the growing tension between invitation and confrontation, and the simple yet radical act of taking up space without apology.
Cato Løland was born in 1982 and grew up in the rural village of Sandvoll on the west coast of Norway. He studied art and photography from an early age and completed a Master’s in Fine Art from the Bergen Academy of Art and Design in 2009. Løland notes being inspired during this time by artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Richard Tuttle, whose artworks broke the boundaries of the accepted use of specific artistic materials and formats. Løland’s early experiments in photography addressed concepts of gender identity and societal standards, and though not aesthetically related to his current professional oeuvre, they point to an early awareness of societal hierarchies, expectations, and norms.
During his MFA, Løland’s practice transitioned from photography to drawing. While his work remained two dimensional, his careful renderings on paper of textiles and fibers evidenced a highly developed tactile sensitivity. He transitioned from portraying an image on a flat surface, to working directly with the material itself, using mainly ink and chlorine. This process continued steadily until 2010/2011, when the artist moved off the page entirely and began working hands-on with textiles and other found materials. Although not immediately relevant to Løland’s current work, this moment of evolution is perhaps the most poignant in his practice as it set the trajectory for his artistic career over the next decade.
From this moment onwards, Løland developed a systematic yet intuitive creative practice that continues today. While traversing the city, he continually collects materials and objects that in some way peak his interest. It is essential to note that Løland sees no hierarchical value in the materials that make their way into his studio. Detritus cast aside and rescued from alleyways can be found alongside expensive silk and high-quality artistic tools. He is particularly drawn to industrially produced materials as they offer an opportunity for the reintroduction of the human hand in their creation – for reanimation. At the very beginning of the creative process, he raises mundane materials to the level of fine art, thereby giving them value and revealing an innate preciousness in all things.
The found objects are carried into his studio and laid side by side so that everything is visible, all the time. Reflective surfaces, transparent textiles, plastic bags, scraps of brightly colored fabric, bits of paper, tin foil, chicken wire, netting, thread… the mixture of high and low materials comes together to create a room full of infinite potential. In short, to the causal observer, Løland’s studio resembles a giant magpie nest. However contrary to first impression, his creative process is not chaotic. True, he combines materials in unexpected ways, and most definitely engages a sense of play (Løland insists that the artworks must be fun and enjoyable to make!). But there is also subtlety and careful consideration of balance in form, color, haptic sensibility, and possible conceptual connotations. Løland is cognizant of the environment in which the work will be shown and gives particular consideration to spatial composition. The encounter between the art object and the viewer is foremost in his mind during the act of creation.
Furthermore, for Løland the creative process is a continual one. Works are often disassembled or reimagined after an exhibition, so that they are constantly evolving alongside him. When asked directly how then he knows when a work is done, there is a long pause. All formal considerations aside, Løland replies, “it is a feeling of presence that tells me that a work is ready to be seen.” “Ready to be seen”, because of course, the works are never really “done.” He explains, “the meeting, the moment, is more important than the preservation of the artistic object”. As his work has evolved over decades, Løland’s approach to making has allowed him to maintain aesthetic consistency. Formalistically speaking, the works follow a fairly consistent line. Conceptually, the path is far more circuitous. In this, it is more useful to consider not what Løland’s works are about, but rather what theydo.
In his 2019 exhibition Oss, Antenner (Us, Antennas) at Kongsberg Art Association, Løland presented his trademark assemblages of brightly colored fabric pieces, bits of metal, and other materials draped and suspended from ceilings and walls. However, in addition, he placed two sculptures in the center of the room. This simple action marked a decisive step in his practice, as it is arguably the moment that his work moved off the wall and into the room. It was the starting point for Løland working more sculpturally with textiles in the round. The sculptures are sweetly robotic, with elongated metal “limbs” covered in clay, and sections of tasseled fabric reading as eyes, hair, and mouths. These sculptures in particular are active characters in the exhibition space, interacting with one another and with viewers. As is often the case with Løland’s aesthetic, light pastel colors and the levity of the materials and presentation create a non-threatening ambience for contemplation. The title, Oss, Antenner, strengthens the anthropomorphic quality of the sculptures, and points to our bodies as receivers of signals; interpreters of information that transmit and gather data in order to transform it into what we need or want.
Humanoid characteristics can be found in many of Løland’s sculptures. Viewers can’t help but discern faces, animalistic figures, and impressions of bodies in his abstract works. It is unclear whether this is intentional on the part of the artist, or simply a coincidence of the processes of the human brain that look for recognizable features – most likely a bit of both. Though Løland insists that any direct representation is largely unintentional, he does openly flirt with the fine line between abstraction and figuration, and as such, is very aware of human perception and cognition as tools in his creative practice.
The artwork Sølvrygg (Silverback) (2019) is also immediately recognizable as a simplified corporeal form. The sculpture was created during a period in which Løland was working almost exclusively with deconstructing fabrics with scissors. The artist states that “deconstruction is essential in my practice – to take something out of its original form and create new shapes, new connotations from familiar materials.” The work, seductive in both material and form, is a simply cut piece of silver polyester satin. The fabric is attached to the wall at one end, and suspended from the ceiling at the other end, creating the impression of an elongated rib cage seen from behind. Or perhaps it is inverted? Although discernable, the shape has been altered enough that it peaks curiosity and demands a greater level of engagement.
In one sense, the title Sølvrygg is very straightforward. It references the color of the material and the shape of the artwork. However, the term “silverback” is also the designation for an Alpha gorilla, and is a commonly used metaphor for the super-alpha, wizened and experienced human male of a group. In this very fragile, delicate, and quite beautiful piece, the concept of masculinity itself is deconstructed along with the fabric, and the fragility of the male psyche is revealed.
Much of Cato Løland’s work is on the scale of the human, and this approachability of size adds to the sense of familiarity and presence. This deference to human scale is in part due to practical logistics such as the necessity of the artist to create, carry, transport, and install the work with his own body. However, Løland is aware of the boundaries of bodies and as such, he is also aware of the body of an artwork as its own entity as well as the body of the viewer that interacts with it. All of these come into play in the moment of “the meeting” between the artist, art object and viewer – ie. the exhibition. Whether contrived or accidental, Løland’s use of human scale serves to pull the viewer into greater relationship with the works, and by default into greater presence with the world around them.
The evidence of the body of the artist is perhaps most noticeable in Albogerom (Elbow Room), presented at SOFT Gallery in 2020. The exhibition included a series of sculptures titled Vev (Weave) (2020) that consist of textiles of varying qualities woven through incomplete chicken wire forms in the shape of human limbs. This method of weaving was first developed during a residency that Løland undertook at Leveld Kunstnartun in 2017. While there, he began harvesting birch bark and slowly combined that with materials such as paper and fabric, interweaving them into the prescribed metallic pattern of the chicken wire. For the series Vev, Løland continued this process and specifically chose to weave together a wide variety of fabrics in order to highlight their distinct qualities, while connecting the concept directly to humanity. To do this, he formed the chicken wire armatures for each artwork around his own arms and legs to give them their shape before interweaving the multi-colored cloths. The conceptual basis for these artworks is once again rooted in the idea of the body as a vessel (albeit here incomplete and nonfunctional as such), and relates directly back to the aforementioned Vessel(s) from 2014.
Throughout Løland’s body of work, titles are integral in gaining an entry point into the work. The series Vevis no different. The title, and perhaps also the work itself, is a play on words as it literally translates as “weave” and also refers to flesh and skin tissue. This series perfectly exemplifies how and why Løland leaves his work open for multiple interpretations. The works themselves change in significance as time passes and with each viewer that brings to them their own life experiences and perspectives. To some, these brightly colored forms present themselves as hopeful interweavings of humanity’s uniqueness. To others, and given the current events of the last several years, these human limbs severed from the whole may read as disturbingly grizzly, despite their colorful countenance.
The large textile works in his series entitled Ham (Shed Skin) (2020) refer to skin and the aftermath of molting. In the Norwegian language, “ham” is the physical layer of skin that an animal such as a snake or spider sheds as it grows. Occasionally the word “ham” can also be used to describe the whole pelt of a bear or a wolf, and these skins often hold magical properties in Norwegian folklore. In the gallery, the large glistening fabrics in deep grays, blues, and purples, were draped and suspended from metal rods, in places dipping and pooling onto the floor. They could be understood as a symbol of growth and evolution, or as a ghastly display of flayed skin. Once again, a plethora of seemingly opposite perspectives abound.
Together, the Vev and Ham series are the most overtly body-based of Løland’s works to date, and it is worth noting that they were created during the coronavirus pandemic when the human body, its strength and frailty, was at the forefront of collective consciousness. Though these artworks were not created specifically to address the pandemic, they undoubtedly came about under its influence. It is easy to imagine how societal obsessions of bodily vitality or disease, communities fractured or strongly woven together, fear and hope all subconsciously coalesced to influence this body of work. Practically speaking, Løland also notes that these works were developed during a time of social isolation, and sprouted both conceptually and physically out of the reality of having “only my own body as a resource to work with.”
This utilization of whatever material or situation he has on hand is a hallmark of Løland’s creative methodology. The practice of using materials collected from his immediate surroundings is most illuminated in the series Familiar (2020), both because of what it contains and what it does not. In comparison to almost all other artworks in his career, this work stands apart aesthetically and conceptually. This series of work embodies all of the key characteristics of Løland’s practice – nearly recognizable animalistic forms, strength of presence balanced by fragile vulnerability, and the skillful manipulation of a wide variety of found materials on an approachable scale. Yet it is also a marked departure from previous work.
In the rough concrete backdrop of the room, large branches have been lashed together with colorful bits of twine, string, and fabric to create amorphous shapes. Teal green polymer netting and chicken wire form shells covering parts of the structures, woven with leaves and strips of fabric dyed in soft earthtones of pink, grey, and brown. The immediate feeling is one of suspended animation – that these creatures were in movement mere seconds ago, and that they have been startled into stillness by the viewer’s attention.
The series of sculptures, each individually titled You as shelter, me as shelter (2020) was created during a residency at Surnadal Billag. The small village of Surnadal is located along the mid-western coast of Norway, and is surrounded by mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. This is a notable contrast to the industrial and urban environments, and their resultant materials, that the artist usually encounters traveling to and from his studio in the city of Bergen. In keeping with his methodology, Løland took very little with him to the residency, preferring to gather materials locally for the creation of his work. Due to his surroundings, these salvaged objects contained more organic and less industrial materials than usual. Thus sticks, leaves, and bark featured in many of these distinctive works.
In some ways, all of Løland’s work reflects the places in which they are made. However, the sculptures created in Surnadal feel truly site-specific as they were crafted on site rather than in a studio or gallery setting. They incorporate not only his previous conceptual leanings, but also take into account the relationship of architecture between the setting and the human body. Despite its idyllic surroundings, the residency itself was housed inside of a large, empty bus station. The building was intimidatingly cavernous, echoing and anonymous. Løland responded to the visceral feeling of the space by creating shapes inspired by the Norwegian “gapahuk”, or lean-to; simple constructions hastily built to serve as temporary shelters in the wild.
Løland wanted to add a body-based shape to the architecture as a counter to the barren, inhuman space. These constructions are architectures built around imagined bodies, and are inseparable from the bodies that they would shelter. In this, these structures are reminiscent not only of the manmade gapahuk, but also animal dens, insect cocoons, bird nests, and other structures in nature quotidian to specific species. This is the original architecture, a shelter that is formed by and morphs along with the bodies of living animals. It is a refreshing reminder that humans too are animals in our most basic nature, both in need of and capable of building shelters for ourselves. Familiar reanimates buildings, remembers them as living entities inseparable from those bodies that they were created to house.
These sculptures feel alive in and of themselves, apart from the hands that made them. The branches, woven chicken wire, and netting form limbs and skins and read as mythical animals come to life. The figures placed about the room walk, perch, and recline on the ground, both eerie and nonthreatening. The title of the collection in its entirety, Familiar, is on the nose. As in the vast majority of Løland’s artworks, these objects are vaguely recognizable, comforting and yet strange. They are alluring and invite interaction beyond mere observation. Yet there is another meaning here. In English, the word “familiar” connotes that which is well known, something or someone that has been encountered previously. However, in Norwegian, the word “familiar” signifies a close familial relationship or family structure. Once again, these constructions come alive. The sculptures could be seen as a family unit of built structures, returning the built environment back into the purview of the living.
In alignment with the idea of the gapahuk, all the artworks created during the residency were dismantled at the end of the residency and the materials returned to nature (where appropriate), much as a gapahuk would be taken apart and scattered as the hiker continues his or her journey. Most of Løland’s work is in some state of evolutionary flux. However, the decisive beginning and end of the Familiar project reads as a self-contained exercise within Løland’s larger practice.
The artist is reticent to explain any deeper meaning behind his work. It is this unapologetic refusal of representation and explanation that allows for curiosity and inner dialogue in the viewer. The artworks are first and foremost about presence; the artist’s presence in working with his materials, the gravity of the artworks in the exhibition space, and the increased attunement of the viewers to the world around them. I am reminded once more of Richard Tuttle’s approach to making art. In a 2016 interview, Tuttle stated that, “Life is so much more important than art. But then art’s importance comes when it’s a tool for life. When it makes life more available for us.” If we can trust in Løland’s abstraction and engage with his artwork as the intentional creations that they are, this is precisely what they do – make life more available for us.
In 2021, Tag Team Studio in Bergen hosted a solo exhibition of Løland’s work that felt like an emergence into yet another level of creative confidence. The highlights of the exhibition, entitled Før, før, etter, etter (Before, before, after, after), were a series of three wall-mounted sculptures composed largely of tin foil, and four textile works suspending out from the wall into the gallery space. The foil works, collectively titled Ur(primal) (2021) were inspired by cast-off tin foil from take-out food containers that the artist saw every day in the streets near his studio. These forms spoke to him of ready-made sculptures and surface prints of the city, and he was triggered by the habits of society to throw away those things not deemed valuable. He felt an urge to bring this material into his studio and raise the level of its value in the eyes of the viewers. As a material, tin foil is equally strong and fragile, capable of keeping something warm (or cold) and secure. Løland worked with this material to create abstract open and closed forms, allowing each shape to hold space within itself. The sculptures are dramatically different when viewed from different angles, and abstractly reflect their surroundings. Here, colorful fabrics play a more supportive role than in previous works. The bits of textile are situated in very small amounts around the curves and edges of the openings, highlighting the shapes and allowing them to become more easily discernable. In their space-holding and protective capacities, these sculptures are tender and more emotional than his previous works. The effect as a whole is that of a series of chrysalis, with mythical creatures protected, hidden, only moments from emerging.
Titled Bogar i spenn (Arches in Span) (2021) the expansive textile works also relate to making space within themselves. However, in contrast to the series Ur, they demand space in the gallery and from the viewers. Both series were made simultaneously, but while the foil pieces evoke enclosed space, these works project a feeling of levity and suggest that whatever form was contained within the chrysalis has now emerged. Sheer fabrics in bright hues are suspended from sharp metal poles, mounted perpendicular to the gallery walls. The fragility of the fabrics combined with the sharpness of the metal structures and the pointed display creates a tension and wariness. In spite of their playful colors and feeling of flight, the placement of these pieces in the exhibition space is undeniably confrontational. The fabric moves and flows with the current of the room, but the sharp ends of the metal poles stand out directly towards the viewer, challenging and requiring visitors to accommodate them. The works insist on their own presence, on being noticed. “It is only me who can do what I am doing. That gives me strength,” Løland stated.
A more recent series of works, Turning Strangers into Family (2021-22), returns to the concept of bringing disparate materials back into the fold. Here Løland’s recognizable materials are remixed into compact assemblages. However, unlike many of his former works, this series was not made with a specific space in mind from the beginning. They were the result of leftover scraps from his studio, knotted, wrapped, and braided until they became independent works. The series of five sculptures was later selected for the Contemporary Textile Art Biennial in Portugal (2022). The tightly bundled and vertically hung artworks evoke the ongoing influence of Norwegian artists Brit Fuglevaag and Elisabeth Haarr on a younger generation of artists.
As I have come to expect in Løland’s works, these high-volume bundles are deftly balanced. They are at once playful, bright, compact, and constricting. They bring to mind bondage, stringent beauty conventions, detritus piled together by waves, and the innocent creations of young children. And as always, Løland insists on the conceptual availability of the works, stating, “I have my own way of seeing the works, but the goal is always for people to bring their own.” But then again, he admits, “The works do have their own presence, their own feeling.”
This notion of individual presence is even more pronounced in Løland’s most recent series Chests (2022), created for Entrée’s participation at Paris Internationale. To create these sculptures, the artist drew inspiration from his earlier project Familiar (2020), with a desire to further explore the intersection of body, structure, and material. Understanding that man-made architectural structures provide safety and security, Løland sought to locate similar forms in nature and within the body itself. The resulting sculptures reference ribcages and avian nests. Twisted wires and bent curtain rods create a rigid armature on which the artist has woven scraps of plastic, netting, delicate fabrics, plaster-wrapped bands, and organic materials such as seaweeds, grasses, flower petals, and branches.
In comparison to the works in Familiar, these new sculptures are smaller in scale and far more self-contained. The forms are largely spherical, and whereas Familiarresponded to the harsh architecture of an industrial building by subverting it, these works interact by latching on to the existing architecture of the studio or gallery space, much as nests cling to the branches of trees and sheer faces of cliffs. Although existing in the same series, the self-contained nature of each form allowed the sculptures to develop according to their own logic, thereby giving the viewer a more individual and intimate experience.
From beginning to end, Cato Løland’s artwork whispers, nudges, challenges, and entrances us to come back into physical presence, to feel the gravity and shape of our own bodies, and the weight of the bodies and objects around us. It implores us to see accurately, perhaps for the first time, the richness of shapes, textures, and colors that exist in our world but are too often filtered out by our overly efficient minds. After multiple interviews discussing nearly every work in his career, I asked Løland, “So, why do you do this? Why do you make art?” He responded, “This is my language, my expression, my way of figuring out my own position in the world. I want to offer a different perspective. To let people know that there is always an alternative to what is already there.” After a long pause he added, “The only real goal is presence.”
Before, for, after, after
By Sara Kollstrøm Heilevang
In 1982 a collector wandered about in the Messel mine near Darmstadt in west Germany. It’s perhaps a collector’s fortune to have eyes fixed persistently to the ground, with the gaze roaming the surface. Ready to witness all the world's potential in what one collects. Whether or not the collector on this day searched for rocks, twigs, or something altogether different, is unknown. In written sources this particular collector is simply stated as «independent». Perhaps it was a coincidence, a random chance taking place. A lucky kick to the right stone. Regardless, the wandering collector found her. Little Ida, with baby teeth still intact. Right there in the mining landscape, where they boiled oil out of slates, twisted liquids out of stones for more than a hundred years. How long had she been laying there? The last time those baby teeth hungrily gnawed leaves and grass was 47 million years ago.
In 1982 another collector was born, growing up in a small town along the Western coast of Norway. The collector bites his baby teeth, dreams himself off to another place while kicking rocks and seeing all the world's potential. In a tiny thread, a random rock, in a pipeline bleached from the sun. To some, romance lies within the reassuring certainty of knowing that what has once risen from the soil, shall return. Leaving no traces, as if life’s purpose is to go through it as silently as one entered into it. Degradable, ecological, natural colour. The collector shakes his head, kicks the right twig, and gnaws his teeth, rounding them like the ocean grinds rocks. He knows what everyone from small places knows, that romance and nearness to the soil doesn’t stem from this, this compulsion to leave life without leaving traces in it.
47 million years later a future collector arrives, with eyes fixed to the ground. Another twig is stepped on, a different leaf is turned, a random stone gets kicked. Maybe it is coincidental. A rare occasion where luck meets potential. There he is. Cato. Speculations running high. Cato is not alone down there, in the dark soil. Not biodegradable, not ecological. He lies swaddled in neon coloured polyester, something by his side stretching out of itself and beyond the human body. A tool? A utensil? An elongation of all the world's potential? Scientific societies are scratching their heads, trying to grasp the intangible. What do they all mean, these constructions buried in the soil?
Cato Catcher of Butterflies, Cato Warrior, Cato Runner of Long Distances and Leaper of Great Heights? Cato Conundrum. And these objects by his side. Are they traces of old hunting methods? Do they speak of the need for shelter, safety, and protection? Are they tributes to beings from ancient time, a prayer of rain, remains from a great party? On Saturdays, columns of food swaddled in thin layers of metal are devoured to celebrate. Flakes of aluminium fall to the ground. Meanwhile Cato keeps his peace, no word to get from him. What made him laugh? What did he believe in? What happened?
All the world's potential: a cocoon of satin, viscose, and shoulder pads. Is it possible to collect functions? To collect is to think about the future, to have a sense of what might happen when luck meets potential. Pluck the right fibre, save corners of cloth, intertwine old sheets. What one collects, one ultimately also needs to provide a space for. Tie together, enter into a larger whole. With strips, with tape and with knots. Close encounters. Sharp sticks, tight laces. Is it easier to stand pressure when the rope that tightens is tied with a bow? Is that what happened to Ida, veins of blood circling around, tightening in? Ida is so close to completion. Only one leg is missing. An incomplete collection; the missing leg. So how about you, Cato? 47 million years is a long time. Even for rocks. Sticks of steel forcing itself out, pushing itself up and forward as the foreign object of the world. A missing leg, a dawning exoskeleton? Much in the world is incidental.
This thought of soil from the Earth as something pure and innocent, that what comes from her is real and true, is constructed, like all the world's houses and buildings are constructed. All the world's romance isn’t trapped in the compost.
What would have happened if Ida had swum? Clapped her small jaws with baby teeth in wiggling fish, not dead leaves. Maybe she would have sunk to the bottom, barricaded herself in a porous grotto, slowly turning into hydrocarbon before later becoming oil, vinyl or perhaps shoulder pads of polyester. Collected by one who treads on twigs, turns over leaves, and pulls the right strings. Luck meets potential.
Textile twinned around its own axis. Threads of metal twined around sticks of steel. 47 million years means nothing to butterflies. Domestic, silk, moth. Thin, strong, shiny. Synthetic and regenerated fibres which soften under heat, melts together and fixates into form when cooled down. Like the spring in a clothing pin, holding onto textiles fluttering like flags in the wind. Cato forced cold sticks of steel through smooth silk, throwing spears in crisp tulle. Cato carefully caressed all the world's potential, melting it into shapes. Water abandoning iron, liquid flowing from stones. Tributes to ancient times, a prayer for rain. Torn pieces of garments made for parties layered on top of one another, seeking each other out and turning into concave and convex shapes. A semicircle closed and open. A shield against the world, a net to catch her. This as well comes from the pure, innocent soil. Polyester sweeping like skin over leaves and stems of plants. Cuticle, a membrane protecting the plant against its own water leaving. Cuticle, one of the most resistant parts of the plant, preserved within fossils. Like little Ida, with baby teeth intact. As fossils slowly become hydrocarbon, in 47 million years being converted into oil, vinyl or perhaps shoulder pads of polyester. Synthetic and regenerated fibres soften when heated, melts together and stiffens when cooled. Everything made in this world is made by what is in her. Degradable, ecologic, natural colour.
Only the thread knows its way through the fabric
By Nanna Stjernholm Jepsen
Sunbeams and ocean view break through the windows while the mountains surrounding Bergen seem to fold around us. The landscape outside creates a dramatic contrast to the volatile, spherical bodies that, hanging from the ceiling and from the walls, fill the bright studio space. Sculptural assemblages of satin, transparent fabrics, cotton and thin, crackling plastic meet rubber, latex, plaster, and stearin. I try to recall the many impressions from my first meeting with Cato's works at his studio in Bergen last spring. I try to remember the way the clashes between the materials made me aware of their tactile qualities, of their smell. The way the works occupied the space - at once fragile and insistent in their presence.
Most clearly, I remember a flimsy sculpture hanging from the ceiling. It was like a dancer's body, light and graceful. Its core consisted of two slightly bent steel pipes, which had been applied with plaster. The hands that must had gripped the steel pipes have left clear imprints in the once wet material. The moving surface resurfaced throughout the sculptural body, swaying gently from its cord suspension in the ceiling. The work breathed and moved, reacting to my body and the almost imperceptible waves of air that you push in front of you as you walk forward. A light piece of fabric hung between the two top points of the steel pipes. It had fringes at the bottom, and two curved straps were mounted on the upper part of the fabric. Quite immediately I looked for human traits in the materials, trying to recognize the work as a body. Like a mask with eyes or a body with outlined breasts?
An insistent focus on the material's distinctive qualities and an interest in making these stand out, runs like a thread throughout Cato's work and unfolds most clearly in works such as Us, Antennas, where imperceptible imprints from his own body are included in the sculpture and establishes a fluid exchange between his body and the materials. In other works, this grip is more subtly present, such as in Transparent Form, where a fluffy piece of polyester fabric hangs from the ceiling in a wire mounted in each of the fabric's four corners. The light transparent plastics that are repeated in many of his works add a fragile volatility to the work. The fabric has been cut up into webs so that it is just about exactly still a coherent piece. His gesture in the material becomes a formation that determines my perception of space, a filter I, as a spectator, get to see the architecture through and which determines the way I move. A similar technique is used in the work Silverback, here glittering silver polyester falls easily from the ceiling in its cord suspension and adheres to the wall in an elegant arch. The slightest breezy wind would easily take hold in the cut fabric. In addition to activating the viewer's body and actively attaching materials to the architecture, the work also points to itself as a body. Or a fragment of body, namely a back or spine.
These are ways his works constantly change, and translate the relationship between body, architecture, and material. The shifts occur especially through the pervasive use of fabric and clothing scraps, which constantly change position in his works and whose form and expression are difficult to maintain in an unambiguous understanding of what is going on. The choice of material gives the works intimacy, adds a closeness that especially stems from the use of the textiles. Textiles are first and foremost a material we relate to our body, and to the clothes we wear. In this way, the fabric in these works also speaks of the absence of a body. It hides invisible imprints, from the people who have carried, and created it – it conveys a bodily presence in the pieces.
The Danish author Ida Holmegaard writes in LOOK, a kind of hybrid text between essay and novel, about clothes, textiles, and gender. She describes how the fabric we dress in is constantly being read by our surroundings. How clothing can be a source of joy but also relentlessly exerts its own subtle power by choreographing the body, thus inscribing it into a gender, age, social status, nationality, or profession that we do not necessarily feel at home in. Through a precise choice of materials and compositions, Cato presents a similar point. By deconstructing pieces of clothing and textiles, he unravels our well-known prejudices of different textiles and clothing and creates works where gender and identity can flow more freely - where only the thread knows its way through the fabric, as Holmegaard writes.
Cato perforates textiles cultural history in performing a sculptural treatment of clothing and textiles. He reviews the tactile and visible surfaces to negotiate norms and stereotypes. Clothes are like a costume that tells who we are or who we want to be perceived as, an armor we can protect ourselves behind. We communicate through clothing, using its social, cultural, and commercial status, in an attempt to control the reading of our bodies and personalities. Clothes are projection surfaces; an extra layer of skin that for a while becomes part of the body, but which in the next moment could be left like an empty pile on the floor. It is precisely this living physicality from the clothes that is repeated and animated in Cato's works. In Us, Antennas, Transparent Form, Silverbackand in several of his recent works, the pieces' delicate layers of fabric are like thin membranes. Skin that airily outlines and suggests bodies in space. And they are not just one body, but rather fragments of many. For the works are inseparable from the various bodies that have carried or created the textiles of which the sculptures are made. The works are both his own body and that of others. Organic bodies and industrially produced materials at one and the same time.
In another series of works entitled Silhouettes, the body is more intrusive in its presence. The works are created from old jeans that have been cropped, stretched, and twisted into new poses, stretched from the wick of a bent metal bar, or woven together with silky-thin webs in orange and purple that stand in stark contrast to the color and texture of the denim fabric. The seams and stitching that gave the fabric its firm shape and ability to enclose a body and its movements have been deconstructed - partially traced back to the original cuts of the fabric webs.
With textiles as his primary material, Cato emphasizes the relationship between work and body and inscribes his works in the complex, relational networks that make up our world. The textiles are recycled clothes and sorted fabric residues. They have at one point been given a form and an etymology, a story that they bring with them. And although they have somehow stepped out of the narrative they were originally intended for, the fabrics remain part of a global narrative that can range from cotton plantations and sweatshops run by design departments in international fashion houses to global trade agreements and free trade zones. The textiles points to the structures of global capitalism which ensures free movement for companies and goods, whilst at the same time keeping people trapped in social and economic patterns.
It is difficult to capture Cato’s sculptural works in words and sentences, his bodily and fleeting sculptures evoke a need for a new language, or perhaps they rather should be allowed to remain languageless. They are so honestly present just being themselves, and at the same time they seem to be constantly dissolving. In this way, his works allow several experiences to exist side by side as semi-dissolved spaces and transitions in an effort to put the world back together. Precisely this is a pervasive feature in his practice; the works are at once poetic and deeply pragmatic as he choreographs the viewer's and not least the works' movement in space with the familiar and everyday materials. They are changeable and fluid sculptural bodies that act globally, politically, and economically conscious.