by Halvor Haugen
Images have, strictly speaking, only one side. In that respect an image is a curious thing. Or rather, images aren`t objects at all – on the contrary: they are images. A mirror for instance, is a thing with a front and a back, whereas a mirror image is a pure surface phenomenon. Still, images are ineluctably tied to things, as mirror images are to mirrors, and the line between the two is often fleeting. Under certain conditions things may even turn into images. At night fall, for instance, when trees and bushes merge and morph into trolls and boogiemen, phantasmagorical forms that emerge in a space, we are drawn towards, but cannot enter – in short: an image.
Clichès and silhouettes
Ingrid Toogood`s work Sceneries occupies in a border zone between things and images. Perhaps one might say that her scenery shows us that an image isn`t primarily something that exists, but rather something that happens. It might not appear at once what is going to happen. That something will take place, however, is made clear by Toogood´s use of well-established dramaturgical means: through a doorway you can see an omniously coloured light and the dark outlines of an mirror: a candelabra and a staircase. In the back of the room there is a wall painiting, a stylized panorama in which a river zigzags through a landscape against a garishly coloured sky. These elements belong to a standard repetoire of bad omens, familiar from horror movies.
The mood of impending danger that the scene evokes and the perspectival pull of the painting lures you into the room – perhaps in the same way that people in horror movies always are driven by a compulsive desire to find the true source of the strange sound in the attic. As you walk through Toogood`s scenries, however, the feeling of re-living an episode from The Twilight Zone dissolves. Space is made up of scenery layers that together with the painting on the rear wall make up a classic composition, with a foreground, middle ground and background; the sceneries have, like all sceneries of this kind, a front and a back; the front is covered with a coat of paint, while the back is left bare, leaving the materials from of which they are made visible. When you turn around, what you see isn`t candelabras and staircases, but plywood sheets. Put in another way: What you see standing in the middle of the scenery is what you saw, was nothing but an image, but also that this image was nothing but a constellation of things.
Style and the typical
Toogood´s sceneries bring together different style as well as combining objects and images. On one hand one may see a rich ornamental style: the patterned wallpaper and architectural decor of the bourgeois interior. Exteriors and landscapes, however, are rendered in a falt style reminiscent of Disney-cartoons. Elements from these two styles recur on different levels in Toogood sceneries, as shadow and mirror images, as two- and three-dimensional forms; the different styles are woven together through a system of insides and outsides, flatness and depht. The wallpaper is never allowed to merge entirely with the wall, while the panorama is kept from opening up a window in the wall. The onlooker oscilliates between wanting to enter the pictorial space empathetically and wanting to run into something hard and flat. The rationale of Disney`s aesthetics is to facilitate an efficient production and consumption of images. It is a mode of representation that filters out all disturbing elements, and allows the personal signature of the individual draftsman and a whole world of thingx be rolled out to flat forms, making each drawing into a kind of corporate logo. The bourgeois interior is a melange of different styles, in which baroque and rococo elements are welded into an organic whole along with a dash of exotica. The individual elements have stayed with us as afterimages long after the closing of the era when they dominated the human habit. Asked to picuter a typical staircase, one is perhaps more likely to come up with a construction of wood with curved banisters than one in cast concrete. It may seem strange that our power to imagine things seems to have been laid out once and for all in the 19th century. After all, this style belongs to a way of life that we have long since abandoned. The stylistic elements in the bourgeois home, however, have in turn been moved out of their proper surroundings, and installed in the realm of fiction. They have become the standard props in an endless row of literrary and cinematic genres.
Suspense and solution
Walter Benjamin has described a similar link between the bourgeois interior and genres of horror and suspense that Ingrid Toogood makes use of in her sceneries. ”The only satisfactory description of the style of furniture of the second half of the 19th century”, Benjamin wrote in 1928, ”may be found in a certain type of crime stories, the dynamic centre of which is that the horror is released within the home.” To Benjamin, the underlying truth of these stories was that everything that was meant to protect the bourgeoise against the impending dangers of a world which was quickly becoming more threatening and modernized, were symptoms of a culture on the brink of extinction; the layers of thick carpets and soft plush are revealed to be the equivalents of the trimmings of a coffin: ”The soulless opulence of the interior offers true comfort only to the corpse.” Benjamin points to a sofa, the very embodiment of homely comfort, and exclaims: ”On this sofa the aunt can only be murdered.”
While it might be true that the homre represents the arch-typical crime scene, it is also the very place where the murder mystery is solved. According to the standard formula of the crime novel, the detective summons everyone to the drawing-room in the final chapter, where the identity of the perpetrator is revealed. Whether the order of the house is re-established is another quetsion, one that we do not get an answer to since the plot is exhausted with the revelation of the murderer. The reader at any rate lets out a sigh og relief: the mystery has been solved by rational means.
Toogood`s scenries do not furnish you with comfortable cushions. Nor do they provide the suspense and solutions of a crime story. Instead you are confronted with sharply defined fields of colour, silhouettes and boards of plywood – a space that is not meant for living. Instead of suspense, a tension arises as images body forth and dissolves into three-dimensional forms. Different layers made up of things, images and cliches from different genres merge and form new images, only to collapse like so many cards in a card house as you move through the sceneries. The cards are shuffled: Things turn into images – images turn into things.