There are many fascinating instances of how a work of art enters into dialogue with another work of art over time. Ann Edholm’s new curtain for the ECOSOC Chamber (UN headquarters in New York) is one example. With Dialogos, Ann Edholm is in dialogue with both Sven Markelius’ architectonic design for the ECOSOC Chamber from 1952, and with the original curtain by the textile artist Marianne Richter. In an intriguing and contemporary way, Dialogos relates to Markelius’ and Richter’s focus on light, space and transparency.
Edholm’s curtain, however, addresses not only Markelius and Richter, but also the UN and its history. The Second World War was a gigantic failure in human relations. The UN was engendered by a desire for dialogue and unanimity across national borders. The title and design of Dialogos stresses that it is only through dialogue that we can master our fear of that which is different in The Other. Ann Edholm says that Barnett Newman’s artistic stringency was seminal to her own striving for aesthetic precision. With Dialogos Edholm wants to instil courage, resilience and power in the delegates who enter into dialogue in the ECOSOC Chamber in their fight for strong decisions beyond self-interest and short-term perspectives.
Size and volume
Marianne Richter and Ann Edholm share a sensibility to the monumentality of the ECOSOC Chamber, which is especially poignant in the part of the room nearest the window. Markelius’s “Cloud”, the inner ceiling above the delegates’ seating, emphasises the sheer size of it. In a photo from the 1950s, a man is standing by the window; with his body as a reference the magnificence of Richter’s curtain is enhanced. The window wall is seven metres high, and the wedge-shaped patterns of Richter’s curtain unfurl their “angelic wings” above the man (like the “angels” we can make in snow). In Edholm’s curtain, a precise encounter between the size and distribution of the triangles alters the dimensional effect of Dialogos depending on the viewer’s position in the room. Close up, the points of the triangles propel one’s gaze towards the vast ceiling. At a distance, say, from the far end of the room, the orange-white wedges almost look small, resembling the jagged teeth of a Halloween pumpkin.
The encounter in Edholm’s work between the different materialities of the fabrics, and the contrast between the bright orange felt and the more bland crêpe activates disparities and opposites. The slightly artificial bubbliness of the crêpe makes the felt appear earthy in comparison. The daylight, which is sifted through the curtain, immaterialises the pale crêpe, while the orange tone of the felt gains an enormous visual energy and volume. The strong colour, which shifts towards vibrant red in some daylight, relates to Richter’s colour scheme and also gives contours to the dark space Markelius and his partners were striving for when they designed the modulation of the inner ceiling in the rear section of the room.
One of the great challenges in the ECOSOC Chamber project was the low ceiling in the rear part of the room where the media and public are seated. The architects’ solution was to remove the planned inner ceiling, revealing the beams and shafts. In this way the ceiling height was nearly doubled. The ceiling where the installations are laid bare is what the ECOSOC Chamber has been most famous for, not only because it was unprecedented in architectural history, but also because it has come to symbolise the UN’s constantly ongoing, unfinished work.
Markelius strove to make the exposed installation ceiling feel less raw and brutal by painting the beams and shafts the same greyish-green as the walls, although a few shades darker. As a afterthought, beyond pure functionalism, he also chose to paint black and white rectangles of different sizes that spread randomly across the three-dimensional installation ceiling. These patches glimmer and form a starry sky in this dark universe, contrasting against the white “cloud” and its downward-pointing lights, which shine brightly on the delegates’ seating. Dialogos’ sharp, distinct orange-white wedges enhance the “cloud” by adopting its scale and clarity, while the curtain gives contours to the painted rectangles and allows them to appear in their irrational poetry beyond the functionalist ideals of purity and simplicity.
Work in Progress
STOCKHOLM spring 2010 – autumn 2012. Fabric sample, sketch and model as they came in to the Public Art Agency. Studio photos from HV Studio.