8 October 2020 – 8 March 2021

#3 Elsebet Rahlff

Running in parallel to UKS’ revolving solo exhibitions, YOUNG DUMB & BROKE is a series of displays each mounting a single early work by an artist once young and unknown, who is today older and esteemed. Low-fi, slack goofs, or prodigy pearls, the series explores the span between young artists’ experiments and the hindsight and leverage of recognition, borrowing its title from a chart hit on the 2017 American Teen album by singer-songwriter Khalid.

The third edition in the series features an early flag piece by ELSEBET RAHLFF (b. 1940, DK). Based in Bergen for more than half a century, Rahlff is one of Norway’s most influential feminist artists and a leading proponent of the avant-garde since the 1960s. Among other functions she was a member of the Bergen artist group “Gruppe 66,” which constituted a local part of the international Situationist movement. Later, she co-initiated, curated, and participated in the major exhibition Samliv/Common Life, a 1977–78 traveling and informative art exhibition on sexuality, contraception, and the body, which UKS hosted for its Oslo iteration at Kunstnernes Hus.

Beyond Rahlff’s iconic fabric-sculpture Livmor (Uterus), created for the aforementioned exhibition Samliv, the artist is perhaps most renowned for many years of contesting and rebuking that popular marker of essentialized national belonging: the flag. Drawing from her early schooling in textiles, since the early 1970s Rahlff has recomposed and contested this squared piece of fabric’s ubiquitous narrative. In her series World Flags—an installation that traveled the world from Bergen to Rio de Janeiro, from 1990 to 2000—Rahlff recreated the world’s national flags using only the color gray (which is a multicolor mix) and substituted the classical stars, crosses, seals, and stripes with meticulously crafted holes, thus presenting the symbols by their factual absence. Via empty peepholes in the cloth, the perforated national symbols absorb the local surroundings, debates, and conditions.

At UKS one of Rahlff’s first ever flag pieces is on show. Dating from 1974, and originally part of a series entitled Variasjoner over det norske flagg (Variations on the Norwegian Flag), in this piece, Rahlff neither removes nor empties out the Norwegian flag’s symbolic surface. Rather she places one of the country’s most vital lifelines right at its heart: an oil platform is printed in the flag’s upper left square, evoking questions of this nation’s economy and relation to ecology. As urgent as ever, Rahlff’s flag piece constitutes a site-specific and still timely comment on the “free” Norwegian nation’s strong ties and dependencies.

Elsebet Rahlff, Variations on the Norwegian flag, 1974

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