Vanessa Baird


Here we go again´/ Happy as can be/ All good pals and jolly good company/ Never mind the weather/ never mind the rain/ Now we’re all together/ whoops she goes again/ La-di-da-di-da, la-di-da-di-dee/ All good pals and jolly good company

& Onkel Blå. Variasjoner

OSL contemporary is proud to present an exhibition featuring new works by Vanessa Baird. The show comprises watercolours in two series of a smaller format and two individual works of medium format, as well as three small landscapes. The 19 works from the series Here we go again... (2013-14) have not previously been exhibited, while Onkel Blå. Variasjoner (translation: Uncle Blue. Variations) (2014), as well as the works I know a garden....,(2014) and Fuglene vil bli skremt..(translation: The Birds will be frightened...), (2014) were included in a recent, major presentation at Göteborg Konstmuseum, Sweden.

Watercolour has, since the Renaissance, been a favoured medium for illustration, and was popularized during the 18th century through analytical illuminations of scientific findings, within fields such as topography, geology, botany and biology. It also became one of the adornments of a finer education among the upper classes, especially for women. Eventually sentimentalized and commercial formats were widely spread to the masses in the shape of picturesque travelogues and various illustrated publications. One might assume that perceived attachments to the reproductive, amateurish, "feminine" and common provide ample explanation for the lesser position of the medium within a western art-historical context.

In Baird's appropriation of illustration as format, and of watercolour as technique, the dissection of familiar reality is devoid of sentimentality. Her recurring motifs refer to the mundane, the personal, and the folkloristic. Familiar and intimate passages are drawn into a literary fantasy, where grotesque absurdity, the vulgar and threatening, that which is habitually obscured in subtext, is materialized on the surface. The production rejects no aspect of the human condition, and is, as such, situated within the tradition of the humanistic project, as defined by ideals of openness, critical self-reflection, empathy and regard for human worth.

In the series Here we go again... a female figure in blue is penetrated by red pigment bleeding into the paper. The title is drawn from a hit sung by soldiers during WW1. The coloristic investigation approaches abstraction in several of these works, and the aesthetic appears inspired by splatter film set-ups. In Onkel Blå. Variasjoner, Baird has retrieved Elsa Beskow's childrens' books about the prim aunts Violet, Green and Brown. The motifs reflect the original illustrations, with subtle shifts in the interactions between characters.

In 2011 Baird began work on the largest official commission awarded in Norway since WW2, intended for the new departmental building R6 in the governmental quarter of Oslo, (which came to be targeted during the July 22 bombing tragedy). The work entitled Fuglene vil bli skremt, men bare et øyeblikk, som etter et skudd, så flyr de tilbake til trærne, til redene sine, (translation: The birds will be frightened, but just for an instant, as if after a shot, then they fly back to the trees, to their nests), (2014) is an architectural depiction of the route between the artist's home and her temporary studio in the area's bomb-ravaged S-Block. Based on negative associations with the attack of July 22nd, only two of the three wall paintings were mounted. The third and final wall piece, To everything There is a Season, (2014) was exhibited at Kunstnernes Hus this summer and will be installed in the offices of the Norwegian Cultural Council in Mølleparken 2 this autumn.

The works exhibited at OSL contemporary were produced parallel with the massive media debate that tailed the refusal of the commissioned work. Baird has on several occasions been advised to exercise moderation in respect to the public's sensitivity. Her pictorial universe is, however, as indifferent to such sensitivities, as is human fantasy, as is our history, our culture and our existential condition. The gap between the bestiality of life and society's preferred depiction of it, forces questions of what threats intellectual and visual exposition can manifest. The recent disputes over issues raised by caricatures (of Mohammed), freedom of speech, and artistic provocation make it continuously relevant to question the receptivity of public space with regards to art's alleged and often celebrated function as cathartic and therapeutic.

Vanessa Baird (born 1963) lives and works in Oslo. She has had solo exhibitions at, among others, Göteborg Konstmuseum, Galleri MGM (Oslo), Galleri c/o Atle Gerhardsen (Berlin), Galleri Wang (Oslo) and Tegnerforbundet (Oslo). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at The National Museum (Norway), Sørlandets kunstmuseum, Stenersenmuseet and Lillehammer kunstmuseum. She has published two books: Brothers Grimm's, "Ulven og Reven", (2013) and "You can't keep a good rabbit down", (2009). both at No Comprendo Press in Oslo. Upcoming exhibitions include Lorch Shive's art award, Trondheim kunstmuseum in 2015 and Kunstnernes Hus in 2016.