Ragna Bley – ZOOID

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Introduction: ZOOID

Edited and produced by Kunsthall Oslo and designed by Lukas Lehner.

Published by the Munch Museum, 2020.


ISBN 978-82-93560-50-0

the paintings that ragna bley presents in the exhibition Zooid are over three metres tall and painted on unprimed sailcloth. The sailcloth is bright white, and using it unprimed means that Bley can allow the pigment to diffuse across the fabric, almost like watercolour, creating liquid pools of layered colour that spread through the image and

appear to float in space.

At first sight, the paintings appear abstract, concerned primarily with the play of paint and light on the surface of the canvas. But a second look reveals definite things in the process of formation, blurred figures that have almost, but not quite, defined themselves amongst the swirling clouds of diluted pigment.

At the very beginning of what we now call modern painting, Édouard Manet was attacked by the critics because his paintings looked unfinished. Certain key areas – faces, or figures – would be well-defined against a background of improvised brushstrokes that used the minimum of painterly work to suggest form, light and shadow, as though the painting was a brief glance at a scene, registering only the most important details. Bley seems to reverse this sensation; her paintings give the sense that the image has been caught while slowly forming, evolving through the process of painting.

The exhibition’s title, Zooid, is a word used in biology for an organism of uncertain status, something that is almost, but not quite, an individual creature; think of the tiny polyps that come together to make coral reefs, or spermatozoa on their hopeful journey. So Bley’s exhibition is perhaps about this intermediate state, between abstraction and representation, or between thought and expression, and one way to understand her paintings is as being about the potential of the process of painting, or the creative process itself. About a desire to capture a moment in the evolution of the work where the path to its ideal realisation still seems open, before the final moment of closure in which that world of possibility must inevitably vanish.

The paintings are accompanied by many small bronze sculptures. These sculptures take up the theme of Zooid, appearing almost, but not quite, like individual creatures, and echoing some of the shapes seen in the paintings. The walls and floor of the gallery are both painted white, to suggest that the sculptures and the paintings both inhabit the same environment and that, like the polyps of a coral reef, they might come together to make a whole.