Continuing his study of regimes of paranoia and easily mis-identified symbols from underground sub-cultures globally, Gardar Eide Einarsson’s I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul 2007 constrained the white-box by creating a chain-link fence using spray paint and a stencil. A sterile steel bench placed at the centre of the gallery and a photograph of the back entrance of a mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, added another layer highlighting the opacity of certain forms of representation – of insider and outsider – versus demagogic appropriations of branding and style.
His text based works are a little more direct. Mining the graphic design and advertising methods that manipulate public beliefs, particularly the distilled and sharp morsels of meaning found in slogans, speech bubbles, logos, or flags emblazoned with fighting words such as ‘Liberty or Death’ and ‘Come and Take It’, which echo the sentiments of nationalism and revolt. Einarsson recontextualizes meaning, creating a tension between imagery and the action it compels the viewer to take.
Referencing a range of iconic phraseology from 1960s and 70s protest movements and counterculture, for example, the infamous Manson Family or recasting a line from a play written by Theodore Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber. A wall painting using the logo of underground record label SST is subtitled Sic Semper Tyrannis, in Latin ‘thus always to tyrants’ – a phrase shouted by John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln and a favourite of American terrorist Timothy McVeigh. Einarsson is similarly fascinated with the visual language of comic books, using speech bubbles and comic typefaces to produce bold statements on gallery walls. In another example, he bleeds the entire colour out of the iconic Captain America shield. He relies on the viewer’s recognition of a familiar format or icon and the attendant uneasiness that comes when that object or language is stripped of colour, context and its usual meaning.
Einarsson also borrows imagery from underground subcultures, including criminal and left-wing militias, portrayed in a primarily black-and-white palette, meticulously produced using, for example, computer-generated stencils. This austerity gives Einarsson’s work a hard-edged rejection of sentiment. Combined with a self-conscious acknowledgement, reveals an ambivalence and irony at the heart of politicised works while flirting with the problematic style of ‘radical chic’.
Einarsson purposely problematises his work to avoid didactic, facile expressions of negativity or controversy. His use of text allows for a directness that both recalls and critiques artworks decrying political injustices made during the 1990s by artists such as Barbara Kruger. By staging textual works alongside abstract objects, propped paintings and images, Einarsson embeds his politics more deeply in a search for answers, and through Minimalist formalism he offers opaque or ambivalent translations of his skepticism toward established power structures.
Investigating varied forms of social transgression and arguments for political subversion, as well as the administration of justice, Einarsson seems to focus on notions of the unwanted outlaw or extreme rebel, exploring how such an outsider becomes a tragic figure.