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Gallery Milliken, Stockholm
28 August - 5 October
Reviewed by: Matt Roberts »
Whilst the majority of us rely on twenty-four-hour television news channels and the internet to gain some semblance of understanding of international politics, Lisi Raskin has embarked on a road trip across America, in order to discover nuclear test sites and strategic missile facilities unmanned since the end of the Cold War. This period documenting military facilities, which were never meant for civilian eyes, has resulted in 'Topside', a series of room-sized installations at gallery Milliken, Stockholm.
In the first part of the installation, 'Control Panel', a missile launch system created from Styrofoam, chipboard and plywood, gives the viewer the opportunity to 'lock and load', or achieve 'lift off' - offering a chilling view of how militaristic terminology has been adopted into common language through computer games and films of the late 70s and early 80s. Inside the front cover of a hand-scribbled manual, large black letters reads the phrase: 'The only dumb question is the one you don't ask'. This sentiment sets the tone for the work, as the illusion of control is maintained by a bewildering array of flashing gauges, which seem to be all that stands between the user and impending nuclear armageddon. Moving on, along an unstable wooden ramp into the second gallery, the tinfoil walls glow an ominous pink, and I find myself in the middle of a crumbling reactor core. The heat of the reactor burns up from below, and the floor beneath my feet begins to give way.
Crouching within a dark black bunker at the epicentre of the installation I survey numerous stark pencil drawings illustrating a post-apocalyptic American landscape. The viewer steps out, like The Omega Man, into a hallucinatory wilderness punctuated by military paraphernalia rendered useless. Power cables, security fences and communications outposts; baked by a sun that leaves no shadows. Perhaps the most powerful element of this installation in three acts, her drawings contain the fierce energy of someone trying to cope with a nightmare.
Undoubtedly the weak point of the exhibition is the interlinking room, Raskin's missile park, which features a series of hybridised model planes and missiles, teetering on shoddy balsa wood plinths. These sculptures are, despite their cobbled together appearance, the most saleable element of the exhibition. Of course gallery Milliken is a commercial gallery, and the artist must be able to make a living, but as a purist, this section interrupts the flow of the narrative and makes me feel uncomfortable.
More than a simple investigation of war architecture, Raskin's hollow structures meditate on the saber-rattling of the Cold War period; the various factions speaking in fervent tones of their military might and determination, whilst interested parties work behind the scenes to prevent World War III. Rather than seeking to detract from the seriousness of this period of American history the DIY aesthetic emphasises the fantastical nature of modern warfare, as nations intoxicated on victory fantasies, or driven by fear, stockpile weapons; creating a solemn pact of mutually assured destruction.
Reading through Raskin's previous press coverage she is often described as an innocent, fitted out in a child's astronaut costume, or caught selling plots of land on Mars. However for me, her appraisal of modern warfare brings parallels with writer Albert Camus' famous outsider Meursault; holding a mirror up to the myths of freedom and security perpetuated by the military superpowers. For the artist, the fantasy of a nuclear endgame echoes childhood play, where those with their hand over the button become separated from reality, lost in a disorientating array of strategic possibilities. Rather than fearing the barren, post-apocalyptic landscape Raskin conjures up, it offers solace to her, promising a time beyond the anticipation of destruction. Instead of learning to love the bomb, Raskin's ongoing body of work interrogates what it might mean to become a survivor.
Matt Roberts is an artist and Curator
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