Zero G Aesthetics

Eddie Figge and Agnieszka Polska reach stratospheric heights in the basement of the Workers’ Education Association in Stockholm.

Rymdrummet (The Space Room), installation view with Eddie Figge, Rymdsyner (Space Visions), 1972 & Agnieszka Polska, The Happiest Thought, 2019.

I must have been 12 or 13 years old when I first encountered the Swedish painter Eddie Figge (1904–2003) in one of my mother’s magazines. I remember swooning over her story of an artistic career which started quite late, when she was already a famous actress and a friend gave her a box of paints which became her portal to a new life. Eventually, Figge reinvented herself as an Informal painter – a movement she described as an artistic “ground zero,” which swept the slate clean, purging all traces of what had previously existed. 

Surely, many would consider her notion of a transcendental art that “holds all times” as the apotheosis of high modernist ideals which quickly became dated. Therefore, I was intrigued when the young exhibition space Mint – located in the basement of the Workers’ Education Association in Stockholm – elected to show Figge next to the Polish artist Agnieszka Polska. As it turns out, highlighting the two artists’ connection to “an aesthetics of weightlessness” is both a way of destabilising the subject and hinting at a latent posthumanism in the works.

Indeed, the experience of Figge’s large painting Farewell to Voyager II (1989), with metal foil added to the sky blue surface, is intensified knowing what we know today: that Earth will soon lose contact with the unmanned space probe, which will continue its ageless journey in silence.

Rymdrummet (The Space Room), installation view with Eddie Figge, Farväl till Voyager II (Farewell to Voyager II), 1989, to the left.

Unfortunately, both artists are also united by a certain grandiose theatricality. I could barely hear myself think because of the roaring voice-over from Polska’s animation of Earth floating in space. Two prima donnas screaming for my attention in such a small room was too much! Yet, as the dust settled, Figge emerged as the show’s brightest star. Somehow, the small venue has managed to borrow a top-notch selection of ten or so works ranging from her early ‘space paintings’ – which she began working on after the moon landing in 1969 – to her late pastel drawings which have an airier style that she adopted after a trip to Japan in the 1990s.

Historically, space travel is entrenched in twentieth-century imperialist politics which continue to haunt us today. But this exhibition is about the feeling, not the politics, of space: the unfettered experience of being freed from gravity and liberated from the bonds of the past. Can art give that experience an objective form? I think this is the show’s timely question. Indeed, when posed at the Workers’ Education Association, it seems to directly address the contemporary left’s inability to articulate a progressive idea of freedom in the age of reactionary politics.