About an inhumane standard
Magnus Wallin’s work Skyline
The idea of “the perfect human being” is transmitted with increasing clarity, through the advances in genetic engineering as well as through the media’s efforts to formulate a fixed, implacable conception of beauty. In his works, Magnus Wallin deals with the vulnerability of those people who diverge from the norm, physically or mentally. He doesn’t settle, however, for pointing to the consequences of our rigid model for normality; he also examines how it has come into existence. In the work Skyline, the audience is confronted with, among other things, the radical reshaping of the body common in the Renaissance, from subject into object.
Magnus Wallin’s Skyline is a 3D computer animated movie projected in Prästgarden [the Vicarage] which displays a completely different environment than the one surrounding it. The visitor watching finds himself high above the ground – possibly atop a tower or in a skytower. Here, the elegant sounds of lounge music form the background, occasionally interrupted by the sounds of breathing or of a heart beating. And from this viewpoint, the visitor sees a belvedere housing a number of so-called “muscle models”. Their bodies are the skinless, meat-red figures we know from enciclopedic expositions of the physionomy of the human body. Every muscle and tendon bared, these muscle men swing vigorously in trapezes, swings and rings. It all resembles the way in which athletes used to be depicted in order to represent a human ideal, as for instance in Nazi and communistic propaganda. The men swing back and forth at neckbreaking speed, coming dangerously close to the audience until they hit the glass walls of the building, their bodies shattering. The body parts fall down, landing with a muffled bang onto the table of a dissecting-room.
In Skyline, the human body undergoes a series of metamorphoses, each representing an era’s conception of it. In doing this, Magnus Wallin draws attention to the relationship between the modern scientific strive towards physical and mental perfection and the similar historical dream of the ideal human being. During the Renaissance – when the dissecting-room came into use – there was a radical change from seeing the body as a subject to seeing it as an object. During the same time, a number of criteria were formulated for what was “normal”, in turn coming to be seen as what was “ideal”. Skyline shows how this Renaissance conception of the human body forms the basis of our most contemporary norms for the body. In Skyline, the body parts land in the Renaissance dissecting-room, a devastating fact for the people whose bodies are seen as not fulfilling the criteria for normality.
Magnus Wallin seems to be criticising as well as searching for a way of dealing with the merciless human and physical ideals dominant in our culture, not least in Sweden. In the history of ideas there has been a search for the causes for and explanations of the present aesthetical, social and ideological demands for perfection in the human physique. Despite being an ideal that’s been given a new boost by recent advances in genetic engineering and the explorations of human DNA, Magnus Wallin’s works of art can’t be seen as making resistance to the progresses of science. On the contrary, in his works totality is presented as the supremely decisive element of our attitudes, prejudices and actions towards persons suffering from physical or mental “divergences”. In other words, our conception of the human being is the product of an entire society, an entire culture, that takes the right – every day – to marginalise human beings on the basis of physical or mental parameters. In that way, Magnus Walling comments on an age where the conception of the human being seems to grow increasingly inhumane.