malin abrahamsson
Profile: Malin Abrahamsson
"I do like Staten Island. The atmosphere, the open space has more of the feeling of Middle America than the other boroughs."

Robin Locke Monda

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Malin Abrahamsson has learned there's no place like home. Unlike Dorothy, Malin knows that she won't wake up, one day, to her childhood memory of Sweden. "Sweden doesn't feel like home anymore. I've been away too long." She came to the United States to attend college, graduated from School of Visual Arts in 1998, and now works there as the Acquisitions/Administrative Manager in the Visual Arts Library. Malin had no intention of staying here But she met musician Carlos Alves (a 2004 COAHSI Premiere Grantee). They got married and lived in Manhattan for a while, then discovered Staten Island's relatively modest housing costs and "organic feeling" neighborhoods. She's lived in the United States for more than eleven years now. "America is my home, but it doesn't give me that feeling of home I had as a child. I do like Staten Island. The atmosphere, the open space has more of the feeling of Middle America than the other boroughs."

Some readers may recall seeing Malin's work at the Vlepo Gallery and Tattfoo Temple of Art & Design. She creates large and small scale installations that incorporate drawings, canvas paintings and stenciled icons on the walls. The most personal of her works are those drawn on vellum sheets with softly colored pencil and ink. They depict delicate subjects: a tiny bird, a crown of wild flowers, long trailing ribbons. Once Malin leaves vellum and moves to canvas, the walls and whole spaces, her work takes on a clean, architectural feel that belies the vulnernable core revealed in her ink drawings.

Often, Malin's installations include miniature houses of Foam Core or Lucite on cartoon-shaped hillocks made from telescoping layers of the same materials. Each tableau looks like a page torn from a storybook that's been drained of it's color. There's no sense of place, no sense of particularity. It's a generic house, with a generic roof, with a generic chimney, window and door. The house could easily be a street sign symbol, or a computer icon. it should feel cold, unemotional. Yet this simple geometric construct, like the house drawn by a small child, holds an attraction that can only be explained by its fiction. It is unattainable.

Sometimes the house is dripping pastel colored paint that's hardened like the frosting on an abandoned birthday cake. Too sweet, perhaps, saccharin even; yet so... appealing. It's a dream of home, the place you'll never go back to, and perhaps never had.

This is the dilemma of the immigrant and the artist: to be forever in transition, unsettled and essentially alone. Even those of us who have never left the United States to live in a foreign country recognize the loss. When the neighborhood playground is torn down, or the apartment you grew up in sold, where does home go? In the bare, stripped down house forms that Malin creates, we face abandonment and loss. It is our lot. We have grown up. We have gone out into the world and the home we once knew can never be captured again - or can it?

In the paleness of Malin's paintings, in the aloneness and silence, you begin to notice things.

It's like walking out into new-fallen snow and finding echoes of the world beneath. There are no footprints. No one is about. There is only whiteness. Then you catch the quick flight of a bird, the calligraphic stroke of a tree branch, the pink memory of summer light. Malin's crisp blue skies and cool housescapes find relief in a star of flower petals, or drops of paint that have fallen like snowflakes, bubbles, twinkles onto the canvas. Look closer. What's that wisp of decorative flotsam curling around a street lamp cutout? There's a little magic here, a bit of Sweden caught in the cool winter light.

The little bunny outlines, the migrating geese, the floral elements that remind you of your grandmother's wallpaper. It's homey. But Abrahamsson's notion of home doesn't exist in a vacuum-sealed nostalgia. There are disasters, moments of chaos: a huge blop of pale blue paint slides down the rendering of an apartment building, blocking our windows. Telephone poles, highways, industrial smoke stacks and bleached sides of warehouses bring a different kind of energy.

Like many Staten Islanders who weren't born here, Malin Abrahamsson has an affection for the industrial and urban elements that pop up in the oddest of places around borough. She is not alone in her appreciation of the white gas tanks and enormous container ships moored out on the "Jersey" side of the Kill van Kull. She is not alone in her affection for the industrial shoreline that runs Staten Island's northwest flank.

Which brings us to "Salt Mountain", and invitational exhibition of contemporary works that will celebrate the Atlantic Salt Company's man-made mountain of salt. What Staten Islander hasn't driven Richmond Terrace with some anticipation of the changes in size, shape and color of the salt pile that looms near the road not far from Snug Harbor? It is a uniquely Staten Island experience. Sometimes the mound is very high, covered in a tarp the size of a football field. Sometimes the mound has a huge bite taken out of it. Sometimes it all but disappears. The changes to the mound happen inexplicably, when we are not watching. For an inert pile of salt, it holds a special fascination for almost anyone who's driven past it.

Like the other artists in the "Salt Mountain" show, Malin was able to walk the site and photograph it. She waved to the operator in the huge crane that transports the salt from ship to shore, and talked with the workers who operate the vehicles and machinery that transfer the salt from the pile onto trucks. "it was a great experience! The men waved and gave me the 'thumbs up' sign. They stopped their vehicles and posed for me. They seemed to enjoy my visit as much as I!" Malin found that walking the salt pile, exploring it up close and engaging the workers was rewarding in itself. "It's life. It wasn't artificial or contrived. It happened. I like that."

With its sparkling whiteness and monolithic form, the idea of "Salt Mountain" will no doubt enter the spare iconography of Malin Abrahamsson, who seems quite at home in Staten Island.

"Salt Mountain" opens May 2, 2006 at the Noble Maritime Collection. The history of the Atlantic Salt Company, the corporation that owns the salt mines of the north shore of Staten Island, is explored through prints, paintings, sculptures and photographs by ten local artists, as well as displays of various types of sodium.