Electric – Sonja Ahlers

This is a piece bemoaning the existence and power that electricity has. This is first hinted at by the title of the piece and the word “electric” at the top left in a large, visually intriguing, 70s style font. The writer clearly dislikes electricity as it seems to bring her personal discomfort and pain.  “It is so bad…Burning my eyes.” This discomfort could be ecological and conservation based or it could be based on the fear of electricity and the control that it has over our lives.

The “E” in the upper middle sits on a rabatment line, making it a key visual point, drawing the eyes of the viewer towards it and being aesthetically pleasing. However, the aesthetic feeling get ruined when you realise it is slightly tilted, causing slight annoyance, I think this is done by the artist to aggravate the viewer. Making it easier for the viewer to sympathise with the plight of the writer. The cat is also on the other rabatment line on the piece, making them just as visually important as each other. This spits the viewer’s attention, and produces a hierarchical conflict visually, creating tension.

This tension is further enforced by the form of a cord on the right side of the piece. It looks like it’s going down to strike the cat like a snake coiled up ready to strike. This visual comparison is emphasised by the prongs looking like fangs. This produces a disturbing feeling for the viewer. It also gives the piece an expressive, dynamic atmosphere through the aggression, danger and tension produced by the cord.

The rule of thirds is used in this artwork to great effect. There is a clear area of separation between the top two thirds and the bottom third. Presenting the potential danger, control and deadly capacity in the top two thirds, and the innocent creature in the bottom third. Opening up the composition like this, make it less tight, easier to digest as a view and helps group elements together, which in turn helps the viewer produce a narrative when viewing the piece. In addition, the top third all produced with machines. However, the cat is an organic form, but was also printed, possibly screen-printed. Which produces the contradiction of this piece. That is, that in this age we are told to hate electricity, despite the fact that it’s a man made invention and that we rely on it all the time. This hate is elaborated throughout this piece, however the one organic form on this piece was produced using electricity. The cord is also seems to be screen-printed suggesting they are one in the same, that in fact they aren’t too different. This idea that is a man made thing that is affecting us and all organic life, reflects the way that time and language are two man made constructs that control us and the way that we interact with our environment. The poem resonates with fear of what our future holds and links to Homo Deus, in that sense.

This piece has a strong sense of good and evil throughout this piece. The piece has a chiaroscuro tone, the black and white adding to the feeling on stark contrast and comparison. The lettering is done by hand so also an organic form, but produced and presented in a different way. The aggression of the organic words at the bottom is almost said to the machine made words at the top. “I spit on your grave” is repeated twice. The strength of repetition suggesting that it’s the moral of the story or conclusion to the artist’s thoughts about electricity. The tagline for the title almost. This phase appears once in the cat and once on the floor next to the cat

Suggesting that perhaps the cat has spat the words out onto the floor. In an act of distaste or disapproval there is no way to know. This is an aggressive, childish and unfiltered gesture. A clear and strong way to get your opinion known.

“bangs.” is placed in the middle of the piece, in the most impactful and visually important section. This evokes feelings of danger, fear as it’s an aggressive onomatopoeia which is associated with violence and aggression, and what I associate with a gunshot. The full stop emphasises this, as a visual cue as they are visually similar. Creating a very final a definitive statement. This strength and power is further reinforced by the use of decisive, bold lines throughout this piece. However, the word is in a small font and lowercase, suggesting a level of vulnerability.

In addition, the artist begs a higher being as if it’s her last resort and feels like isn’t solvable by herself. “Oh god please burn down this overhead lighting.” Begging the powerful, man-made being of the pre-industrial revolution to destroy something else of our own making. This also links to the “fluorescent lights and neon signs” in the first line. It could be referencing the sun or the moon, or literally bright overhead lighting that hurts your eyes when you look at it. Another interesting interpretation is that God is historically symbolised and referenced as the light in the sky. “Fluorescent lights and neon signs” are two sources artificial light, which is usually installed in positions above our heads. Therefore, is God killing God? Or is God killing another entity that has the same status of God; an artificial God? Neon lights and fluorescent lights are an icon of materialism and text saturated symbols of commercialism. This same symbolism used a lot in AKIRA. Since, corporations in the 21st century have been elevated to the status of God. Then it’s easy to come to the conclusion that due to the artist’s discomfort that perhaps she wants God to “burn down” the materialism and commercialism that consumes us in the 21st century. This notion is reinforced by “Fluorescent lights and neon signs Unwanted” on the first line.


This artist approaches her pieces in an interesting way: “It is a very time-based process. It’s like I have to live with materials for years before I can see its worth. It is near-endless sorting. But the collecting, editing, processing and archiving is a huge part [of] the process – it helps me process emotions attached to the materials and objects and the work itself. What survives in print or in the gallery has stood a difficult test of time. I end up handling materials over and over until it makes me tired – even small things like a swatch of angora. It’s exhausting. I end up destroying a lot of it.  And now that I’ve typed that out I think I may need to change my process.” Sonja Ahlers

This piece is in one of the books that I own called, “Vispo”. I would love to analyse more piece from this book, but it’s so difficult to find context and information about the artist and the pieces as there is very little known about these artists. All I know about this piece context wise is that it was made between 1998 – 2008. I know the artist works predominantly with themes of feminism and contemporary social analysis, and her blog was last active in 2012. I get the feeling that perhaps she might not be working with art anymore or that she is possibly working on art offline. I have emailed her, so I’m currently hoping for a reply, if not I might have to go to a specialist library and see if they have any information on this piece.

I feel that due to the lack of context and general understanding of this artist that I have over compensated by over analysing this piece, but there is no real way to know what the artist was thinking until I get a reply.


[UPDATE: I received an email from the artist]




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