Death hangs heavily over Magnhild Opdøl’s work. Her exquisitely detailed pencil studies of animal decay are immersed in the classical traditions of Dürer and Claesz but are equally acquainted with the psychology of her native Norway and the darker heart of her adopted Ireland. Both countries have struggled with rural depopulation, a phenomenon that has returned the countryside to a state of nature. Farmhouses are left abandoned as a rising tide of vegetation sweeps aside traces of human habitation. A disturbing, feral energy has reclaimed the landscapes that Dürer sought to idealise in his pastoral studies. Opdøl’s work presents the encounter with nature in such settings as one of the central experiences of urban man in post-industrial societies.
Significantly, Opdøl cites the influence of Swedish crime-writers Roslund & Hellström on her sober approach to art-making. Like Opdøl, Roslund & Hellström are attracted to seldom celebrated aspects of the human psyche, depicting uncomfortable subject matter with a frank and, at times, pitiless honesty. The Beast, their debut novel, follows the story of a vicious manhunt as a father seeks revenge for the murder of his daughter. The book, like the best crime-fiction, explores the animalistic, yet forbidden concept of bloodlust, and provides us with plenty of the blood and guts descriptions that make for compelling reading. Opdøl recognises the universality of this blood fascination. She couples drawings with the slogan ‘whenever of however it is found, the appeal of a little fawn like this is irresistible’. When I encounter Opdøl’s installations, I gravitate towards the forensic detail of each object and drawing, overwhelmed by a recognition of the time required to produce each study. The image-world she inhabits is meticulously reconstructed with formidable precision, as if it were a crime scene and she, the detective.
The full essay will be published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition" if you go down to the woods".