Olga Tobreluts

Emperor and Galilean

Storgata 95

22. June 2012 - 30. September 2012

10:47
Mari Hildung

Emperor and Galilean, the great Russian visual artist Olga Tobreluts’ (1970-) series of images, takes its inspiration from Henrik Ibsen’s eponymous play from 1873. Tobreluts’ choice of play corroborates Ibsen’s own statement on this play as his major work – in stark contrast to its historical reception. Tobreluts is greatly attracted to Emperor and Galilean because of the important position of history and ideology in this drama. Its plot recalls a defining moment in European history: Emperor Julian’s life and reign from 332-363, when the conflict between Hellenism and Christianity came to a climax. This conflict also plays out the struggle between the artistic and the mystic versus the orderly and the rational – what Nietzsche termed the Dionysian and Apollonian powers, and what Odile and Odette enact forcefully in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Tobreluts also sees striking parallels between Ibsen’s Julian and King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886), Europe’s Royal patron of the arts and the nation in which the play premiered in 1896. The Roman emperor and the German king are regarded as historical champions of the arts. Tobreluts images and Ibsen’s play defend the empire of imagination.

The subject matters of Ibsen’s play manifest themselves in Tobreluts’ classical and Christian motifs, in their anachronistic temporality and in their experimental form. Her anachronism conflates past, present and future, her many constellations of complementary pairs and triptychs parallel the dualities and the third empire of Ibsen’s drama, and her digital manipulation comments upon and challenges the traditional artistic media of painting and photo in the way Ibsen’s play offers imaginative representations of his sources.

Ibsen presents a historical drama that attends to the inner life and the spirit of the time in both the 4th century Roman Empire and the 19th century Europe. Tobreluts visual art meditates upon Ibsen’s play and our own time: Ideological clashes belong to today’s society, secularisation and religion are still at odds, the autonomy of arts are under constant pressure. Tobreluts’ anachronistic features reveal the temporal complexity of history, modernity and future, just as the surrealist tendency suggests strife for reconciliation of inner life and social order when life appears absurd. Her highly manipulated visions of historical settings and works of art hint of renewal, falsification and denial of history. Rontgen-like images indicate new types of technology for research into history, but also today’s surgical state supervision of the individual. Like Ibsen’s and Tobreluts’ time, our time is also a time of change.

Tobreluts’ fascinating images in Emperor and Galilean revive and illuminate Ibsen’s great play and reflect upon the world drama of today.


Ruben Moi, University of Tromsø

About the XIIIth International Ibsen Conference