For the exhibition CONFERENCE at Kunsthall Trondheim, Anna Daniell has collected sculptures from her entire artistic oeuvre. This means that when they are now exhibited in Trondheim for the first time, they all come with their own histories. Anna Daniell creates sculptures. However, the most important thing is what she does with them. The sculptures have been in peoples’ houses, they have been lectured to, they have been in conversation with authors, been privy to secrets and much more besides.
Conference means to gather, and we are familiar with it as a site where peers meet to exchange thoughts and ideas. The exhibition uses the word conference in order to draw attention to the collection of sculptures, but also as a means of pointing out that the sculptures are not merely inanimate objects, which we are supposed to stare at. As with humans they too have their own stories and possibilities for interactions with both humans and each other. In other words, we are in the company of the sculptures, or perhaps visiting them.
The artistic oeuvre of Anna Daniell explores what kind of significance art and objects can have for us in contemporary life. She creates staged situations between audience and art, in order to turn on its head the usual perspective of objects merely being something of our creation and use, and not something which affects, helps and shapes us.
In the project The Flock of Problems (2016), in which Anna Daniell exhibited six unsolved scientific problems, the audience entered a theatre like situation and where they could contemplate on the sculptures for four and a half minutes, before a curtain was drawn across. This project is an example of how Anna Daniell stages situations, wherein the audience is given the opportunity to step out of the usual role of contemplative gaze, in order for them to rather be in the company of the sculptures as equal actors. We are given the opportunity to listen to the objects, consider where they might hail from and what their stories are.
For the exhibition SCULPTURE CLUB (2017), at Podium in Oslo, Daniell invited guests to do things for the sculptures during the exhibition period. For instance, she invited the anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen to give a lecture for the sculptures. The audience were in this case on an equal footing with the sculptures, since, in reality, the lecture was meant for the sculptures, even though an audience was permitted to attend.
Throughout human history sculptures and objects have been more than mere things. They have been given supernatural forces, the souls of animals and the deceased, and they have been seen as the homes of gods. Objects have been of pivotal importance to strengthen the ties of communities and their identity. We have felt them as protectors against known as well as unknown dangers, and they have reminded us of people and situations which no longer exist. They have been, both, the carriers of stories for our memories, as well as a way of accessing realities outside our own. In particular the last point has been the cause of much fear throughout modernity. In line with the progression of the ideals of the Enlightenment spirituality was replaced with rationality. Realities beyond the grasp of the human mind were gradually marginalised, in favour of attaining the world through science.
The borderland between the living and the thing has been the source of much horror in popular culture. When a thing becomes animate new realities appear, parallel to our own, which we can not contain or control. The philosopher Eugene Thacker writes of this in the book The Dust of this Planet (2011). The book is about the horror that appears when the limits of our imagination are broken. An example is the story of Dr. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley from 1818. In this story Frankenstein is taken ill for several weeks after the flight of his creation. Frankenstein had been too much engaged in the scientific side to his project to take into account that his creation wishes for a subjectivity of his own. The monster of Frankenstein is a figure on the borders of a creation and the human – it is, at the same time, both, an uncontrollable object, and a subject. This creates a horror of such a violent nature that it causes the doctor to be physically ill for several months. The story of Frankenstein shows us that, in our culture, there are powerful forces at play when challenging the notions of what is an object and what is animate. In the world of Anna Daniell, the subjectivity of the objects is not a terrifying experience. On the contrary, it is important for her to communicate with a broad audience, and she is happy to use humour in order to actively draw art out from a narrow art milieu, and create a meeting of art and people – for instance when she created an exhibition at Bislet Stadium in Oslo.
Sculptures have, throughout human history, been objects which could grant access to realities beyond that attainable for humans. These are the kind of folklore traditions which inspires Anna Daniell when she creates situations in which her sculptures can meet an audience. Whether the sculptures are hers, or she is theirs, is, however, unclear. In an interview she states that “I feel as though I am an employee of my sculptures. That it is they who have a career”. Consequently, the sculptures have a life of their own, whilst still being a part of our world. They work this peculiar balancing act of meaning, between a subjective human world and an objective material world. In everyday life we tend to think that it is only humans who have a subjectivity, which, in essence, is inaccessible to others; nobody knows exactly what I feel and who I am. Regarding objects, on the other hand, we have a common notion of what they are – we describe the object and agree that we are looking at the same cup or chair, and that it has no inner biography of its own.
Sculptures have the ability to materialise something subjective for us, a memory or an experience, for instance through making a sculpture representing a deceased grandfather. In this fashion we can transfer something which no longer exists back into an objective common understanding. The sculpture thus becomes a mediator between our reality and that which no longer exists, or which only exist in the supernal.
In the praxis of Anna Daniell there is, however, more at stake. The stories given to the sculptures are partly secret or hidden from the audience. The stories of the objects are subjective. We never know the whole story of what happened when the sculpture was in somebody’s home, or which secrets were whispered to it. Accordingly, the sculptures, on the one hand, have a material and objective outer side to them, which we can agree on, but also an almost subjective inner side. An example is the sculpture “The secret of success”, which, prior to being exhibited at Gallery Brandstrup, had the secret of success whispered to it by the gallerist whilst an audience watched, but without them being able to hear what was said. It is almost as though the gallerist gives life to the sculpture through making it the container of a secret. It is almost as if he creates a subjectivity, which is only accessible to the sculpture, and which we, as audience, can only guess at.
The only new sculpture shown in this exhibition is put on a table with chairs around it. During the exhibition period guests will be invited to hold meetings and gather around the table. The sculpture will be situated in a fashion which makes it impossible for everyone to see each other when all the chairs are taken. The sculpture intrudes and insists on being a part of the gathering. The praxis of Anna Daniell challenges us because it runs counter to our rational ideals that a thing is a thing, yet, all the same, it connects to something well known, but irrational; our emotional dependence on objects.
Thanks to Galleri Brandstrup and Grieg Kapital AS.
Anna Daniell (b.1978) is working in the field of sculpture, film, performance and text. She questions what strategies to use in order to enhance the emotional connection between the audience and her sculptures. Daniell has examined terms like animation, and examples where sculptures are charged with religious functions and used as emotional support. By facilitating and encouraging her audience to give the sculptures meaning and personal qualities, she works to figure out whether the artistic expression can be subordinated to the spectator’s relation to the artwork in order for her sculptures to play a bigger part in the everyday and emotional lives of the audience. Daniell has participated in a number of exhibitions, national and international, and done public commissions, lectured and participated in different artist residencies.