Kunsthall Trondheim’s summer exhibition evolves around the body’s relation to space and materiality. Experiences of the body’s relation to the room – also in the extended meaning of the material world – the physical body as materiality and weight, but also as an immanent strive towards movement is a reoccurring thought in the presentation. The idea of the mind as thinking matter refers to the 17th century philosopher Margaret Cavendish, who will be the subject of a conference in Trondheim, held by the Margaret Cavendish society in June.
The figure in Tibor Hajas’ documented performances seems to be struggling with the room – he melts into the wall in the background while ferociously fighting to free himself. The image created in the process is reminiscent of Icarus’ wings. It’s not surprising that this mythical tale of the human wish to fly and the inevitable result – the fall from the sky – comes to mind today. We have literally built a society around the idea of conquering our material conditions – be it in relation to the material world around us, or the fact of our own materiality. The idea of the human is no doubt in flux with a growing impact of AI, and new scientific endeavours blur the border between us and the machines. However, we still live in the material world. That nothing in any definite way can free us from that condition, is a growing insight. As humans, we will not be able to exist without the rest of this world, and as banal as this might seem, it carries with it implications we will have to find ways to handle. Today we need a political agenda based not only on increasing conflicts and threats against democratic rights, but also in the fact of the vulnerability and fragility of both the human and the earth. We need to cultivate compassion founded in our deep entanglement with everything around us. As a continuation of a series of exhibitions at Kunsthall Trondheim addressing our new reality in the Anthropocene era this presentation puts the human body in focus.
As a result of the growing understanding of humanity’s profound ties to the material world there is today also an increasing interest in the agency of matter; the idea that all matter – humans, other animals, plants, minerals –have agency and even a kind of thinking. The interest in ecology and geology that many artists share can also be seen in the light of this, and in relation to the interest in materiality as such, in the object as such, in hand made objects or in craft based practices. Artists who work in close collaboration with natural materials, such as clay or wood, have always known that these materials are not dead. They have their own agency. We share the same reality, we live in the same extended room.
At the core of Francesca Woodman’s oeuvre is her interest in the border between body and room – a border that, in her practice, is blurred or dissolved. The body blends with the room and vice-versa and cannot be separated from it. Her photographs can be seen as cut-outs of a world where body and space are equally alive and resonates with what the French philosopher Henri Bergson might have referred to as mobile vibrations – a continuous movement «traveling in every direction like shivers». Other aspects of her practice, which dealt more with identity and image language, are in a number of works ultimately overshadowed by the fundamental interest in the body’s encounter with surfaces and the boundaries of space.
Ann Iren Buan’s sculptural work approaches the same border from the other side – her sculptures simultaneously recall walls and buildings in decay and of human skin. Working with fragile materials like paper and pigments, the sculptures express both vulnerability and strength – pigments are falling from the surface, plaster and paper crumble and their tactile qualities hold connotations of the hand and traces of the sensitiveness of the body. On the other hand, they stand erect and direct their energy upwards. The subtlety of the pigments has a fluctuating and still intense and radiating quality of lightness that gives the big scale structures a sense of hovering in mid-air.
Similar qualities of movement suspended between falling and rising, can be found in the works of Thora Dolven Balke. The photographs presented here are enlarged scans of Polaroids, made with the original film that no longer is available on the market. The Polaroid, which exist as physical object only, has a specific floating colour tone that adds to the air of loss and memory. The indexicality of these images roots them in a specific moment in time and they seem distant, as if they were slowly sinking into water, the paper and chemicals gradually dissolving. But rather than vanishing, the bodies exude an emerging presence. The ambivalence between sinking and rising gives these works a feeling of undulating movement.
Movement is also an important aspect of the bodies in Éva Mag’s large installation. If gravitation, weight and decay are obvious aspects of matter – and these heavy bodies of unburned clay are certainly matter – this obvious aspect are in these works contradicted by a tension, a confined movement, something almost rebellious, that want to rise and stand. While the bodies appear as fragile and risk to fall apart – which they also do in the artist’s process of reusing and reassembling them into new situations – they simultaneously have aspects of uprising. They tell a story of violence and evoke thoughts of all the current situations in which the vulnerable human body is exposed the most – but also of rage.
Like Francesca Woodman, Tibor Hajas had a side of his practice that was more focused on language and societal structures, but in other parts of his oeuvre he developed a performance practice in which he exposed himself for the risk of crossing the line between life and death. In these works, he searched for the limits of the body’s endurance and maybe also for the point at which an art work ceases and reality takes over. If one wants, it’s possible to see these performances – of which the photographs presented here are reminiscent – as an impossible struggle to free the mind from the tormented, fragmented and wounded body.
The violence in Tibor Hajas’ photography is echoed in Brit Dyrnes’ ceramic work. The clay forms are abstract but have the tactile presence of the handmade object, and thus clear connotations to the body. The clay objects also vaguely recall the body – wounds open up and reveal the inside, raw clay meets with glazed surfaces, violence meets with tenderness. There is no division here between mind and body – brain like forms and other vaguely limb like forms are scattered in what could be seen as a temporary arrangement, a state of mind on the move to new constellations. More than anything, these objects express the energy and strength in the fragile human.
Artists: Thora Dolven Balke (Norway), Ann Iren Buan (Norway), Brit Dyrnes (Norway), Tibor Hajas (Hungary), Éva Mag (Romania/Sweden), Francesca Woodman (USA)
Curator: Helena Holmberg
Assistant Curator: Katrine Elise Pedersen (Kunsthall Trondheim)
Thanks to Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Galleri Riis, Oslo/Stockholm, Peder Lund and Selvaag Art Collection, Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, OSL contemporary, NTNU, The International Margaret Cavendish Society, Helge Hovland and Studio Technika, Felipe Ribeiro Pena
The exhibition is supported by Art Council Norway, the county of Trøndelag, The Relief Fund for Visual Artists (Bildende Kunstnernes Hjelpefond)