To The port – Group exhibition To The Port @ Henie Onstad Kunstsenter
Talisa Lallai, Jon Eirik Kopperud and Michaela Meise. Organized by Kenneth Alme
TO THE PORT
Do you know the land where the lemon-trees grow,
In darkened leaves the gold-oranges glow,
A soft wind blows from the pure blue sky,
The myrtle stands mute, and the bay tree high?
Do you know it well?
It’s there I’d be gone,
To be there with you, O, my beloved one!
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from the book Italienische Reise
Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.
― Wallace Stevens
There are exactly two photographic works the viewer encounters when they enter the exhibition,To the Port, each of which seems to represent the opposite practices in contemporary art of appropriation and construction of images. One is titled Astrolabium and the other Monte Benedetto which simply describes the main subject of the images and which is the found photograph and which is the artists own s not immediately clear. In this way the two photographs collapse the dualism of extremes between objective appropriation and subjective production. In fact all three artists in the exhibition:Talisa Lallai, Jon Eirik Kopperud and Michaela Meise make central a response that resists idealistic and empiricists extremes. Instead they make careful observations on everyday experiences that reveal how extraordinary connections can be drawn from the most unremarkable experiences. Mediation as a core process common among the artists in the exhibition. They present three separate medium specific practices but each artist is fully in the post-medium condition by mediating image making. Although it can be said that each is primarily a photographer, film-maker and sculpture respectively is it the power of observation that links them. That is to say they are artists working with the everyday as their material.
Talisa Lallai whose practice always brings together carefully sourced images and her own work emerges out of the archival impulse. There is a strong art historical precedent for her work from The Pictures Generation in the 80’s to the earlier work of Robert Heinecken a “paraphotographer” who made photographs without a camera. Both works come from long idiosyncratic research into often obscure histories but neither is never left unmediated and thus both images are produced in the same year. A small scale photo taken last December in the alps of Merano Italy, if foregrounded by a Palm Tree one of the many southern tropical plants that grow there due to the mediterranean climate. The photograph is so small it could easily be held in the palm of your hands and requires a close intimate experience. The tropical plants should be surprising in front of snow capped Alps but it is such a dreamy image that it feels only natural. This is not how it would have felt to a German explorers crossing the Alps in the 18th century. These Colonial scientists would have been shocked to discover these species of plants in a landscape where very little flora should exist at all. This history is called up with a sheet of newsprint that has the image of a scientific instrument but also feels quotidian. Together the images are a philosophical stance on art and life that resists both myths of objectivity and subjectivity. The works only briefly bring us to the death of the author before delivering us back into the hands of the artist. The material, newsprint, and method, inkjet, come from everyday life. Thus instead of royal blue background and golden brass compass feeling completely otherworldly it recalls a full page newspaper advertisement for a travel company or antique sale. Lallai scanned the image from a German textbook on compaases from the 1970’s before blowing it up to more than one meter. The instrument depicted is an “astrolab” which has been used since classical antiquity up until the early modern period, the age of colonial exploration. It identifies stars or planets and measures the altitude from the horizon. Although born in Germany the nerve center of all her artistic practice takes place in Italy. Both of her parents are Italian so she spent her childhood summers there. The work retains the personal sentiment and beauty of seeing Italy first hand as a poetic place of origin but also the cultural histories that recall the Grand Tours Europeans made often on foot southward to the Mediterian.
Michaela Meise a work in three parts titled, Kiefer, which is most certainly a German word. Yet the translation is precarious, ambiguous, multilayered and slippery like much of her work. This poetic gestures is much like Wallace Steven’s ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ which moves from the purely visual experience to the metaphysical in a commonplace experience easily overlooked. Likely it can be translated as “jaw bone” which makes sense formally as the sculptural objects appear as half circles with bites taken out of them. However possibly the title means “pine tree” referring to the material of wood. Less possibly it means “barrel-maker” as a reference to the artists herself working in wood. While least possibly of all the title refers to a father figure of German art, Anselm Kiefer, who seems to cast a shadow of influence on almost all living artists from his country. What is clear however is that these sculptures directly engage handcraft that abstracts the cold formalism of minimalist sculpture into a wonky and subjective. It undermines the authority of so called specific objects that claim to have no relationship metaphoric or otherwise to anything in the world. These monochrome black sculptures seem to have every metaphoric and symbolic meaning possible packed into them. As each is hand-carved they are all the same and completely different at the same time. Our imagination reaches to make something recognizable out of them. It is not just the shapes which are so quirky it is also the materials of wood, stain with shoe polish which recall more domestic life instead of globalism. The works do not so much subvert minimalism as they bring our human experience back into the process. She has likened her work to a German postal stamp of a missing puzzle piece that reads “I miss you” full of sentimentality but also a completely “open work”. An invitation of the viewer to co-create it with meaning. These three objects might be abstracted forms of a two-man tree saw in which case the points on the half circle are teeth of the blade. This is a lovely confluence of terms with either the negative space is a subtraction of bite mark carved out the half circle in the other teeth are an addition attached to the curve. In either case they seem to barely balance on the edge of the curve. As otherworldly as the objects are they are still very quotidian. A focus on everyday repetition reacts daily habits (such as chewing) in much more grounded way than the grand theatrics of minimalists they reference. In this way they also evoke the domestic and even folk traditions. Placed along side Lallai and Kopperud other themes in her practice emerge such as the current state of consumption seen through branding and seriality. Although primarily a sculptor her balancing act of multiple interpretations from the physical formal to the sublime is transferred to equally to other mediums with the same uncertainty of conclusions. Such as framing a flattened starbucks coffee cup on a matching monochrome matching green inside plexiglass, her first name written on the side of the cup. This at once elevates the familiar and disposable while simultaneously making it strange and uncanny.
The film “The Stutterer” from Jon Eirik Kopperud also take as its point of departure a mundane experience but full of folk traditions and art history references, the urinating man. We see a man in pleated boring grey trousers with an equally dull light blue button-down shirt under a beige cable knit sweater step into a very ordinary looking apartment bathroom. Actually everything about the images feels expected. He takes off his digital watch with such mechanical gestures that we know this is his everyday routine. Followed by the diurnal repetition of taking off his sweater folding it and placing it on the washing machine. He wears a wedding ring and looks like hegemonic middle-aged white hetrosexual male. The watch reads 6:20 so he might be on his way to his office job of paperwork. Yet when he rolls up his right sleeve he reveals an intravenous catheter inserted into his right hand. This image can easily make a viewer squeamish juxtaposed with how domestic everything else seems. This is a jolting version of the Palm Tree in the snowy Alps. He than takes off his pants and reveals another catheter attached to a urinary drainage bag on his lower leg with a tube that travels up under his underwear where it must be placed into his urethra and bladder. This image borders on repulsive. The abject is made more visceral as the man empties the drainage bag into a white styrofoam cup he has placed on top of the toilet. All references to art history seems to stop here. After he fills a sringye with the drained urine and inject himself back with the urine into the catheter in his hand. It is a film that ends as it began. The diurnal rhythms inscribe or index a practicable interdependence between everyday fact, the mounting routine, and the imaginative freedom the unexplained and unexplainable actions of the film. Kopperud also seems to almost perverse crop out the most human element of the film, the man’s face. The camera seems to not move it is a single fixed shot from his waist to his calves an absolutely unusual crop. The strangeness of the camera angle is made all the more awkward as he bends into and out of the frame. The only camera change is a close-up of his watch with the changing seconds and minutes passing in real-time. It is the camera simultaneously as an instrument of objective witnessing and the subjective creation of creation of otherworldly exploration. It is the so called walk around the lake (or to the port) that reveals how unusual the experience is when we live it.
– Justin Polera