Exhibition: Excavations

June 13–August 30, 2015 at HIAP Gallery Augusta (Helsinki, FI)

Excavations, the second international group exhibition curated by Jenni Nurmenniemi (HIAP) within the Frontiers in Retreat project (June 13 to August 31, 2015) moved between underground and aboveground in both theme and method. At HIAP Gallery Augusta, located in the historical fortress island of Suomenlinna, the artists explored historical and emergent dependencies between beings, things, and worldly phenomena through acts of surfacing, exposing, extracting, re-assembling, redirecting, and rehearsing.

The exhibition, therefore, functioned as a site for various forms of artistic excavations. Matter, its circulation and connectedness, were examined from the levels of microorganisms and minerals, bodies, and the macro metabolism of the Earth. The gallery space became both a mine and a testing ground for new possibilities of coexistence.

Throughout summer 2015, Gallery Augusta was literally inhabited by The BodyBuilding Project, a perennial collaboration consisting of on-going artistic research processes and a series of public events. The project is formed by changing, open constellations of both human and nonhuman participants. It aims to develop ways of sensing and relating to phenomena, such as climate change, that are too vast to be experienced and understood.

Diving deep into the often obscure global flow of materials, in this instance copper, the video Powder of Sympathy (2015) by Tuomas A. Laitinen got its premiere at the exhibition, setting in motion a frantic flow of images combined with feverish pounding, hissing and rattling sounds sourced from West Africa, the USA and China. Accompanied by Jenna Sutela’s narrative script, the video tracks the mythical and chemical characteristics of copper. Beginning with its healing properties, then progressing to its conductive role in the development and continuity of electricity-dependent modern societies, the occasionally disrupted images of the piece dissolve into entropy.

At the start of his two-year Frontiers in Retreat artist project, Mirko Nikolić worked to expose and alter the ways in which humans and metals interact. With the aim of blowing up the persistent divide between animate and inanimate matter, his on-going artistic research project we (heart) Cu & Cu (heart) us (2015–) explores cultural meanings and representations attached to copper. From the abyss of the internet, Nikolić mines visual and textual references related to this metal, ranging from copper-coloured hair to construction materials. He recirculates these representations via a website, and “contaminates” them with an unexpected vocabulary of love. By collating the metallic final products and their representations, Nikolić brings attention to the global desire to mine, extract, and refine raw materials.

Bronze is widely associated with coming third and a position of ‘thirdness’. Carl Giffney used this metal to cast a pair of 25 kg clogs, within which he painstakingly hitchhiked and trekked throughout Finland during his February 2015 residency in Mustarinda, Hyrynsalmi. His curiosity about the possibility of a third space beyond the persistent dichotomies of independence and dependence motivated him to use the bronze shoes as a tool for discussion. Presenting these concepts to those he encountered in parts of Finland, Scotland and the Netherlands, the journey became nothing short of an epic, still-continuing saga.

On the surface, Hanna Ljungh's sculptures resemble geological cross-sections in their rich layering of colourful minerals. Upon closer examination, they consist of artificial materials and everyday residues of contemporary human life. Would geological cross-sections, extracted after our time, actually have this composition? Ljungh’s pillars expose the geological strata of the Anthropocene, the era in which humans have turned into a force of nature. Recognising that this much-debated concept maybe places too much emphasis on human agency in the world, it is still useful in acknowledging the fact that at present, humans do affect nearly all ecosystems in the biosphere. Despite the 'world without us' associations evoked by Ljungh's sculptures, they quite playfully tackle the passage of time and confuse the borders between the natural and manmade.

Barbara Knezevic’s work is concerned with how objects function materially, ontologically, and economically in the world, and the unruliness of matter. Her work considers especially the peculiar human relationship to the things around us, as typified by the art-object. Knezevic assembles and forms everyday materials into temporary sculptural arrangements. They are simple in their composition; Knezevic seeks the barest, most economical intervention into the materials. Thus, they maintain their capacity of returning again to their unadulterated state – before they became artworks.

Connectedness and rhizomatic dependencies between organisms and varied matter are examined in Tue Greenfort’s sculptural mycology. Greenfort initiated his mushroom-cultivating research during his first Frontiers residency at HIAP in summer 2014, when he fed Pleurotus Mychorriza mushrooms Cartesian thinking via a Finnish edition of René Descartes’ 1899 methodological essay. This time, mushrooms again act as agents of the artwork, revealing rhizomatic ways of existing and decomposing beyond dualist thinking.

Within Excavations, the exhibition space was used for deconstructing and rethinking subjectivities, and for practicing possible new ways of co-existing with other beings within the precarious parameters for human life in the early 21st century. In dialogue with the space and the artworks exhibited, the members of The BodyBuilding Project established a continuous collective practice that visitors could join at will. Their aim was to figure out what kind of sensibilities, subjectivities, and relational capacities we, as beings and as a species, would need to develop in order to better respond to the uncertainties and ecological urgencies we are currently facing. Together, they hope to develop a series of relational practices to help us to begin building bodies capable of projecting life beyond our collapsing horizons.