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14.02.2014 INTERVIEW

From left: Michal Jelski (PL), Kevin Malcolm (UK) and Gunnhild Torgersen (NO) Foto: Maria Bordorff.

The luxury of working with concrete material

"Leaving the Hermeneutic Circle" is the somewhat problematic title of an exhibition that appears - in its very neat aesthetic setup – to be rather unproblematic, but that, nevertheless, when you go into dialogue with the works - individually as well as a collectively - manages to unfold a complicated and reference-heavy content. I've had a chat with the three artists behind the exhibition; Gunnhild Torgersen (b. 1985), Kevin Malcolm (b. 1979) and Michal Jelski (b. 1981) in an attempt to get underneath the pleasant exterior – as beneath the solidified cement the language simmers and behind the black ink the Polish trauma lurks. Read here what the artists themselves had to say.

AF Maria Bordorff

Kevin, tell me about your considerations about putting together this exhibition? Why did you choose to invite Gunnhild and Michal to join?
Kevin: I was coming to a finishing point of a body of work and I really wanted to put it together with works of other artists; to set up a group exhibition.
I work a lot with found material, found images and texts which I work with as sculptural objects, so I was interested in finding other approaches to paper and printed media. I had a conversation with Gunnhild in Oslo during an exhibition where we realised that we had some common interests, and I made a note that it would be great to do something together in the future. I saw Michal's work a few years ago and again, the idea of making a joint exhibition just kind of stuck in my head, so we got to meet and discuss the idea.
Our common interest is paper as a carrier of information, which has throughout human history been the main way of presenting and storing knowledge. We are now in a period in which the way that knowledge and communication is distributed and stored is fundamentally changing, as were are more and more moving toward digital technologies. We don't really know the outcome of this and thus we are in a position where we can look at printed media differently, as we are in the beginning of a new paradigm. An exciting point for artistic research. 

Why at New Shelter Plan?
Kevin: Well, I was aware of some of the people involved with this new project and I knew there was a bit of a lean towards photographic practices - perhaps in a less traditional or straightforward way. I made the application before the space had opened, so I hadn't seen any shows here and didn't know what the room was like, which was quite exciting.
Now there has been some five or six exhibitions since, and it's nice to be part of the lively room, that this space is becoming.

I had the pleasure to spend an afternoon with you, at New Shelter Plan, trying to arrange the works - much of the discussion was about how to make your respective works communicate with each other. How did the works end up interrelating with one another at this exhibition?
Gunnhild: I think it's very nice that we didn't make a group show, where each of us have a separate exhibition in the room, but that the works actually speak with each other. And we indeed worked a lot with the dialogue between the works, during the three days it took us setting up the exhibition. I think we succeed in creating an interesting space.

Kevin: Yes, breaking up series or groups of one artist's work is an interesting, yet difficult process.

Michal: The space itself is interesting too; this wooden floor and post-industrial look, the bunker in the middle. It has been interesting, in terms of space, to arrange the exhibition.

Gunnhild: We have been very selective about which works to add to the exhibition and which ones to leave out. A selective process resulting in each work adding value to the other works in here.

Kevin: Leaving out some of the works allows the ones remaining to better communicate with each other. The ones we took out would have closed the conversation. We left some fresh air in the exhibition rather than just using all the available space, even though the space was there and we had the works.

In which way do we ”leave the hermeneutic circle” here?
Kevin: Well, obviously the art works can't exist outside of context; they remain within the hermeneutic circle, so to say, but trying to put them together in a way that somehow allows them to have some autonomy, is the aim, I guess - and to generate an extreme awareness of the problem of the hermeneutic circle as a way of framing, not only conceptually but also physically.
I guess the title is almost an impossible phrase, as the hermeneutic circle can be read as a tautology. If you agree that it exists, then there is essentially no escape from it; everything exists within its context. I think art practice in general is always trying to find some autonomy, some way of leaving this hermeneutic circle, so you are not just adding another thing on the rapidly increasing pile of art objects.

Michal: For me, the title refers to the subject matter. I'd say that we are seeking to leave the hermeneutic circle through transformation. All of our works, their materials, transform ideas. For example, Gunnhild's sculptural works transform books, in a rather funny way too.

Gunnhild, tell me about your interest in language as construction and material, in relation to your work with sculptures.
Gunnhild: These sculptures are part of a larger project, which is maybe getting to its end now with these ones. I've been working a lot with recycled paper and text, trying to grab language as physical material. The texts, then, become building material, you can say.
The physicality of the paper fascinates me - in extension to what Kevin talked about before. Therefore also this heaviness in my sculptures. They are another step of removing all readable information and store it on yet another level than the actual readable one.

Michal, would you comment on the choice of photographs in your Martyrology series?
Michal: They are from a book with pictures of Communist monuments from Poland. I think this period in Poland was interesting for me, the '50s and '60s, after the war, when communism got a hold on Poland. On the one hand, you had positive propaganda from the government, incitement to be productive, to live healthy, to work - and on the other hand you had trauma from the Second World War, an indeed very deep trauma in the Polish psyche.
At the time when I made the series, I couldn't make sculptures, as I did not have studio space for that. So I guess it was a way for me to work with sculptures anyhow; as a study for future projects.
I use this fine technique with glue and ink, where different forms are being created. In the background there is the history and on them these cloudy forms.

Kevin, why this in-depth interest for questioning the way in which visual information is being constructed and displayed?
Kevin: It's been an interest for quite some time for me, but I think it's also a fundamental question of art, of knowledge and communication in general. I've always been interested in architecture as well, so for me the architectures of display, right down to the choice of frames, is an interesting thing to play with, to be aware of. At some point, it started to become a larger part of my practice, to actually make work about it.
The way that artworks are viewed is changing fundamentally. You don't look at them in books so much anymore, hardly even in a real physical space, but you can see every exhibition in Europe that's currently on, by sitting in front of your computer for an hour or two. So I think it's a really interesting time to engage with the architecture, the display structures, that we use to construct knowledge.

Is this exhibition a critical comment against lets say digitalization - I mean, can it be read as anti-modern in one way or another?
Michal: In that case it could be read as sentimental perhaps

Gunnhild: I don't think it's in opposition to anything, like to the new digital world or so, it deals with the structures in communication; it works with them rather than criticising them.

Michal: The exhibition is not a critical voice against something specific like digitalization, but a broader critical voice against history, I'd say. We're talking about the past, about how the past was seen, portrayed through sculptures, through publications, through museums. So there is certainly a critical voice in here, not towards the future and digitalization, but towards the past.
The world is, after all, still physical. It's not true that we are living in some kind of a total digitalized world, but it's true, referring once again to what Kevin said at the beginning, that the physicality of things is becoming less and getting to work with concrete material, in the way we do, is almost some kind of luxury.

Kevin: Well yes, that's true. For me, to bring up an example, the digitalization of photography made me long to work with more concrete material instead. But to get back to the question; I think, that for our generation it's quite difficult to make art works that don't somehow engage with the 20th century and modernism, but I think that our work is suggesting and preceding that type of debate rather than deliberately engaging with it.

Thank you.

Installation view, 2014. Foto: Johan Rosenmunthe.

Gunnhild Torgensen: Sphinxes of cement and aluminium, 2013, Cement, aluminium, stained wood, paper from novels. Foto: Johan Rosenmunthe.

Michal Jelski: Martyrology study, 2010, Adhesive and Indian ink on book page. Foto: Johan Rosenmunthe.

Kevin Malcolm: O'(I), 2013, Altered book, museum board, wood, glass, paint. Foto: Johan Rosenmunthe.

Installation view, 2014. Foto: Johan Rosenmunthe.

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