Exhibition Text: Franka Hörnschemeyer, Conserva at Gallery Opdahl, Stavanger
In art and
architecture, conservation refers to the extension of an object's lifespan. In
physics, it is generally associated with the first law of thermodynamics; water
cascading down a waterfall is in the process of discharging its potential
energy onto the earth, a lightbulb translates electrical energy into heat and
light. No matter the form, the total energy in a closed system remains conserved.
objects in Franka Hörnschemeyer’s exhibition Conserva, are to a certain extent themselves part of a
closed circulatory system: A rope anchored in loop to the walls of gallery
Opdahl, suspends seven timeworn wooden boxes along its length. A filigreed,
red-rusted lattice is lifted at an angle, its massive body on the verge of
vaulting into the room. The objects are charged with the same energy used in
hydropower, namely gravitational potential towards the earth. Energy that
becomes tangible in a precarious balancing act that, like ballet-dancers frozen
mid-flight, constantly threatens to collapse its weight onto the ground.
Hörnschemeyer choreographs her spatial
intervention through a 15-page instruction manual, complete with miniatures,
exhaustive inventory lists, and instructions on how to tie knots for gallery
technicians. While the manual accounts for every single angle and kilogram, one
should not mistake its precision for a lack of sensibility, for the method by
which Hörnschemeyer engages material is intimately conversational. What does Light like to wear?
and Does Light like being
Otto Piene and Günther Uecker ask in a 1960s poem. Hörnschemeyer engages in
similar conversation with materials typically associated only with their
function in structural engineering; formwork panels, the modular husks of
concrete architecture, and sheetrock, generally used in the precipitous
construction of walls and roofs. Hörnschemeyer’s method anticipates a
burgeoning tendency in historiography to treat seemingly banal, every-day
objects with the same seriousness as relics and works of art – an art history of things (stuff, junk) as cultural historian Peter
Geimer has called it. The visitor walking through Conserva is invited to listen in on this conversation
through the scuffs and scratches on the reused materials and the ever-changing
constellations between object and space – but also to partake in it, for, as
Hörnschemeyer herself asserts, 'I view myself as material as well.' If you gaze long enough into
the sheetrock, the sheetrock gazes also into you, to paraphrase Nietzsche. ︎︎︎
demonstrates that the circuit of Conserva is anything but closed, or at least extends much farther than that of
the looped rope. Not only to the viewers, but also into the walls of the
gallery. Here, the title of the show refers to another, less conspicuous
process: the conservation of food. As is common in Stavanger, the building that
houses gallery Opdahl was originally conceived as a factory for canned goods.
And although the majestic chimney and smokehouse are long gone, some remnants
of that former function is preserved in the unusually high ceilings and visible
piping typical of these factory spaces. Opdahl and the artists that inhabit the
space are, in a sense, hermit crabs reusing the old shell of another creature.
enters into conversation also with the architecture, navigating and revealing the
space’s idiosyncrasies and former identity, thus operating not only on a
spatial, but on a temporal axis. In this light, Conserva conversational scope can be seen to extend far
beyond the gallery, and into the streets of Stavanger, whose architectural identity
was informed by the brick canneries built in late 19th- to mid-20th century,
now largely invisible according to a 2017 report by the city's cultural
heritage management. In this context invisible, as Hörnschermeyer reveals, simply means hidden behind a surface.
This coincides with an addendum to the first law of thermodynamics first
made by Pierre Simon Laplace: In every closed system, not only the energy, but
also information remains conserved. Hörnschemeyer’s empathic materialism allows
us to decode the information contained in spaces and materials, but never
claims to give complete ownership of it. Rather, it is up to the viewer to
discover it in the oscillating relationship between themselves, the objects and
the spaces they inhabit.