Dec 2021
Exhibition text for Franka Hörnschemeyer’s exhibition Conserva (2021).

Franka Hörnschemeyer, Conserva (2022). Installation view, Galleri 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.

The objects in Franka Hörnschemeyer’s exhibition Conserva are 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, gravitational potential towards the earth—energy that becomes tangible in a precarious balancing act where the massive objects, like ballet-dancers frozen mid-flight, constantly threaten to collapse their 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 on Hörnschemeyer’s part. For the artist engages in intimate conversation, both historiographical and personal, 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. The artist’s method anticipates a tendency observeable particulary in cultural science and science studies 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.'

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, namely 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 a long-dead creature.

Hörnschemeyer 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's 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 the surface.

This coincides with an addendum to the first law of thermodynamics, first postulated by Pierre Simon Laplace: In every closed system, not only energy, but also information remains conserved. Hörnschemeyer’s empathic materialism invites us to decode this information contained in spaces and materials, yet never in didactic fashion. For it is left to the viewer to recognise the sensibility with which to divine this information in the oscillating relationship between ourselves and the histories of the spaces we inhabit.

December 2021

© Gustav Elgin 2024