SET, READY, GO
The artist run scene in Oslo has gone haywire during the past few years. New spaces have opened up on a monthly basis and spawned countless versions of a similar mold of the artist run aesthetic. Run-down, all about the party, and with a certain machismo. There’s always an exception and in this instance 1857 is the odd one out. Not that Steffen Håndlykken and Stian Eide Kluge, the two founders and directors of the space, don’t know how to enjoy themselves, but their programming since the opening has been ambitious and offered up something other than the local and the erratic. Most of the other spaces change exhibitions on a hectic, often weekly basis. Since opening last year, 1857 has presented a small number of shows that have introduced the Norwegian capital to the work of younger German artists, in particular the scene around Städelschule, but also American and British artists.
This continues to be the case with the current exhibition, “Nobody can tell the why of it,” curated by Esperanza Rosales. The artists range from the more established Josef Strau to student Timothy Furey. The exhibition takes place in 1857’s two interconnected spaces. The first gallery is a tiny shop-front, while the backspace is a large and raw industrial hall that was formerly a lumberyard. Three of Byrne’s layered paintings hang in the gallery space and make the small space seem spacious and almost empty. Byrne’s process of painting is visible on the canvas, whether it is linen or copper, and the layering of the work creates decorative and illusory coatings that combine the geometric with the ornamental and the decorative with the organic. Inside the exhibition hall there are three set pieces. Nick Mauss has built a platform one can climb and gain an overview of the humongous space. Each step of the stairs leading to the top has a drawing under glass on it and underneath the structure you will find more work, not necessarily just by Mauss, but also by Strau.
Strau’s A2 sized text pieces are strewn over the floor; one is wheat-pasted on the wall and one is hammered to a support with one nail. Another text is cone shaped and deals with the activity of writing ‘real stupid.’ His texts are also found in the opposite corner of the space, underneath Straus’ lamps, illuminating and also pinning the texts down. In the same corner there’s also a monitor, which features a work by Ken Okiishi, made in Oslo featuring a Depeche Mode cover band playing a version of the song “I will wait for you” from the French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The band is playing in front of a green screen, which is situated next to the video. Inside the green screen set-up there’s another monitor where different performers, including a jazz band, a young male tenor and local hero Nils Bech, have interpreted the song. The performers have all been lifted from the green screen setting and superimposed onto footage from the installation. The different performers merge and intersect throughout the video, creating a beautiful cacophony.
The three settings are environments that deal with processes, writing, interpretation, and are deliciously open-ended. Furey and Byrne’s pieces seem more finished and set, even though they both contain a layering process where the different compositions speak to their construction and creation.
The catalog that will accompany the exhibition, which is in the process of being completed, leads me to perceive the whole exhibition as dealing with processes and writing. Rosales is a writer herself and has in one way approached this exhibition as a text with multiple authors. There are hints of themes and topics in the publication, of masculinity, mysticism, rituals and writing, all of which echo in an exhibition with the three strong set pieces in particular. The exhibition, like a text, is constructed with certain elements. In a text, letters form words and perhaps meaning. No matter how fluid a text is, it is still a construction of certain set elements. The three sets offered by Mauss, Okiishi and Strau’s, offer a sensibility closer to the idea of writing and perhaps writing ‘real stupid,’ a goal offered in Strau’s text pieces that also refers to Kerouac and mentions communication value. The pieces by Byrne and Furey are perhaps not out of place, but conform to a set language of art with perhaps a different communication value or lingo.