Grönlund-Nisunen at Esther Schipper, Berlin

Where are we? An insistent question from visitors identifying themselves as human in opposition to the minimalist world of steel, black photographs, and pale paper that occupies the gallery space. Here seems to be, at first, another world. There is no trace of craft, no industrial aesthetics. It is rare to find something so abstractly “in space” as the works of Grönlund-Nisunen, though paradoxically this presence oscillates between loud affirmation and demure silence. But we do not seem to be there. There is no promise of a mirror.

The initial impression from the central piece, Unstable Matter (2013), is that it dares to announce its existence raucously. Thousands of steel balls run over a steel table that is tilting in various directions. At every new run a small number of balls liberate themselves from the mass first, as if they were sent out to territorialize another corner. Then the mass, dictated by gravity, follows. It is a wave of steel. A sharp mesmerizing movement. The balls rearrange themselves in a new pattern, for a second, as the sound reverberates though space. While observing the event the sound has its place and meaning, but when one turns away from the installation the sheer aggressiveness of the noise become clear. It continues, and continues. We can let the gentle ocean waves get away with such meaninglessness, but steel balls?

Turning away from Unstable Matter will potentially put one face to face with the installation Plane (2013). A number of steel cables almost connect the floor to the ceiling. At eye level, they are interrupted by two magnets, suspended with a few centimetres of nothing in between. More than silent the installation appears to consume the sound surrounding it, to then shake it off in a gently swaying motion. It is intriguing to observe magnetism defying gravity. It is as though it is not supposed to happen, as if the power of the great mass that is the planet could not be so simply, and elegantly, eluded. But the installation is there all the same; slightly aloof as though steel did not want to associate itself with words like magical and natural.

The manufactured world of Grönlund-Nisunen is one that works perfectly without us. The exhibition continues an alternating exploration largely related to gravity and magnetism. Photographs show spherical white sources of light and their black surroundings marked by imperfections. If we are dealing with the sun, and the photographs do remind us of it, this would be at the genesis of all subsequent objects in the natural order, all the masses with their gravitational and magnetic properties.  It is the “ball” at point zero that carries all patterns but can itself only be one form. A series of boards with magnetic steel balls placed in a regular pattern, sometimes climbing one on top of another, is found on the other end: this a pattern, like the electrons in an atom aligning themselves to create magnetism, that is seemingly wanting to make form redundant by its mechanical and rule-bound repetition.

That Grönlund-Nisunen likes to subvert our expectations on how the matter will act is a first indication that, yes, the spectator is present after all. The tilting table that explores gravity, for example, does not depict gravity as a universal and predictable process. The small steel balls arrange and re-arrange themselves in patterns that seem organically confusing and perpetually new. The magnets, on the other hand, do not display the specificity and contingent nature of the makeup of electrons or their alignment, but presents an image of static metastability. Magnetism also has, suddenly, the power to overcome the gravity that should be its more powerful sibling.

A language of calm understatement on a maddeningly difficult subject also runs through a room with four mechanical clocks on display. The dials and hands have been removed, we see the time move without being able to measure it. The first invitation to the spectator: look, a human item, is exchanged with another material shyly turning away. But this is not all. The half-human object reminds us that it is not to be trusted, though through destabilizing the relationship between gravity and magnetism Grönlund-Nisunen makes it difficult to guess how. Will the magnetism affect the mechanism and gravity curve the space-time continuum to make time itself? It is almost easier to let the clocks be, let them be pure matter no longer with any burden to conceptualize time.

Grönlund-Nisunens’ exhibition is an innovative exercise in making the inanimate remain inanimate; a mysterious world of matter in which the “laws” are maybe not so fixed as we expect them to be. This without a single trace of transcendentalism. It is proudly paradoxical at the same time as it aloofly refuses all categories. The objects do not care to be objects according to our expectations. We can be there, with them, as long as we do not interfere. And then, after a while, the final trick is revealed. The silent pieces start becoming louder than the hundred steel balls moving on the table. The silence consumes the noise and we are but a mass interposed between the source of the sound and its end. Like a planet far from the sun. Where are we? We are also there, one more body in “space”; no longer anomalies, space ‘oddities’, but potentially another most peculiar space antinomy.

(Ester Schipper, February 2 – March 2, 2013)

Axel Andersson


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