By Liv Gunhild Fallberg.
If you ever read The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, or in fact any children book where houses are explored, you know that there always is a hidden room somewhere in old mansions. Usually only a child's creativity and open mind can find it. This time, in Bust a Move I found the secret room hidden behind the fireplace.
The artist duo Aurora Sanders (Ellinor Aurora Aasgaard and Bror Sander Berg Sørseth) newly opened exhibition at the Norwegian Sculptors Society’s new gallery, takes us through the evolution of the Homo Sapiens, with help from a narrative of moving. And as I explore the exhibition, different layers of meaning start to unfold, depending on what I see, what material is used, how I choose to arrange the artwork (they can be customized), and, like in the children’s books, how well I look.
Regardless of which of the two entrances I choose to enter the 140 years old mansion, I am met with light walls and colourful objects. The work is distributed throughout three main rooms, and the hallways and a staircase in between them. In one of the main rooms, four big canvases hangs in front of the windows. They depict the start of human evolution. The first painting is of an ape with a banana. The second ape is taller, and holds a stone tool for hunting. The third has some clothes and a bat, and the fourth is a hunting woman with bow and arrow.
In the second main room I am met with the same scenario, only the evolution has gone a little further. The first painting in front of a window is of a woman from around the 18th century with an umbrella. The second is a man who, according to his clothes, is from the 20th century, holding a bottle. The third picture is of an astronaut on the moon, and the last canvas shows two creatures something in between human and robot. All of them are depicted with an object that’s important to their time in history in some way, like the stone tool in the stone age, or the astronaut suit in the modern period.
On the floor of these rooms, the artists have made human-like sculptures with velcro attached on different places on the body. In boxes throughout the rooms lay varying tools that the audience is invited to stick to the different sculptures. Everything from torches, bread, cameras and a box of Pringles can be arranged to give the sculptures some kind of an identity and mission.
The audience will know how to participate by looking trough one of the Ikea-assembly instructions laying around. It tells you to choose one of the many objects that comes with the human sculptures, and place it where it fits. An if you don’t understand how it works, you can ask a friend (the staff) for help. The artist duo invites the audience to participate. They provide the opportunities, and the visitors have been given the tools to shape the past and present as they like.
There are so many objects laying around, I have to walk around for some time to explore everything in the house. In the hallways there also are some sculptures, of ordinary things you would expect to find in an old villa, like an old closet or head busts on pedestals. Only here they are not made from materials you would normally expect, like wood and marble. Almost every object is made of manmade, synthetic materials, like plastic, polyurethane foam or duck tape. The busts are actually machine-printed on cardboard and glued together to make a three-dimensional head.
In the exhibition, the artist duo explore the concept of moving, on different levels. They play with varying meanings of the word, from physical moving from one home to another, or humanities move through the evolution. The evolution of humankind and technology, from ape to robot, is not an unfamiliar theme. But although the artist duo present a more or less chronologically basis, with one room from apes to humans, and the other from around the industrial revolution to the future, the exhibition is not really chronological after all. As a participant, I can chose for myself which room I want to explore first, depending on where I choose to enter the building. All of the important elements of the history of evolution are there, in the building, but the visitor decides how to put it all together. The canvases on the windows are actually hung backwards, so to see the front of the paintings you have to go outside and look in through the windows. The exhibition is a game of perception, and the paintings invite you in to explore further.
Bust a Move is a site-specific work, it is created to exist in this particular building. The old mansion has, since 1967, been owned by the Norwegian Sculptors Society, and after two years of renovation it has finally been made into three showrooms, in addition to offices, a studio, and other uses for the Society . It feels like the exhibition belong here, and it plays with all the associations that comes with an old mansion, like old portrait-paintings, spiders in the corner, old bricks with hidden messages behind, and of course the secret door.
It feels slightly illegal to grab the small, golden handle on the left side of the fireplace, and push open the secret door to a hidden room behind it. If you can suppress a viable fear of a staring spider and enter, you have reached the ‘control room’ of the mansion. Turn on one of the flashlights and watch five surveillance cameras (paintings) showing the rest of the house in black and white. Or if you are of the spooky type, climb up the little staircase and peep trough two holes of a painting on the other side of the wall, and watch what’s going on outside. As mentioned in the press release for the exhibition, this room can be seen as a reference to the novel 1984 by George Orwell. The book describes a future where everything and everyone is being watched by ‘Big Brother’, something not far from the truth in these times of technology.
In Bust a Move, I can see signs of the newly named era Anthropocene. It is a new phase in the history of the earth, where we humans have altered our surroundings so much that it has made irreversible changes to the world. There is no set start date on this new phase, but one of the common suggestions is that it started with the industrial revolution. With the help of technology, homo sapiens have traveled to the moon and back, build drones, and we now live side by side with machines and technology. But we have also damaged the Earths atmosphere by letting out billions of tons of carbon dioxide . This time in history, it is not the earth that has changed, so that we humans have to adapt. It is we who has evolved and changed, and the earth is adapting to these changes.
On the lawn outside the mansion the artists have placed seven big rocks. They are painted blue, with straps form the well-known Ikea-bag attached. They are Ikea-bags turned into stone; from manmade plastic, to geological stone. Aurora Sander’s site-specific artwork makes me think of plastiglomerate, a newly discovered hybrid material, described as “an indurated, multi-composite material made hard by agglutination of rock and molten plastic”. Some of the plastic that ends up in the oceans fuse together with other materials, like sand, shells and glass, and over time form this new rock, a fusion of stone and plastic. It is a physical result of the Anthropocene. Plastic has become so big a part of our life, that it now has become a physical part of the earth.
In the exhibition, we can go back and forward in time, try different scenarios, and alter the presence. We can learn from the past and go in whatever direction we want, both in this exhibition and in life. Although some of the changes we have made are non-reversible, like the polyglomerate, the Ikea-bags turned into stone, the exhibition is not gloomy and full of warnings about the end of the world. It is fun, with bright colours and playful figures. It is like the children stories with deeper meaning for those who looks. Like when you read the Little Red Riding Hood as a child, and enjoy the narrative, and when you get older, you find out that there also is a deeper meaning to the story.
To fully understand and experience the whole exhibition you have to open up your imagination and explore, get creative and see a whole new range of possibilities. We need both the creativity and curiosity of a child, and the intelligence of the adult to explore and find hidden rooms, and new meanings. Allow yourself to think new, outside the box, or behind the fireplace, literally. You will get rewarded for your efforts of exploration.
 Norsk Billedhoggerforening, “Billedhoggerhuset.”
 Bonneuil and Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene, preface.
 Miller, “Views from the Plastisphere,” pp 69.
Norsk Billedhoggerforening. “Billedhoggerhuset.” 12.09.18. http://www.norskbilledhoggerforening.no/new-page-2
Bonneuil, Christophe and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz. The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us. London: Verso, 2016.
Miller, Meredith. “Views from the Plastisphere: A Preface to Post-Rock Architecture”. Climates: Architecture and the planetary imaginary (2016).