press release

STANDARD (OSLO) is pleased to present the exhibition "The Elementary Particles (Paperback Edition)". Taking its starting point from a novel by the French author Michel Houellebecq, the exhibition examines the concept of 'synthetic nature'. Including contributions by eight artists and architects, these works discuss the diffusion rather than the distinct difference between structures made by man and structures made by nature.

"But decoding DNA, pff … you decode one gene, then another and another, feed the results into a computer and let it work out the sub-sequences. You send a fax to Colorado – they're working on gene B27, we're working on C33. It's like following a recipe. From time to time someone comes up with better equipment and they give him the Nobel Prize. It's a joke." Biologist Michel Djerzinski – the protagonist of Houellebecq's novel – is as dark in his view of scientific research as he is of life itself. Having led a modest life dedicated to the science of molecular biology, he concludes that neither life nor the cells from which it stems are in any ways unique: "every cell contained within it the possibility of being perfectly copied. Every animal species, however highly evolved, could be transformed into a similar species, reproduced by cloning and therefore immortal." Similarly, the title of this exhibition suggests a possible equilibrium between what can be regarded as essence and what can potentially be copied or mass-produced.

One of the contributions to "The Elementary Particles (Paperback Edition)" is a photograph depicting the world's first aircraft carrier, H.M.S Argus, on its maiden voyage in 1918. Merely three years after the invention of warfare camouflage, the ship is here seen painted in the characteristic pattern referred to as "razzle dazzle". Along the entire sides of the ship are bold black geometric fields contrasted against brash zig-zag lines of grey and white – systematically breaking down the silhouette of the ship and making it difficult to estimate the orientation, speed and range of it. The tableau transcends the notion of camouflage as merely a method to remain indiscernible from the surrounding environment of nature. Although clearly learning from nature, H.M.S Argus' appearance is similarly conditioned by other parameters. In fact, the first experts hired by the French Army to develop the camouflage technique were painters, sculptors and theatre set designers – drawing on resources and knowledge from the recent phenomenon of Cubist painting. The mimicking of nature that camouflage came to offer was in other words detoured through specific cultural artefacts and discourses.

Opposite of this photograph hangs a painting of the artist Sonia Almeida, entitled "Awaiting Shipwreck". For her contribution, Almeida has concentrated on the many collapses of man-made constructions due to weather phenomenons such as hurricanes and earthquakes. The minimal remains or ruins of these structures – in this case a tall sail ship – are rendered in between the biomorphic and the geometric, echoing her own paintings' unsure status in between representation and abstraction. Similarly balancing in between trace and disappearance is the drawing next to it; a printed copy of sketch made by the architect Knut Knutsen (1903-1969) of his summerhouse in Portør (1949). Knutsen is also the architect responsible for the design of Hegdehaugsveien 3 (1937), the building in which STANDARD (OSLO) is located. While the latter design clearly aims at mediating between the Modernist design doctrine and a more open-ended dealing with site, the design of his summerhouse reveals a far more radical attempt at subordinating architecture to the natural conditions of the local site. The outline of the cabin is characterized by a rhythmic break up of lines and cogent addition of volumes. Attempting at corresponding to the curves of the rocky southern Norwegian landscape, Knutsen leaves the house barely visible, hardly existent.

What Knutsen's architecture might have in common with the work of artist Oscar Tuazon is a re-reading and re-evaluation of the design doctrine of Modernism in its relationship to man and nature. But where Knutsen's design is mimetic in the relation to landscape and site, Tuazon's object is mimicking nature at a basic syntactic level and aiming at locating universal structures. His geodesic steel dome constructed for the exhibition, draws on such typologies as indigenous building techniques, DIY architecture, and a more determined dedication to the ideal of structural clarity, advocated by the engineer R. Buckminster Fuller. "Form was merely the result of a logical process by which the operational needs and the operational techniques were brought together. Ultimately these would fuse in a kind of biological extension of life, and function and technology would become totally transparent." Professor Alan Colquhoun's description of the historical development of Modernism – from the essay "Typology and Design Method" (1967) – predicts a fusion of man, nature and technology, which could well apply to the sources of Oscar Tuazon's art. Complete transparency is achieved in what serves as a model and a product at the same time. Taking equal interest in the building elements of nature phenomenons, Hannah Rickards' audio work "Thunder" offers a skilful de- and reconstruction. Rickards altered an eight second long recording of a thunderclap and stretched it to last seven minutes. The artist then collaborated with a composer to transcribe the sound into a music score for an eight-piece orchestra. After having recorded this, the sound file was then compressed down to its original length of eight seconds. During the course of the exhibition the sound of this synthetic thunderclap will continuously but randomly interrupt.

The two drawings by Ane Graff share this ambiguity in dealing with the relationship between the natural and the artificial. The eerie precision leaves the viewer uncertain as to what extent these simple tableaux of stones and natural shapes have been manipulated. They seem to balance in between a positivist scientific approach and scenographic arrangements; as with the 17th century 'Wunderkammer' and the 'diorama' of natural history museums. In both drawings Graff captures transgressions of form, blurring the boundaries between static and dynamic material in nature; a formation of copper takes on the appearance of a wooden branch, whereas a group of mushrooms seem to be mimicking the structures of crystals. Equally puzzling are the mixed media drawings of Bjorn Copeland, where the artist's methodical and minimal drawings are woven into fragments of found magazine images. Releasing perception from its familiar routines, Copeland offers a fractured and re-structured reality – a subjective synthesis minimizing the margins between what is systematic and what is random. In both artists' drawings a blend of natural and artificial elements results in configurations that clearly resemble certain natural forms and therefore also radiate great sensuality, while still eluding a fixed interpretation.

In the seminal film "The Powers of Ten" by the architect duo Charles and Ray Eames, we witness a journey from the microscopic to the cosmic. Commencing with an aerial view of a man in a Chicago park the camera proceeds to zoom out by increasing the distance by a power of ten every ten seconds until we're brought to the outer limits of the universe directly above him. The camera then returns, zooming back on earth by decreasing the powers of ten every two seconds, back down into the microscopic world contained in the man's hand. In opposition to this de-mystifying exploration of the universe and man, Are Mokkelbost's elaborate collages are preoccupied with aspects of the metaphysical – more specicially the pre-scientific principles of alchemy. The initial method to this transmutation of metals into gold relied on four basic elements: air, earth, fire and water. A set of similar basic elements still appear in Mokkelbost's collages, but represented through appropriated images from glossy fashion and lifestyle magazines – meticulously cut out and organized. Common for all these elements is the opposition or physical reversal of its source. Gravity is reversed making hair fall upwards into consuming flames, solid cloth and fabric follow in the form of smoke, and diamonds appear loosing their geometric brilliance and melting into liquid crystalline gush. Mokkelbost turns the logic of 'alchemy' upside down: rather than refining nature elements into cultural valuables, cultural surplus material is transformed into nature.


Kurator: Eivind Furnesvik

mit Sonia Almeida / Bjorn Copeland, Charles & Ray Eames / Ane Graff / Knut Knutsen / Are Mokkelbost, Hannah Rickards, Oscar Tuazon, U.S. NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER