03–19 June 2022
BABEL visningsrom for kunst welcomes you to plot / plott by Per Stian Monsås and Agnieszka Foltyn June 3–19.
OPENING Friday, June 3rd at 19.00
ARTIST TALK Per Stian Monsås and Agnieszka Foltyn in conversation with Alexander Eriksson Furunes on Sunday, June 19th at 14.00
Crossed by wooden walkways, thousands of blades of artificial grass bend in artificial winds. As a world within worlds, plot / plott is an invitation to experience a connected but alternate environment creating an echo of the interior landscape with the exterior green of Lademoen park. The large-format installation presents a situation where the boundary between real and manufactured dissolves and reappears in constant dialogue.
plot/plott blends memory, phenomena and collective experience by constructing a natural situation through artificial means. It is not immersive and illusionary, but rather plays on sensorial association to memory, which is often the strongest connection to a lived and personal experience.
Per Stian Monsås (b. 1990) works with installation and graphics. His practice is based on everyday life, as well as his own experiences and observations. Monsås uses everyday experiences as abstracted starting points for his work with a focus on material properties and production. Building on what fascinates him, he aims to share this experience with the audience through their own encounter with art.
Monsås holds an MFA (2020) and BFA (2018) from the Trondheim Academy of Fine Art. He sits on the arts council of Kjøpmannsgata Ung Kunst and works as a technician at institutions across Trondheim. Selected exhibitions include Bomuldsfabriken (2021), Sparebank1 (2022), Trøndelagsutstillingen (Debutant prize 2021), Trondheim Kunstmuseum (2020), with commissions including REV Ocean (2020) and on MS Roald Amundsen/Hurtigruten (2018).
Agnieszka Foltyn (b.1987) is an artist, curator, and writer. Her practice is centred on the relations between site and public, exploring how art weaves through the everyday. Her work also touches on notions of labour, value, collectivity, participation, and hospitality most frequently through large-scale drawing, site-specific installation, and performative intervention.
Along with an MFA (2017) and a BFA in art history and studio art (2009), Foltyn completed two graduate courses specializing in commissioning and curating public art (2020) and art, architecture and design within public arts practice (2021). She currently works as project leader for Babel visningsrom for kunst, is a guest lecturer at NTNU, and is deputy leader of Trøndelag Bildende Kunstnere. Her artistic works have been realised through Norway, Canada, Poland, Latvia, and Finland.
Per Stian Monsås was awarded the studio for new graduates at Lademoen Kunstnerverksteder in 2021. As the culminating event of the studio residency, he invited Agnieszka Foltyn to produce a collaborative work exhibited at BABEL. Monsås and Foltyn have been working together since 2016. Some exhibitions, public artworks, and hospitality-based projects include Trondheim Open kunstbiennale (2020), Kjøpmannsgata Ung Kunst (2022), Rosendal Teater (2021), Arteles Creative Centre (2019), Erkebispegården (2020), Armenian Cultural Representative in Gdansk, Poland (2019), with residencies in Finland (2019) and Norway (2023).
This exhibition is made possible with support from Sparebankstiftelsen, Trøndelag fylkeskommune, Kunstsentrene i Norge, Trondheim kommune, and the Arts Council of Norway.
Photo: Lena Katrine Sokki
Treading the Boards
Not Exactly a Walk in the Park
Parks are the lungs of the city: verdant, airy, full of life and little dramas such as children falling off swings in the morning, picnic highs at lunchtime and late-night muggings. Lademoen park, probably, is only partly an exception to this. Plot/plott in Babel, adjacent to the park, is another green space, albeit simpler, it seems. It is a small plot planted with artificial prairie grass crossed by rough decking paths, one of which, at its furthest extent, walks you into a white wall. It would, apparently, be quite undynamic were it not for fans making the grass sway from side to side as it does on the plains. What it offers is sparse and minimal, deliberately kept so by the artists Agnieszka Foltyn and Per Stian Monsås. It is a plot rather than a plateau, and yet, for all its minimalism, it has the makings of a theatrical environment.
Isn’t this a negative word, `theatrical`, in relation to art? We were told just this regarding Minimalism by art historian and critic Michael Fried in his polemical, albeit a little reactionary, essay `Art and Objecthood` (1967).1 Moving beyond his first criticism that minimalist art is too literal (we grasp its superficial material qualities all too easily and that is enough), Fried moves on to characterize this as an obsession with objecthood. There is no getting away from the object, which is often inert, offering us, he says, citing Clement Greenberg, a `minimum of interesting incident`. Inert it might be, but it is often large and confrontational. As he puts it: `placed not just in his [the beholder’s] space but in his way`.
The clumps of grass in Plot/plott are the most obvious objects in this exhibition: they cover much of the floor area and they too get in our way, restricting movement around the gallery. The paths don’t take us anywhere. For Fried, Minimalism is so minimal that it can only be animated by involving the audience and making them perform the work on its stage. This theatricality is, for him, a `negation of art`. I’d like to make the case that Plot/plott is both minimal and theatrical and still an affirmation of art, but first more on this critique.
There are other negatives fired at Minimalism by Fried. Some are formal – the size of the work is scaled to the body of the beholder and there is repetition of identical units (Plot/plott guilty again) – while others are qualities of the theatrical space: the artwork is in a `situation`, it involves `physical participation` and movement, and it creates a publicness (audience) which has `special complicity`. The temporality of the work is also suspect. Whether it be the presencing of the work, allowing it `duration`, or experiencing it as it happens, each, for Fried, detracts from art appreciation. All too often the work is `indeterminate`, `open-ended` and `unexacting`.
Interestingly, today, every one of these characteristics is considered a positive in art practice! So, let’s not throw out the theatrical and instead ask how might it work with Plot/plott? There is another way into this exhibition that I believe enables us to experience it more deeply while, as actors say, treading the boards. The work, as the artists have stated, poses the question of a disparity between what we see and what we imagine. Given little, seeing little more than grass, one intuits that there must be more here, and more work to be done by us (Fried’s derided audience). The artists have also stated that this is not an immersive work – we don’t leave the path (although the hapticity of the breeze and noise of the fans makes it, to a degree, immersive) – rather it is `a conduit to an immersive, lived experience`.
Plot/plott lies in the context of other more-or-less minimalist works that touch on primary process, raw materiality and a sometimes crude, certainly improper, inhabitation of a plot or space that would more normally be utilized for another purpose. Among these are: Allan Kaprow’s Yard (1961); Walter de Maria’s New York Earth Room (1977); Agnes Denes’s Wheatfield – A Confrontation (1982); and Olafur Eliasson’s Riverbed (2014). The latter has stated in an interview at the time of his event/exhibition – a gallery filled with boulders, wall-to-wall, with a stream running though it – the importance of not putting up signs that indicate how to engage with the work.2 The same applies, in the spirit of minimalism, for Plot/plott. Regardless of what we see here, our imagination must take us closer to the real object and this is not signposted. Nevertheless, a question is posed of just how we might engage with something so minimal?
A surprisingly theatrical engagement with art comes with philosopher Graham Harman’s take on the problem of objecthood in his theory/practice of Object-Oriented-Ontology (OOO).3 Harman takes up the baton of Minimalism and responds to Fried’s accusation of theatricality, turning it, affirmatively, into a platform and process for engaging with the reality of the (art) object. However, paradoxically, he begins by throwing out any possibility of accessing and understanding the object which, like Kant’s thing-in-itself, is always mediated – so much for the essence and truth of art waiting to be revealed! For him, the object must be approached indirectly, via metaphor.
Why does he concentrate so much on art and metaphor? It is because art is foremost among those arts that don’t make a virtue out of clarity. Poetry is another, and metaphor, one of its main vehicles, is particularly indirect. This is how it might work with the installation that is Plot/plott:-
The artwork (like all art installations?) remains stubbornly unclear and fragmented in its meaning(s) – the object, if the installation is considered to be the object here, becomes increasingly nebulous the more we look directly at it. But nor can we get much out of the superficial qualities of the installation. We need to get beyond the fallacy that an object/art installation is just the sum of its qualities such as, here, flexibility of grass or force of wind. Indeed, these minimal qualities of the work, of any art object, can become quite detached from what the object is in-itself.
A metaphor here (you can probably come up with your own, better, one) might be something like `the installation moves like grass blowing in the wind`. We must catch the art object (the installation) in a metaphor and, in this magical displacement of the literal, we, the audience, take the place of the primary object in the metaphor (the installation-in-itself), rather like an actor playing a part. Now that we are involved, becoming actors in the drama, we take on all the reality of the situation that is withheld by the object-in-itself. The grass, the wind, the wooden path, even the white walls are made real by us, the participating audience, and any essentialist truth in the work is forgotten. The drama, with us in lead roles, becomes more real than objective reality. As Harman puts it, `we ourselves … are the real objects at stake in aesthetics`, and we each become `method actors` in this theatrical scenario; in a sense playing the work that is playing at being blown grass.
Plot/plott is immersive after all then, it seems, although perhaps not so much in a physical sense. Whether or not you buy into this theory of OOO in relation to Plot/plott isn’t precisely the point here, it is that one must work hard, at very least with great sensibility, to really experience this kind of art and this is a general point that Foltyn and Monsås are making with most of their installation work, be it outdoors as in works like Nest, or nearly outdoors with Estuary and Plot/plott.
It might be that the exhibition works for you in a different way: one of the artists reflected upon it as performing like a dreamscape. If you first encountered this work walking back from a party, through the park, and saw ahead of you, surreal, a prairie, but indoors, you might have questioned your grasp on reality. It is not an illusion though, it is real, albeit artificially made. And if this sounds like a paradox, here is another one: If this is a work about real nature, it is up to you to make it so. This is hardly a walk in the park, although there are similarities.
1 Michael Fried, `Art and Objecthood`, eds. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Ideas, Oxford, 2002, pp.822-34.
3 See Graham Harman, `Aesthetics Is the Root of All Philosophy`, chapter two, in Object-Oriented-Ontology: A New Theory of Everything, London, 2018, pp.59-102.
Photos: Susann Jamtøy/BABEL visningsrom for kunst