The exhibition «Se lys» in Agder Contemporary Art Center, Kristiansand, displays an appealing mix of artworks within metal and jewelry art. Containing a couple of barbie heads, squirming metallic bugs and sneaky inappropriate drawings, the exhibition gave me curious excitement for a Sunday afternoon. Text by Heidi Marjaana Kukkonen.

Photo: Mirjam Raaen Thomassen.

As the institution celebrates its 40th anniversary, Agder Contemporary Art Centre will host exhibitions throughout the year that take specific materials as their themes. Works from six Sørlandet-based artists (Camilla Prytz, Ruth Laila Steffensen, Alida Rudjord, Ditte Alstad, Olaf Tønnesland Hodne and Eva Marit Edwardsen) together with some baffling behavior from other visitors made it a memorable visit.

Colorful little copper bowls made by Camilla Prytz attract me right away as I step inside the exhibition space. The vessels are displayed discreetly on black podium-like boxes. The bowls have stirring and lively colors inside out and vary a tad in their size. Glazed by glossy, but hard vitreous enamel, the material looks both delicate and heavy. I ask the personnel if I am allowed to touch the cups, and I get a smiling yes. Delighted by the permission, I excitedly touch all the bowls one after another. Some of them have a layer of dust inside them, and so I wonder if anyone else has yet touched them. My nails make a clacking sound on the gleaming surface. When I hunch my back and pick up the smallest bowls, I notice to my surprise that they seem to be the heaviest despite their size. I feel how the weight is draining towards the thick bottom. The nice and tidy rows of the cups are left a little crooked as I move on.

Photo: Heidi Marjenaa Kukkonen.

Elephants in a Porcelain Shop

Something unexpected happens while I roam forward in the exhibition space. Another visitor enters the room with a little dachshund and starts to take pictures of the dog next to the artworks. It is cute for a while, until the visitor determinedly lifts up the dog to the black podium with the copper bowls. The dog sits calmly with the artworks on the little platform as pictures are taken by its owner. Being a former museum guard, a scandalous alarm is ringing in my head. What in the world is happening? I wonder if I should report the situation to the staff, but I am too interested in discovering what takes place next. The absurdity is exhilarating as I secretly enjoy watching the rule-breaking visitor. The pair leaves the gallery space, and no pups nor cups are hurt.

Another thrilling situation is happening on the other side of the exhibition space. Ditte Alstad’s bug sculptures, made of copper, zinc and steel, are installed on two walls. The objects are roughly the size of my hand, attached to the wall with pins on the bug’s tummy like breast needles. The metal insects crawl from the black-painted wall towards the corner of the room. On the opposite wall, the bugs squirm and scatter in different directions. The composition creates a disturbing sensation of movement, which makes me feel intriguing disgust. Who does not remember turning a stone in a forest and seeing bugs escaping in all directions looking for a hide-away? I once again try my luck and ask the staff if I may touch the sculptures. Once again, I get a yes, and so I go back and excitedly poke the insects. Since they are only lightly attached to the wall with the pins and eye hooks, the metallic pieces start to shake and tremble like bouncy little cockroaches. I wish I had not come alone to the exhibition, looking for a partner in crime to share the guilty pleasure.

(Nostalgia) Provoking Gems

Ruth Laila Steffensen’s jewelry art misbehaves all by itself without me nor other visitors stirring up the situation. Her knitted hoodies, made by her grandmother, are combined with various objects and necklaces. They comment on youth culture in Scotland where Steffensen took her goldsmith’s degree. She says that the Scottish media depicted young people in their hoodies as dangerous criminals, even though they were, at the end of the day, just normal kids. One of the signs hanging from the hoodie says “Fuck off” on a wooden heart, while another is holding a plastic spider in its chain. The aesthetics is straight from the pencil case I decorated with rude signs in the age of fourteen. Although statements are rough and feelings are real, nothing dangerous is depicted here.

On the other side of the wall, smaller jewelry works made by Steffensen are displayed in white frames. A teeny tiny baby-figure in silver is positioned next to a murky medallion that has a picture of a skull. I see a shaved barbie head together with pretty beads, and a charming little porcelain flower paired together with a sneaky phallic doodle. The most interesting one of these, however, is the one with a less distinct juxtaposition. Beautiful blush pearls are hidden inside of a dried-out and boil-like barnacle, a marine animal. In wonder about the almost glamorous beauty of the lifeless creature and pink pearls, I leave the exhibition feeling troubled and very much thrilled.

Se lys – Materialbase 1: Metall” included artist Alida Rudjord, Camilla Prytz, Ditte Alstad, Eva Marit Edwardsen, Olaf Tønnesland Hodne, and Ruth L. Steffensen. Original dates: 7 March–22 March 2020, Agder Kunstsenter / Agder Contemporary Art Center (AKS), Kristiansand.