Svartjord [N] GREENHOUSE

25.9 – 15.11.2018

Svartjord [N] GREENHOUSE

The Norwegian art group Svartjord is based in Oslo, which is where I found them, at OsloOpen2018, on my curatorial journey supported by NomadResidency. Swartjord caught my eye for two reasons. The first one was that their work somewhat differed from all others – perhaps on the basis of some kind of an intermedial form made for site-specific purposes. Another reason was that I was fascinated by their outputs which represent collective work. In spite of being a three-member group, they work in a mutual symbiosis, selecting their themes with ease and spontaneity.

The name of Svartjord already suggests that they focus chiefly on ecological topics in their work. The very name refers to soil rich in nutrients, located where the most fertile agricultural areas on Earth are placed.

Each of the projects represents a presence of a unique ecosystem that the group creates together. The creative environment, possibilities and the given conditions can thus provide a fertile ground for their artwork. It evokes a plant one takes care of. A seed that gradually grows and gains strength.

In the Klubovna Gallery Svartjord presents a new form of a site-specific installation, created with the support of new media and the knowledge of physics. An important element here is light emitted from a projector. It is perceived as a significant element of the group and, among other things, as a symbol of interconnection with vegetation growth: without light, ultimately, life on Earth could not fully exist. Plants use the energy for photosynthesis and people consequently draw on plant energy. So we can see the installation as a metaphor that emphasizes the mutual need of people and plants on our planet.

However, since it is not simply a clear light beam but a video projection of a scanned greenhouse in Norway, the gallery space represents a sort of a parable of creative growth. As such it is  the first exhibition that has more monumental dimensions, and it is not only due to the significant element of clay that can be found all around the exhibition space, but also due to the refracted projections reflected on the walls of the Klubovna Gallery as if on a water surface.

The “greenhouse” metaphor can thus refer to the planet’s climate change, especially through the high temperature found in these buildings. The allegory of the greenhouse on Earth is more than obvious, even though through optimistic human eyes we can also interpret its function as plant growing. To quote Emmelheinz, “the Anthropocene has meant not a new image of the world, but rather a radical change in the conditions of visuality and the subsequent transformation of the world into images.” In a post-apocalyptic world where electricity and other natural resources are wasted, the clay and the video projections may seem like artifacts of fragmented memories of an already lost society. In the end, a quote of the late author Ursula K. Le Guin, from her book The Word for World is Forest, is applicable: “In diversity is life and where there’s life there’s hope, was the general sum of his creed, a modest one to be sure.”


Curator: Tereza Záchová


Shovelling Black Soil

The artist group Svartjord (‘Black Soil’), which was established in Oslo in 2014, consists of Siren Elise Dversnes Dahle, Yola Maria Tsolis and Mari Østby Kjøll. These artists’ individual perspectives and interests provide fertile soil for artistic practice. They share a materially explorative starting point: folded textiles, storytelling and fragmented collages. Strict geometry and a more hidden and chaotic character result in differentiated manifestations. In Svartjord, all the members concentrate on space, architectonic and site-specific installations—with an impact point in nature as both concrete material and as fiction.

The name ‘Svartjord’, in itself, creates associations to something teeming and tactile, potentially metaphorical at the same time as darkly poetic. Rough earth under the fingernails. Good for sowing seeds. This black soil suggests something heavy and earth-bound. The depth and thickness contradict the possibility of anything fleeting and floating, yet require local care, regularity and a favourable climate. In fact, the name refers to the particularly nutritious soil found in the world’s most fertile farming areas, an earthworm’s paradise. At school we learned that the Ukraine was the world’s breadbasket. Its chernozem (Russian for ‘black soil’) is excellent for growing wheat, barley and vegetables – like an archaic and mythic provider of premises.

Svartjord, seen as an artistic larder and space for experimentation, can thus be seen as a small ecosystem in itself. The down-to-earth artistic practice operates in the borderland of a use-oriented ecological mindset, with impulses from, among other things, the Anthropocene epoch’s complete reversal of the conventional order of nature, and Timothy Morton’s complex and minor-keyed dark ecology. These phenomena problematize each and every understanding of nature that operates on the hope of restoring what has been destroyed or disturbed in it, and for clarifying its harmony. With their obvious ecological interest, Svartjord’s members explore what the category of nature can include in an encounter with urban and art-specific structures. Culture is a fence that nature cannot necessarily tear down, and vice versa.

In spatial installations, organic materials such as plants and trees are integrated with industrial materials such as Plexiglas, mirrors and steel. The group’s first initiative consisted of taking possession of a basement at the end of the street Storgata, in one of Oslo’s oldest brick buildings. There they established the gallery space Prindsekjøkkenet. In their first exhibition, which was the reference for their exhibition at RAM earlier in 2018, they included an ‘architecture of plants’, in the form of squash plants, corn stalks and beanstalks—also known as ‘the three sisters’. The growth symbiosis, the mutually enriching combination of plants, appeared in an organized formation that drew viewers’ thoughts to Svartjord’s own internal dynamics. The members draw benefit from each other, articulating a mutual yet intricate and not-fully-articulated goal. The underlying idea was of plant organisms having a collective consciousness, a form of mind-rich being that is not easily conceptualized. The plant kingdom is still enticingly bewildering, sophisticatedly construed, gradually revealed by science. The abilities of plants to sense their surroundings, to process information and communicate, appeal to art’s own sensibility for form, structure and internal functionality.

Svartjord’s projects meander forward like organic and somewhat paradoxical entities. This was demonstrated by the exhibition Nothing in Excess / Drift at Akershus Kunstnersenter in 2016, where Lillestrøm’s Leira River formed a meander-shaped model and choreography for the exhibition’s composition. Plants in glass cases and low boxes of soil were arranged such that the public had to relate to an anti-linearity dictated by nature, an indoor riverbed. These stylized sedimentations entered the gallery space symbolically and graphically, supplemented by a kaleidoscopic film that used the city’s generic architecture as raw material.

The place itself—the space in which Svartjord will exhibit, and the venue’s actual context—become a fulcrum in the group’s practice. Studies of space-related issues and how they affect the body, nature and culture spring from the given place, which defines the project at all times. The project thus finds its form in a condensed and hectic phase before the exhibition opening.

Svartjord’s production is dependent on a fundamentally collaborative model, central to which is a methodical exchange of many-voiced knowledge. An ‘open source’ practice—with an active and general sharing of artistic sources, practical insight into materials, ideas and methods—becomes a synergistic main principle. There is a deliberately ongoing discussion. The 1970s’ ideological alternatives to reigning artist mythologies, with the belief that collective experiences should give birth to classless values, is one of several historical sources here. In later decades, artist groups have commented on society and the market with a more voiced ambivalence.

Svartjord’s members embrace transience, the fleeting aspect in the exhibition as a category. Along the way, they map the need for and orchestration of knowledge. External expertise and practical actors are recruited: carpenters, mushroom growers and ecological farmers. This activity underscores the projects as a social platform. Svartjord has established methods for successively building on small amounts of knowledge, thus expanding the conditions for nuanced reflection over the actual basic material. In the words of the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, they acquire ‘an excess of seeing’, which surpasses the individual preconditions and sets up a curious dialogue with the surroundings. The antithesis is a monologue that cannot accept a shared endeavour. The one who expresses herself is, per definition, responsible for the other voices. Almost unheard, they make sounds in the sensory darkness—lunar eclipses and earthworms in the deep moist soil.

The text is written by Line Ulekleiv




The project is financially supported by the Czech Ministry of Culture, The City of Brno and Frame Finland. With media support from Scandinavian House.