Museum De Hallen, Haarlem, Netherlands
On the second floor of the 17th-century building that is now Museum De Hallen in Haarlem, with its distinctive dark wooden floors and heavy wooden beams, the sound of falling coins disturbs the otherwise serene looking presentation of Roger Hiorns’s first museum solo in the Netherlands. With a rather loud ‘TACK!’ the coins drop in a slow but constant rhythm onto the floor from two different coin machines: one spitting out American coins from which the word ‘God’ has been removed, the other emitting European coins with small pieces of cow brain on them.
Although not always as intrusively noticeable as in the sound of the coins in Untitled (2012), many of Hiorns’s sculptures are constantly in motion. In the same room, the foam emanating from the top of the hanging skin-coloured ceramic vessels in Untitled (2009) and the stainless steel ones in Untitled (2012) gradually climbs towards the ceiling. As it grows, it forms a soft, white column that, confronted with its own limitations of size and gravity, eventually falls to the floor – after which the process starts all over again. The formless foam rejects any specific given shape, and instead behaves according to its own properties. A similar process, although even slower and less detectable, occurs in Hiorns’s copper sulphate covered engines (both Untitled 2011) also on view. The sulphate creates a mesmerizing surface of blue crystals that on a microscopic level never stops expanding.
One could rationalize the contrasting combinations of materials in Hiorns’s works didactically: the airplane engines perhaps represent modern technology and the human conquest over nature by flight, while his use of brain matter in other works could suggest the elusive location of thoughts and emotions. But this, in my opinion, does not do the works justice. Taken at face value, the works show the mysterious and living side of objects. They refer to passing moments, like ancient traces of humanity that slowly disappear due to the everlasting powers of nature and time. They open up a world of introspective wondering about transformations so slow but determined and unstoppable, like a glacier moving through a landscape, with its movement defining something as grand as the Earth itself.
By overlaying objects with natural processes, Hiorns manages to isolate them, withdrawing himself from the process of creation and bringing the aesthetic qualities of the materials to the fore. Hiorns’s objects seem to live by themselves and to take no account of their surroundings, yet somehow this isolation of the unbounded makes them even more present to the viewer.
In the monumental exhibition space on the first floor of De Hallen, several found objects, such as a park bench, an engine, and a dissecting table have been sparely installed. From time to time, a young man – naked – sits on top of them and looks at a small fire until the fire dies out. Notwithstanding the everyday nature of the objects on which this is taking place, the presence of fire binds them to the idea of ritual. Where in other works the subject, whether it is the maker or the viewer, has been removed from the object, these works imply a new kind of secular ritual that aims to reconnect the human body to the surroundings from which it has become so alienated.
Irene de Craen
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