PARADOX AND PARALOGY. Espen Gangvik’s concrete and metaphysical art.
Article based on Espen Gangvik’s solo exhibition ‘OBJECTS FROM AN ALTERED EXCISTENCE’,
at Trondheim Art Museum, 2007, by Synnøve Engevik, art historian, Trondheim Art Museum.
Espen Gangvik’s sculptures exist somewhere in between an intuitive design and a mathematical and philosophical reflection. The formal language is constructive and geometrical, and is an exploration of the concrete object and the relation between object, viewer, time and space.
A line is broken, and creates a three-dimensional space. The line is drawn upwards, constructs movement and changes continuously. The sculpture cannot be read from a single point of view, but rather depends on movement and a fourth dimension – time.
Gangvik’s art is minimal and powerful. It cuts to the bone. There are no superfluous ornaments. The bare construction itself creates meaning, and provokes associations or has a literary aspect, Gangvik says. At the same time, the art is open-ended and gives room for many different interpretations.
This makes me think about Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory on language games. Wittgenstein’s point was that language is not primarily a system of signs that point to things in the world, but a “game” in which the users participate every time they use it. This game varies from situation to situation depending on the context in which it is played. That is also true for the rules of the game, which vary according to what game the participants agree upon. This is also how Gangvik’s art functions.
Modern science is another example of such a language game. Scientists within a certain science agree on which sentences are valid as “scientific” or “true” and “relevant.”
The French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard calls all language games – and particularly scientific language games – ”stories” or ”little stories”. (Lyotard 1984:60) He believes that it is typical for modernity to think that all these little stories are part of a bigger and more extensive project that he terms ”meta-stories” or ”big stories.”
Examples of such meta-stories include the faith in human development, that science contributes to human liberation, that it is possible to merge all the different language games into a meta-discourse, a consensus to ensure that everything is going in the ”right direction.”
Thus, what characterizes knowledge in modernity is for Lyotard among other things that science is forced to refer to a meta-discourse in order to legitimize itself. In support of the notion that the different sciences have a ”function”, we can point to a big story that ensures they are part of a larger project.
Western definitions and judgments of art have excluded and moderated a great variety of cultural phenomena towards the goal of creating a unified and causal history of or meta-story about art: how it began, developed and exists today. While what is typical for post-modernity, according to Lyotard, is that the belief in these meta-stories are lost. The belief that one can establish a meta-discourse constitutes almost an illusion. (Schaanning 1992:26ff)
Objects from an altered existence can also not be summarized in a big and coherent story. In this project some of the objects are constructed based on geometric forms that within each individual object transform from one shape to another. Other objects in the exhibition do not have such an intrinsic relation to time, but grow out of a manually manipulated basic form.
The sculptures are computer generated objects realized physically via various automatically controlled processes from the engineering industry. This way Gangvik’s concepts also address the idea of authenticity in the realization of art.
The big story has broken down and disintegrated, and the small stories remain. We need to find new moves in old games, or create new games by altering the rules of the old ones. This is how paralogy appears, the polyphonic.
The three-dimensional space represents our experience of life. Everything we consciously experience takes place within the framework of the axes x – y – z. I try to make objects that touch upon some of this. I try to produce work that at the same time as they are full of themselves, also point further into space: outwards, inwards, through and around themselves. Objects that not only can be read from one point of view, objects that are in constant change despite their frozen state.
(E. Gangvik 2000)
Gangvik is a conceptual artist and craftsman, mathematician and designer. He takes the constructive, concrete and autonomous art and pushes it into a sphere that creates room for stories.
Gangvik is not easy to categorize; he is neither a modernist nor a post-modernist. He himself prefers one of the stories – the story of an origin in an unknown universe. Perhaps the objects can be read as ’memories’ of a lost or coming civilization or technology, he wonders.
I like to think that they live their own lives, and that they point to a multiplex origin which points to time, space and dimension. A snapshot of an otherwise inaccessible sphere.
(E. Gangvik 2000)
What is paradoxical about the art of Gangvik’s, the modernist and the post-modernist, is that it includes the metaphysical idea of a universal consciousness, as well as the subjective and situation specific thought process that belongs to post-modernism.
Objects from an altered existence expresses an honest wonder of life and an authentic pleasure in life.
– Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge [La condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir 1979] Manchester University Press
– Schaanning, E. (1992) Modernitetens oppløsning. Sentrale skikkelser i etterkrigstidens idéhistorie, Oslo, Spartacus forlag
– Gangvik, E. (2000) A long forgotten future