Sofia Hultén’s "Pressure Drop" at RaebervonStenglin, Zürich

Quinn Latimer

March 29, 2011
RaebervonStenglin, Zürich
February 11–April 2, 2011

An austere, Mars-meets-Minimalism environment greets visitors to “Pressure Drop,” Sofia Hultén’s recent exhibition at RaebervonStenglin. Strewn over the gallery floor are large, glittery rocks that conjure both a meteor shower come to inexplicable rest, and the boulder-bedeviled construction sites just outside the door (the gallery is in an industrial area of Zürich undergoing seismic demolition). Among the rocks stands a tall, rusty screw press, its circular silver halo evoking the rings of Saturn. Across the gallery, attenuated pieces of wood, pocked with nails and paint, lean against a wall like some fervent reductionist’s idea of a forest. If the installation has a sober, Process Art look to it, the works themselves take that idea to its most sterling and ridiculous. The rocks? Hultén made latex moulds of rocks she found at a construction site, then pulverized and recast them in their found forms in the moulds, giving them their pokerfaced title: Artificial Conglomerates (2011). The wood? Found room molding, which the artist meticulously copied, before mixing the original and manufactured pieces together against the wall. By comparison, the stoic screw press was barely touched: Hultén simply inserted a rusty steel bar into the press, allowing it to put five tons of pressure on the room’s floor, rather than on the press’s platform. By extending the tool’s action out into the room, the installation became (invisibly) complete.

As is obvious here, Hultén’s poetic shtick limns utility and waste, labor and destruction. The Swedish-born, Berlin-based artist uses the formal container of post-Minimalism—its strategies, mores, and materials—to hold her more slippery and slapstick works, which are always threatening to leak out. In the past, for example, she has taken an old, beaten-up chest of drawers and meticulously restored it, then just as laboriously brought it back to its ruinous, post-original state (Mutual Annihilation, 2008). Likewise, the 2001 video Fuck It Up and Start Again featured the artist-as-rock-star smashing a guitar in a white room seven times; between each smashing, Hultén glued the guitar back together only to smash it once again. Accordingly, by the seventh go, the guitar disintegrated with barely a blow. On the other side of this musical (and formal) spectrum was Ninety-Nine Problems (2010), a waterfall of locked padlocks that streams in a vertical line down a wall, a circle of keys hanging next to it. I once pictured this work hanging above Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s couch, then wondered if its endgame charm would register with Jay (its titular author) himself.

His “99 Problems”—racism, poverty, sycophants, not the ladies, though—can point to Hultén’s, which are… what, exactly? If the “Why?” of her works barely registers, so charming and dementedly painstaking are their individual biographies, there remains the problem of their ouroboros-like solipsism. For Hultén’s body of work imagines a world of objects freed from both their utility and from time and space as we know it, gleefully bouncing back and forth between their original and altered states, without pressure to conform to one or the other. Form, here, in its fluid and myriad morphology, becomes all. Politics, such as they are, feel scattershot, though the lingering specter of Berlin, its never-ending construction, and the political environment that accounts for it, does hover over Hultén’s practice. But “pressure”, never mind the exhibition’s gravitational title, can feel absent. Which is to say, the pressure of time is missing, since in the artist’s hands, decay can be magically reversed and then reversed again. This absence, then, naturally suggests the analogy shadowing all of Hultén’s objects: the human body, which cannot be manipulated—cannot overpower time’s march forward—according to her willful desire.

This note of seriousness was felt most acutely in Hultén’s show in the form of the immense work filling the back room of the gallery. 1:100 000 (2011) featured a 1200-kilogram wrecking ball (which the artist quixotically bought on eBay), hung from a steel-enforced concrete beam in the middle of the room. Before she hung the ball, Hultén drilled a small hole in it, then forged a 12-gram nail out of the resulting loss of metal. She hammered the nail in the wall exactly where the wrecking ball would hit, were it to swing back and forth. Taken together, this strange call-and-response gesture (to birth and rebirth, to destruction and reconstruction, to the material itself) was oddly moving, and seemed less predicated on the quirky conceit than her other works. When I expressed surprise that the beam above us held the wrecking ball, the gallerist admitted that they had no idea when they hung it if the room was about to come crashing down on them. Weirdly, this very possibility—wedded to the dialectic of heaviness and levity, stillness and motion, that the ball embodied—infused the work, and the larger show, with a welcome profundity that Hultén’s magical reverse alchemy can at times willfully, deliberately skirt. Less here was more, clearly.

Minimalism & Post-Minimalism

Quinn Latimer is a writer and editor and occasional curator. She is the author of Like a Woman: Essays, Readings, Poems (Sternberg Press, 2017), and the Head of the MA at Institut Kunst Gender Natur, in Basel. She is curator of “SIREN (some poetics),” opening at the Amant Foundation, in New York, in September 2022.

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