Toril Johannessen


There is a word you can say to warm yourself up when freezing. I once learnt it, then forgot it. The word is not an enchanted spell. It does not work by magic. It is a word that, when uttered, makes you stop being cold because of the physical movement that the word makes you perform. The combination of the air you take in and the way the word shapes your mouth causes your body temperature to rise. The signals sent to your brain and spinal cord, mitigate the rapid contractions of the muscles so that your shivering ceases. Goosebumps retract when the muscles connected to each hair of your skin no longer pulls the pores up.

Toril Johannessen, 2014

OSL contemporary is proud to present its first exhibition with Toril Johannessen, AA-MHUMA-AITI-KITTEKITII. The show furthers Johannessen's enduring exploration of the artistic practise as a position at liberty in the flexible field between "reality" and science. It presents works in different mediums that each illuminates the artist's "homemade linguistic research".

The title piece is a supposedly warming word that must be pronounced in order to fulfill its function. It is represented in the show by a screenshot of a web search of its phonetic notation [ˌaˑaˈmuːmaˌaˑˈiːtɪ ˌkɨtəˈkɨˌtiˑɪ] that yields no result. Mediated as the title of the show as well as of the work, the word is made searchable in its present context, and Johannessen establishes a story of unlimited potential circulation.

A different form of storytelling has inspired the three sculptural rope-installations spanning the gallery room from floor to ceiling. Each shape is constructed after the same principles as the string-figures one can create with a single loop of thread between ones fingers, either alone or in a collaborative game where one constantly alters the shapes. Figures like these seem to have had historically universal distribution as part of oral storytelling traditions, rituals and play. One speculative theory suggests that the invention of knots co-evolved with deep structures in human language - a notion that Johannessen seem to extend by allowing her string-figures to represent verbal expressions bearing semantic content: the words YES, OR and NO. The shapes are based on an a survey, in which the artist has registered the visual associations of students in relation to the three terms, as pronounced in various languages.

The survey itself is presented in the form of two watercolours, THE YES/OR/NO EFFECT. The first depicts a variety of abstract forms based on three different characteristics, angular, pointed and rounded, in addition to symmetry, direction and level of complexity. In the second image three new figures abstract the preferred features of participants for the three words respectively. The study refers to previous research on associations between verbal sound and visual form, and in to particular the so-called bouba-kiki effect, which has demonstrated a collective tendency to connect the same types of sounds to the same types of forms. The phenomenon indicates a non-arbitrary relation between words and their meaning.

Finally, the show feature a silent one-take video, LANGUAGE IS A FAILED TECHNOLOGY (05:50 min), in witch two spindle tops spin uninterruptedly while debating the origins, usefulness and success of language: Is language influencing the way we think? Is its logical structure restraining thought? Are we able to interpret what is beyond language without using language as a parameter? The protagonists disagree, and their lyrically reductive claims demonstrate the paradox discussed: language as entirely inadequate and entirely essential as a tool for thought and communication.

In her production, Toril Johannessen has collected subject material within a range of academic fields such as economy, geology, physics, neurology and philosophy, and she often uses tools and techniques that in themselves may be connected with scientific processes: photography, optics, archival material, statistics, diagrams and experimental models. Recent projects have concerned optical illusions, the conservation of energy and neurological orientation in space, and they have involved extensive external references and collaborations both on the level of concept development and production. In AA-MHUMA-AITI-KITTEKITII, the scale of the exhibition is set within the limitations and possibilities of the individual. The works have developed from exercises that the artist has conducted after her personal logic, and relates to the always singular experience of the speech act, physically and mentally. Furthermore, these works point beyond the quantifiable and concrete, towards speculative ideas - and to a thought experiment on the possibility of breaking free from the notion that linguistic structure is decisive for what we may think and know.

Toril Johannessen (1978, Trondheim) lives and works in Bergen. She obtained her MA in Fine Arts from Bergen National Academy in 2008 and attended the Mountain School of Arts in 2011. Her work has been widely exhibited in galleries and institutions in Norway and internationally, as well as at dOCUMENTA (13) (2012); The Istanbul Biennial (2012). Recent solo presentations include UKS, Oslo (2013); Volker Bradtke, Düsseldorf (2011); [Lautom Contemporary](http://www.oslcontemporary.com), Oslo (2011) and Bergen Kunsthall No.5 (2010). Johannessen is included in key private and public collections, including the Preus Museum; The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design; Isabel and [Agustín Coppel](http://www.oslcontemporary.com) collection; KODE Bergen Art Museum and Sparebank 1 Nord-Norge's Art Foundation.