Parks containing boxes containing parks

An interview with Johanne Hestvold

Johanne Hestvold’s sculptural practice engages with processes of formal abstraction of mundane, mass-produced goods. Her pieces derive from the conceptual manipulation, in minimalist fashion, of familiar commodities such as clothing, plastic containers, massage beds and car parts. Playing with scale and material transformation as means to muddle the objects’ original function, Hestvold challenges our reading of the seemingly unimportant ‘things’ that shape the pragmatic backbone of our everyday life.

Eating at Conjunction (2021) is a body of work composed of five large sculptures, cast in a Ganoderma-based building material. Despite their appearance as oversized brutalist containers, the pieces unfold in a delicate network of connections that join historical art references with issues concerning the categorisation of abstract concepts such as nature and culture, against the backdrop of contemporary reflections on the minimal agencies of matter. In 2021, the work was exhibited in Hestvold’s solo show at Golsa Gallery in Oslo and made into a beautiful publication by Heavy Books.

Here, I ask her few questions about this project.

Johanne Hestvold, Divination (Pasargadae Garden)
Mycelium composite and reinforced concrete, 37 x 124 x 84 cm, 2021

Courtesy of the artist & Galleri Golsa

Johanne Hestvold, Eating at Conjunction, 2021

Courtesy of the artist & Galleri Golsa

As the title suggests, the work exists at the intersection between a set of multiple concerns. If we start by recalling how and where you got interested in the issues that form the core of the piece, we might end up close to the space where they all connect. How did ‘Eating at Conjunction’ come about?

I first started to think about it during a residency in Berlin when I became interested in the layout of the many city parks I walked through. What intrigued me most was the meeting point between landscaping – the intentional forming of space – and the actual physical environment, with everything else that goes on in a park: from the weather to Sunday walks all the way to mycelium networks. Between the formal and organic qualities of the park, I found a tension that triggered a number of questions I wanted to explore. Around the same time, I became interested in the link between landscaping and new organic building materials, which are both based on the manipulation of living organisms.

You have previously worked with a similar strategy of modifying the scale of mass-produced, everyday objects. In this project, you focus specifically on food containers. What is the meaning of this choice?

The food boxes operate on multiple levels within the piece. As containers for organic matter, they work as a sort of metaphor for landscaping in parks. Furthermore, they carry references to the activities that happen inside parks, such as eating takeaway, and to the contemporary system of mass-produced consumer goods. They also, of course, allude to the use of readymades in art history.

Johanne Hestvold, Isolation (The Humble Administrator's Garden)
Mycelium composite and reinforced concrete, 110 x 43 x 42 cm, 2021

Courtesy of the artist & Galleri Golsa

Johanne Hestvold, Divination (Pasargadae Garden) (detail)
Mycelium composite and reinforced concrete, 37 x 124 x 84 cm, 2021

Courtesy of the artist & Galleri Golsa

The internal part of the sculptures that form ‘Eating at Conjunction’ contain physical renderings of satellite maps of parks. As graphic representations of the real world, maps are always an abstraction that negotiates the ever-changing nature of reality into a stable, intelligible form. Can you talk about the tension between formality and unpredictability that emerges from these pieces?

This is a very important aspect of the work and the starting point for my exploration: I began to look at parks as some sort of container for complex, moving relations. The idea of the container is linked to stability and order, which is always challenged once the container engages with the complexities of reality. Time and place make unpredictable things happen. The maps are, as you say, an abstraction that transcribes a complex landscape into something readable. I have attempted to challenge these simplifying elements within the layers of unpredictability inherent in the sculptures.

The tension between control and disorder is also expressed by the material of the casts - a mycelium composite, which is part of an emerging class of environmentally sustainable building materials. To what degree is this substance unstable and what role does the lack of ‘finitude’ play in the pieces?

In the final pieces, the fungi-based material is dried out and put into a state of hibernation. If exposed to certain factors in the environment the fungi can wake and continue to develop. The likelihood of this actually happening within a controlled indoor environment, where the sculptures are usually placed, is very small…but their potential of eluding control is what counts.

The sculptures play both the role of containers and connectors. How do you see the combination between the abstracted park ecologies, which are separated from the outside, and the pieces as porous walls that connect and react to external conditions?

The works are following a logic of abstraction, separating different elements from their particulars and putting them into new contexts. In these pieces, parks are represented by a set of repeating elements that are brought together according to certain rules. I think the susceptible material operates as a kind of antagonist to the logical abstraction connecting the sculptures, and eventually changing them.

Francesca Astesani is an independent curator and writer based in Copenhagen. She is one of the directors and founders of the curatorial agency South into North, which specialises in art commissions. She holds an MA in Philosophy from the University of Milan and one in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths College in London.

Johanne Hestvold holds a BA from Bergen Academy of Art and Design. She studied sculpture through the sculpture department at Kuvataideakademia Helsinki, Finland, and has an education background in Literature studies at the Universty in Bergen, Norway. Recent exhibitions has taken place at Galleri Golsa (2021), Stavanger Art Museum (2020), The Astrup Fearnley Museum (2019), The Astrup Fearnley Museum (2016), Norwegian Sculpture Biennial, The Vigeland Museum, Oslo (2015) and Stavanger Art Museum (2016).