UTSTILLING & INTERVIEW
REST RELIEF (2023) is a limited series of demi-reliefs on show in Kiosken through June and the start of July. These reliefs were made in relation to Presterud's solo exhibition SMOKE BREATHER, that opened at Norsk Billedhoggerforening in May 2023.
The reliefs draw upon the Ars Moriendi (‘The Art of Dying’), two Latin texts created in the 15th century. These texts were often illustrated using depictions on wood blocks, and would advise Medieval Europeans on attitudes towards life, specifically in the moment of death.
Presterud uses different shades of bisque-burnt clay, which are colourfully decorated using acrylic crayons and pastel chalk, before being fixed by wood glue. While lighter and more playful in tone than the original inscriptions from the 15th century, these reliefs still carry didactic potential and thematic similarities.
As part of the exhibition, Presterud is also shows ‘Mead Openers’ (2019-2023), a series of functional sculptures made from steel, resin and clay that are intended to be used as bottle openers. These are available to buy in both Kiosken’s online and physical shop. ‘Hibernaculum, Insect’ (2023) is an insect house and sculpture made from clay, wood, concrete, glass, beeswax, gum and pollen.
KIOSKEN IN CONVERSATION: MARIUS PRESTERUD
Kiosken in Conversation is a series of interviews that engages with our current exhibiting artists, Kiosken Studio residents and Kiosken Shop artists and makers through conversations about their practices. For our first interview in the series, we talked to current exhibitor, Marius Presterud.
This interview was hosted virtually, in both a wooden shed in an allotment garden that functions as a temporary art studio in Berlin, and in Kiosken’s studio in overcast Bergen. It is a conversation between artist Marius Presterud and Kiosken’s assistant curator Ruby Eleftheriotis.
This conversation follows Marius’ exhibition REST RELIEF at Kiosken, and picks up the threads from an artist talk held on the opening night. REST RELIEF runs in parallel to SMOKE BREATHER, a solo exhibition by Marius at Norsk Billedhoggerforening in Oslo, which opened in May 2023.
MP: Marius Presterud
RE: Ruby Eleftheriotis
12.36pm Thursday 29 June 2023
So would you like to start by talking a little about the works presented at Kiosken under the title REST RELIEF?
REST RELIEF is a limited series of A5 sized reliefs made in relation to the exhibition SMOKE BREATHER which can be seen at the Norwegian Sculptor's Association in Oslo. The motif in REST RELIEF is actually lifted from a set of larger, kidney-shaped, scorched plaster reliefs I show there.
The title plays upon the juxtapositioning of ‘rest’ and the double meaning of the word ‘relief’, as in ‘relaxation’, as well as in ‘the final rest’.
When I made the works, I had the Ars Moriendi (‘The Art of Dying’) in mind: two Latin texts created in the 15th century. These texts were often illustrated using depictions on wood blocks, and would advise Mediaeval European attitudes towards life, specifically in the moment of death - a doomer didactic, if you will. And I was contemplating how these topics seem to be causing contention and confusion in our day and age.
I’ve been thinking about the relationship to rest and the play on words of relief too, and the death as maybe being a relief from the world that we live in… I was reading your catalogue that just launched and I think there's some point near the end where you talk about the role of the artist as a sort of guide through life, and into death? I was just thinking about the kind of beekeeper character you see in the foreground of the relief as a grim reaper type character (laughs).
Also, the idea of mourning as being an essential ritual in processing emotions and rituals as ways of coping with the world. Funerals are very important mechanisms to understand time and change and our connectivity of the world...
Yeah, let me think about how best to enter those topics… hm.
If we start with the motif in REST RELIEF, it appears we do see a dead beekeeper, don’t we? Or is it Death asleep, perhaps? The idea of something being tended turning on its caregiver kind of inspired the depiction we see in the reliefs. In both religion and in secular humanism, the human being is often presented as a steward of the non-human world, and in this way placing ourselves at a safe distance outside or above our immediate ecologies.
But our current post-sustainable moment, with its catastrophic climate changes, ecosystemic collapses and pandemics, makes such a loner position impossible. Instead, to be alive in the world means having to be in the company of things that can affect and potentially harm you.
It’s a risk being alive, you know... the only safe places that exist are graves...
This humbling is not necessarily a bad thing though. It opens up the possibility of sympoietic enlivenment, companionship and entangled fates in a time predominated by loneliness and atomizing individuation.
The ‘Thanks…’ (referring to the hand-written message at the bottom of each relief) can be read in two ways: either sardonically, or as a thankful ‘sigh’, I like to think. It is open to the owner's interpretation.
I remember when we had the artist talk in Kiosken, you talked a bit about failure... and how you became allergic to bees when you were keeping bees as part of your practice, for their wax, and how that's perhaps not a failure but more so something not going to plan. I’ve been thinking about these rest reliefs as a sort of non-monumental monument to failure...
After several years of having a bee yard in downtown Oslo, I became allergic to bees in 2019. It was an interesting experience that I used in the catalogue text to SMOKE BREATHER as a springboard to talk about how we are all tangled up in other species, like bees and bats.
I guess the clay tablets are non-monumental in the sense that I’m just, you know, depicting something very everyday in a way. That we ultimately live and ‘become’ in a material world with all kinds of other things, and that materiality has insisting qualities to it. So it could be a tip of the cap to… something anti-monumental, sure. I think that's a good way to put it. We are… fleeting things, but that grounds us in ‘something’, in ‘this’. We are in ‘this’ together. I’m pretty sure dying to bee stings isn’t the worst way to go either… but I digress.
Digressions are always welcome…
Perhaps more fittingly is an anti-monumental tribute to temporality?
There's a couple of ways to reach immortality, by the way... one way is to copy yourself mechanically again and again and again. That's the way of viruses, like covid-19, for example. Another way is to become an element. You become a mineral, like a rock or something, and you’ll.. ah.. ‘live’ forever. In an object oriented ontological sense of the word.
You often return to the theme of life and death, it feels sort of fatalistic? I think on one hand, sometimes I look at your work and think about a type of climate-doom, and that everything is messed up and there is a Biblical Flood, but then on the other hand I see an almost climate-joy... of being like, well now we have to embrace multi-species kinships and try find joy in this situation. I think you straddle both of these really well, creating an ambiguity which subsequently filters into a sort of realism. You aren't offering a quick-fix solution. I feel like you are just kind of... accepting an ambiguous realism of the situation, a grounded reality…
Most public discourse on the precarity of the times we are living in tends to fall in one of two categories. One dominated by green, technosolutional, future-oriented optimism - “we will fix this with our enormous brain” - you can see me smiling (laughs) - and the other taking the form of a “nothing matters anymore” fatalism.
There’s some hidden human hubris in the idea that we can actually change the world, or change worlds. It is quite an arrogant-slash-optimistic thought, in that it puts us not on par with the other things that are living and dying in this world, but positions us as some kind of demigod, floating above the water.
I like to think that an anti-escapist or ‘goth’ position could allow for a ‘queering’ of the ways we traditionally have approached things like life and death; that it could potentially open up a neglected, though dusk-lit, middle-ground, where we don’t give in to either optimism or hopelessness, but instead accept our current predicament, stay with its troubles and grieve our loss of hubris.
Grievability offers a thinking of coexistence with a dark slant, not embodied through escapist striving for life to win over death, but in a 'goth' willingness to stay in and with a dying world, rather than attempt to outlive or escape it.
It is easy to forget that mourning can be an expression of solidarity too. And the amount of non-solidarity that can be expressed through something like ‘hope’.
So, um, I'm actually… not fatalistic. I'm more… adaptive. I like the term ‘deep-adaptive’.
Could you talk a little about your approach to working with materials, specifically in regards to the life-cycle of materials and the responsibility that artists may have towards the materials they use?
My works are most often assemblages made using materials found in my immediate habitat, usually the city. To the degree that it is possible I also try to make ecologically conscious production choices.
For example, the REST RELIEF series was produced using clay which was only fired once, then colourfully decorated using acrylic crayons and soft pastels, and fixed using wood glue, instead of traditional glazing.
I produced them this way not so much to signal virtue, but to systematically inspect and present the possibilities and limits posed by my urban habitat. What is possible from this position? What are the degrees of freedom of this gilded cage?
I also like to think the resulting works act as holding a mirror up to consumerist tendencies in the art world, raising the question as to what degree artists themselves can or should take responsibility for the life-cycle of their works?
Regularly, I fail to find gentle materials or products to upcycle and am left to decide whether or not to seek out products that are brutal to the environment to get the desired result. Meeting myself in the door in this way is important too, not only because it raises my awareness of the living and dying of worlds supplying our own, but it provides me with a sense of the size of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves as a species.
Because of this, I tend to answer with ‘environmental services’ rather than ‘environmental activism’ when I’m asked which historical movement I believe my practice would be labelled under.
I’d like to talk about that more, your approach to using the word services as opposed to activism.
Well… service suggests a consolidating, non-reactionary stance. It distinguishes itself from activism through the self-inclusion in immediate, situated, complex and emerging relationships and ecologies, rather than reaching outward to change some external concepts or forces in the world that we must by necessity live with or within.
This marks a shift from human-centric sentiments towards a perspective of ‘becoming with’ the forces at hand, and by doing so, it also has the potential to replace concepts of blame and culpability with something more decentered. It may allow one to identify with the problem at hand, without being incapacitated by associative guilt.
In comparison, I often find activist discourse to be based on poorly hidden human-centric attitudes, primarily that the environment is something one acts ‘upon’, instead of something one is always acting within and one’s actions are a part of.
I find it a more fruitful attitude to identify with the problem. There is nothing ‘ecological’ about escapism. And all art is ecological.
This interview has been edited for brevity and comprehension.
Marius Presterud (b.1980) is a Norwegian artist working between Berlin & Oslo. He works across a variety of media; performance, poetry, sculpture and ‘ecoventions’. Presterud has toured Europe as a poet, as well as performed and exhibited in galleries such as Hamburger Bahnhof, Germany, and Kunstnernes Hus and Henie Onstad Art Center, Norway. From 2014 to 2019, Presterud worked full-time with his art- and research based practice, Oslo Apiary & Aviary.