“Foreign Object Debris”: Yngve Holen gives new context to consumerism
Our world is one of systems. Society functions as it does because of these complex, far-flung networks of production, distribution, and consumption. But what happens when these systems fail? When a component is removed, examined, and recontextualised? These questions are what fascinate Norwegian-German artist Yngve Holen, who has given new context to several objects (a Polestar 2 headlight among them) in his latest solo exhibition.
"Foreign Object Debris" is the title of Holen's exhibition. On display in Beijing's X Museum, it explores themes of consumerism, decision making, and technology's ever-increasing impact on the human brain. Chima figures, characters from a discontinued LEGO series, are scaled up and realised in bronze, a more playful take on resource scarcity and inequality. Wooden rims draw parallels between the natural environment and the increasing incorporation of technology into everyday life. And a single Polestar 2 headlight, hung vertically, raises questions about the emotional component of consumer culture.
Can you briefly explain the "Foreign Object Debris" project?
It's the title of the show at X Museum. It's my biggest solo show to date and my first one in Asia. It spreads across eight galleries with a couple of small rooms in between, and the title joins all the works shown there. Often, my work is taking things out of context. Recontextualising them. Taking something out of a functioning system to look at it from a different angle, to get a different understanding. I thought it was a good term to explain this out-of-system, but still part of a system relationship. The term "Foreign Object Debris" itself comes from aviation. It refers to something forgotten or left in an airplane while building it, and now it's flying up there; a forgotten object that's a hazard to the safety of the plane.
What are the central themes to this exhibition? Which messages did you want to communicate with it?
It took a lot of turns during the two and a half years I've been working on it. My work has often been about collective experiences, like flying in an airplane, and I think this show is more about a single-person, consumer view of something. It's about resources and how they are used, but also about object-body relationships, about forms and desires. The rim, the house, the bronze animal hybrids fighting for resources. Even the headlight. It's very focused. So, it's nice to have both the Barbie house and the figures. A simultaneous war and domestic consumerism scenario. I was considering Castle Grayskull from He-Man, but that's way too…macho. It works better with the Barbie house. It's a good mix.
Castle Grayskull isn't very subtle either.
No! No, exactly!
A dominant theme throughout Holen's works is the human brain. Earlier projects such as "Parasagittal Brain" saw the artist dissecting kettles with hot water, his way of representing the brain thinking about itself. Unsurprisingly, these themes are woven throughout his latest exhibition as well.
How is your interest in the brain explored in this exhibition?
Previously, I'd made a magazine called ETOPS, also an airplane riff, which was about the brain. There were nine or ten interviews that we published dealing with neuroscience. A lot of the titles were used for the bronze figures in the show. The Barbie house piece is called "Neuroeconomics", which refers to the study of human decision making. So, in a way it's about how desires are formed and implemented, and what gives us the impulse to want to have something. There are a lot of things subconsciously happening, a lot of things that decide what we do that aren't present when we're making those decisions.
You also examine how technological advancements change our behaviour. With that in mind, what's your take on the movement towards electric driving?
I love electric cars. I love not having to have this gearstick conversation. It's just so boring. I was never a motor guy anyway. My interest in cars had always been purely form. I drive an electric car here in Oslo. In Norway it's already the electric era, I would say. With cars, there are just so many of them, so you're forced to look at them. So, what if I just spent the time walking the streets in Oslo, what would that give me? What will it say about society? What will it give me as aesthetic input?
Why use components from cars? Did that begin with the "VERTICALSEAT" installation, or something else?
I used car bumpers very early on. I found a bumper when I was a broke student and I combined it with a washing machine in one sculpture. The whole show at that time was about cleanliness. It was called "Sensitive to Detergent", and I was making sculptures that you had to maintain like you maintain a car. The washing machine drum looked like a wheel, so I thought it was funny to exchange the wheel with the washing machine drum. And inside there was a 3D-scanned chicken which had been scanned and printed in dishwasher-proof material. If you bought it, you'd have to dust it and clean it like you do with a car. I think that was the beginning of my work with cars.
Why the headlight specifically? Why is the piece titled "heart"?
I've been working with headlights before. For the exhibition at X Museum I looked at all kinds of electric cars, but in the end decided to just go with Polestar. With the Polestar light, I liked the look of it. It was fun that by tilting it, Thor's Hammer became a "y" which is my initial. It kind of looks like a heart in some way, like a ripped-out heart, when it's oriented like that. I've also never used the orange lights before, I don't normally like them, but this one had an almost peach-coloured LED feel which I thought fit, aesthetically and conceptually. I also liked riffing on the fact that I'm Scandinavian, doing a show in China.
You also have an abiding interest in consumer culture and commodity fetishism. What's your take on the movement towards greater circularity and sustainability?
There's no way around it. It's a given. That's how it has to be. Earlier, a lot of my work had been about this idea of scale failure. For example, you get your piece of meat, you drive your car, but you never perceive how many of them are there. You have this individualised bubble where everything makes total sense, and then suddenly you have something like the diesel scandal, and you see a picture of I don't know how many cars just stuck at some border. I've always been interested in what happens if the distribution system doesn't work, or there's a failure in it, and you see things get stuck somewhere. You physically feel all the resources being used. I've always been interested in that moment.