On a wall sits a nail, oddly enough the wrong way round, with its head to the white painted surface. From its point hangs a chain consisting of four more nails, barely touching each other. An impossible arrangement, were it not for the invisible magnetic force that counteracts the otherwise stable law of gravity according to which everything fall.
Nina Canell’s sculptures generally consist of materials that are normally used for specific purposes. Such as nails, electricity, air, water, chewing gum and sound. Canell draws our attention to them and turns them into agents in their own right. Thereby, she also destabilises the traditionally fixed form of sculpture, in favour of processes, situations and events. Accentuations of energy and movement recur frequently in her art. The work Three Long Milliseconds is an accentuation of this kind. From a height, a piece of natural rubber migrates towards the floor in a motion so slow that it is barely visible to the eye. The sooty trail on a small stick in Halfway Between Opposite Ends could be seen as its polar opposite. This work was created by passing 4,000 volts through the wood.
Canell’s titles are always carefully considered and integral to the reading of her work. Such as Amender, Ode to Outer Ends and Brief Syllables. But it is not only the titles that easily lead us to muse on language and literature. Nina Canell’s precise approach to materials and the way they are combined resembles the way a writer uses language. However, whereas a writer arranges letters and words to describe or shape something that can sometimes be experienced physically, she uses physical objects to create an immaterial and imaginary vocabulary.
Canell has chosen to call the exhibition Mid-Sentence, and says that “this can be interpreted as a point, not necessarily halfway, but as a freestanding coordinate”. It can be understood as something without a known origin, where the meaning or ending is as yet indefinite. Or, to put it differently, as a situation where anything is still possible. In this respect, we can discern an echo from pre-modern science, with a window open towards alternative routes to knowledge. One example is the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) from whose study, Canell and her collaborator Robin Watkins captured 3,800 ml of air, which is now encapsulated in a glass container in the exhibition. Mendeleev is famous for having formulated the periodic system according to atomic weight, a sudden insight which he claims came to him after falling asleep at his desk.
Of Air, as the work is called, represents one strand in the exhibition, which deals with hidden channels and how they manifest themselves in objects. This can also be observed in the new sculpture group Brief Syllables, which consists of unearthed and dissected electricity and communication cables. Unbroken, cables form the infrastructure for the wireless, online, constantly illuminated society we live in. Isolated, as fragments without a context, they seem absurdly bulky, dysfunctional, like prehistoric relics. In concrete terms, they could be said to be physical manifestations of interruptions or disconnections.
But Canell’s works inspire associations that stretch far beyond the concrete. The nails in Amender may remind us of balance or harmony; another nail in the chain and it would fall to the ground due to the limited pull of the magnet. The electrical current in Halfway Between Opposite Ends reflects a near romantic moment of energy surge and communication between two points. The chewing gum in the work Remembrance (Colourless) might be regarded as rubbish, but can also be seen as an object where the traces in the material are the memory of a silent human imprint; a form of thinking. Altogether, thinking can be regarded as being synonymous with energy in Canell’s practice. How it spreads and circulates, what is lost and what remains, is revealed not least in the cross sections of Brief Syllables, which appear to form a void or dissolution. As the artist writes: “Cables are the opposite of sentimental. The current is only capable of carrying the current. Cable stumps are cross-sections of a vocabulary of interruptions. A cut-off form. Ending mid-sentence.