Mount Petrol

Nino Maaskola

Sep 16th - Oct 19th, 2023
Opening / Sep 15th, 7PM

With his sculptural work, Nino Maaskola reflects on the most basic conditions of artistic production, a fundamental research which negotiates questions of formation in its relationship to aspects of process and materiality. At the same time, artistic production as production becomes thematic here. With it, the aspect of “work“ is called up as a social phenomenon: in its connection back to relations of production and economic structures, but also as a phenomenon that has become embedded in the globe itself and thus again evokes questions of materiality and production.

This becomes clear in the work series “Abschied von der Erde“ (“Farewell from Earth“), from which the exhibition presents two recent works. Here, the sculptural appears as an almost performative act: Maaskola's attention is first and foremost directed at the tool that holds in suspension that which is otherwise the sculptor's material – the found, unhewn stone. The gripping of the pliers thus shows a double: it shows the stone as a specific, physical object, brings it into attention in its raw foundness, and at the same time shows how this stone is put into use, thus setting this act of making itself in a scene. It is not so much a material as a potential object that is waiting to become something else, or in a classical reading: to become what has always already been hidden in it as form. Rather, this making presents itself in all its abysmal reality.

For what is being demonstrated here first of all refers to something that can be regarded as the reason for a technologically ever more efficient world and yet hardly ever comes into view itself: a systematically operated, industrially organized extraction of resources. Excavator, pliers, plow – these are only the most basic tools with which an instrumental reason digs deeper and deeper into the planet, turning, testing whatever can be used. Critical ores, rare earths are only the latest examples of the desires associated with them. The sculpture thus yields an ambivalent wonder at a Promethean efficacy, the memorable constellation that stone is able to keep itself suspended by a simple mechanical construction. As an example of such technical feasibility, its own material is at the same time withdrawn from it – and thus also from the grasp of possible sculptural intrusiveness.

The series becomes not only a self-reflection on the role of the artist as producer, who, in view of an almost unlimited technical feasibility, is left with the demonstration of his own withdrawal as one essential consequence. Likewise, the attention is not solely shifted from the foregrounding of form to the reflection of structural framework conditions of production. Through this reflection, the sculptural distances itself from the functional logic it claims and directs it towards another, a non-identical, which is contained in it without being absorbed in the sober calculation of such logic, but rather opens it up, transcends it.

This “non-identical“, all too provisionally described, again shows itself in almost disturbing beauty in the most recent “Mount Petrol“ works. Flawless-iridescent color surfaces, partly tachistic-flickering and thus undoubtedly passed through the hand of the artist, but often of irritating similarity to marble, quartz, lapis lazuli, in short: to that which would otherwise be the starting point of a work, be it sculptural, be it artisanal. A paragon seems to suggest itself, in which the artist competes with the aesthetics of those natural materials that he would otherwise work on, admittedly just in such a way that he creates them first and foremost.

However, the question of how materiality and work are brought into a relationship here arises even more urgently. For what is stored in the panels is not only manual practical work. It is also the work of a chemical reaction, for which epoxy resin is used, a material that is essential for a whole series of technical, industrial, and engineering applications, but which in its unprocessed form has quite critical ecological properties. The series thus becomes a reflection on the structural conditions of the use of materials in artistic production, as well as in any production that is concerned with a techne. For this purpose it resorts to certain materials, but also to certain practices of appropriation and application, for which questions of ethics and ecological compatibility are becoming increasingly unavoidable.

Yet, Maaskola's use of epoxy resin, explicitly not for technical purposes but as a means of design, opens up the moment of work as well as that of play. For as much as this material-thermal reaction is subject to certain regularities, it is nevertheless not clamped into a predefined chain of purposes. However, it is part of a constellation of different materials and forces, a constellation, in whose dynamically open execution, dependent on various parameters, only these different materials enter into a final form. The production process can thus be read as an analogy of self-organization and structure formation, as they are relevant as explanatory models in contemporary physics. In this way, there is not merely phenomenologically a similarity between materials that is produced by the series, but an analogy to principles of their production.

At the same time, the moment of play also determines the reception process. In the visual plasticity of the shimmering color surfaces with which close-up and distant views are constantly challenged, the series can be associated with that free but controlled play of the cognitive faculties, which Kant classically assumed to be constitutive for the judgment of taste. This, of course, does anything but settle questions about the work and materiality of the series. By leaving the questions of its own becoming in abeyance, “Mount Petrol“ rather depicts the possibility of other horizons of thought. Staying with the trouble.

Text: Sebastian Hammerschmidt