Knut Henrik Henriksen

Standard (Oslo)

Knut Henrik Henriksen’s show took as its inspiration a meeting between Le Corbusier and Albert Einstein that transpired in 1942. The architect availed himself of the opportunity to explain his work on the Modulor system, an attempt to locate the golden section proportional to the height of the average person. The human body could thus become the pivotal point of built space, promising an ideal basis for commodious, harmonic, universally standardized edifices. Einstein responded that if realized, the Modulor would make “the bad difficult and the good easy.”

In his sculptures and installations, Henriksen often indulges a fascination with endlessly reproducible structures, even if only as models. Instead of master narratives, he offers material and formal displacements in which the malleability of space can be perceived viscerally rather than logically. Implementing Le Corbusier’s quest for a universal standard, Scale of Proportions Which Makes the Bad Difficult and the Good Easy, 2006, is an intervention in the gallery space, lowering its ceiling height to the French architect’s paradigmatic 7' 4 ¾". The new ceiling—consisting of square white grooved Styrofoam panels mounted on a prosaic wooden frame—is in effect a horizontal sculpture that you look at from below. It is the exhibition’s only work, a sort of Bauhaus-meets–Home Depot gesture: Henriksen’s use of cheap standard materials from DIY shops injects the whole scenario with an inescapable sense of the economy and sensations of everyday life. As one stands in the gallery, the new drop ceiling feels more like an amputation of the space or a piston coming down on your head than a divine proportion, and it seems to squeeze your attention from the empty white cube out toward the street life ho-humming past the windows. So while the work does what Minimalist sculpture does best—namely, enhances a sense of scale, material, and perception by means of a kind of elated banality—it at the same time debunks or evades the mystique and sublimity of Minimalism.

Seemingly true to Le Corbusier’s humanist intentions, the beholder becomes the protagonist in the transformed void of the gallery space. However, the paradox is that you find yourself in a place where objects are usually the focus, and instead of mastering the central perspective you become a pawn in a game of transparency turned opaque. Scale of Proportions is also a spoof on the metaphysical overtones of heroic modernism. From the outside at night, one can see how the space created above the drop ceiling makes for a kind of Platonic realm lit up by strip lights, while the lower part—the gallery space—wallows in darkness. This sharp divide between the realm of ideas and the material world is probably akin to the tristesse that confronted the inhabitants of many twentieth-century machines for living as they started to fall apart and became socially compromised housing projects. Teetering between function and dysfunction, aesthetics and morality, play and construction, Henriksen’s works are meditations on how little it often takes to reconstruct or reimagine a corner of the world anew—or to put it out of whack.

Lars Bang Larsen