Tiril Hasselknippe, Balcony (supplies), 2015, concrete, steel, water, food coloring, 35 1/2 × 35 1/2 × 20 1/2".

Tiril Hasselknippe, Balcony (supplies), 2015, concrete, steel, water, food coloring, 35 1/2 × 35 1/2 × 20 1/2".

Tiril Hasselknippe

Tiril Hasselknippe, Balcony (supplies), 2015, concrete, steel, water, food coloring, 35 1/2 × 35 1/2 × 20 1/2".

Waist-high and not quite large enough to contain a person, four concrete objects punctuated the gallery floor. The exhibition title, “Tub,” suggested they might be containers. This viewer’s thoughts strayed to sarcophagi, wells, or troughs—pulpits, even. The works themselves are each titled Balcony, and, given their imaginative fecundity, respectively subtitled with unnecessary artfulness: residency, survival, supplies, and intersectionality (all works 2015). Three of them appear as if severed from larger volumes, evoking some fictitious previous history as functional objects, or simply suggesting the way in which they might have been made. This fragmented quality gives one of them, Balcony (intersectionality), a decidedly sunken look, its volume drooping slightly into the floor. The objects seem hyper-durable, like bunkers, yet they hover between disintegration and incompleteness. Smooth surfaces alternate with crumbling corners, rust stains, fiberglass tissue, and odd bits of metal. This is concrete at its most intractable. A spoonful weighs a ton. And it doesn’t need you. Their contents: water and food coloring. Not a lot of it, just dregs at the bottom, as if they’d been left outdoors in a light shower of poison rain.

A building material increasingly consigned to twentieth-century architectural history, concrete is having an aesthetic moment. To a contemporary eye, there is nothing like a Brazilian cityscape to reveal its raw, material magic. In the German-speaking world, Thomas Bernhard turned it into a literary form in his eponymous 1982 novel. Under sodden Scandinavian skies, its artistic awakening has in recent years been foretold in installations by Lea Porsager and Rikke Luther. As for Hasselknippe’s mute vessels, they hide a narrative bent: Think Adrián Villar Rojas sans figurative brouhaha. This is a kind of sculptural storytelling that sets worlds of inference in motion and makes the object’s very ambience come alive.

Like Necker cubes, which offer multiple perspectives even while their visual properties mutually cancel each other out, Hasselknippe’s objects both demand and displace direct experience. They are undeniably, brutally there. But they also have an uncanny power of association. Through the traces that suggest they once belonged to seemingly absent structures, the buildings of which they might once have been part appear to your mind’s eye. And when you focus on them as isolated or discarded objects, they make their architectural surroundings shake, threatening the collapse of all things built.

Hasselknippe’s dour quartet exacts a scenographic vengeance on central Copenhagen, whose medieval layout and prim historical building stock retain a distinctly unmodern feel. Yet for all of her work’s catastrophic implications, I don’t think the artist means for these concrete balconies to trigger an analysis of urbanism or an inquiry into social conflicts and ecological issues. The works in “Tub” are simulations of a durée that turns history upside down. Theirs is a time after utopia and after the apocalypse. They are reveries of a post-civilizational malaise with a hint of nostalgia for the archaic.

The puddles of water, negatives of each balcony’s interior, are of different colors. The puddle of Balcony (residency) is dirty brown and oval, that of Balcony (intersectionality) is a deep rectangle of petroleum blue, and the three more or less triangular cavities of Balcony (supplies) are moss green. If the containers are narrative props that evoke stories and histories with humans and cities as players, the organic appearance of the colored water is an unexpected chromatic and geometric relief. Here the apodictic concrete objects are punctuated by what is not sculpture, not durable, not completely intentional, but ephemeral and abstract. In antithesis to the exhibition’s gravity, Hasselknippe reveals a light touch and—unwittingly?—a moral about the importance of letting go. Gazing down at the vaporizing fields of color, we are truly beyond built space.

Lars Bang Larsen