Oslo

Marjolijn Dijkman & Toril Johannessen, Liquid Properties, 2018, handblown glass, water samples, microorganisms, metal structure, dimensions variable.

Marjolijn Dijkman & Toril Johannessen, Liquid Properties, 2018, handblown glass, water samples, microorganisms, metal structure, dimensions variable.

Marjolijn Dijkman and Toril Johannessen

OSL contemporary

One of the first “fun facts” I can still remember hearing as a child is that every drop of water holds as much life as the number of human beings on the planet. Whether or not this is exactly true I don’t know, nor do I have any idea what was meant by “life” in this context. Is its metric the single microorganism? And are there really several billion micro-organisms contained in every water drop? Surely there must be a difference between water from the kitchen tap and water from a muddy pool.

However lacking in accuracy, the factoid floated to mind when I visited Marjolijn Dijkman and Toril Johannessen’s joint exhibition “Liquid Properties,” which featured three of the artists’ collaborative projects: the sculptural installation Liquid Properties (all works 2018), consisting of a series of glass bulbs containing murky samples of brackish water from Norway’s Oslofjord, linked together in a custom metal framework; the film Reclaiming Vision, in which micro-organisms from the same water source are seen through an optical microscope and accompanied by a bombastic cello sound-track; and three images from the artists’ 2018 “Aberrations” series: greatly enlarged stills from Reclaiming Vision, showing marine microorganisms and algae monocultures mixing with man-made waste products such as plastic, oil, and color pigments.

Unfortunately, these vividly colored photographs were also the least arresting elements in “Liquid Properties,” although—or rather because—they acted as textbook illustrations of the main theme of the show: the interplay between human and nonhuman life-forms, specifically the damaging impact of the former on creatures invisible to the naked eye. What gets lost in the formal familiarity of the photographs is more delicately elaborated upon in the film and installation. Reclaiming Vision is mesmerizing in its displays of the elegant, balletic movements of the microorganisms, their haphazard choreography perfectly complemented by the changing colors and shades caught in petri dishes. The film is dedicated to the microorganisms it features, bearing witness to the tenderness and respect the artists have for these minuscule objects.

Yet to view this work and Liquid Properties as simply vehicles for bringing these humble entities to our attention and lending them dignity would be a mistake. To do so would be to overlook the very prominent role humans and their technologies play in the works. The glass bulbs containing the water samples in the sculptural installation are handblown and equipped with magnifying glasses, while the images of Reclaiming Vision are brought to us via an optical microscope and an advanced camera—all reminders of human intervention. Although the show presented humankind as a threatening figure on account of the environmental costs of its expansive activity, the works also acknowledged human ingenuity in crafting the tools that enable us to have any awareness of these issues at all.