Notes to Stones
Organised by Bergen Kunsthall, the 2014 exhibition ‘Notes to Stones’ functioned as a sequel to the 2012 show ‘Echoes’ and was again a kind of monument to the architect Erling Viksjø and his use of river stones. With some works on pedestals, Henriksen’s exhibition was installed in the open space under the City Hall, making it seem like an outdoor gallery. A key work in the show was based on how the City Hall functions like a vertical compass in Bergen: visible almost everywhere, it provides a constant sense of orientation. In a twist on this notion, Henriksen affixed Compass, 2014, to the existing wooden ceiling of the space. This half-circle made of narrow pine panels was aligned not with the building itself but along a north-south axis. Henriksen describes the work as ‘like tickling a bit under Viksjø’s feet’.
“Notes to Stones” also included Bird in Space (Erling Viksø), 2014. The sculpture is a homage to Brancusi as well as a celebration of Erling Viksjø’s City Hall. Considering the building as a gigantic sculpture made from a cast that is repeatedly and seamlessly moved upwards, it is (like other works in the show) a sculpture defined by architectural elements of the facade of City Hall.
Bird in Spacewas made with Viksjø’s signature material naturbetong(natural concrete), which is made by putting river stones into formwork before adding concrete. The formwork is removed before the concrete has set and the surface sandblasted to reveal the stones. This makes naturbetongparticularly suitable as a medium for integrating artworks into architecture using the different surface textures the process makes possible: Picasso and many other artists used the technique to add drawings and decorative elements to several key buildings in Norway.
To fabricate Bird in Space (Erling Viksø) Henriksen worked with a company near Voss, Norway, that had carried out renovations on many of Viksjø’s buildings. He personally washed and picked out every stone in the sculpture and watched it being made. Henriksen recalls: ‘After mixing all the ingredients together, there is a crucial moment in which the workers feel the composition of the material with their hands. They spent about ten seconds adjusting the quantities of water and sand until they could feelthey had the right mixture and only then did they start to put it into the form. It reminded me of the scene in the Tarkovsky movie Andrei Rublev, where a young man has to cast a church bell although he has never done it before. For this he needs a kind of clay with the right consistency, and one day as he is getting desperate he stumbles and starts to feel around himself and realizes that thisis the clay that has the right consistency: he just knows. It was like that: there was a sense of emotional human contact to material and of knowing when things are right.”
Rag Rug, 2014
Architects working with concrete have often designed their concrete surfaces not just to require less maintenance but in order to give them what Henriksen calls a ‘more human, softer side’. Like many later Brutalist architects, Le Corbusier often used rough wooden planks as formwork for his concrete sculptures, so when the cast was removed you could see traces of wood on the surface of the concrete. Many of the Brutalists used pebbledash, which made the effects of pollution less visible, while Erling Viksjø integrated Norwegian river stones in his concrete surfaces. The longest vertical wall of Viksjø’s Bergen City Hall makes use of both of those strategies: it is made from a kind of pebbledash within a wooden formwork. The wooden formwork used for casting the wall is an adaptation of the traditional vestlandspanelor wooden siding for houses specific to that area of Norway, making the huge wall in some ways like an enormous piece by Rachel Whiteread. (Ironically, many houses built using the vestlandspaneltechnique were slated for demolition as part of modernist city planning around the time Viksjø’s building was constructed, making it seem almost as if the architect was planning a monument to houses that were about to be torn down.) Henriksen’sRag Rug, which is painted in the palette of colours promoted by Le Corbusier, has the exact dimensions of the wood Viksjø used – and could, in theory, be used to recreate a section of the City Hall’s exterior.