For their first joint exhibition Core, Mantle, Crust, the artists Johan Rosenmunthe and Markus von Platen have created a new series of sculptural and photographic works, along with a large-scale film installation. While intertwining each of their practices throughout the post-industrial interior of Kunsthal NORD, the artists also collaborated with a number of third-party actors; namely that of a group of lecturers and students from The Department of Chemistry and Environmental Engineering at Aalborg University. This cooperation led to the production of a body of sulphur-based sculptures, shown as part of this extensive study of materials’ and substances’ relation to objects and history.
Answer: Styrofoam deathlessness
Question: How long does it take?
The poet Evelyn Reilly answers and then poses this question in her 2009 publication Styrofoam.  The time it takes for Styrofoam to decompose is long, possibly even longer than humanity is likely to exist. Perhaps in the future, archaeologists will excavate Styrofoam and believe that it had enormous cultural significance and status for us in previous times. Perhaps they will present it in vitrines in ethnological museums. Or maybe they will curse themselves when yet another block unveils itself in the dark soils, or washes ashore, exactly caused by the accumulation of this deathlessness. But what is Styrofoam after all? Reilly attempts to explain:
a kind of slime with polystyrene beads in it
that can be used to transform almost any object
into a unique work of art
Styrofoam is a by-product that changes its ontological status depending on the context. It can be characterized as a hyperobject as defined by the philosopher Timothy Morton; objects that are so massively distributed in time and space, that they transcend spatiotemporal specification. They start to appear in times of ecological crisis, and cannot just be reduced to a single block of Styrofoam, but are the sum of the total amount present on the planet.  Some of these speculations are present in Previous Build (Markus von Platen, 2016), where industrially fabricated blocks of Styrofoam have been covered with polymeric plaster, spray-painted and polished to appear as a far more massive material. They are presented along casts of the actual ground, drenched with liquid aluminium – placed on the floor, leaning against the wall and on a number of podiums. They appear as meticulously selected objects of importance. Detached from their original context, they become, as Reilly writes, works of art or artifacts, evidence of an extinct species, unveiled from the ground by the archaeologist.
Interpreting artifacts within open systems (Johan Rosenmunthe, 2016) can be seen from a similar perspective. Seven rubber-casts of existing objects, either 1:1 or with minor modifications. An air filter, industrial parts, a motor, burnt wood, plaster, etc. A system of tubes connects the objects to a primitive respirator, causing them to deflate and inflate as if breathing. Some are sporadically painted. The colours of a blue poison dart frog or the skin from the forehead of an Indian elephant. These fragments could be read as failed attempts to recreate species or objects on the basis of only a few traces, bones, a DNA molecule. Because of the missing information, something has gone wrong in the process; like an attempt to recreate Shakespeare’s entire oeuvre on the basis of a single poem.
“Time that arrives from the future,” a hypnotic voice recites while the enormous 3D-animated cave encloses the peacefully reconnoitring gaze in the film installation A time of irregular pulsation between the appearance and disappearance of rhythms (Markus von Platen and Johan Rosenmunthe, 2016). While lying on deck chairs covered with expanding foam, the viewer observes the large screen suspended above. The immersive perpetuation of the cave activates a kind of sublime state of being; the vague contours of the cave’s infinite space makes the overwhelming nature seem menacing and claustrophobic. Metonymically, the image extends beyond the picture frame, imaginably continuing the animated nature into eternity. Impossible to perceive at a glance, it exceeds any kind of sensory measure. In philosophy, the cave is an image often used to describe the term deep time, a measure of the Earth’s geological time. In the cave, past, present and future are not chronological but merging entities. The monologue accompanying the images is a collage of quotes from archaeological and philosophical texts, listing different notions of time, Phillip K. Dick’s The Minority Report and Alan Turing’s notes from his early computer models. Science mixed with fiction and speculation, any hierarchy between the various disciplines is dissolved.
Many parallels can be drawn between the text fragments in the film and the other works in the exhibition. In the story of the inhabitants of the island Yap, a truly unique monetary system is introduced; the islanders use large stone discs as exchange in important transactions. A third party is in charge of bookkeeping, which means that every act of exchange is charted, to avoid any future disputes. This transparency, where every transaction can be back-traced is similar to how bitcoin mining and other crypto-currencies work. Somewhere in a hidden backroom or storage facility, the works Erupter 1 + 2 (Markus von Platen, 2015) and BTCWOWGOLD (Markus von Platen, 2016) are placed, the latter actually mining bitcoins. In BTCWOWGOLD this takes place in real-time on a number of monitors, a setup that mimics that of a stockbroker’s station. Simultaneously, while the virtual currency is being extracted, a looped sequence from the computer game World of Warcraft plays, in which mining for gold is outsourced to so-called “gold farmers” somewhere in China. In another video, a Korean cityscape is double-exposed with bitcoin mining rigs. The virtual world anchored in physicality. These businesses are coupled with a spherical sound piece and commentary on the events taking place in WoW.
Another essential piece of text from A time of irregular pulsation between the appearance and disappearance of rhythms describes the idea of out-of-place artifacts. This speculative term, invented by the cryptozoologist Ivan Terence Sanderson, can be defined as the following: an object of historical, archaeological or paleontological interest, found in an unusual or almost impossible context. An object that challenges the usual chronology of history, as it may be advanced at a level incoherent to the civilization of that time, or bear witness to a human presence prior to the conventional timeframe of our existence. It is a pseudoscientific conception mostly used in conspiracy theories or wild speculations. The depicted objects in the three photographs Untitled, F.C. – D.C. and OOPART (Johan Rosenmunthe, 2016), can be described in such a way. Here, organic and non-organic matter is scanned at an extremely high resolution. The prints are mounted facing the glass, to mimic the process of making, where the registered material was placed directly on the glass bed of the scanner. Numbered Post-it notes indicate unknown references: clay, grass, water, seaweed, bones, a plaster cast of a piece of burnt wood, chemicals, sprawling white filler, markings directly on the glass, continuing outside the frame onto the wall, where letters are listed and stroked out. Accumulations appearing as relics,  whose meanings are long forgotten but now under attempt to be solved through an idiosyncratic method with an unknown purpose.
In Sulphuric Gas Tableau (Markus von Platen and Johan Rosenmunthe, 2016) the extraction of sulphur is staged on three screens. In two of these we see a smoke-filled laboratory, where a camera moves around the model of a mountain piece. On one, a projector is painting hexagonal shapes onto the model, easily associated to the computer game Civilization, and its way of illustrating areas with significant resources. On a third screen an animation of the same mountain, this time 3D-scanned and embellished with the alchemistic symbol of sulphur.
In cultural history, sulphur is closely tied to ideas of hell, like in alchemy, where it is a central element, representing a number of universal values. Today, sulphur is mainly connected to the use of sulphuric compounds (such as sulphuric acid), a worldwide industry playing a key role in the global economy. Sulphur is extracted in mining operations, such as in volcanoes in Indonesia, and is used in countless products such as batteries, rubber, cosmetics, matches and film. Resin Tomb (Markus von Platen and Johan Rosenmunthe, 2016) is a series of sculptures cast in either pure sulphur or combined with high-performance glue. They are produced in the same mold with different methods and variations of degree of heat, rotation speed, curing time. In this way the repetition of the form is added a changing expressive feel, as the characteristic yellow colour of the sulphur also varies in nuance. Some of the sculptures are presented in vitrines, whereas some are connected to the venting system of the building. This mirrors the extraction method of sulphur, where similar types of tubes are used, but also refers to the building’s former function as heating plant. It seems difficult to place this “tomb” of sulphur pieces geologically and in time; do they arrive from a deep past or are they something from a far future, from outer space or the Earth’s inner core? As a finishing stroke, the title of the series is an anagram for the oldest English word for sulphur, Brimstone. This word is often related to the idiom Fire and Brimstone, describing the place in which the infidels would be condemned to end their lives. It gains a connotation of hell, an underworld bathed in flames.
An omen of a possible future, where nature in all its uncontrollability breaks through the cultural layers like in the photo collage Dual Aspect (Markus von Platen, 2016). A certain optimistic yet apocalyptic tone prevails throughout the exhibition, and in the examination of economic systems, rituals, extraction of resources, materiality, art, pseudoscience, hyperobjects and alchemy; ways of presenting climate change in an anthropocene epoch, and its cause and effect are illustrated through an imagined and speculative prospect of the future. An abstract world order versus a world of physical objectivity. A study in these ontologies, through the core, the mantle and the crust.
Johan Rosenmunthe (b. 1982) lives and works in Copenhagen. His work spans from artist books to sculptural installations and performances and deals with potential energy, time and archaeology. He has recently exhibited at Tranen (Gentofte), Atelier Néerlandais (Paris), Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara and performed at Tate Modern (London) and C/O Berlin.
Markus von Platen (b. 1984) lives and works in Copenhagen. His work often deals with socioeconomic structures related to technological systems, and ranges between sculptural objects, film and photography. Recent exhibitions include Kunstnernes Hus (Oslo), Geumcheon (Seoul), ESLXA (Los Angeles), and Kaliningrad Art Museum.
Nikolaj Stobbe is a curator and writer based in Copenhagen. He is the co-founder of the exhibition space Vermillion Sands.