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13 In Memoriam: Lillebeth Foss (1930—2017)

12 Sigmund Skard: Plommer i egget

11 Nora Joung: Operette Morali

10 Exhibition A 025: Jakob Weidemann

09 Exhibition Y 003: Multiples

08 Exhibition Y 009: International Photography & Conceptual Art

07 Calle Segelberg: Logo till 30-åriga kriget

06 Sanna Helena Berger: The edge must be scalloped

05 Lise Soskolne: Bethenny

04 Nils Rundgren: The Underbidder

03 Sigmund Skard: Plommer i egget

02 Axel Ekwall: Big Sur

01 Andreas Slominski: A Hunt for Optimism

The German artist Andreas Slominski's new work for Diorama is an installation in the vein of the series of witty animal traps he has been working on since the late eighties. Here innocuous, sometimes found, materials serve as starting points for insidious contraptions. Though frequently imposing in terms of scale and how they inhabit the exhibition space, these life-size, supposedly operational, instruments come with a categorial undecidedness; they waver on the border between art and instrument, serving both as representations – in the capacity of being works of art – and as literal traps; were you the animal in question and you ventured into one of them, allegedly, you'd be trapped – or dead (even if there is little likelihood that a wild boar would ever find its way into a place like Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam).

In his 1996 essay Vogel's Net. Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps (which curiously doesn't mention Slominski's work) British anthropologist Alfred Gell (1945-97) argues that neither Arthur Danto's “interpretive” or George Dickie's “institutional” theory of art offer a fully satisfying set of criteria for defining what belongs to the category of art proper. Gell then goes on to develop his own, calling it “a half-way house” between the two. He sticks to the basic outline of the institutional theory – where what serves to define art as art is extrinsic to the object and rests on the social practice it is embedded in – but sees fit to supply this “sociological” model with a second qualification measure in order to compensate Dickie's lack of “the kinds of criteria that dictate whether candidate objects will or will not be deemed artistically interesting”. Gell's second condition to be met is similar to the interpretive theory but exchanges Danto's idealist position – which prescribes that in order to qualify as art the object has to belong within a specific historical framework – for a “broader notion of interpretability”, substituting Danto's historical specificity for a more general “complex intentionality”, thus making a wider range of cultural artefacts, not necessarily of western origin or intended as art, apt for inclusion.

To illustrate his point Gell turns to the case of the trap – clearly a functional instrument, i.e. not something you'd normally consider an artwork but rather a tool – which on closer scrutiny embody a number of characteristics that makes it an interesting object for interpretation, on par with a work of art. (It's important to note that Gell does not invoke the category of the readymade; the trap qualifies as art on its own merits.) Following Gell's argument, chief among the trap's qualifying features is how it embodies absences, both that of its maker and its victim. The trap is shaped to accommodate these absent figures to the point where they can be inferred simply by observing its physical and mechanical characteristics. The trap is as such a model both of its creator, “a subsidiary self in the form of an automaton”, as Gell puts it, and of the animal it is meant to entrap. It functions as a sign, it points to and describes something which is not there, standing in both for the hunter – by killing or capturing the animal in his absence – and for a certain type of animal, its specific mechanics anticipating a behavior intrinsic to its victim. The drama of entrapment: the trap awaiting the unaware victim, also sets up the relation between hunter and victim in a way that makes it “a mechanical analogue to the tragic sequence of hubris-nemesis-catastrophe ”, Gell claims – giving the trap yet another typically artistic connotation.

What Slominski, on the other hand, implicitly presents us with, by using the idea of a trap as a model for his works, is the notion of the artist as trap-maker. It could be argued that Slominski is a trap maker as much as he is an artist, or rather, that the distinction, in the context of the exhibition, is moot. Trap and artwork are not mutually exclusive categories. Not only can we considered the trap a work of art, as argued by Gell – a work of art could also be regarded as a trap. The objects Slominski makes are as much traps as they are works of art, though, confusingly, not because they supposedly work; the literal trap-function we find in Slominski is only a metonymy that points to the more general idea of the-work-of-art-as-a-trap.  Slominski proposes a conception of the artist as someone engaged in an activity that is akin to “trapping”. The same way we can treat the trap as a symbolic object, capable of semantic complexity, we can also choose to see the work of art not as an inherently meaningful sign but as a tool for ensnarement.

The work of art as analogous to a trap is a figure that carries art historical resonance. In a wider sense the concept of “trapping” does not necessarily involve an actual incarceration or incapacitation of the body – any practice that aim to deceive would qualify. Fooling the gaze through the trompe-l'œil effect cultivated in perspective painting is one obvious example of how art has aspired to entrap the viewer. But the art-work-as-trap also operates in a less overt, more general way: by using a form of bait to effectively attract and steer the behavior of its victim. All works of art, it could be said, are basically traps, regardless of whether or not they technically embody a contrivance that we recognise as a trap in the most prosaic sense, like those we encounter in the work of Slominski, or an optical illusion as with the trompe-l'œil effect. The work lies to us. Humans are drawn to the promise of the experience of aboutness that art waves before its audience.The way rats thrive in dark and narrow corridors, humans thrive under the illusion that there is meaning in the world, something which the practice of interpreting works of art helps perpetuate. On this view the meaning-content of art would simply qualify as a sophisticated form of bait, specifically attuned to the behavioral pattern of its target animal: man.

Art diverts our movement and attention away from other, arguably more rational objectives (and in the process confines us to cramped spaces – from which we escape, but keep returning, compulsively). It is structured by human desire, but only to utilize and prey on this desire, not to satisfy it. Unlike the culture industry at large, the work of art doesn't pander to the viewer's expectations or offer her a psychologically gratifying experience, at least not in a recreational sense. It's prize is largely unattainable, only earned through a disproportionate investment of either money or time, and even then what you have earned is simply a more substantial or elaborate lie. It's the prize of the fool; you continue to nibble at the dried piece of cheese and smack your lips simply because the trap door has closed behind you. A question remains though: If, as in Gell's analysis, the trap provides an entangled portrait of victim and hunter, who is the hunter to be inferred from the artwork turned trap?

—Andreas Slominski: A Hunt for Optimism, 2 May - 15 June, 2014
, Diorama, Sannergata 25 —0557 Oslo