Signe Johannessen

Posthumous Tails

A child’s gaze is central to the exhibition. The artist’s own background, her strong relationship to non-human family members and to children who have found their place in her life form the starting point for a series of works that highlight the critical potential of play. A group of ten-year-old girls—they call themselves the ‘Rädda Jorden-klubben’ (Save the Earth Club)—with whom Signe Johannessen has collaborated, have contributed to the main work in the exhibition: Prey/Pray; a short film that is simultaneously wistful, spectacular and transgressive. In the film the girls wander through a museum storage space filled with taxidermic animals, some of whom are extinct. There are also traces of unicorns. The girls approach this bodily archive in an exploratory way, and with a mix of wonder, sorrow, fascination and revolt.

The exhibition also includes a series of sculptural works in materials such as wood, horsehair, metal and leather. Several of these are the result of close collaboration with the curator Caroline Malmstrøm, and their impetus is an archaeological discovery from 1949 at Kvarntorp near Örebro, Sweden. It was there that a human scull was found together with a dog’s jawbone, a horse’s bone, a cow’s shoulder blade, and two unidentifiable ribs. The positioning of the bone fragments when they were found could suggest a unified hybrid body. Such a reading supplies the basis for speculations that come to expression in various ways in Johannessen’s works. The ambiguous gestalts and fragmented placement in the room give free reign to imagination and speculation, also for the viewer.

‘Posthumous Tails’ reminds us that up to only a few hundred years ago, the unicorn was a real creature. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a unicorn horn—now known to be the tusk of a narwhal from the waters around Greenland—was an exclusive product and thus contributed to the Nordic region’s economic prosperity. Johannessen’s approach alludes to this part of Nordic colonial history at the same time as it defies science’s rigid relation to truth and its need to document and catalogue. She challenges the dichotomies between humans and animals, culture and nature, and fact and fiction.

The exhibition will also include a workshop developed in collaboration with the Rädda Jorden-klubben. With the help of colourful materials chosen by the girls themselves, visitors have the opportunity to experiment with new creations and hybrid bodies, brought forth in the name of play and the transcending of ordinary limitations. Again, it is children’s way of looking at the world and their distinctive approach to other species that lead the way. The children give us access to new potential realities.

Signe Johannessen (born in 1978 in Alstahaug, Northern Norway) lives and works in Gnesta near Stockholm. She is one of the founders and directors of Art Lab Gnesta, an art collective that emphasises experimentation. Johannessen studied at Oslo National Academy of the Arts and Kungliga Konsthögskolan in Stockholm. Her career thus far includes many exhibitions and other projects.

‘Posthumous Tails’ is part of a series of exhibitions produced in collaboration with the art society Oslo Kunstforening and the curator Caroline Malmström. Earlier in 2023 Johannessen presented the exhibitions ‘Uppstandelsen i Kvarntorp’ at Örebro Kunsthall, and ‘Posthumous Tales’ at Oslo Kunstforening.