Tiril Hasselknippe, Braut (detail), 2020. Concrete, pigment, rebar, seashells, moss, crab, stones, gravel, sand, coal, and water, dimensions variable. Photo: © Tiril Hasselknippe, Courtesy the artist and Magenta Plains, New York

Tiril Hasselknippe

New York

Magenta Plains

Visitors to this demanding show by Norwegian-born, New York-based sculptor Tiril Hasselknippe first encountered Braut (2020), a group of five roughly textured, handmade concrete columns, descending in height from roughly seven to just over four feet. Braut, in Norwegian, means “road” or “cleared path”; but it also refers to the Brutalist architecture produced in Europe in the 1950s, which has since fallen out of favor, in part, due to the rapid weathering and decay of its principal material—concrete. Consequently, Hasselknippe sees concrete forms and pathways as symbols of failure.

Each column ends in a slightly hollowed capital containing a shallow pool of water in which small, multi-colored stones, gravel, and coal have been placed (the water can be symbolically purified by moving these elements from one column to the next). The rough texture of the columns—a nod to their brutal production—alludes to the damage done by decades of exposure to outdoor conditions. In one case, the steel rebar supporting the concrete is exposed. But the damage is also manmade: Hasselknippe explains that the shape of the capitals and bases refers to the Greek island of Lesbos, where the hellishly brutal Moria refugee camp holds thousands of refugees, estimated at 19,000 earlier this year.

Braut is a historical sculpture, given to symbolist overtones. Hasselknippe’s use of the column is larger than its factual immediacies—those who don’t see the reference to the degraded state of Brutalist architecture might recognize a theme suggesting classical architecture and, by extension, cultural achievement (but this association proves absurd in light of the reference to the Moria camp). It makes sense that the formal properties of this stand of columns lend themselves to a reasoned, historical sense of their import, but it also seems possible that Hasselknippe is working abstractly, maybe necessarily so given the many hidden social and historical layers in Braut. As an essay on pure architectural form, Braut is ambitious, evoking ancient associations. The events behind Braut are obscure, and not available from the work itself, so viewers might well experience it as indicative of a broader history than is the case.

Bykjernens Soldans (Solar Dance of City Kernel) (2019), an oval, maze-like work, consists of precisely made and arranged steel compartments. Open at the top, each of its four sections is a bit taller than the one behind (inside) it. Orange lights and a fog machine change the visual atmosphere. The form itself recalls a walled, medieval city, while the steel gives a more modern, industrial urban reading (though Hasselknippe invests the work with many allusions). Both Braut and Solar Dance of City Kernel look innovatively at the implications of a kind of sculpture whose attributes are figurative and abstract, political and conceptual. It may be that Hasselknippe instills too many private references into her pieces, but if we look at them without worrying about hidden influences or meanings, they are wonderfully suggestive and evocative, rooted in intimated, and resonant, historical suggestion.