Johan Thurfjell is known for his lyrical and suggestive works that, in their reduced form, convey a strong narrative content, evoking sagas and fables, fears and fantasies. Regardless of his choice of material or technique Thurfjell’s sculptures, paintings, video works and installations show a dexterity and pleasure in his craftsmanship.
For his new exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake, Thurfjell forgoes his previous use of mise-en-scène as a story-telling device. Instead he explores the role of sculpture as a cultural indicator in its earliest and most primitive iterations and examines the communicative potential of form-making as an essentially human endeavor.
Working primarily in papier-mâché and clay, in a palette of plain white and painted greyscale, Thurfjell carefully renders the most basic material from an elemental landscape – sticks and stones – to explore the point at which raw material becomes sculpture; when nature becomes culture.
The process of transition from nature to culture, indicated in the title of Levi-Strauss’s pioneering anthropological classic The Raw and the Cooked, is illustrated in the working of a branch to fuel, fuel to fire and fire to hearth, creating a symbol for not only warmth and food preparation but also community and by extension, society. Rendered here in marble-white, the campfire is accompanied by other signs of life: through a small intervention two sticks from the forest floor are arranged into an arrow to indicate direction; in Giant a group of rocks placed in a precarious pile become a cairn, while a standing bundle of sticks and branches bound together suggest a figure in Stick Man. With the simplest of means these first sculptures assume the communicative signs of human existence in an otherwise primordial landscape.
Johan Thurfjell / Photos Calle Tillberg
Johan Thurfjell, born 1970, lives and works outside Stockholm. He has produced some notable site-specific works, most recently for The Jewish Museum c/o The German Church in Stockholm (2017), connected to the work Navigators exhibited at Espace Mira, Porto and Galerie der Künstler, Munich (2015-2016) and I Come to You Naked, exhibited at Strängnäs Cathedral (2011). Solo exhibitions include Sweetest Thing, Uppsala Konstmuseum (2011), Dim Bearing, Eskilstuna Konstmuseum (2011), Jim’s Room, Magasin III Museum & Foundation for Contemporary Art (2007), Färgfabriken in Stockholm (2004) and Index in Stockholm (2001). Group exhibitions include Personligt, Gotlands Konstmuseum (2016), If you tell a story you add more, Galerie der Künstler, Munich and Espace Espace Mira, Porto (2016, 2015), Suecia Contemporare, Uppsala Konstmuseum (2015), OSL Contemporary, Oslo (2013) and Thrice upon a time, Magasin 3, Stockholm (2010).