Essay by Markus Degerman

There are three kinds of spaces in this world: those that act like you thought they would, those that don’t act like you thought they would, and those that have started to think for themselves.

Theo Ågren and Björn Hegardt have been working together since 1998, when they staged the collapse of a living room in Trondheim. The installation, called Vertigo, consisted of a room that had been furnished in obvious opposition to its normal existence as an irrefutably defined and easily comprehensible environment. You might call it a soft-spoken negotiation of the state of things: the furniture seemed to be in the process of sinking into the walls and floor, for example, and the wallpaper’s medallion shapes had broken out of their orderly symmetry and appeared to be in the process of formal regeneration.

Vertigo is an appropriate introduction to Ågren and Hegardt’s joint artistry, coming as it did at the start of a now ten-year collaboration. It is worth noting that, in addition to their work together, each has worked individually on exhibitions and projects that differ markedly from the other’s, and this individual work clearly influences and enriches their shared work.

Ågren and Hegardt’s art often begins with interiors that are in various states of change. Where these changes will end is left open, for the most part, since the works capture a process that has suddenly stopped, or perhaps merely taken a pause in its evolution. The artists are less interested in depicting a final, fully evolved state than in proposing a more dynamic relationship to the rules of the game by which we perceive space. The result is a sort of dissolution of the established conventions of what is normal or common in everyday life, what is true and what is false.

Their installation White Light, currently on view at Prosjektrom Carl Berner, though a development of earlier work, is not as clearly related to interior design. This time, instead, the site itself has been given a far greater significance than one at first realizes. Prosjektrom Carl Berner is a public gallery space in an Oslo subway station known to the artists for its gloomy rawness. In the installation, a series of familiar objects plucked from a typical home seem to be caught in a state of levitation, and drawn toward an increasingly intense point of white light. In addition to its literal meaning, the term “white light” has several idiomatic connotations, including the use of methamphetamine or the light sometimes associated with a near-death experience.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates gives us the well-known Allegory of the Cave, in which a group of people sit imprisoned in a cave with their backs to the entrance. Their only experience of the world outside is through the play of shadows cast on the cave wall by whatever passes by the mouth of the cave. The cave analogy is meant to describe the distinction between the world of the senses and the world of ideas: what we perceive in the realm of the senses (inside the cave) is merely an incomplete interpretation of the reality that exists in the idea realm.

The location of Prosjektrom Carl Berner along the ramp that descends into a subway station puts the gallery space somewhere in the transition between above and below ground. It’s in the midst of an environment designed for effective passage toward or from further transportation. An architect uses various means to create spatial relationships by dividing or delimited spaces. These spatial relationships do more than just determine the character of a building or the form of a subway station, they express in the broadest sense a particular organization of daily life. And in that sense, questions of how their designs are generated, utilized, or interpreted take on a political dimension.

Like the use of amphetamines or a brush with death, and with perhaps greater urgency for the general public, art can open up possibilities for reinterpreting all sorts of boundaries. In this way, Ågren and Hegardt’s white light is not meant to illuminate the cave and reveal the underlying reality; here it becomes instead a medium that allows an alternative articulation of time and space. In many ways the genius loci of the gallery site is its position in the midst of a transition or passage between different conditions and places—between work and leisure, between art and life. By dissolving the contours of spatial articulation that distinguish one state from the next, Ågren and Hegardt break down the inherent dichotomy between them. This is not a matter of uniting contradictory concepts but rather exploiting the space between them. Somewhere between on the way out toward the light at the end of the tunnel and on the way down into the darkness, a moment of opportunity appears in which an entirely different organization is possible. What we make of that opportunity is another matter.