Born 1985, Ulstein. Lives and works in Bergen.
Magnhild Øen Nordahl uses what has been dubbed a neo-minimalistic approach to create her sculptural installations. She explores architectural structures and scientific systems and gives them an artistic form. Seksagesimal, which is on show in the exhibition NN-A NN-A NN-A, is a cross between abstract painting and sculpture. It consists of twelve aluminium panels leaning at various angles against the wall. Painted in sections, the panels appear as geometric works reminiscent of modernistic Colour-Field and Hard-Edge paintings. They also look like minimalist sculptures. Seksagesimal does not conform to the way paintings are usually mounted on a wall, or to being a free-standing sculpture in a room; it therefore rejects modernist assumptions about the essential characteristics of individual art media and instead follows a tradition that challenges the relation between art forms.
Seksagesimal’s visual references to Modernism’s formal vocabulary are conceptually rooted in Nordahl’s exploration of the sexagesmal numeral system. This system has 60 as its base – a number easily divided by twelve numbers or ‘factors’: 1,2,3,4,5,6,10,12,15,20,30 and of course 60. The system was used in Babylonian mathematics, and we still use it today for measuring time, angles and geographical coordinates: we divide hours into 60 minutes, minutes into 60 seconds, and circles into 360 degrees (6 x 60). The artwork is the result of Nordahl’s research – visually, materially, painterly and sculpturally – on this system. She painted each of the twelve aluminium panels with a colour field whose angles correspond to the twelve factors in the sexagesmal system. One result is that our experience of the light, thus also the colours, changes as we move back and forth in front of the work.
Nordahl’s decision to make the panels 165 cm tall reflects an average adult height. The work therefore relates to the body, the room, time and movement in terms of theme, the artist’s work process, and viewer experience. This way of exploring the relation between the sculpture, the viewer and the spatial surroundings follows the tradition of Minimalism, with Robert Morris’s L-Beams (1965) as one of many references. But whereas the minimalists saw no connection between the process of making an artwork and a viewer’s experience of it, advocating for non-referential works, Nordahl shares with us precisely what she has explored in the process leading to the work’s creation. The work combines her interest in systematically organizing practical and theoretical knowledge with her study of formal research questions, and it demonstrates her will to transform knowledge, theories, structures and systems into an artistic form that can be sense and experienced.