Most illustrious Princes, often have I considered the metallic arts as a whole, as Moderatus Columella considered the agricultural arts, just as if I had been considering the whole of the human body; and when I had perceived the various parts of the subject, like so many members of the body, I became afraid that I might die before I should understand its full extent, much less before I could immortalise it in writing.
Georgius Agricola, Re De Metallica, 1556
Well I’m gettin’ tired workin’ hard every day
Workin’ every day and not a-gettin’ much pay
I got a big Geiger counter, it’s a pretty good rig
When the needle starts clickin’ it’s where I’m gonna dig
Money-money honey, the kind you fold
Money-money honey, rock ‘n’ roll
Rake it in, bale it up like hay
Have a rockin’ good time and throw it all away
Well, I can see me now in my long Cadillac
Hinges in the middle, spare wheel on the back
Man, don’t you know I’d be hard to stop
When I find that big uranium rock
Warren Smith, Uranium Rock, 1958
St. Joachim is the patron saint of fathers, grandfathers, grandparents, linen traders, cabinet makers and married couples. He is often pictured in art as an older man with St. Anne and the Virgin Mary at his side. He also is often shown wearing a green robe, the color for hope, holding a scroll or book to represent linen makers or with doves to represent peace.
Our faithful Ladislaus, Gypsy Voivode, and those who depend on him, have most humbly asked Us to show them Our particular good-will. It pleases Us to hear their respectful request, and not to deny them the letter at hand. When the aforesaid Ladislaus and his people appear in any town of Our empire, we recommend showing them your faith towards Us. You will afford them protection of any kind, so that the Voivode Ladislaus and the gypsies, his subjects, can stay within your walls without encountering difficulties. Should other people be among them, or should any unpleasant incident occur, then it is Our wish and We order explicitly that only the Voivode Ladislaus excluding all of you has the right to punish or acquit.
King Sigismund of Bohemia, letter of safe conduct, issued on April 17, 1423, in Zips (Slovakia)
Marius Engh’s artistic practice is characterised by the morphogenesis of temporal structures and historical processes. His works cite locations where social change and political upheaval manifest. Engh pursues the trail of their stories, proceeding from relicts of civilisational progress, and seizes on fragments of a Zeitgeist without attempting to represent historical reality. His pictures and objects formulate a abstracted perspective, evading the prevalent cultural narrative and affording space for altered interpretations.
Engh’s exhibition at VIS bears the title Bohemia and marks a first stop on an extensive research project that began in Jáchymov, Czech Republic. The once Bohemian mining town of St. Joachimsthal was the source of a fundamental transformation of the European monetary system in the early sixteenth century. The rich silver deposits found at the foot of the Keilberg mountain enabled the establishment of a new form of coinage, one which was intended to assume the status of the golden guilder due to easier production in greater quantities. The silver mintage was called the ‘Joachimsthaler’, which later traded under the name of the ‘Thaler’, coining the word ‘dollar’.
The era of the silver rush, which swiftly caused St. Joachimsthal to grow into one of Europe’s largest cities, is contrasted by Engh with the period that marks the beginning of the atomic age. From the middle of the nineteenth century, St. Joachimsthal developed into a centre for industrially produced uranium paint, and it was in paint production residues that Marie Sklodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie discovered polonium and radium. Hype relating to the medical virtues of radium, which had made St. Joachmisthal an luxury health spa, came to precipitous halt with the Nazi dictatorship. The Nazis’ access to uranium deposits in the Ore Mountains prompted the US to develop the atomic bomb. It was in Jáchymov that the Soviet Union first gained access to fissionable material in the immediate wake of World War II, and there that the Soviets set up labour camps where uranium ore was mined under extremely adverse conditions.
Engh’s examination of Jáchymov’s eventful history extends to include consideration of the genesis of the term ‘bohemian’, it originating in Bohemia. In 1423, Roman Emperor and Bohemian King Sigismund issued the Roma a letter of safe-conduct to guard them from attacks and bestow on them their own jurisdiction. With the letter of safe-conduct, the Roma moved to France where, as purported inhabitants of Bohemia, they were termed ‘Les Bohémiens’. With Romanticism’s idealisation of the Roma’s way of life, the term ‘bohemian’ found its way into artist-circles. Today the idea of a free and autonomous life serves as a role model for the late capitalist enterprise culture. Engh assumes a contemporary take on these historical factors, declaring them material in his ongoing examination.
Marius Engh (b. 1974, lives and works in Oslo) recently had solo shows at Galerie Emanuel Layr, Rome (2018), STANDARD (OSLO), Oslo (2017), Galeria Fotografii PF, Poznań, and VEDA, Florence (both 2016). His works have been included in exhibitions at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Henie Onstad Art Center, Høvik, Kunsthall Oslo, Oslo, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen, and Witte de With, Rotterdam. In 2017, he published the research based artistbook ESCHSCHOLZIA CALIFORNICA (STANDARD (BOOKS), Oslo).
Kindly supported by the Ministry of Culture and Media of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, and the Federal Chancellery of Austria.
Marius Engh, Pack, 2018. Bohemia, VIS, Hamburg, 2018. Photo: Fred Dott
Marius Engh, Pack (detail), 2018. Bohemia, VIS, Hamburg, 2018. Photo: Fred Dott
Marius Engh, Pack, 2018. Installation view Bohemia, VIS, Hamburg, 2018. Photo: Fred Dott
Marius Engh, Core Box, 2018. Installation view Bohemia, VIS, Hamburg, 2018. Photo: Fred Dott
Marius Engh, Sankt Joachimsthal Sketches, 2018. Bohemia, VIS, Hamburg, 2018. Photo: Fred Dott
Marius Engh, Bohemia, 2018