An object that gives in is actually stronger than one that resists. 1

BODY ARMOR is Frank Ammerlaan’s fourth solo exhibition at Upstream Gallery. Since his last exhibition Particles of Dust in 2017 Ammerlaan’s chief medium became the world’s physical matter, excavated from the ground or fallen down from the sky.

The exhibition title borrows its name from a series of Ammerlaan’s leadworks, realised in a material that is contaminated with meaning, poisonous and alchemical. Lead, used as protection from radiation in hospitals and nuclear power plants, chemically is the end result of millions of years of decay of the unstable Uranium element. According to Ammerlaan, ‘physically the material is soft and seems to be as malleable as reality itself, whilst being used to protect the flesh against its former radioactive self’. The square lead tiles overlap in rudimentary landscapes to construct spherical, protective layers, akin to an armour or a roof. Through the process of alchemical transformation, which stretches over time, lead creates resistance against its own radiative movement.

At the core of Ammerlaan’s practice lies desire to capture the constant flux of our reality that goes beyond individual lives and knowledges and equally pertains to eternal processes on the cosmic scale. The transformations of matter and energy – such as ejection of heavy metal elements following a supernova explosion – can be traced in Ammerlaan’s works not only in the raw materials he uses, but also in their complex and nuanced structures. Circulation of matter in the universe is echoed in the circular formations and gradual movements of shapes and colours that testify to the interconnectedness and relativity.

‘I see my works as objects of measurement where materiality is a tool to describe the world. Matter is not an anonymous bystander, nor a passive agent, but rather a dynamic and evolutionary creature that transforms, mutates and deteriorates. It creates spherical forms and circular patterns that are deeply interwoven into the fabric of our lives within the cosmos. It uncovers an overwhelming sense of geometry which in turn is shaped by the weight of all existing matter, forged and arranged in an orderly system.’

We live in spheres – be it social bubbles, circles of friends, or the Earth within the solar system – that only exist as parts of relational systems and are never autonomous. As the relativity presupposes the bending of time and space by masses, the spherical shapes and their radiative expression – as in a star or in an atom – emerge in Ammerlaan’s works as organising principle and powerful vehicles of knowledge. The grid in his empty canvas thus is a starting point structuring the thought, a due proposal of a model, an anticipated blueprint awaiting materialisation. In these apparently indexical patterns, a straight line and its potential geometry emerge as attempts of establishing descriptive tools and frameworks for understanding.

In Ammerlaan’s works the cosmic extent and time – in which a planetary scale is microscopic – are deeply entangled with individual phenomenological experiences. He applies meteorite particles, the extraterrestrial matter dating back to the beginnings of our solar system, onto fabrics that were exposed to the Earth’s elements and bleached by the Sun. Soil and dust, full of potentiality and void of a stable state, are always in the moment of becoming, a form of matter in everlasting flux. Allowing the natural, cyclical processes to imprint on his work is not a surrender of artistic agency, but rather a profound recognition of the inevitability of change and transformation.

dr Malgorzata Misniakiewicz , art historian and curator.

1. Öyvind Fahlström, Claes Oldenburg: Skulpturer och Teckningar, Published by Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1966)