Text by Jacob Lillemose
Uffe Isolotto We Walked the Earth: The Growth
Imagine that the exhibition is a scene from a movie – a frozen moment in the flow of events that make up its narrative. Then, you might begin to imagine what has happened before this moment and what will happen after. Moreover, you might even begin to imagine the kind of environment the movie takes place in, what characterizes it, what shaped it. And suddenly, you have imagined a whole world that you can explore.
That’s how the artist Uffe Isolotto and I created We Walked the Earth when we drafted our pitch for the Danish pavilion at the Venice Biennale. We envisioned a fictive world inhabited by a little family of centaurs, one giving birth, the other dead.
From there, we started to develop this world, to add “things” to it – objects, characters, plots and timelines – the things you see in the exhibition and the things you can read about in the short stories that accompany the exhibition.
One of the first things we added was nature. Or, to be more precise, nature in the form of agriculture, the domesticated kind of nature that humans have developed over thousands of years to feed themselves. We were fascinated by the history of agriculture in Denmark and how it might look in a future of advanced technology.
But of course, we also added nature in itself. Because even if humans have managed to domesticate nature through agriculture, nature – the wild, non-domesticated kind – has played and still plays a significant role in determining who we are as a species. It provides a fundamental context for how and where we live. It presents us with challenges, and it provides us with possibilities. Endless challenges and endless possibilities.
And essentially, We Walked the Earth is an exhibition about this double-sided relationship between humans and the nature that we, humans, are part of. Seen through the past and future history of agriculture.
It is an exhibition that imagines what the agricultural human will look like in a world of accelerated artificial intelligence and climate change. It imagines a relationship with nature where humans are not estranged from nature but rather engaged in it, all the while experiencing both hardship and wonder.
So where is The Growth in all of this?
Literally, you could say that it manifests itself in the heaps of eelgrass the female centaur is lying in, in the crops scattered around the eelgrass, in the organic decorations covering the
columns and in the blue liquid flowing in the pipes integrated into the clothing of the two centaurs. It’s in the “Things” that are the expressions of nature that has grown and transformed into something different from nature as we humans know it today.
You could also say that it’s an underlying theme in the narrative of the world that the centaurs inhabit. The Growth is a common metaphor for how civilizations advance by controlling nature and for how these very same civilizations, in the process of interfering with nature, mutate into something all too powerful and even destructive, not only in relation to nature but to themselves. The world that the centaurs inhabit indirectly bears testimony to this kind of growth and how it can lead to collapse. Yet despite the post-apocalyptic feel, the centaurs seem to have found a way to create a somewhat promis- ing world by returning to a simple agricultural life in the new environment and giving birth to an offspring, the incarnation of a new beginning.
I have written a short story that accompanies the exhibition. It’s called Of the Landscape and tells the story of a centaur experiencing the new world of the Growth. It’s available as a handout and in an audio version. I originally wrote the story in English, but it’s been translated into Latvian, and I’m very happy and honored that it is read by the Latvian actress Iveta Pole.
Uffe Isolotto works with physical and digital sculptures and time-based media such as film and animation. He graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 2007. Today, he is based in Copenhagen, participating in exhibitions both at home and abroad, including Arken, Den Frie Udstillingsbygning, Nikolaj Kunsthal, and Malmö Konsthall. His work is held at the National Gallery of Denmark and the Holstebro Art Museum. In 2022, he represented Denmark at the Venice Biennale.
A recurring motif in Isolotto’s works is how the changing technological reality we live in can be represented and understood through composite bodies, which challenge established notions of the human and the non-human. His works place themselves in a posthuman state, where humans are increasingly alienated from their own technological creations and where it feels harder and harder to return to nature.
Jacob Lillemose has a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Copenhagen and a background in new media art and disaster studies. He has published several books on American movies, been a correspondent for Frieze art magazine and a senior staff writer for Kunstkritikk.dk. He curated Uffe Isolotto’s exhibition We Walked the Earth at the Danish Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale.