Text by Margrét Elísabet Ólafsdóttir
In 1906, a stock company called Málmur (Metal) was founded in Reykjavík for the purpose of digging for gold in the Vatnsmýri bog. The company operated for a few years until it was riddled with the cost of the unsuccessful quest. The faith in the project was, nevertheless, great. In order to enable the digging, a drill was purchased and installed in Vatnsmýri where it stood for several years, keeping alive the hope for a quick profit.
Ósk Vilhjálmsdóttir has now remade this drill as part of the exhibition Bog of Gold. By remaking the drill in the bog surrounding the Nordic House, Ósk links the exhibition with the gold rush at the same time as she refers to the present. Her drill, however, has no intrinsic function and has instead become a symbol for its role and the role of other similar machines. Drills are ingenious inventions capable of extending and multiplying human forces. A large drill allows the man to undertake large-scale constructions, interpenetrating the earth in a quest for herbal remains which have — during long geological time — metamorphosed into matter rich of desirable qualities such as energy.
But the Vatnsmýri drill reminds us of the fact that drills are not only used to search for the known, but also for what is believed to be out there. Immediately as it pressed into the earth, it brings up minerals that need to be examined in order to determine if to continue deeper or not. When the drill enters the earth, it loosens soil which then travels up onto the surface.
Its function is thus related to the pumps in Ósk’s artwork, Pump, which are also part of the exhibition. The work consists of two videos, each of them projected on a separate wall in the same room, demonstrating the modern man’s modus operating at two different and seemingly unrelated jobs. One of them shows automatic milking machines whereas the other shows a giant tank lorry pumping oil onto petrol station tanks. After being sucked out of the udders by efficient pumps, the milk is transported to a dairy farm where it is used for the production of human nutrition. The oil is pumped out of the earth and then transported to petrol stations where it is pumped onto cars’ fuel tanks.
Both these forms of energy — the one put onto cars and that which men get from milk — are fetched from nature. There is, nevertheless, a huge difference between the two acts. The farmer knows that he needs to nourish the cows for them to continue providing milk — a repeated circulation of milking and nourishment.
But does the same apply to those fetching black gold from the earth’s innards? Oil production is different from milk production insofar as the former product is not the result of a renewable manufacturing process. As it takes such a long time for oil to form, humans are not able to assist its renewal in any way. Consequently, the oil pump questions how much longer we can continue sucking energy out of the earth.
Ósk does not answer any questions, but rather forces the viewer to think. She shows what stands between man and nature, the tools used by humans to connect with the nature that they utilize in their own interest, without which they cannot survive.