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Emanuel Almborg: Nothing to Say, Nothing to Tell

Gallery 400 is very excited to present Emanuel Almborg’s striking video, Nothing is Left to Tell (2011), as a part of Whisper Down the Lane. This is the first time that Almborg, based in Stockholm, has exhibited at the Gallery.

Nothing is Left to Tell documents a social experiment organized by the artist, which grew out of his interest in an earlier, mysterious construction project in Hackney, a borough of East London, which spanned 30 years.

Beginning in the late 1970s, a group of people living in Hackney began to build a structure on an abandoned lot in their neighborhood. They couldn’t decide what to build, so the story goes, so they created three rules: 1) they would build with no blueprint or verbal plan of any kind; 2) no one would speak while they were in the abandoned lot; and 3) the building could always be changed, and would never achieve a static, completed form.

The rules lasted. The structure continued to evolve until January of 2009, at which point the lot was sold to a developer who subsequently tore it down.

The structure was certainly not well known, both in and outside of Hackney, but neither was it a secret. As Almborg explains, “Many people in the neighborhood used it as a playground or even enjoyed it as an artwork, perhaps without knowing the full story behind it.”1

Fascinated by the success of collaboration, the intriguing social interactions that must have occurred during the construction process, and the idea of a project with no ultimate goal or product, Almborg wrote a book about the Hackney project: The Rest is Silence, published in 2010. Describing his book, Almborg writes:

This book does not provide a historical account of what happened or why it happened, because such an attempt would conflict with the very nature of the project: Its anonymity and concealment are essential. Instead, this book presents a visual index of its existence, the set of conditions that frames the project and attempts to imagine the ideas and possibilities that surround it. The rest is silence.2

Almborg 1
The Rest is Silence, 2010.

He does not attempt to explain what the intentions, motivations, or conceptions were behind the project, nor does he try to speculate what may have occurred during construction. Instead, he offers glimpses into the microcosm that the abandoned lot became. He says, “It is certainly a social experiment in that it is, as far as I know, a completely novel method of constructing something collectively. Occasionally I see it as sculpture and sometimes more as architecture (in that it could be used as a jungle gym, or as a shelter), if that is a meaningful distinction.”3 Almborg points out that the silence that surrounded this project has resulted in a complete lack of preconceived interpretation; or, in other words, we are free to interpret the structure as we like. Almborg’s statement opens up a discourse about the boundary between sculpture and architecture, or more broadly, art and architecture (a theme which is very much present in many of the other works that make up Whisper Down the Lane). With no indication of any concept or intention behind the physical product, the boundary between these two categories begins to blur.

However, while the structure itself may lack an established plan or blueprint, the project out of which it came began as pure concept: a set of rules. And it is the concept—the social experiment of language-less, objective-less, and collective construction—that Almborg adopts in the project documented in his film, Nothing is Left to Tell. Almborg says, “The project would inevitably be different if it was realized on an island in Stockholm’s archipelago instead of a densely populated and incredibly diverse, urban area like Hackney, but I don’t know if I would consider it less interesting.”4

Wdtl Video
Nothing is Left to Tell, 2011, 16mm film transferred to HD video, 30:00 min. loop (installation view).

Yes, it certainly was different:

Almborg, along with eleven others who didn’t know one another beforehand, set out for a small island near Gotland, Sweden during the summer of 2010, with the intention of building a wooden structure. Rather than a group of people familiar each other, or a community with a shared investment, as was the case in Hackney, this group—made up of people of varying ages and backgrounds—started from scratch. And rather than working in silence on a specific project in a designated area, Almborg and his participants forwent verbal communication in every aspect of their lives on the island. Almborg’s video not only documents the process of building a wooden structure, but also captures the unique society that emerged from the project: “The wordless communication set the conditions for a different community with new hierarchies. A strong temporary togetherness grounded in physical activities and cooperation offers other options than a community based on collective identity and a shared agenda.”5 A new type of society emerges out of the temporary nature of the community members’ coexistence and the physicality of their day-to-day lives as much as it does out of their collective muteness.

Almborg 2
The Rest is Silence, 2010.

Despite the differences between the two projects, Almborg’s documentation of his 2010 version of the project in Nothing is Left to Tell can provide us with some insight into the forms of communication that may have emerged from, as well as the processes that may have been at work in, the mysterious Hackney project.

1 “The Rest is Silence: Interview with Emanuel Almborg,” Dossier, 2009, http://dossierjournal.com/read/interviews/the-rest-is-silence-interview-with-emanuel-almborg/ (accessed 17 August 2013).
2 “The Rest is Silence,” Andpearsand 02, 2009, www.andpearsand.se/02/ (accessed 17 August 2013).
3 “The Rest is Silence,” Dossier.
4 Ibid.
5 “That Which Follows: An Exhibition Project by Emanuel Almborg,” Konsthall C, 2012, http://www.konsthallc.se/index.php?q=almborg (accessed 23 August 2013).
by Maggie Borowitz, a curatorial intern at Gallery 400.