Kristiina Lahde From a Straight Line to a Curve , 2014, commIssioned by The Koffler Gallery, University of Waterloo Art Gallery, 2019.
Photo : Scott Lee, courtesy of the artist & MKG127, Toronto

Zero Sum: Kristiina Lahde’s Systems of Objects

Ruth Jones
We once lived in a world in which information was material. A world of cross-referenced card catalogues, metal metres, thick-bound databases, ledgers, almanacs, and abacus calculators. Much of this information has now been digitized, its forms vanishing from the world we live in; things that used to go hand in hand have been decoupled. The objects left behind feel bereft of value, no longer useful or precise. For Toronto artist Kristiina Lahde, however, they are the substance and genesis of an art practice that reconfigures familiar things (white printer paper, yardsticks, telephone books, zeros clipped from advertisements and magazines) into shapes that stretch our understanding of how they still fit into, and even order, worlds that are profound in their ordinariness. They are the things that make systems of knowledge familiar, from measurement and geometry to vast organizational networks such as a museum’s catalogue of objects, to the utility of counting in sets of ten. Lahde explores the nature of that familiarity, becoming intimate with it and unsettling it, expanding the material reality of objects and making them agents in the abstracted systems that they might otherwise seem to merely represent.

In From a Straight Line to a Curve (2014), Lahde builds a geodesic sphere from a collection of yardsticks, linked together by hexagonal joints. Set in the centre of a gallery space, it forms a delicate almost-sphere, towering over visitors, the yardsticks it’s made of so thin that the construction looks impossible, like something that should collapse in on itself with the slightest breath. Made of once-ordinary objects — Lahde sources her yardsticks from Ontario antique stores, where they often turn up as defunct school supplies — the work defies expectations about the materials needed to create geometric spaces of such scale and wonder. It marries the utopian ideals of Buckminster Fuller’s architecture with those of the classroom, of student citizens being formed into the inhabitants of a better world. The description from the 2019 exhibition Extraordinary Measures that included the work describes Lahde as disrupting the function of the measuring device: “By breaking these empirical conventions, the artist invites us to imagine data, space, and distance differently.”1 1 - Extraordinary Measures, art exhibition, University of Waterloo, January 10 — March 2, 2019, accessible online. But what counts as different here? The yardsticks are still yardsticks. They still measure three feet into space, and although it would be awkward to try and measure anything against them in their geodesic configuration it’s not impossible. The empirical convention that Lahde is breaking seems at first to be a very utilitarian one, in which a yard is a way to mete out distance over land. It’s a surveyor’s tool, or a track star’s, a thing with a clear, almost static use — to govern distance by turning it into a line.

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This article also appears in the issue 101 - New Materialisms

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