Art as Index: Lina Viste Grønli at MIT

Coca Cola in Chinese Cup On the Genealogy of Morality, 2015. Coca Cola, cup, and book, 3 x 6 x 9 in. Courtesy the artist, Gaudel de Stampa, Paris, and Christian Andersen, Copenhagen. Photo: Jonathan Sachs

by Skye Priestley

List Projects: Lina Viste Grønli is showing at the List Visual Arts Center at MIT through October 25th. Viste Grønli is a playful and concept-driven artist who was born and raised in Norway and now lives and works in Cambridge. The work that she presents in this small exhibition moves through philosophy, art, linguistics, and poetry while referencing various thinkers, primarily from the 20th century. With so much intellectual material, there is a great deal to process beyond the physical properties of the art objects themselves, yet the works are pleasingly beautiful in their own right.

We begin with the art itself: nine pieces, all made in the last year, positioned throughout a small gallery. Outside of the gallery’s single room, in front of the wall text that greets viewers, we find Metaphysics of Morals, a piece that consists of an apple sitting on a copy of Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. This quirky placement sets the mood for the exhibition, a compendium of artistic meaning that both teases and befuddles the viewer. A table shaped like an E holds two books, which themselves hold assorted other objects. A corkboard, again in the shape of an E, hangs on the far wall. On a near wall is Eurythmy, a photograph of a woman in what appears to be a yoga pose, framed in hand-carved wood with no matte. There is an uneasy relationship between the photograph and its frame. The photo is not beautiful; it seems almost like a document of some sort and so is at odds with the frame’s natural tones and careful construction.

Metaphysics of Morals, 2015 book and apple 3 x 6 x 9 in. Courtesy the artist, Gaudel de Stampa, Paris, and Christian Andersen, Copenhagen Photo: Jonathan Sachs
Lina Viste Grønli, Metaphysics of Morals, 2015, book and apple, 3 x 6 x 9 in. Courtesy the artist, Gaudel de Stampa, Paris, and Christian Andersen, Copenhagen. Photo by Jonathan Sachs.

One of the pieces on top of the table is the literally-titled Coca Cola in Chinese Cup on the Genealogy of Morality, another “object on philosophical text” piece, this time starring Nietzsche. The Coke must be freshly replenished regularly or it would, of course, evaporate. This points us to the idealistic nature of List Projects: the cola is not actual cola, an object in the material world that deteriorates. This is ideal cola, Platonic cola if you will, everlasting albeit somewhat flat. Similarly, the apple, the mussel shells and the E-shaped furniture exist as objects to express the ideas which they represent.

What do these ideas have in common? First, and most obviously, is the letter E, but this connection is tenuous. Not every piece is made in the form of an E or has an E beginning its title, although out of nine works five do: Eurythmy, English, Entropy, Effrontery, Eggplant. Eggplant is the title of the table. Philosophy also appears to be a major theme, as we can find books by Kant, Nietzsche and also Rudolf Steiner. Kitchen utensils appear more than once, as do mussel shells. How can one construct meaning out of these fragments? And, if the show is merely a physical representation of an idea, why does the idea feel incomplete?

Browsing the brochure that accompanies the show clarifies aspects of the work. The yoga pose is “in fact the sound-shape of E using Eurythmy, a movement art developed by Rudolf Steiner”1. The awkwardly organic frame has been “carved according to the tenets of Steiner’s philosophy of anthroposophy, which postulates an objective spiritual reality that is accessible to direct experience.”2 The brochure also exposes a portion of Viste Grønli’s creative practice: her assemblies are made by thinging, a practice which gets its name from a term of Heidegger’s.

Thinging, as Heidegger conceives it, can only be accomplished by a thing (things and objects are different) and only if it “gathers the four-fold’s stay”3, an allusion to the four elemental aspects of Heidegger’s system of thought: earth, sky, divinities, and mortals. It is not easy to determine whether thinging belongs to the realm of metaphysics or mysticism, but what is clear is that Heidegger wishes to isolate the existence of the thing itself from both a scientific description of the physical properties of the thing and also from human perceptions of the utility of the thing. Furthermore, our posture towards the thing helps determines its thinging and can reveal aspects of ourselves. “If we let the thing be present in its thinging … then we are thinking of the thing as thing … we are called by the thing as the thing … we are the be-thinged, the conditioned ones. We have left behind us the presumption of all unconditionedness.”4

Dictionary, 2015 book and mussel shells 11 1/2 x 4 x 10 in. Courtesy the artist, Gaudel de Stampa, Paris, and Christian Andersen, Copenhagen. Photo: Jonathan Sachs
Lina Viste Grønli, Dictionary, 2015 book and mussel shells, 11.5 x 4 x 10 in. Courtesy the artist, Gaudel de Stampa, Paris, and Christian Andersen, Copenhagen. Photo by Jonathan Sachs.

Heidegger’s ideas are ambitious in their attempt to challenge our understanding of the world around us. Viste Grønli, too, challenges our assumptions, not about the nature of the art object, but rather about the organization of an art show. List Projects takes the classical notion of a show in which art is organized around an idea and inverts it, placing the show itself in the center so that it is the art that functions as an index for the ideas which surround it.

The artist’s book that accompanies the show confirms this from its title, Library. It consists of selections of text often dealing with the ideas of the linguist Roman Jakobson. These texts are duplicated or manipulated in a quasi-poetic manner. There is also an introduction by the show’s curator, Alise Upitis, which offers a brief treatment on the connections between Jakobson and the mathematicians Andrei Markov and Claude Shannon.5 What do we do with these snippets of linguistic knowledge or interpretation that sometimes repeat, apparently arbitrarily? It is unclear if the repetitions are governed by the Markov chains that Upitis introduces to us or if they are mere whimsy.

Ultimately, Library proves to be another connection, not inward to the other objects and ideas that compose List Projects, but outward to a branch of linguistics and mathematics. The linguistic aspect of Steiner’s notion of eurythmy seems like a tentative link, but it receives no elaboration. These interconnecting themes create temporary connections that dissolve as soon as we attempt to universalize them. The tendency of our minds to seek a common theme, to find patterns, is consistently thwarted by Viste Grønli’s retreat into the arbitrary. We cannot “make sense” out of something that has been purposely constructed to be at least partially senseless.

We can, however, recognize that List Projects does not, as we might expect it to, collect art related to a single idea in order to more fully expose that idea’s intricacies. Instead, it functions as a kind of avant-garde card catalogue which mixes objects of visual interest with links that connect us to larger ideas and larger thinkers: Kant, Nietzsche, Steiner, Heidegger, Jakobson, Markov, Shannon, as well as Noam Chomsky and the 18th century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Whether these disparate intellects can be synthesized into a grand narrative is beside the point.

List Projects: Lina Viste Grønli continues through October 25, 2015 in the Bakalar Gallery.

MIT List Visual Arts Center
20 Ames Street, Bldg. E15, Atrium level, Cambridge, Massachusetts | 617-253-4680
Open Tuesday–Wednesday 12–6pm, Thursday 12–8pm, Friday–Sunday, 12–6pm. Free.


  1. MIT List Visual Arts Center, (List Projects) Lina Viste Grønli (Cambridge: MIT List Visual Arts Center: 2015)
  2. List Center, (List Projects)
  3. Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 174.
  4.  Heidegger, Poetry, 181.
  5. Lina Viste Grønli, Library (Cambridge: MIT List Visual Arts Center/Torpedo Press: 2015)

Skye Priestley

Skye Priestley

Skye Priestley is an artist, poet and critic living in Portland. He likes to play soccer and ride his bike. You can find some of his writing and artwork at

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