Amitai Romm is a dowser for the postapocalyptic generation, using magnetic rods and 3D printers to divine how we might survive in a hybrid ecology. The Danish artist’s drawings, sculptures and installations are understated fantasy, evoking a landscape within which salvaging scrap metal, analysing algae DNA and drawing are all equally necessary activities. Romm reasserts the work of the artist as a form of science-fiction proper: a meeting of two realms of experiment – science and fiction.
I first encountered Romm’s work after stumbling into his 2016 show how shall the sea be referred to at Bianca D’Alessandro gallery in Copenhagen. An incongruous series of small framed photogravure images on worn notebook-paper were all that hung on the walls: two layered drawings that looked like depictions of densely overgrown greenhouses, another a childish portrait of a sea-monkey-like figure. Covering the gallery’s skylights was Blind/Compass (2016): two tarpaulins, each weighed down with puddles of water and a Laserdisc, that sizeable, outdated format for home-video buffs of the 1980s and 90s, with a tiny hole drilled into it and, the list of materials informs us, a small spherical magnet. In another room, a pair of large steel discs, Parable (2016), dominated the room, ungainly satellite dishes with burn marks gathered around their centres. The cumulative effect was quietly unsettling and ambiguously intriguing, leaving us to orient ourselves in a space that felt uprooted and somehow timeless.
This veering between the archaic – invocations of stargazing or ancient methods of orientation – and the constantly receding horizon of new technologies is characteristic of Romm’s work. A full wall of nine of the Parable dishes overlooked his more recent show, Hibernation, at the library space Tranen in north Copenhagen, though here each was punctuated by a trilobite fossil. Scattered on the floor throughout the building were a series of low polystyrene boxes, titled Sarcophagi, offering an alternative form of library: the pleasing scent of the star anise, cardamom or cinnamon that sat in some of the boxes being distributed by small ventilation fans, or in others mace spray or plastic earplugs imbued with synthetic grapefruit oil. The drawings here seemed to illustrate Romm’s vision of a possible future more directly, peopled with humanoid figures sprouting countless tubes and complex organic machines producing who knows what gloop.
Romm also works within the group Diakron, an assemblage of artists, designers and thinkers, who have set up Primer, an exhibition series hosted on the premises of the biotech company Aquaporin in the Copenhagen suburbs, positioning their group shows – which mix things like medieval biblical woodcuts, midcentury-modern designs and contemporary art – as a form exploratory research that might benefit those in a lab coat or an artist’s smock. Among these various activities is an open-ended looking that isn’t focused so much on where we’re going as on summoning the spirits in science and the atoms in art, and embracing the tentacled chimeras we create along the way.
Chris Fite-Wassilak is a contributing editor at ArtReview and author of the essay collection Ha-Ha Crystal (2017)
Amitai Romm lives and works in Copenhagen. His recent exhibitions include a solo show, Hibernation, at Tranen Contemporary Art Center, and a group show, Mediated Matter, at Kunsthal Charlottenborg (both Copenhagen, 2017). Romm is one of three finalists for the 2018 Dorothea von Stetten Art Award, which will culminate in a group exhibition at Kunstmuseum Bonn.
From the January & February 2018 issue of ArtReview, in association with K11 Art Foundation