Siri Ekker Svendsen
Taking her own Brazil nut allergy as a starting point, Norwegian artist Siri Ekker Svendsen has explored the vulnerabilities of both nature and the human race through the medium of photography. This project has taken her to the rainforest of the Madre de Dios region of Peru. The rainforest is often regarded as archetypal of chaos, but it is actually a finely calibrated system in which each organism plays its own vital role. Chaos is often associated with danger, but danger can also possess a certain allure.
In the exhibition, we see pictures of the Brazil nut tree, its living environment, the nut itself in magnification, and the allergic reaction that the nut can cause in the artist’s body. On this journey from the macro level to a microscopic one, the human body serves as a link between external and internal realities.
Siri Ekker Svendsen took microscope photographs of the Brazil nut in collaboration with the Department of Biosciences at the Oslo University. In them, the cells of the nut appear as semi-translucent spaces, and the structure resembles a bird’s-eye view of a landscape. Brazil nuts contain an allergen so powerful that even trace amounts are potentially lethal to individuals as sensitive as the artist. Allergic reactions trigger the mast cells, which are components of the immune defence. When triggered in this way, they release large quantities of histamine into the surrounding tissue before dissolving. In magnification, the collapsed cells look like ruins. The photos from inside the body were taken by Dr. Mats Block.
The Brazil nut tree grows in the Amazon rainforest, and exemplifies mutualism, a state in which two or more species existing within a certain ecosystem cooperate to survive. It relies on a particular species of bee, a rare orchid, and a specialized rodent to pollinate it and spread its seeds. Outside this context, it cannot reproduce, and therefore it mainly bears fruit in untouched woodlands. It’s something of a paradox that while the Brazil nut tree itself is protected, the species it depends on remain unprotected. The Madre de Dios region of the Amazon is thought to be the most species-diverse rainforest in the world. It’s currently under threat from mining projects, road development, and illegal deforestation. The biological diversity and complexity of this rainforest cannot be artificially reproduced.
In this exhibition, Siri Ekker Svendsen seeks to explore the sense of loss we experience when natural environments are threatened, and the fear we experience when being endangered ourselves forces us to confront our own mortality. She contrasts the measurable, scientific experience with that of belonging to a larger context, or ecosystem.
The exhibition was produced with the support of OCA and Bästa Biennalen!
Part of Bästa Biennalen 2017.