MONOLITT: Translating the digital to the physical – and back again

Article by Hannah Neff

For just three hours, at the intersection of several busy districts of Oslo, Norway, a micro-monolith measuring 21 by 47 inches quietly oozed paint from its crown. From time to time, people walking by stopped to ogle the sculpture.

MONOLITT now rests in the corner of a studio, paint cracked and dried into psychedelic waves. But the installation lives on in a video uploaded to YouTube by grad students at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Syver Lauritzsen and Eirik Haugen Murvold. “We’re fifth-year students, so this isn’t our first rodeo,” said Lauritzsen. “But it is the first rodeo that’s gotten this kind of recognition.”

Watching the video, it’s easy to see why. When the first dollop of paint appears at the top of the statue, a bubblegum pink – it’s magical. It continues to pulse in alternating colors, soon accumulating enough to creep over the edge and down the sides. The effect is almost hypnotic, like the endless morphing in Andreas Hykade’s Love & Theft or seeing wax melt. Video manipulates, so time is warped: a viewer can play a clip again and again, for however long it’s online. Meanwhile, MONOLITT as an object ages.

“People were definitely more interested in just watching the paint rather than in what it meant,” Lauritzsen said. But Murvold and Lauritzsen came up with the idea for MONOLITT after brainstorming a way to combine paint and social media, wanting to make an “honest painting” reflective of the times. They played around with paintballs before being inspired by Holton Rower and his pour paintings. They then used keyword-spotting technology to connect colors to the emotions of Tweets broadcast in the area. With each message came a fresh spurt of paint. The result? An automatized mood map.

Made by Syver Lauritzsen and Eirik Haugen Murvold Music: Willas Rød - Float (Feat. Anna Lando) The Oslo School of Architecture and Design 2014

As shown in the clip, handfuls of people pass by the installation. Some glance at the statue, then keep walking. Others stop to stare, but not all realize that they might have a role in the layering of colors that puddle at the base.

“I really think every – oh, I hate the word art but – every good piece of art should have interest on multiple levels. I don’t think you should have to understand a piece in order to get some enjoyment out of it,” Lauritzsen said. “MONOLITT is successful because it works on a completely shallow level as well as on a more – call it philosophical level. And then maybe it works on an even higher, like, meta-level because of the attention it’s been getting.”

Social media was a key factor in more ways than one: as part of the planning process, Lauritzsen and Murvold discussed how to make MONOLITT as “viral friendly” as possible. The 3:22-long video hooks the viewer with the trance-like music of Willas Rød and Anna Lanto, while cameraman Liam Teal takes us through a careful selection of shots – Lauritzsen and Murvold in the studio, testing materials; the two setting up the installation; tweets being composed and then sent, the resulting paint that bubbles out. It acts as an artist’s statement, and the viewer’s decision to click-and-watch is the equivalent of a gallery-goer choosing to read about an exhibit rather than to simply stroll through.

The statue’s form is a nod to the massive Monolith in Frogner Park. In Murvold’s words, Monolith is “basically this tower of nude people crawling on top of each other.” It’s Oslo’s biggest tourist attraction:  the sheer height of the thing (57 feet) captivates onlookers, not to mention the peculiarity that is 121 naked figures, jam-packed, creating a granite column that extends into the sky. As far as the meaning goes, no one knows for sure – there are a number of an interpretations ranging from spiritual resurrection to cyclic repetition – but it doesn’t really matter. The spectacle itself is enough to draw in nearly two million visitors every year.  

Deliberately seeking out more information about MONOLITT to embrace the narrative of the installation allows for a more nuanced understanding of its intentions. But is it really so bad to just experience art? The most honest MONOLITT – whether digital or physical – seems to be the one that acts as an aggregator, mapping the seemingly-intangible, displaying the ever-changing “mood of the city.”

An alternative version of their installation – perhaps larger and active for a longer period of time, would give more breadth to the study of color, mood and culture. But limited resources meant that, for now, Lauritzsen and Murvold just had to get a prototype out there in its goopy, visceral state. And at the end of the day, “if you want to be acknowledged – ” Murvold began.

“ – you gotta let yourself be a little silly,” Lauritzsen finished.

Images courtesy of Syver Lauritzsen.