Alexandra Hunts is fascinated by the production of knowledge. Who creates it? Where is it disseminated? How does it reinforce structures of power? Proximity to knowledge grants one access to privileges that others do not, proving it to be one the most powerful commodities around today. Skeptical of the systems through which these hierarchies are perpetuated – western, academic, scientific – Alexandra’s practice departs from a point of personal interrogation, resisting preconceived “fact” in order to challenge narratives around the simplest of ideas. ‘I want to remind people about the complexity of the world, and our limited understanding of it.’
The artist’s latest project, carbon-14, examines just that: the history of the pencil, a perceivably egalitarian and prosaic product available to people of every social and cultural description. Beginning from a pencil factory near her home in Malmö, Sweden, Alexandra became fixated with the object and its evolving uses, rituals and perceptions over time, ranging from a tool – as invented during Napoleon’s reign, to historical artefact, in others.
Employing the pencil in its rawest form – wood, carbon, graphite – Alexandra presents much of her research through applied uses of the material itself, in the form of sketches, installations, even poetry. ‘Everything I make I use as a tool to make my next artwork. Wood becomes a pencil, pencil a drawing, drawing a graphene, and so on. The parts of the project that disappears, I document in a form of a photograph.’
The presentation of carbon-14 does not give a methodical overview. Though it pauses at three key markers in time – pre-historic, the industrial revolution and the digital age – the manifestation of her research is weaved together into a disorderly collection of overlapping components and social and historical narratives. A dozen pencils slotted inside a row of clear plastic tubes hang along a wall. Chunks of shattered graphite pieces suspended in the air gleam with a soft iridescent light. A photograph of a piece of charred wood stretched across a large panel system within a large frame. Conceptual but investigative, the components are not intended to offer concrete fact, but instead provoke curiosity in the visitor. ‘It does not need to literally tell the story. The exhibition elements should be seen as traces, leftovers of my research.’