Splash & Grab


Marianne Bjørnmyr – Between a Rock and a Hard Place




In the mining village Knaben in Southern Norway, the metal Molybdenum has been extracted since 1900, as the only site in Europe. At its peak, there were 21 mines, with the village growing around it, as an individual community with its own school and church. The mining community rose and fell in line with the value of the metal Molybdenum itself. This specific metal had huge fluctuations in value, directly related to warfare due to its use in the manufacture of weapons. The village Knaben had its peak time during WW1 and WW2, but was closed down shortly after each war, as the demand of the metal fell dramatically.


Throughout history, geological conditions have shaped and influenced human communities, where the value and supply of minerals, metals, fossil fuels and favourable land conditions has dictated society’s development. The nature and the world around us have a tremendous amount of value related to geology. For hundreds of years, Norwegian mining villages have risen and disappeared, in line with the fluctuation of the global value of different non-renewable natural resources.

The project Between a Rock and a Hard Place is asking questions on the significance of the value of different metals and minerals, and the effect that it has on the development of local communities. The work also touches on the paradox of how these fluctuations in value of metals and minerals affect wealth and conflict at the same time. 

The work displays images from disused and active marble quarries in Northern Norway, as well as still life photos. Marble has since its first extraction been utilised for its aesthetic properties, and it has become a cultural symbol of wealth. Marble has few practical purposes and is used as a decorative and aesthetic material. It can be seen almost as the opposite from the more “practical” metals and minerals, that are vital for the world as we know it.

The marble in the photographs are repeated in two objects displayed alongside the prints. With close inspection details in the objects are to be noticed. In the first piece, an original Molybdenum mirror is placed in a marble frame pinpointing the paradox between use and value of different non renewable materials. The molybdenum mirrors are today used in modern warfare in laser technology. The second object displays small marble objects; exact replicas of Norwegian coins made during WW2, cast in marble dust and resin. Because of high demand of copper and nickel, which coins usually are made of, the coins was during the war made from the less valuable metals iron and zinc. The coins created in marble pinpoints the paradoxical relationship between material and value. The objects enhances the photographs’ property of replication and circulation, a property that also the cast objects hold. The objects are playing on appearance, and by disrupting their usual form by changing the material property, the question of how we see value of things are being raised.  


The work focuses on cycles of both destruction and wealth, as well as the cycles of the material itself. Also looking at the cycles of the value of the material, we see patterns that forms a new understanding of the consequences that change in the values of raw materials have on society; aluminium was for a short period of time the most expensive metal in the world, and even overtook gold in value. Through this work I am as an artist looking at how these changes in value impacts the society that we live in. 

The topic is in particular relevant at the moment as there have recently been discovered extreme amounts of the mineral Beryllium in North Norway, a mineral widely used in modern warfare thought infrared binoculars, supersonic aircraft and nuclear weapons. No decisions has been made about the extraction of the mineral, but yet again we are faced with the paradox of wealth versus destruction.


“Between a Rock and a Hard Place” is on display at Peckham 24 as part of “For those who could see beyond the surface” curated by Emma Bowkett. Running 17-19 May 2019: peckham24.com 

Max Ferguson